Why ‘casual Friday’ is disappearing in some offices

The economic downturn has inspired some professionals to dress up five days a week, while a nonprofit helps disadvantaged women follow suit.

If you look around the office on a Thursday, the odds are that an overwhelming majority of employees are wearing suits or smart office attire. Friday is a different story. Thanks to “casual Fridays,” employees’ dress is considerably more relaxed.

Lately, however, when I look around the train on a Friday morning, the commuters no longer appear to be dressing down; in the age of the economic downturn and increased job insecurity it seems that “casual Fridays” are becoming a thing of the past.

This is due not to businesses’ formally restricting the uniform of employees, but rather to employees’ making the decision themselves that dressing more casually on a Friday—or any given day—might affect their performance and job security.

A survey by U.K. work wear provider Alexandra found that 94 percent of respondents say that the way they dress can influence the outcome of the economy.

More than 90 percent of respondents said a person’s attire determines how professional and trustworthy they look. Nearly 40 percent said “scruffy clothing” at work hurts performance.

The results demonstrate that employees prefer to wear the same sort of clothing on a Friday as they would any other day of the workweek because they think it will help them win more business and increase sales. In “The Devil Wears Prada,” Anne Hathaway’s character isn’t taken seriously until she conforms to the image of a budding fashionista. Alexandra’s study suggests that image isn’t limited to the fashion industry and can be very important for other sectors, such as professional services.

Dress For Success shows exactly how important image is to securing a job. This global organization provides disadvantaged women with a suit prior to an interview to help boost their confidence and give them the tools to thrive in work and life.

Disadvantaged women are referred to Dress For Success by a diverse group of not-for-profit and government agencies, and in 2011 up to 3,000 organizations sent women for the professional apparel and career development services that it offered.

Once a woman has secured the job, she is invited back for additional clothing, which she can use to build a professional wardrobe. It shows the importance of our apparel on our employment status and on our performance once we’ve landed a job.

Although the company helps only women, that does not mean that men don’t also face similar barriers. That there is a need for such an organization demonstrates employees’ willingness to take every step necessary to stay employed. It appears that despite changes in the way we work, image still matters.

Belinda Hallworth is a graduate trainee at Flagship Consulting in the U.K.

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