Workplace Dress – Is It Wrong To Be Casual All The Time?

Editor’s Note: Readers sometimes ask about past TLNT articles, so every Friday we republish a Classic TLNT post.

Way back in 1994, I was in Honolulu to interview for a job. I showed up in a suit and tie.

I got the job, but I never, ever dressed that way during my three-plus years in Hawaii again.

In fact, Casual Friday really started in Hawaii as Aloha Friday when the city of Honolulu allowed workers to wear Hawaiian (aloha) shirts part of the year, and the trend spread over into the general workforce.

Yes, despite all those old re-runs of the original Hawaii Five-O  with Jack Lord wearing a suit, businesses in Hawaii decided a long time ago that casual dress in a tropical climate made for happier employees.

Casual dress is the new normal

But most of America is not a tropical climate, and that makes you wonder: just what is it that has led to Casual Friday turning into casual dress on the job for so many so often? Is this a good thing that makes people more productive, or, is it just another sign of our ever-deteriorating standards?

Steve Giegerich, in his STL JobWatch blog at the St. Louis Post Dispatch, tackled this subject recently, although as 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 a lot of us probably know: casual dress on the job is the new normal. As he writes:

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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.’ ”

An HR push-back

As you might imagine, some HR executives tell him that they don’t necessarily agree that this trend of dressing down on the job is a good thing:

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.”

And, if you are thinking that this casual dress at work wave is just a trend that will eventually run its course, consider this: Blogger Giegerich points out that a recent Time MoneyLand survey found that an overwhelming 93 percent of Millennial (also known as Gen Y) employees said they gravitate toward workplaces that allow them to dress “in a way that makes them comfortable.” The survey also found that 79 percent of the 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 is your organization handling it, and has it changed over the last few years?

I’d love to get some comments from some readers who are dealing with this issue, because like so many other things in the workplace, I don’t think the focus on casual dress is going away anytime soon.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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