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Is dressing down bad for business?

‘Casual Friday’ backlash grows in Mississippi

Many professionals agree that “Casual Friday,” the singular day of the week adopted by many businesses when formal business attire is not required, has gone too far. They say casual dress equates casual attitudes and that productivity dips when formality slips. Others say the working public is simply misinformed. How can casual be too casual if it’s not defined?

“When people dress casually, they have a more casual attitude about business,” said Joe Myers, partner at Great Scott, an upscale clothing store in Jackson. “Those two attributes go hand in hand.”

Relaxed dressing causes a dilemma in the workplace, said Dr. Cynthia Easterling, a marketing professor at the University of Southern Mississippi.

“In a lot of organizations, people are wondering ‘what is relaxed dressing?’” she said. “Because bank employees are in front of customers all of the time, relaxed dressing had become a topic of debate. When I surveyed banks across the state recently, I found that 70% did not have written criteria to define relaxed dressing.”

Customers say Casual Friday, a trend that seemed to hit Jackson in the early 1990s, is the most difficult day for them to dress, Myers said.

“When told to dress casually, they didn’t know what to wear,” he said. “As a result, most men go from wearing a coat and tie to wearing clothing that is real casual — jeans and T-shirts.”

Dressing too casually impacts business, Easterling said.

“In business, you’re marketing services and part of marketing is defined by how employees present themselves,” she said.

Casual dressing has crossed over to other professions — accounting and law, for example — that were once defined as “strictly suits,” she said.

“I believe relaxed dressing has hit the courtroom a little bit,” she said. “It would be interesting to find out what some judges say about that.”

Attorneys that previously donned a suit and tie to the office on a daily basis now reserve that dress for courtroom appearances or client meetings, Myers said.

“To a certain extent, men — in all professions — never grow up,” he said. “When dressed in Sunday best, boys always acted better. When men are not dressed up, they’re just like little boys. They don’t act as professional. As a result, many companies have noticed that by dressing down, productivity is down. Many companies are addressing this by defining casual, or opting for ‘Dress Up Thursday’ or hosting seminars about appropriate dress.”

John Dennery, owner of Dennery’s Restaurant in Jackson, who sees hundreds of business folks from various industries at lunchtime on a daily basis, said he’s noticed a declining dress code over several decades.

“Growing up in late 1960s and early 1970s, you didn’t get on an airplane unless you were wearing a coat and tie,” he said. “You just didn’t go out unless you were appropriately dressed. Society has become more casual, with less emphasis on worldly trappings of jewelry and adornments. We still see people in all age groups that dine out daily in a coat and tie. Others have golf shirts and long pants. Last week, the president of a nationally-traded company wore a pair of khakis and an open shirt. It wasn’t important to be dressed to the nines.”

When humidity hits Jackson in the summertime, the traveling public — and business folks — naturally dress down, Dennery said.

“There doesn’t seem to be a problem with groups of people sitting next to each other in a wide range of dress because it is accepted,” he said.

In the mid-1980s, ads encouraged patrons to ‘come to Dennery’s to relax and enjoy dinner. I’ll wear the coat and tie,’ said Dennery.

“In the last few years, I’ve dropped the coat to simply a tie,” he said. “Men still come in and say, ‘Hey, John, you’re wearing the tie today, right?’”

Casual Fridays have become so popular that some companies have given the OK to add other weekdays for dressing down, Myers said.

“We’ve seen a difference in our business because of the change,” he said. “Many people don’t wear suits as often, some don’t wear them at all to work. Some people work out of their homes and don’t need to dress up. When these folks do buy clothing, it’s more stylish with better quality. That’s opened another door for us. We may not sell as many clothes to customers, but we sell better quality.”

So, what exactly is appropriate dress for Casual Friday?

“Companies differ on what’s permissible,” Myers said. “But here’s what’s normally deemed appropriate for men: worsted trousers with a sports shirt and sweater or sweater vest, a soft jacket or sport coat that looks tailored. Not jeans and T-shirts. Inner linings, padding and garment construction have enabled manufacturers to definitely make clothing more comfortable — softer, lighter, not as restrictive — even in suits. Regardless of what they’re wearing or what day of the week it is, everybody wants to feel comfortable.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com, mbj@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.


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