What to Wear for Casual Fridays?

Casual Fridays in the office can be a great way to relax and let your hair down, or a nightmare to witness. Fortunately, Modern Manners Guy has 3 tips to make sure you enjoy this workplace perk without finding a pink slip on your desk on Monday.

Richie Frieman
5-minute read
Episode #209

What to Wear for Casual Fridays?

First, let me say that I’m not one to tell someone how to dress. May I offer suggestions? Yes. Here’s an example: That tuxedo t-shirt you wore to your brother’s wedding reception was a bad idea. But in general, I believe that everyone has their own fashion sense, and we all have the right to express ourselves in whatever way we like (provided we keep our local decency laws in mind, right Legal Lad?).

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However, whereas you can wear that cut-off belly shirt to the mall, you have to abide by certain other rules in the workplace. Casual Fridays is a perfect example of when things can get a bit fuzzy. Some people take Casual Fridays as the opportunity to let loose as if they’ve been locked up in a convent all week.  

Proper Casual Fridays

Whether we like it or not, every place of employ has its own dress code that may or may not fit with what we prefer to wear outside the office. Still, you have to play by the rules – which includes Casual Fridays. Those tiny, trendy shorts that look like bikini bottoms? Might not be the best idea for the law office. Those skintight biking pants that hug your lower half like ballet tights? Bad idea.

We’ve all seen Casual Fridays turn into a fraternity toga party and that’s when things can go very wrong very fast. Luckily, I’m ready to tackle this burning question: What is the mannerly way to rock out your Casual Friday attire?

Check out my top 3 Quick and Dirty Tips for proper Casual Fridays:

Tip #1 – I Am Who I Am

I get it – you’re a wild child. No, really, I’m totally with you. You’re the baddest guy walking the planet…after 5PM and on weekends, that is. And as a fellow lover of all things with engines, I totally get that you think your Harley is your life. However, when you work at an accounting firm and decide to rock Casual Fridays in your leather chaps and your shirt that says “Don’t Tread On Me,” don’t be too surprised if everyone doesn’t share in your enthusiasm for the open road. As well, just because you feel comfortable in your Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops, they don’t exactly scream confidence in your knowledge of corporate law contracts to a potential client.

Come on people, work with me here!

I agree that you should be yourself, but don’t be surprised if who you are on the weekends and at night does not necessarily gel with what your boss had in mind when he issued Casual Fridays.

I don’t blame you, though. If more workplaces laid out their Casual Friday rules ahead of time, we wouldn’t be in this mess. But sadly they don’t and then chaos erupts. Casual Fridays have to be done in a manner that works with your particular job’s environment. “Casual” doesn’t necessarily mean “Come as you please.” What it really means is “If you usually have to wear a suit, Friday is when you can come in slacks and a blazer and leave the tie at home.” Can you wear sneakers if loafers are your usual uniform? Of course! A short-sleeve shirt if it’s 95 degrees outside? Absolutely! Yoga pants? Sure…if you work at a Yoga studio.

Bottom line: Don’t view Casual Fridays as your chance to “be free.” See it as a day when you get to take your normal work attire down a notch. That’s 1 notch, not 4.  

Tip #2 – Yes, There Is a Gender Bias

Please don’t take this the wrong way, but there is a gender bias when it comes to what men and women can wear on Casual Fridays. And if you are reading this and are thinking, “Come on, Modern Manners Guy, it’s the 21st century, Casual Fridays are the same for everyone!” allow me to paint a picture for you.

At an office supply company of 50 employees, a guy and a girl get off the elevator, both wearing tight tank tops. Who looks awkward? I’ll give you a hint…it’s the guy. Oops, sorry, I gave that one away. For a woman, sleeveless clothing is part of standard everyday attire. But I promise you, if a guy walks into a professional office setting wearing a tight tank top or a sleeveless t-shirt, he will get negative looks. Even if he has gigantic arms like The Rock.

Granted this is just one example, but it outlines perfectly why there is a set difference in what is proper for men and women to wear to work. I’m not complaining either, ladies. I’m not saying this is wrong – it’s just a fact. Women can pull off much more casual seeming clothes than men, because women’s fashion is just more functional that way. It’s only fair. They have the babies, so they should be able to get away with more stuff in regular life. Suck it up, guys.

As for the fellas, we’re pretty much stuck with keeping our upper arms covered. I mean let’s face it, who wants to see some big hairy guy armpits leaning over the conference table to hand you a document? Don’t worry guys, even though we can’t be as comfortable as the ladies on Casual Fridays we have it a lot easier at weddings. Two words: Bridesmaid dresses. Yikes!

See also: Proper Wedding Attire

Tip #3 – Keep it Clean

When I was 12-years-old, “Big Johnson” t-shirts where all the rage at my sleepover camp. All my fellow campers got a big kick out of wearing those goofy shirts with sexual innuendos. What can I say, we were kids and easily amused. However, those kinds of shenanigans would never fly on Casual Fridays. So don’t even think about wearing the shirt that reads “Everything’s Bigger in Texas” with an arrow pointing south.

I’ve seen this backfire firsthand. A (former) colleague wore a t-shirt with a similar message to work one Friday. Needless to say, our boss was not pleased and asked him to never wear it again. In the same vein, an attractive young woman who worked at my friend’s medical supplies company used to dress for Casual Fridays the same way she would for a punk rock rager.  She basically only covered what you would at a beach. Her colleagues, especially the other women in the office, felt very uncomfortable around her and it did her career no favors.

As I discussed in Tip #2, this is where keeping it clean comes into play. “Casual” does not mean “entertaining.” Casual is more like “dressed down classy.” A gimmicky shirt with derogatory or sexual content is highly inappropriate to wear to work (unless you’re the manager of a Hooters). Same goes for an outfit that would get you cast in a Whitesnake video circa 1987. Anytime you’re in the office, whether it’s a regular work day, a Casual Friday, or even a weekend, your clothing should be kept within reason because you never know who you might run into while there. I’m sorry if I’m ruining Casual Fridays for you, but in reality I promise you flip-flops and cleavage is not at all what your boss had in mind.

Do you have a great story about improper Casual Fridays? Post all the details in the comment section below or post it on the Modern Manners Guy Facebook page.

As always, if you have another manners question, I look forward to hearing from you at manners@quickanddirtytips.com. Follow me on Twitter @MannersQDT, and of course, check back next week for more Modern Manners Guy tips for a more polite life.

Business casual image courtesy of Shutterstock.