Dress Down Friday dresses up productivity

As my toes wriggle contently in their (Italian, designer) leather sandals, freed from the shackles of sky-high Tom Ford pumps, I praise Casual Friday.

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As my belly relishes the freedom of (Italian, designer) elastic-waisted black jersey pants, the constricting feeling of a Chanel pencil skirt a distant memory, I praise Casual Friday.

"A more relaxed dress code did wonders for breaking down silos, making the workplace more egalitarian and boosting morale."
Marcia Levinstock, Founder and managing editor of content agency PrimaryIdeas

I love Casual Friday so much I might celebrate smashing my To-Do list by having a burger with a side of ribs for lunch.

Better still, on this day when I feel happy, comfortable, relaxed, without pressures or restrictions, my company can celebrate my increased productivity and output.

You see, Casual Friday is more than just suit-deep. The economic benefits of rewarding workers with a simple gesture such as loosening the dress code have been documented for decades.

So Leo D'Angelo Fisher, my esteemed fellow BlueNotes contributor, this inexplicable and quite unhealthy tie obsession in your scathing and unfair criticism of dress down Friday last week had me amused.

You're wrong.


The reason why some men look unkempt in a suit has nothing to do with a tie. Do you know why even a tie-less George Clooney looks like, well, George Clooney?

Good skincare and make-up before red carpet photos, a top of the line, bespoke Armani suit (they're buddies, you see) and definitely, unequivocally a different word beginning with T – tailoring.

Those swish suits have been tailored to within a millimetre of Clooney's delicious body shape, so the suit shape is his and his alone. Tom Ford? Tailored. Victoria Beckham? Tailored. Paul Keating? Tailored.

Actress Eva Longoria tailors everything in her wardrobe, including plain white t-shirts.

In my opinion, I have worked in both the fashion and business media, it's a luxury that needs to become a necessity for the every day man. The reason Leo's offenders look bad, tie or no, is because the suits haven't seen the skilled hands of a tailor, a good dry cleaner or even a good coat hanger.

And looking good certainly has nothing to do with a tie pin, Leo. (But how quaint! How retro! How last century!)

Casual Friday actually began in Silicon Valley. Laura Anderson knows - she was there.

The tech entrepreneur, global corporate veteran and Chairman of the Virgin Australian Melbourne Fashion Festival, recalls how the formality of the suited-up workplace was shaken up by companies such as Apple.

“Back in the late '70s and early '80s, when I started in the workforce, everything was very formal. You always wore a suit. I always had black and navy suits, white shirts, I wore pearls, my hair in a French braid – that was my uniform," Anderson tells BlueNotes.

“Then I did more and more work in the tech sector and saw how Apple really led the way in utilising culture to transform the organisation. Apple went totally casual and it had quite a profound effect on productivity. It was amazing, it really transformed corporate America."

Associate Professor Karen Webster, Deputy Head of Fashion and Textiles at RMIT University, agrees the IT industry in Silicon Valley was the first to shift corporate thinking into valuing employee's minds more than their dress sense.

“These were younger, more innovative lateral thinkers who weren't around the corporate world so they challenged a new way of thinking in business," she says.

“The perspective was to empower staff to have a more relaxed attitude in how they present themselves and how they work – open plan offices, that sort of thing – and have a direct relationship with productivity increase."

As is often the case in business, as in fashion, what works is copied.

“The corporate world, the top end of town, the bankers and lawyers, started to investigate the notion of dress down Fridays, with the general parameters being as long as you didn't have an appointment with a client or a serious engagement of some sort, if you were coming to work and doing your day to day work, on Friday, you can have relaxed attire," Webster says.

“At that time, there was a direct correlation between that and productivity."

Anderson remembers it went further than just output – a more relaxed dress code did wonders for breaking down silos, making the workplace more egalitarian and boosting morale.

“When I worked at Hewlett Packard, they started casual Fridays," Anderson recalls. “It was the only way to drive familiarity between employees and break down the hierarchical structure in the workplace. People really enjoyed being in the workplace, they would socialise afterwards – it became a stronger community experience."


Admittedly, parameters have shifted.

But rather than taking offence at tie-less workers, what Leo should be incensed about is the creeping of Casual Friday into Casual Monday to Friday.

Fashion stylist Donny Galella ( says this workplace liberty is being abused and standards are being lowered.

“When I worked at Commonwealth Bank and Westpac, it was a privilege not to have to wear a grey or blue suit on a Friday," he remembers. “Now, we are so blasé about it, we're just getting sloppy with our dress codes. We need to remind staff that this is a privilege."

Some of Galella's Casual Friday guidelines include: no sneakers or tracksuit pants. No showing off your tattoos or cleavage. No dirty scuffed shoes. No mini hemlines. Nothing torn and nothing creased.

“Just because it's Friday, you still have to iron your clothes," Galella says.

A burgeoning part of his business is consulting to corporates around Australia on exactly how to nail the smart casual look.

“For guys, it doesn't mean just wearing a polo top and chinos – that's so clichéd, he says. “I bring in examples, models, mannequins, we have style sessions to show employees and employers how to achieve the look and still look presentable and professional."

The final word goes to the inimitable maverick and founder of the Virgin empire, Sir Richard Branson.

“When I worked at Virgin, Branson really embrace the smart casual dress code and no-one abused it," Galella recalls.

“His directive was, 'Wearing a tie isn't going to make you any smarter'."

Marcia Levinstock is founder and managing editor of content agency PrimaryIdeas. She is a former concert musician, television panellist and fashion editor for a major business publication. 

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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