Are “Casual Fridays” dragging down your internal brand?

I read an interesting piece on Business Insider yesterday. It quoted a long, ranty, resignation letter by a 20-something employee to his traditionalist employer.

It’s worth reading in its entirety, but what I want to talk about was this particularly sarcastic paragraph:

And lastly, there were blue-jean Fridays. Whoever thought of that should get an award. Wearing jeans on Fridays was a great way to show your appreciation to us for our hard work, and it showed us what a cool company we were!

The first time I heard of “Casual Fridays” was when I had AT&T Canada as a client, back in the ’90s. It was (and perhaps still is) a very traditional “big blue” corporation. Men wore suits and ties, and women wore the accepted sartorial equivalent. But on Fridays, they could wear jeans to the office IF they paid a small fine. The proceeds went to charity.

We agency people had no dress code whatsoever. We tended to be a little more business-y with the more formal clients, but jeans certainly weren’t out of the question — on any day of the week. Those suited clients occasionally expressed their jealousy of those of us working in the “creative” field.

It’s not that casual…
(Brazilian jeans ad, via Design is Good For What?)

Fast-forward to today. It seems the only people you see in suits now are lawyers, politicos and salesmen, as well as senior executives above a certain age. The baby boom loathed the tie. As my boomer fellow adman Jake Volt always tells me, “the tie is society’s leash!” (He’s paraphrasing an ad from the ‘90s.) And as Gen X and the Millennials grew up with boomer bosses, many never had to dress formally for work.

In our agency world, the typical uniform today is jeans and a blazer. Creatives still often dress even more casually, and “the suits” occasionally live up to the cliché, but in general the agency world embraces a “business casual” look that it all about style over formality. And so it should be. We’re supposed to be cooler than our clients.

I often describe branding to clients in terms of fashion. People who aren’t fashion victims generally dress to maximize the attractiveness of their personality, physical attributes and status to a “target market” of those they want to influence. Using this metaphor, I even reference shows like “What Not To Wear” to help explain how agency people can help brands show off their own inner and outer beauty, while still staying true to who they are.

But there’s a literal fashion aspect to branding as well. Unless your organization has an actual uniform, how the team members dress is as much of a part of your internal and external brand as how they talk to clients and each other. Like the office décor, the office fashion sense can communicate hipness, formality, laissez-faire, or precision. Sometimes all of these things at once.

You can’t have it both ways… (via Denim Therapy)

Which brings me back to “Casual Friday.” If it’s okay to do office work, attend meetings, and call on clients in jeans on Friday, why is it not okay the rest of the week? Your brand is your brand, whenever people interact with it.

I would prefer that all businesses move towards the business casual look all week, simply because I find suits a little uncomfortable and expensive to maintain (not to mention the drycleaning pollution). I also think they are also out-of-step with today’s more personal and egalitarian business relationships that are built more on function than form. (Unlike Richard Branson, however, I still think ties are nifty — especially skinny ones.)

If there are businesses that still require a suitly look, to convey power and prestige, then they would be best to keep it consistent. Branding is all about committing to the vision. No matter what day it is.


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Tom was wearing jeans when he wrote this.

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