Dressing for Casual Friday

Once a week, hemlines inch higher, black pants are traded for kakis, and a slight festive mood permeates the offices. For some, they even get served wine by their newest colleague at 4pm. Say hello to "Casual Friday" (also known as "dress-down Friday").

Advocates of Casual Friday will tell you that wearing comfortable clothes once a week will increase productivity. Reason? Because employees will be more creative and have higher morale when they are allowed to get out of their restrictive business suits for a day. Unfortunately, it can work the other way as well: some employees get SO comfortable, they look sloppy and produce slipshod work.

While the debate rages on, I think we can all agree that a Casual Friday policy is not a license to wear everything in our wardrobes. Much as we insist on meritocracy, the fact is still that appearances matter. Remember what you thought of the person with holes in their shirts or crumpled pants? C'est la vie.  

While the definition of what is appropriate will differ from company to company,  you would rarely go wrong with business casual. If you want more clarity, consult your company's handbook, your manager, or the HR department. Observe your colleagues for good real-life examples, and to identify the unwritten OB markers.

What won't make the cut is anything that would definitely look out of place in an office environment. That means that T-shirts or jeans with rips are best left for the weekend, even if those designer rips cost over a hundred dollars. Same goes with faded clothes, and baggy jeans or ill-fitting tops.

Even if you intend to work late and head straight for the clubs, change into the high strappy heels, mini skirts and plunging necklines after work. The same principle applies even for a more 'wholesome' activity like going to the gym: stow the sports gear in a bag. And for all our sanity, leave T-shirts with offensive slogans and graphics at home.

For the ladies

Your feet have been pinched all week by heels, so give them a treat. Slip on comfortable and stylish ballet flats or jewelled sandals, or display manicured toes in kitten heels and open-toed shoes.

Swap the structured dresses and skirt suits for more 'relaxed' materials like cotton, chiffon and linen. You may also select blouses and dresses in brighter colours and bolder patterns. Just make sure the hemlines and necklines are respectable, unless you want the men to talk to your chest or legs.

While jeans are appropriate wear, keep them dark and fitted, especially around your curves. And my favourite piece of clothing? The humble cardigan. Throw one on, and it gives an instant let's-get-to-work seriousness to your outfit. You could even experiment with various colours, fabrics and cuts.

For the guys

Trade your black pants in for khakis or jeans. Just make sure they're a good fit, or belt up. We do not need to know what you're wearing underneath.

Ditch the tie for once, and come in with button-up shirts in more relaxed fabrics, patterns and colours. Short-sleeved shirts are best tucked out, and paired with jeans or light-coloured pants. However, the graphic T-shirt and jeans ensemble would appear stolen from the back of a University student so do avoid that.

If you have to wear a jacket, experiment with sports jackets in less formal fabrics like tweed, heavy cotton or linen. Leather shoes, loafers, and clean sneakers are acceptable. Running shoes aren't.

Basic principles

At the end of the day, you want to look well put together. There are two simple checks for this. First, think about your pet dressing peeves in others. Chances are, if you don't want to see wayward bra straps or flesh spilling out from too-tight clothes, your colleagues wouldn't either. Second, will you feel comfortable meeting your bosses and clients in this outfit? If not, you might need to change into something.

Happy weekend!

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