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Are “casual Fridays” getting out of hand?

May 10, 2013

Article courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

By Anthony Kaylin  

Many companies have casual days, generally Fridays. Casual Fridays are dress down days—a nice perk for employees that costs the employer little to nothing to implement. But how far “down” is it appropriate to dress on a casual Friday? Linda Baugh, president of American Career Executives in Scottsdale, Arizona says standards for setting a Casual Friday dress code vary. “It depends on the industry; if you’re dressed very casually in front of clients, then they may not take you seriously as the provider of the service,” Baugh says.

So what is the history of Casual Friday? One version attributes the beginnings to Hawaii, when in 1947 the city of Honolulu began to allow workers to wear the Aloha shirt part of the year. The term “Aloha Friday” dates from the 1960s, when the shirts were worn on Fridays instead of normal business attire.

Another version contends that Casual Fridays came in response to low worker morale during poor economic times of the late 1970s. Clothing manufacturers, especially, pushed to make Casual Friday a weekly event. Like the greeting card industry creating holidays for just about everyone to increase sales of cards, clothing manufacturers wanted to increase sales of their casual clothes.

Another version has it that Casual Fridays are the result of the Silicon Valley high tech era in the 1990s trying to attract and retain younger workers with casual dress to go along with a casual atmosphere.

ASE’s 2013/2014 Michigan Policies & Benefits Survey Working Conditions survey supports the idea that casual days are the norm rather than the exception.  Of 580 employers responding to our survey, 99 percent have casual days, on average 1.6 days per week. Union employers are more generous with almost three casual days per week.

So are Casual Fridays a good attraction and retention tool?  A survey by LinkedIn and Marie Claire says so. Sixty-six percent of female respondents said they liked, even loved, their casual Fridays. Some 24 percent went so far as to say that the office dress code factored into their job choice.

Yet the frustrating thing is how people dress for Casual Friday.  “American society has become so ridiculously casual,” says Clinton Kelly, co-host of the Learning Channel’s What Not to Wear. The problem, he suggests, may be the lack of office fashion role models. “Outrageous people are getting the most attention now,” he says. “Kids coming out of college are watching Lady Gaga on YouTube. They don’t understand that Lady Gaga is selling albums, and they’re in accounting. A meat dress just doesn’t fly at the office.”

So what is appropriate casual dress on a casual day? For most organizations, casual business attire includes slacks, khakis, sport shirts, polo and cotton shirts, golf shirts, skirts and dresses. Jeans may or may not be acceptable depending on the job, but if they are they must be clean, good fitting, and not faded. What is not acceptable is jeans with holes or frayed or denim skirts, shorts, bib overalls, halter tops, beachwear, work-out attire, tank tops, tee-shirts, spandex or other form-fitting pants, or distracting, offensive or revealing clothes, athletic shoes, thongs, or slippers.  Production areas may be more restrictive for safety reasons.

So what is the problem?  There are studies that argue that casual dress has led to casualness with work.  Further, it has been suggested that client-facing employees may be losing respect by dressing casual for business meetings.  And besides, the pendulum may be swinging back the other way—for some people dressing more formal is becoming fun.

Who wins in this–the employer? The employee? Or the clothing industry? Clearly, the latter; you can’t go to work naked, and expensive or cheap, whatever you wear must look good within the parameters of your policy.

Which leads to what may be the best practical solution: Telecommuting. Unless you are using a webcam, no one will know what you have on … 

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