What (not) to wear on dress-down Friday

Lots of employers offer the perk of dress-down Fridays. But what are the unofficial style rules you need to follow?

By Evie Prosser

I walked into an office last Friday to interview a member of staff for a magazine feature. As is my habit on such occasions, I wore a crisp suit and neat shirt. It’s a fairly anonymous look that fits in to any workplace, from the smartest of the smart to the more casual.

    In fact, there are just as many unofficial style rules for these days as there are for the rest of the week.  

Doesn’t look quite so good when the person you meet is dressed in a sloppy T-shirt and tatty jeans, however. In fact, I felt decidedly overdressed and spent the first part of our meeting desperately trying to remove my jacket and roll up my shirtsleeves in an effort to look a bit less polished.

All of which got me thinking: what is it with dress-down Fridays? I know they’ve been a feature of the corporate landscape for years and many reports claim they improve productivity.

But really: is it such a good idea to allow your employees to dress like slobs for a whole day each week?

As I aired this view among my friends, it soon became apparent that, in the context of Fridays, “dress-down” doesn’t mean that at all. In fact, there are just as many unofficial style rules for these days as there are for the rest of the week.

So if you’re taking the dress-down Friday thing too literally, it’s time to smarten up. Turns out I’m not the only one who feels affronted by a grubby T-shirt-denim combo.

Even though the whole point of the initiative is to give you free rein over your wardrobe, you may want to follow these basic, unspoken, rules.

1) Go casual, but not too casual

So you know you’ll seem weird if you turn up to dress-down Friday in your usual smart suit, right? It’ll look as if you’re unwilling to let yourself go, as if the casual clobber of the hoi polloi is somehow below your grade.

By the same token, you want to avoid going too chilled with your look. It’s fair to say that dressing down in a work context is different from dressing down to have a barbecue with your mates.

Male or female, the advice is to opt for smart casual clothing on dress-down days. A clean shirt and trouser combo works well, maybe khakis in the summer and smart jeans in the summer. If it’s chilly, team with a lambswool sweater or cardigan, or maybe a well-cut tweed jacket.

That way, you’ll still be taken seriously, while showing that you’re willing to lighten up for the weekend.

2) No one wants you to make a statement

You know that Lady Hale Spider Brooch T-Shirt you bought after the Supreme Court ruling on the prorogation or parliament? You may think that wearing it to work on Friday makes a powerful statement about your political leanings.

But what if not everyone agrees with your sentiments? Wouldn’t it be a shame to alienate a swathe of colleagues just for the sake of making a political point?

    Play it safe. There are plenty of other ways to express your views, and often with more nuance than a slogan-bearing T-shirt allows.  

It’s simple really: if you were wearing normal work attire, you wouldn’t even think of daubing ideological slogans or messages on your clothing. Just because you’re allowed to dress casual, doesn’t mean the same rules don’t apply.

Play it safe. There are plenty of other ways to express your views, and often with more nuance than a slogan-bearing T-shirt allows. Use them and you’ll retain your integrity as well as the quality of your workplace relationships.

3) No one likes a show off

All the advice about dress-down Fridays concurs: it’s best not to wear in-your-face brands to the workplace, even when the dress code turns casual.

You may be dead chuffed with your YSL jumper or Dolce & Gabbana sweat pants. But if the logo shouts “look at me” theses items are probably best worn at weekends.

There are all sorts of things going on here: for a start, wearing an expensive brand may suggest to others that you’re earning more than them, which could provoke feelings of envy. It may also make you look like a show-off, which isn’t the way to curry favour with co-workers.

And, of course, visible branding can prove a distraction, which (as we’ve already established) isn’t a good thing in a working environment.

4) Be practical

Think about the tasks you are likely to execute during dress-down Friday. Then choose clothing that makes it as easy as possible to perform them.

Avoid long sleeves if you’re operating a machine or spending a lot of time typing. Don’t wear a short-sleeved top if you’re going to be on a site visit all day. And, of course, never ignore Health and Safety advice, even if it gets in the way of your individual style.

It’s all perfectly simple, really: dress-down Friday is your chance to dial your wardrobe down a notch or two. But don’t go so far that you stop working effectively. No one will thank you for that.

5) If you want to be whacky, make it a fundraiser

Have you always wanted to wear a kilt to the office? Do you fancy dressing in lederhosen for the day? Do you want to wear your nation’s rugby shirt to celebrate the world cup?

If so, consider making it a sponsored occasion. Initiatives like Jeans for Genes and Children in Need Fancy Dress Fundraisers make thousands of pounds for worthy causes. Why not use the occasional dress-down Friday to swell the coffers of a charity?

That way, you’ll enjoy a memorable day at work and contribute to the wellbeing of others. Sounds like a win-win to me.

Published: 26 September 2019

© 2019 Just Recruitment Group Ltd

If you enjoyed this article, you may like: Time for tea? Five tips for the office tea round

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