How casual can business casual be?

HOUSTON The move reflects an office trend around the nation, but one expert warns the term 'business casual' does not mean messy, sloppy, or unprofessional.

Business casual takes on new meaning for employees at the district clerk's office this summer.

"Wearing something like capri pants is a great way, it doesn't cost tax payers any money, but it's a great way to help our employees relax and beat the summer heat here in Houston," said Harris County District Clerk Loren Jackson.

Is this a major change? Some employees say yes.

"All of us think it's just wonderful. All of us ladies in the office were so excited when the email came out that we could wear capris," said employee Tulikki S. Washington.

The County Clerk's Office is the latest to follow a growing trend that started years ago as 'Casual Fridays.'

"The shift is probably due to climate, economy, trying for a more relaxed yet productive environment for the workplace," said Image Consultant Cathy Fitzpatrick-Cleary.

However Fitzpatrick-Cleary says make sure you don't interpret casual to mean unprofessional.

"The pitfalls of too casual can be too relaxed, too revealing, and too tight," said Fitzpatrick-Cleary.

She also says fabric and cut are important.

"This is a great capri. It's made of a pique, which makes it light and airy. It's not too short, but it does offer a little bit of ease. One of the biggest fashion mistakes ever is to go too relaxed," said Fitzpatrick-Cleary.

Capris or skirts should be topped with a three-quarter sleeve jacket or a shell with a cardigan.

Despite how great Michelle Obama's arms look, Fitzpatrick-Cleary says no sleeveless tops.

Although you may not agree during Houston's hot summer, she says true business casual means no open-toed shoes.

For men, a polo or button-up with slacks are still the standard.

That's no problem for many employees.

"We can still look very cute and very professional in our capris and a dressy top and heels, and look just as professional," said employee Kelly Olivier-Davis.

Experts also remind us that in these tough economic times, with unemployment levels the highest they've been in 26 years, don't take business casual too casually. How you dress sends a message to your employer about your level of professionalism and productivity, and that can impact your career path.

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