Monday, January 5, 2009

Casual Friday Dressing for the Office

Casual Clothing vs Formal Dressing - You Decide

Upto to now most of us have not had to think too hard about what we wear in the office. Most of us have four or five suits or a similar number of Van Heusen and Arrows that we wear in the office. We have four or five suits which we rotate in strict order. Our shoes circulate likewise. And then there are ties, a window of opportunity, albeit a small one.

But soon in India, we are all going to have to work much harder at our office dress sense. The American ritual of “Friday Wear” is already on its way full speed across the Atlantic on the way into India, as if it hasn’t entered already. Anyway, the idea – to let employees wear what they like to work on Fridays – was first developed in California’s Silicon Valley as a means of breaking down the rigid hierarchies of the office and promoting a team spirit. Now half the companies in the Fortune Top 500have the same policy, ranging from American Express and Microsoft to SAP and HSBC and not to forget Dot Com & new generation start-ups,.

Casual does not necessarily denote jeans and T-shirts. It might mean an open-necked shirt, a polo shirt, blazer chinos and a pair of loafers. And that is not such bad news. Giorgio Armani, for one, thinks the idea of encouraging employees to wear casual clothes in the office on Fridays is “a tremendous accomplishment, a goal that has finally been reached”. Armani and many of his fellow designers have been banging on for years about the restrictions of the office environment. They see men (and women) as closeted, repressed individuals wearing dull grey uniforms to their dull gray office, their individuality submerged within an Orwellian five-day-a-week existence.

In truth, designers have been offering more relaxed alternatives for sometime now. Italian businessmen especially, dress with style, flair and sophistication, designer-labeled up from their Fratelli Rossetti shoes to their Gucci ties. French and German businessmen escaped the straitjacket of the suit long ago; a smart jacket or blazer and pair of trousers is judged equally acceptable in most business situation. And now the message is getting through to the Anglo-Saxons. Loosen up urge the designers. If you don’t wear a suit, it doesn’t mean you have to look like a slob. Try shaking up your wardrobe, try doing what most women have to do every day of their working lives.

Don’t ask if it will really catch on here in India. It already has. The corporate offices of many American businesses are leading the way with “dress-down on Fridays”, from a liaison office of a large MNC at Kochi to the Headquarters of a Fortune 100 ginat at Mumbai. British and our own Indian companies have followed suit,albeit slowly and some are expected tentatively, over the coming months. While researching this article, I heard a rumor that the Bank of England, a relic of the conservative British empire and our very own Reserve Bank of India is already trying the scheme.

The problem with dress-down Friday is that it turns offices into minefields of potential disaster. As anyone who has ever worked for a company with a Friday Wear policy; the Managing Director who was mistaken for an intruder and refused entry to the blinding, the executives panicked by unexpected meeting with a top-notch client into dispatching couriers to their homes to retrieve their suits. Most companies, rather like armies, still thrive on strict hierarchical definitions; when the troops are allowed to abandon their uniforms, who knows what chaos will result?

Journalists have never had to worry too much about what they wear, but everyone knows what it feels like to get it wrong. A few years ago, a friend of mine was working for a magazine which was bought out in a secret deal by a rival publisher. The gray suits arrived on the doorstep on a Monday morning, midsummer. It was one of those steaming hot days when all conventional dress codes had been abandoned and the entire office was decked over in shorts and Hawaiian shirts. As the news of the takeover was announced, all felt like naughty schoolboys called into the headmaster’s study-sartorially ill equipped to face up to the new man agreement team.

But legitimate casual wear in the office is a different matter, and raises some interesting questions. Do companies really operate most efficiently by being run like military establishments, complete with suits as corporate uniforms? In many industries, the suit has already become a redundant form of clothing. These days you often see men remove their jackets and ties the moment they reach there desks-the jackets–and–tie combinations serving merely as an absurd carapace for traveling to and from the office.

And who’s to say that we won’t garner some psychological benefit from enjoying dressing for the office. It will give the old brain cells a stretch first thing in the morning. It might even make getting out of bed bearable and going to office a pleasure.


  1. Well, my office atmosphere is pretty drab and my boss a moron. No friday dressing for me. Good post.

    Harris Crowe

  2. anything goes these days but still relics remain. liked the tone.



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