What is Casual Friday?
How to Look Like You Mean ‘Business’

By Ellen York

How men and women look and dress for Casual Friday has become highly debatable. For the first four days of the week, many companies adhere to a dress code that, by some people’s standards, has become archaic.

In the arena of stockbrokers and financial planners, men and women need to look professional and competent and their should dress reflect it. The outfits worn by people in this field are meant to convey a confidence in handling your money and investments. These professionals are expected to be dressed in suits, dress shirts and neckties.

However, in more casual or creative workplaces such advertising agencies or technology firms, the dress code may be more relaxed. Clothing is still professional-looking but tends to be less conservative. Professionals in these fields tend to have more freedom in wearing colorful but casual clothing and trendy accessories.

The reason many employers get frustrated with their workers’ dress for the workplace may be due to a dress code that doesn’t exist or one that lacks full explanation as to what is considered appropriate. When this is the case, employees tend to implement their own version of “Casual Friday” and perhaps even the rest of the week. But before you shrug it off, it’s important to remember that a company’s image is often reflected by their employees’ dress.

Here are some tips for establishing a set of guidelines for Casual Fridays:

  • Pants: Men can wear dress slacks with a flat front, one or two pleats, or khaki pants of good quality, whichever will be in compliance with their company dress code. Women should look for fabric that is a bit more casual but doesn’t appear too young for their age. When shopping for pants, look for a blend such as rayon/polyester, wool/rayon, or polyester/wool. Women should look for pants that are ankle length or slightly longer to accommodate higher heels.

  • Skirts: The latest trends show skirts of various lengths, from mini to ankle-length. Depending on whether your workplace is more casual or not, these skirts may not be ‘right’ for the office. Check your dress code or talk to your manager. Skirts that are fuller cut and tiered skirts can be acceptable if the rest of the outfit is workplace-appropriate. Consider pairing a more “casual” or “trendy” skirt with a sweater set or blouse.

  • Capri pants and gaucho pants: Many women are finding these styles of pants in fashion magazines. Wearing these styles is at the discretion of the office manager or the people in charge of the company dress code. Capri pants can look more casual, so again, consider pairing these styles with a dressier top. Gaucho pants with the legs cut fuller look good on Casual Friday if the fabric relates to a business look. Stretch fabric is commonly used and can often be found in brown and black—possibly navy.

  • Tops: Women can find a variety of different tops in retail outlets but you’ll want to save many of these for after-five dressing because of the cut, style, and fabric. If the neckline is too low, count it out for work. When the blouse fabric is sheer, always wear a camisole underneath. If the office is more conservative, you may want to stay away from sheer tops altogether. It’s always better to err on the side of looking more professional even on Casual Friday.

  • Shirts: Men have more selection today than ever before, which can make it confusing and frustrating for guys to shop. If you’re looking for a casual business shirt for Friday, start by:

    • Look at the way the mannequins are dressed with a casual shirt accompanied with pants in cotton twill—black, olive or khaki in color.

    • Select shirts that look fresh and new in fabric - pinstripes, windowpane checks. Avoid anything like shirts with French cuffs (too dressy) or flannel plaid shirts (too casual).

    • You may want to wear your shirt outside your pants. It’s new and stylish; however, some offices require shirts to be tucked in and worn with a belt.

    • No wild, garish prints. Save Hawaiian shirts for vacations and weekends.

  • Shoes: Men should choose a more casual leather shoe and avoid tennis or athletic shoes, unless the dress code allows it. The same principle applies to women. Women should also be watchful of backless shoes and open-toed sandals. Depending on the workplace dress code, these may or may not be allowed. Flip-flops are rarely acceptable for Casual Friday for men or women.

  • Denim: If you can wear denim on Fridays, make sure your jeans are freshly laundered and not wrinkled. Men and women should select shirts, polo shirts, and dressy knit tops. Avoid wearing a beat-up t-shirt.

Here are some issues that managers should consider with dress codes:

  • If an accounting firm writes in their dress code that men are to wear collared shirts to work, they must describe what kind of collared shirt. Is that a polo shirt or a shirt that buttons down the front? What fabric is permissible in this description? Probably not cotton flannel or a bold plaid. Make sure your dress code is easy to understand and go over it when you hire new employees.

  • When you draw up a new dress code for your company, consider your workplace environment carefully. Is it more conservative or creative? Do you see clients often or do clients rarely stop by the office? Also, make sure that an employee meeting follows so the new or revised rules can be presented and questions answered.

  • Many young people come right into the workforce fresh out of college and don’t know what professional dress is. They come from very casual clothing on campus to a work environment that requires employees to reflect the successful image of their company. This group of men and women may want to appear hip and dress in trendy clothing and attire. However, you will need to be clear and distinct about what kind of clothing, accessories and makeup falls into the workplace-appropriate category. Some of these trends, such as sheer blouses, low-cut jeans, cargo shorts and torn denim jeans don’t meld into the professional workplace.

  • If there is a particular employee who isn’t following the company dress code, take them aside privately. Broach the topic with them one-on-one and keep a neutral tone of voice. Some people may take offense to what you say about their clothing or appearance. Be sure that you keep the talk professional and offer your help and advice.

Every man and woman, no matter what age, can look good and businesslike on Casual Friday. Look like you mean business, no matter what day of the week! It’s amazing how your workday progresses when your clothing dictates business. It’s part of your demeanor.

Read other articles and learn more about Ellen York.

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