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Casual Friday – how casual is too casual?

Katja Mayer 09.09.2016
Dress-down Friday is a trend that originated in the U.S. in the 1950s. At the time, many employees would leave the office on Friday and drive straight out to the country for the weekend, meaning they were looking for a style that was presentable enough for work but comfortable enough to drive in. Casual clothing also gave employees that Friday feeling, putting them in the mood for the weekend.

It would be another 15 years until casual Friday caught on in Germany. Even then, the rules remained a lot stricter than in other countries until globalization ironed out cultural differences. This having been said, there are still a few industries that apply very different standards when it comes to appropriate clothing on a Friday: For instance, banks and insurance firms don’t allow their employees to wear certain items of clothing on Fridays that employees in IT companies wear to customer meetings throughout the week.

As such, the casual look is naturally restricted to companies that require men to wear a suit, shirt and tie and women a skirt or pant suit and blouse from Monday to Thursday. In these companies, the rule is that you are allowed to wear slightly more casual clothes on the last day of the week. But what exactly does that mean? It’s really quite simple...

The perfect outfit to usher out the week

Shorts and flip-flops or simply jeans and a T-shirt still have no place in the office. Even on the last working day of the week, you are representing your company and must therefore dress appropriately.

More specifically, you should take note of the following points:

Kleidungstipps für den Casual Friday
  • Men must wear a (white) shirt, suit trousers and dress shoes even on Fridays, especially in more conservative sectors and when interacting with customers. You can leave out the jacket and tie, but should still have these close at hand in the office. Women should ideally wear a blouse, skirt, pantyhose and heels.
  • Muted colors are best – but it doesn’t necessarily have to be either black or dark blue. And while you should otherwise wear a wool suit, linen and cotton suits are acceptable for finishing off the week. But be careful, these types of materials tend to crease easily.
  • If your company is a bit more laid back, you can wear a button down collar shirt instead of a classic business shirt – but leave out the tie; it won’t go with your outfit. Chinos instead of suit trousers are a good call when teamed with a casual jacket and loafers. For women, it’s perfectly acceptable to wear a summer dress or pantyhose that match your blouse.
  • Jeans and polo shirts are still a topic of debate. While they are perfectly fine in the U.S. and some European countries, many people in Germany and in particular the UK still turn up their noses at this choice of outfit. Straight leg jeans with a belt and (polo) shirt just squeak by as acceptable, but the jury is still out on T-shirts. That’s why it’s always better to ask someone at your company.

Michael Yohannes from our partner company Commerzbank tells us about his company’s approach to casual Friday: “Seriousness and trust are of vital importance in the banking sector in particular. That’s why it’s important to dress appropriately and also why Commerzbank has a business dress code for all days of the week. But Fridays can sometimes be a bit more relaxed at the headquarters in Frankfurt am Main – depending on the rules in the department.”

Business is business – even on Fridays...

Naturally, there are also strict requirements regarding the style of the clothes you can wear on casual Friday. You should therefore avoid the following:

  • Polo shirts or T-shirts with huge designer logos or embellishments. Muscle shirts and hand-knitted turtleneck sweaters in the winter are completely off-limits. Women should also steer clear of tank tops, crop tops, strapless dresses and clothes with thin spaghetti straps.
  • Low-cut and see-through blouses are a no-go! Take time in advance to think about the message you want to send... Those aren’t the type of clothes a competent professional would wear.  
  • Shorts, baggy pants, sweatpants and overalls don’t belong in the office either. Skirts should not be more than a hand’s width above the knee and should not be skin tight. Loud patterns and fishnets are a no-go, as are tennis socks and mom’s woolly socks.
  • Flip-flops and espadrilles are also inappropriate. Women should avoid wearing shoes with an extra high heel. And it goes without saying that thermal shoes are out of place in the office – even if the thermometer outside is already frozen.
  • Over-the-top accessories such as huge belt buckles, sunglasses and similar items should also be left at home. Although hats and caps are acceptable outside, they should be taken off before work.

Every rule has an exception

Of course, it’s entirely up to you whether you want to follow the rules on relaxed clothing or turn up in work clothes instead. It’s absolutely fine for you to wear a suit on casual Friday if you feel more comfortable that way. Perhaps you are fortunate enough to work in a company that simply isn’t aware of this trend. (But casual Friday in itself can be an important aspect of corporate culture, as casual clothing can make you feel and act more relaxed. This way, you can get to know a new and exciting side to your colleagues and perhaps even talk about things other than business in the staff room, such as your hobby or plans for the weekend. You may even discover similarities you never even knew you had, giving you the opportunity to expand your network.)

Wearing business clothes is a must if you have customer meetings on Friday. Either you can spend the entire day in formal clothing, or – as mentioned above – have suitable clothing ready at hand in the office so you can dress up in a flash.

Many companies don’t have official regulations but instead unwritten rules for casual Friday. careerloft partner company Hogan Lovells doesn’t even have a uniform guideline. The law firm’s conservative environment means its employees are required to follow a business dress code. But it remains to be seen whether this rule is as strict in reality as described above. Hogan Lovells’ international branch offices all have their own rules, which makes sense considering each country has its own cultural norms. careerloft’s contact at Hogan Lovells, Nina Schweneke, tells us about her experience: “Casual Friday has been an integral part of our corporate life for the past two years.  The specifics of if and how it is put into practice are different depending on the location. We try to conform to the customs in each respective country. I suppose you could call it a grassroots trend that is slowly gaining acceptance. Depending on the location, the dress code for Fridays may be more relaxed as long as there are no client meetings scheduled for that day. And this rule applies to all employees, including partners, lawyers and business services staff.”

Tread carefully when asking about the dress code at your new company. As a rule of thumb, if you are unsure of how you are expected to dress, it’s better to turn up overdressed rather than underdressed. After all, it doesn’t take long to remove unnecessary clothing – adding it, however, is a completely different story.

Editor: Katja Mayer in collaboration with Karrierebibel

Recommended reading: Read about what the author of Karrierebibel, Jochen Mai, thinks of patterned ties and synthetic socks in an article in Der Westen.

Fotogalerie: You should also have a look at our photo gallery with some of our colleagues :)