The Practical Woman Business casual boo-boos

“Business casual.” It has a nice ring to it. The phrase conjures images of desks with foot stools, Time Clocks that don’t start until 11:15, nonchalant mergers and carefree takeovers. Which, of course, don’t exist. In fact, “business casual” as a wardrobe concept really doesn’t exist either. It’s an oxymoron.

Just ask Lynne Mackay. For the past two years, the president of Ottawa- based Lynne Mackay Image Consulting has been darting across the continent, taking great pains to explain the concept to business folk.

In a broad sense, she explains business casual as “dressing without a suit.” However, the translation leaves a lot to the imagination: some take it to mean a shirt and tie and skivvies.

This is no exaggeration. Mackay recently visited the customer-service department of a large corporation, only to come across a service rep in cutoffs and flip-flops adorned with plastic daisies. Not a pretty picture.

Indeed, many people just aren’t getting the picture. A quick poll of various business types revealed some startling examples of casual cock- ups. In the women’s department, there are pedal pushers, sweat pants, and sweat tops dressed up with lace, painted-on designs or slogans, such as World’s Greatest Grandma.

Men, on the other hand, are trying on jeans that, by the sounds of things, are too small for their nephews, T-shirts in the same size range, and nylon shorts. (After a while it becomes entirely clear why some companies, including General Motors, have simply backed out of the whole dressing-down affair.)

According to Mackay, the most common business-casual ensemble is leggings and an oversized T-shirt for women (often accompanied by pumps or high heels); men prefer golf shirts, jeans and running shoes.

This is not business casual, this is a business catastrophe. Management is actually starting to complain about this new direction in career dressing. Which is why Mackay finds her services to be in high demand.

She aims to help her clients attain a sense of casual polish. She advises them on using separates rather than formal suiting, and choosing silhouettes, fabrics, accessories, colours and patterns that transmit a more relaxed message. She points to sweater sets, pants and polo shirts, and the latest array of summer dresses as examples.

She also reminds them that the invention of business casual has not made old dress-codes obsolete. Although it may seem stodgy to some, bare arms and legs are still too much skin for the office.

Ironically, business casual means more, not fewer, rules: no scruffy jeans, no collarless shirts, no running shoes and no leggings. In other words, “don’t wear anything you’re going to wear on summer vacation.” Your clients probably aren’t interested in seeing you exposed in leggings or ripped jeans.

The cardinal rule is, always address your wardrobe to your client, regardless of company policy, because not everybody has gone business casual, cautioned Mackay. “We haven’t left the business-dressing category for something else. Presenting a business image is still important.”

More Must Be Done to Attract Investors to Options Trading

“My clients asked about options trading, but I told them to forget it,” said a broker. Such a comment is typical of the attitude of many investment professionals here towards the recently launched options trading.

One rationale for options is that players can hedge themselves against risks that come with volatile price movements.

A safe market equals low risks equals low returns, which everyone knows, is not the way to go if one wants to capture an investor’s interest and imagination.

The inclusion of more volatile stocks will draw both institutions and speculators – seasoned speculators would straightaway sniff out the opportunities present and institutions would join in to hedge themselves against price swings in the underlying shares.

With institutions adding liquidity and speculators creating opportunities for others to make money because of the risks they assume, it would be difficult for options trading not to take off.

Short of abandoning the safe market strategy, one way to boost institutional interest is to allow an index, such as the broad-based BT-MGA, to be traded. Fund managers who invest in such an index would then need options to hedge and enhance the value of their investment.

This is how a stock index option can work for the fund manager. He can write a call option to obtain the premium to improve yield in a falling market. He can also buy put options to protect the fund from price collapses.

If the price indeed collapses, the fund manager can then close his option position at a profit and thus outperform the index. The professional community should look into introducing index-linked funds.

Another way to attract the ever cost conscious investor is to reduce the margin requirement. The required deposit of 40 per cent of the underlying share price is viewed as too steep for the investor to take an interest in writing options. And if they do write the options, the margin would be priced into the premium. This means that the buyers would be buying above the fair market price and hence very few or no trades will be done.

The success of options trading would see the introduction of other sophisticated financial instruments. More instruments add to the breadth and depth of the market. It is therefore important that the rebirth of options be made a success and fast.