Is it wrong to wear casual attire at work?

Does it matter what you wear in the office? This author discusses whether workplaces have taken Casual Friday—or Casual Every Day—too far.

In 1994, I interviewed for a job in Honolulu. I showed up in a suit and tie.

I got the job, but I never dressed that way again during my more than three years in Hawaii.

Casual Friday started in Hawaii as Aloha Friday when the city of Honolulu allowed workers to wear Hawaiian shirts during part of the year. The trend then spread to the general workforce.

Yes, despite all those original “Hawaii Five-O” episodes with Jack Lord in a suit, Hawaiian businesses decided long ago that casual dress in a tropical climate made for happier employees.

Casual dress is the new normal

Most of America is not a tropical climate, which makes you wonder: Why is every day Casual Friday at so many organizations? Does it make people more productive, or is it another sign of our ever-deteriorating standards?

Steve Giegerich recently tackled this subject in his blog for the St. Louis Post Dispatch, although he readily admits, “Never have I been less qualified to address a subject than the one you’ll read about today.”

Still, he paints a picture of what many of us know: Casual dress at work is the new normal. Giegerich writes:

“‘There is no one way to dress for business anymore, where there used to be a set formula,’ said Nancy Nix-Rice, a St. Louis image and wardrobe consultant …

Jeans, polo shirts and sweaters are standard attire in the boutique marketing firms, information technology and other companies with no designs of ever nailing down a spot on the Fortune 500.

‘There’s no doubt some people have taken business casual way too far,’ said Nix-Rice. ‘And that sends a message that either says, ‘I’m an intellectual, and can’t be bothered by something so mundane as to how I look.’ Or, it’s a (finger gesture) approach that tells your employer, ‘You can’t tell me what to do even if you own the company.””

HR pushback

As you might imagine, some HR executives tell Giegerich they don’t agree that dressing down on the job is good:

“With the exception of casual Fridays in the summer months and occasional informal office celebrations, Edward Jones employees are expected to meet certain standards whenever they stroll into corporate headquarters.

For men, the rules call for a shirt, tie, suit or sport coat. For female employees, it means business attire.

Human resources executive Beth Cook said the Edward Jones dress policy rests on ‘the fundamental belief that being a professional is dressing like one.'”

If you think casual dress at work will eventually run its course, consider this: Giegerich points out that a recent Time survey found that an overwhelming 93 percent of millennial employees said they gravitate toward workplaces that allow them to dress “in a way that makes them comfortable.” Also, 79 percent of respondents felt they should be allowed to wear jeans or denim to work at least some of the time.

Does how you dress at work matter? Have we taken Casual Friday too far? How does your organization handle it?

Like so many other things in the workplace, I don’t think casual dress is going away anytime soon. Please offer your own thoughts in the comments section.

John Hollon is vice president for editorial of TLNT.com and the former editor of Workforce Management magazine and Workforce.com. A version of this article originally appeared on TLNT.

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