COR­PO­RATE STYLE

As busi­ness dress stan­dards have changed over the years, what does ca­sual Fri­day mean to­day? And what shouldn't it mean? By Jackie O'Fee.

NZ Business - - CONTENTS - Jackie O’Fee is the owner of per­sonal style con­sul­tancy Sig­na­ture Style. She works with both in­di­vid­u­als and or­gan­i­sa­tions, is a pop­u­lar speaker and tele­vi­sion pre­sen­ter. www.sig­na­turestyle.co.nz

Is ca­sual Fri­day still rel­e­vant? By Jackie O’Fee.

“I LOOKED OUT at one of my team who was us­ing the pho­to­copier and she was dressed in a pair of Ugg boots. I thought, good grief! How on earth did she ever think that was ac­cept­able to wear slip­pers to work?”

One of the re­cur­ring frus­tra­tions se­nior man­age­ment or busi­ness own­ers share with me is how their team in­ter­pret ‘ ca­sual Fri­day'. Many are sim­ply in­cred­u­lous at what some peo­ple con­sider ap­pro­pri­ate for this one day a week. It seems as if on ca­sual Fri­day all rules go out the win­dow and that as far as their dress goes, it isn't re­ally a work day.

To take a look at the his­tory of ‘ca­sual Fri­day' you need to head back to the 1980s; the hey­day of the power suit as worn by both men and women. It was a time that show­cased the epit­ome of ac­ces­sories: the tie slide, the cuff­links, the gold col­lar clips – let's be hon­est, the 1980s were a time of ab­so­lute ex­cess in all things (not just sar­to­ri­ally).

On a per­sonal note, I re­mem­ber a friend of mine be­ing sent home from her of­fice ju­nior job at an ac­count­ing prac­tice as she was wear­ing trousers – some­thing that her very con­ser­va­tive of­fice deemed un­ac­cept­able for women.

Ca­sual Fri­day was born in the early 1990s to be a day where em­ploy­ees could be a lit­tle more re­laxed in their work wear. For most men, it meant no tie, for women it meant per­haps eschew­ing a jacket.

Fast for­ward 30 years and ca­sual Fri­day re­mains, but our work­place dress stan­dards have changed. We are, in a lot of cases, far more re­laxed in our dress. Ex­cept for some law firms, ac­coun­tancy prac­tices and very cor­po­rate roles, most men see a tie as op­tional and women in busi­ness suits are not ter­ri­bly com­mon­place.

All of which can fil­ter down to ca­sual Fri­day be­com­ing very re­laxed in­deed. Be­cause of the vari­ances in in­ter­pre­ta­tion be­com­ing so dif­fi­cult to man­age, there are some com­pa­nies that have re­sponded by do­ing away with the prac­tice al­to­gether.

As an aside, there's ap­par­ently a move­ment oc­cur­ring in the US to dress up on a Fri­day rather than dress-down – I won­der if that would ever catch on here?

So, what does ca­sual Fri­day mean in 2017? In the busi­ness world it is still busi­ness dress – that is, a col­lared shirt rather than a tee shirt (even if the col­lar is on a polo shirt) un­less that tee shirt is un­der a jacket. It's smart pants or chi­nos rather than faded denim (dark clean denim may be ac­cept­able in your of­fice), and smart shoes not jan­dals or scruffy train­ers. For women it's per­haps a softer dress but not a strappy or su­per-tight one. In­stead it's per­haps a pair of dark denim jeans and tops that don't show too much flesh. Ca­sual Fri­day is not beach­wear, nei­ther is it night­club garb, even if you do plan to go di­rectly from work to a night on the town. It is smart cloth­ing, and not nec­es­sar­ily ‘com­fort­able, re­lax­ing in the week­end' cloth­ing. It cer­tainly isn't a rugby league jersey worn atop your most faded jeans and train­ers, nor will it ever be slip­pers or ac­tivewear.

The rule of thumb when choos­ing what you wear on a Fri­day should al­ways be “How would I feel if I met my most im­por­tant client dressed as I am to­day?” If your an­swer is that you would be em­bar­rassed, per­haps it's time for a re­think.

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