Is Casual Friday Too Casual?

Many times the question has been asked, “Has Casual Friday gotten too casual?“  Many would respond, “yes.”

Originally Casual Friday was a treat. It was an opportunity to eliminate the ties and hose for one day of the week. It was a nice change and allowed us to relax a bit.Then we slid into casual sweater sets, a starched white blouse, an Oxford and jacket, a golf shirt and khaki pants, all of which was OK as long as you were not going to see a client.

Today we have gone to spaghetti straps, shorts, tee shirts, and flip-flops. We are exposing cleavage in the front and boxers hanging out and thongs in the back. I am truly scared to think what is next. Are we all going to start showing up for work in our underwear for Casual Friday? I think some of us are halfway there.

How far is too far and where is the line? Here is a good rule to follow: If your outfit is going to make someone uncomfortable, don’t wear it. If you are not sure, default to a different something. (Sidebar: Most women don’t like to see other women’s cleavage, and most men don’t like to see other men’s nipples through their shirts. Women wear a bra, and, men, wear a tee shirt under your shirts.)

What most are failing to realize is that from 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. till 5 p.m. or 6 p.m., what you wear is not about you even on Casual Friday. It is still about the company for which you work, and other employees should be comfortable sitting across from you. Some companies have extended some leniency to be nice, but they still expect you to represent their companies in a professional manner.

The dress code, casual or not, reflects back on the reputation of the company. If I see a group of individuals that I know work for a good company and they are dressed like slobs, I immediately think, “Wow, pickings must be slim these days or someone lost a bet and had to hire this joker or he or she must be related to the owner somehow.” And I am not alone.

Bill Gates and Silicone Valley are credited with starting the casual trend. They felt it wasn’t necessary to show up for work in a business suit. Most of those people sat in a cubical all day and rarely went out to see clients. We are showing up to see clients today in jeans and tee shirts thinking it’s perfectly acceptable. But it’s not. Just because your client is casual doesn’t mean you should be.

Dressing casually to see a client gives the impression that you care more about your comfort than earning their business. You take a significant chance and gamble.

What many don’t understand is that Corporate America is more drawn to class than trash. Put together an outfit that will be comfortable and allow you to be respected as a business person. Think about the person that will be sitting across from you and about the image you are looking to portray.

Moral of the story: when you doubt, dress up not down.

Colleen Harding is a certified etiquette and protocol instructor and the founder of the Cleveland School of Etiquette and Corporate Protocol. Programs and packages available for children and businesses.