As a young editor in the fashion world, I’ve long thought of my industry as creative and far removed from the stuffy boardrooms of corporate America. As a result, I’ve considered myself lucky to be able to choose outfits that reflect the current trends (within reason, of course), and, up until recently, I had no problem wearing jeans on casual Friday. But that changed when I worked for a trail-blazing woman who, by reputation, had a huge problem with a designated dressed-down workday. And I’ve begun to think she might have a point.
My issue with casual Fridays isn’t that it’s detrimental to workplace productivity, which some statistics suggest. While this may be true in certain cases, I know that I did some of my best work while toiling away as a freelance writer, at home in my Ugg slippers, an old concert T-shirt, and a blanket wrapped around my shoulders.
Instead, my issue with casual Fridays is that I question if the traditional practice is really in the best interest of the unstoppable, career-driven women of today. Hear me out…
The story behind casual Fridays dates back to 1992, when Dockers branded the concept, giving men the opportunity to skip the tie and jacket. Needless to say, the idea wasn’t created with women’s fashions in mind. Although progress has been slow, the workplace has changed a lot since then. In 1995, for example, there were no women serving as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, according to Pew Research Center. Today, there are 26 female CEOs, not as many as we’d like to see, but still an improvement. And as more women continue to take a seat at the big table, it raises a lot of questions about what exactly is best to wear on casual Friday. What’s the female equivalent of skipping the tie and jacket?
As much as I’d like to believe that women aren’t being judged by their appearances, I think we all can admit that, for whatever reason, they are, and there’s perhaps no place where this matters more than in the office. That same Pew study mentioned above found that 52 percent of women feel that they are held to higher standards than men for top business positions. And, as Vanessa Friedman notes in her New York Times article “Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Power of Style,” female leaders, whether we like it or not, have long been relying on style to help gain respect, influence or power in ways in which men frankly have not had to. So on casual Fridays, while there is still a clear uniform for men, women instead have endless options, and each possible choice invites its own scrutiny from others. How light of a wash for your jeans is too light? Can you wear open-toed shoes? Or shorts?
While I recognize that so much of this is situational and changes depending on your company’s culture, I am starting to see the importance, especially for women, of dressing with a purpose in the workplace. So although I love slipping into my favorite pair of blue jeans before the weekend, now when I get dressed and make the swap for trousers, I also feel like I’m making a choice to take control of my career.
Keep scrolling to shop relaxed pieces that are still work-appropriate.