It is the era of Casual Friday. In fact, in almost 40% of companies, it's the era of Casual Every Day.
In the past twenty years, office attire and dress codes everywhere have relaxed, and now less than 10% of companies expect their staff to wear formal business suits into the office.
Today, less than 6% of men wear a tie to work every day; I'm pretty sure the other 94% are very happy to avoid that fate.
I got to thinking about this after watching The Office episode Casual Friday. I agree that it's a good thing to let people wear more comfortable clothes to work, but as was so hilariously illustrated with Meredith wearing a barely-there strapless mini-dress, it's not always easy to know where to draw the line.
Here are some do's and don'ts about what to wear in your business casual workplace:
- DO know what is expected in your office. What works in an architectural firm or ad agency won't work with an investment bankers or an uptown law firm. Follow the lead of the people above you; if their idea of Casual Friday is jeans and a crisp button-down shirt with a business blazer, you'll lose credibility if you show up in in sweatpants, flip-flops and a 10-year-old T-shirt.
- DON'T forget that it's still a business day. It may feel like Friday is the launch of your weekend, but you're still going to work. Beachwear, yoga togs or a track suit from your favorite sports team are fine on Saturday, but are inappropriate in a business casual context on Friday.
- DO remember that there are jeans and there are jeans. Shredded, frayed or stained jeans may be in style at the club, but not for business casual. Instead, invest in a pair of quality jeans that fit you well. (Tip: a tailor can turn an OK-fitting pair of jeans into a made-for-you wonder.) As a rule of thumb, the darker the denim, the more polished the look.
- DON'T be a mess. Business casual doesn't mean business sloppy. Your clothing must be clean, with no stains, in shape and wrinkle-free.
- DO stay true to your personal style. I worked in an ad agency once where business casual was the everyday rule, and just about everyone interpreted that to mean khaki trousers and a polo shirt. That is not a look I would wear, and I had to interpret the company look into something that worked for me but that still sent the right I'm-here-to-work message.
- DON'T show too much skin. Tank tops, short shirts, miniskirts, cleavage and revealing summer dresses are a distraction in the workplace. Don't distort your hard-won professional image by sending the wrong messages with too-low or too-tight clothes. You can dress casually without going bare. Please.
- DO wear good shoes. Quality shoes can work wonders in dressing up a casual look. Forget the strappy sandals or your old beat-up sneakers (yes, I know they're comfortable), and wear a quality pair of shoes that show that even if you're dressed casually, you still mean business. If you can wear them, heels and boot-cut jeans are a power combination.
- DON'T wear any of these no-no's: Unless you're in a very casual workplace, avoid T-shirts with words or pictures on them; that means the logo-covered walkathon T-shirt is out, and that silkscreen T-shirt eagles and whales should stay away, too. Avoid sweatpants, track suits, tight tanks, sandals, shorts, and showing skin.
- DO notice if you accomplish as much dressed casually as when you're dressed up. I've worked with people who feel more professional—and do better work—when they're dressed more formally. If you find you work better in a suit, then wear what works for you.
As the business world becomes more and more virtual, and more and more casual, we'll no doubt continue to see new ways of dressing for work.
Many of us already work in our pajamas from home at least part of the time. Who knows what's next in the office?
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