Is casual Friday still relevant?

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.

“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. M


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.

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