e all remember Sex and the City’s Miranda Hobbes as a clean-cut, suit-wearing lawyer. When her office introduces casual Friday in the fourth season, she uses it to declare her pregnancy in a perfectly polished blue wrap dress. Her recently ‘outed’ gay colleague however, rocks up in a fishnet t-shirt and slouchy cargo-pants, prompting the immediate cancellation of dressing down at work. Although Hobbes was in the clear, casual Friday is most certainly an issue for women at work. Whilst we have established what constitutes professional for the majority of the week, those who want to fit in to their corporate culture are once again, put in a difficult position when interpreting a casual dress code. Considering that 52% of women now feel that they are held to higher standards than men regarding personal presentation, any errors made in their casual workwear inevitably leaves more of a mark on their reputation. Lea Goldman mentions this in reflecting how her work ‘doppelgänger’ was passed over for multiple promotions, inevitably linked to her unsavoury casual Friday choices. Coming to work in ripped jeans, shorts in the summer and excessively high-heels, she was passed over for promotions and couldn’t get any meetings with the manager thanks to her ensembles that “made her seem 10 years younger and painfully out of place”. It wasn’t her performance that led to her colleague's departure but her inability to translate her professional capability into her casual clothing.
The New York Times fashion editor Vanessa Friedman argues that women still rely on style to convey their authority and to gain respect in the workplace. In taking away the one method in which they can assert themselves, women are once again put at the back of the office pecking-order as the sense of power that comes from a suit doesn’t always follow through in casual clothing. This is also an issue if we are aiming to move up the ranks. "Navigating casual Friday shows how well you understand the culture of your firm," says Laura Lopata, founder of New York-based executive coaching firm, Accent on Image, "it's one of the many things your superiors are looking at in order to move you up and into a leadership position." In order for both styles to co-exist harmoniously, it’s high-time the ‘uniform’ we’ve created for ourselves evolves to give us a dress-down alternative. This way, we can ensure we’re comfortable as well as casual whilst projecting that all-important whip-cracking attitude on the most sluggish day of the week.
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Invest in the Casual Jacket
Keep the jacket but tone down the formality. Investing in classic jackets minus the tailoring details, such as Rose & Willard’s Caneva Square jacket or the Gwen Jacket by Madderson London gives your casual wardrobe pivotal pieces to work around for relaxed days in the office; the key being attention to detail in both designs. The ‘smart-casual’ interpretation also leaves room for a minimalist aesthetic; THISISNON’s plain blazer is a sleek and simple alternative to a jacket and still has a place at a client meeting thanks to its clean lines and modern approach to elegance.
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Suit Up with Separates
The dependency of a suit still stands but on the last day of the week, there’s room to mix it up. In Goldman’s case, although her colleague’s performance was not bad, it was the fact that her Friday outfits were neither boardroom ready, nor worthy of representing the company at a moment’s notice; essential indicators of your potential as a leader in the long-term. Avoid the same mishap with VIKTORIA CHAN’s abstract checked blazer and the comfort of culottes by Rose & Willard, which compliments as well as contrasts each other as an ensemble. If your role involves a lot of face time with clients, dressing down can leave you short-changed in an instant as it won’t be casual Friday half-way across the city where they have scheduled a last-minute meeting, so use tailored separates as your safety net.
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Depend on a Dress
A dress is probably the easiest conversion from business formal to business casual. Body Frock’s Cara dress is a fresh approach to a floral style, with the lower hemline and elegant shape fitting right into the office dynamic. Alternatively, the visual feast that is Madderson London’s Lara dress adds colour and texture for a chic interpretation of casual attire. Hem-height and neck-line are often the offenders in casual Friday mishaps; if your piece has those cleared, you’ll be good to go.
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Most offices will make causal Friday optional and Melissa Dahl’s argument for avoiding casual Friday altogether fits right in with the beauty of choice. The psychology of dressing well when all others didn’t she says, had a fundamental impact on the quality of her work as well as her professional image. In wearing suits and jackets in a sea of skinny jeans and floral shirts, “colleagues would pull me aside and whisper conspiratorially, ‘Are you interviewing for a new job or something?’" Over time “I got invited to more meetings and took on bigger projects” – she even scored a promotion. Drawing on a study from Columbia and California State University, research shows that dress-codes don’t just influence the way we think about ourselves, but they have a fundamental influence on our thinking strategy; we perform better when we are dressed better, citing Dahl’s progression in her career. Unsurprisingly, this verifies an age-old school of thought; dress for the job you want – evidently, your performance levels will follow suit.
Words by Emily Freund