Ready-to-wear womenswear has become the 4WD of fashion, it can go anywhere safely, even to casual Friday.
Karl Lagerfeld once said, “sweatpants are a sign of defeat”.
Well, I say partaking in casual Friday is a sign that you should’ve called in sick.
If you have the style chutzpah to coordinate a look that mixes high-street, gym gear and a Chanel boucle jacket, then go right ahead and wear whatever you like, you are an exception to the rule. However for the rest of us we should really be sticking to the rules of a fashion caste system - women are the rulers, men sometimes look untouchable.
The Levi's brochure from the 1990s that was circulated to businesses in the US and used as a "How to guide" for casual Friday.
To witness this system in its natural environment you only have to look as far as the cubicle next you to on Fridays, or as they are still known in some offices – “casual Fridays”.
In my experience, those who speak in acronyms instead of a recognised language or do things such as “crunch numbers” are more inclined rock a pair of 501s without even a hint of irony (sometimes even with sneakers) on the day before the Sabbath.
The casual Friday concept was invented by men for men in the early 1990s as a way for cash strapped companies in the US to make their staff feel comfortable and relaxed during a time of economic downturn.
Stylist, photographer and men's style blogger Liam McKessar from Front Row Suit.
The concept of “free dress day” was then commercialised by Dockers, a sportswear brand in Levi’s sartorial stable. Levi’s aim was to appeal to the golfing mad, white collar Baby Boomers who were beginning to forgo jeans for shapeless, comfort-over-style khakis.
In a clever marketing ploy, Dockers produced an eight-page catalogue disguised as “A Guide to Casual Businesswear” and circulated it to more than 25,000 human resource managers across the country. These “guides” were then passed down to the predominantly male workforce to show them the style ropes when they were granted a reprieve from the “tyranny of suits”.
Fast forward a number of years and the concept of “casual Friday” is now lost on many people. I was discussing this issue with a friend who, even on the weekends is perfectly coiffured and cleanly pressed – a scar she bares from early on in her career when she was badly burned by a case of casual Friday misguidance.
Fresh out of uni, it was her first Friday on the job at a law firm on Melbourne’s Collins Street.
“Just so you know, it’s casual Friday tomorrow,” a colleague told her as they bounded out the door on Thursday afternoon.
The next morning, in she strutted wearing a dusty pink and black polka dot babydoll dress and a sandal… an open-toe sandal.
All was going well. The Mary Tyler Moore Show theme music was buzzing in her ears and she felt safe, safe in the knowledge the receptionist was coveting her risqué strappy sandals and the fact she could help herself to Milk Arrowroots and unlimited cups of International Roast whenever she wanted.
Then her boss, a senior partner at this ritzy firm, went home sick. She was swiftly called up off the bench and told to attend a meeting with the firm’s biggest client looking like an extra from Clueless, dressed by Target clutching an armful of torts.
While said client didn’t tell her she looked like a “virgin who can’t drive”, she has never forgotten that day and thus, never dared utter the words “casual” and “Friday” in the same sentence since.
My friend, on that fateful day, was not only unskilled professionally but considered an Unskilled Worker in the fashion caste system.
When it comes to casual dressing in the workplace I, shamefully, have a sexist point of view.
It’s something I am actively trying to change, but it has to do with the fact that women, in my view, “get” the casual Friday memo, which makes them the fashion Priests, Warriors and Skilled Traders. While men, in some cases, fail to open the envelope and mooch about the office looking unkempt and untouchable.
My disgraceful double standard is based on the fact that womens-wear has become so versatile and social media is the new age look book.
Ready-to-wear is like the 4WD of fashion. These days it can go from the boardroom to the bar and everywhere in between.
I blame it on the relaxed silhouettes and cartoon-like themes of recent seasons, where things like drop-crotch pants, Kenzo’s tiger sweaters and Les Plus Dorés football jersey inspired t-shirts have become wardrobe staples for any lady with an Instagram log in.
I love a man in a band t-shirt on the weekends, however if one strutted into the office without a collar I would be more inclined to place a coffee order with him rather than form caucus.
Thankfully there are some fantastic local men’s style sites and magazines, including Mitchell Oakley Smith’s ManuscriptDaily.com and Liam McKessar’s Front Row Suit, that are approaching menswear in the same way female fashion bloggers discuss and disseminate trends and style notes.
I urge the men (and women) of corporate Australia who want to climb the fashion caste system to try these sites on for size.