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SHE SAID, HE SAID

A Little Give at the Office

July 21, 1994|ANN CONWAY and PATRICK MOTT

I f you're a working girl or a guy, you know what it feels like to reach in the closet day after day for the same old dressed-for-success silhouette: Monday through Friday it's a tailored suit, crisp shirt, serious tie/jewelry. But wait! Certain members of the corporate world are changing their tune, allowing--encouraging--employees to dress down on Fridays so they'll feel more up the rest of the week.

SHE: I think casual Fridays are the answer to a lot of fashion prayers: They allow women, especially, to drop their sartorial guard, be more relaxed in a predominantly male environment. After years of playing down their frills on behalf of the Feminist Movement, women on Friday are free to step into a flowing sun dress and sandals, even a pair of Levi's and boots. But of course they have to maintain their professional dignity. From what I hear, a smart employee keeps his or her eye on what the company president wears on Friday and dresses down accordingly.

HE: And that's kind of a shame, isn't it? Sort of defeats the purpose of the whole exercise. A casual day, I figure, is supposed to promote a more relaxed, convivial, stress-free atmosphere in a usually sterile environment. But how can you unclench when you're always looking over your shoulder to make sure the boss is at least as grubby as you are?

Imagine the poor wage slaves the night before, cold sweat squirting out as they stand frozen in terror in front of their wardrobe, paralyzed with the thought that no matter what they choose, they're either going to make the boss look like a cheesy slob in his frayed Banana Republic bush shorts or an insufferable prig who starches and irons a crease into his Levi's.

SHE: I'll never forget the day I decided to dress down, way down --showed up at work in black jeans and a top instead of my predictable black business suit. People looked at me like I'd lost my mind (or at least by black business suit). I checked the mirror and realized I looked like an entirely different person--more relaxed, more open, more human .

But I was happy to step back into my armor the following day. After all, this was the way I was supposed to look in the business world--polished, perfectly groomed, able to handle it. Right?

HE: Weeeeeelll . . . I think you got the stares because you were dressing out of character. I get the same looks when I show up for work in a business suit. There's a pretty checkered atmosphere in this office, sartorially speaking. In the newsroom, some guys wear ties, but you never see anyone wearing a jacket (sport coats almost exclusively) indoors. Both women and men are pretty casual all the time, unless they have to go out to cover an event that requires more formal dress.

Bottom line: Around here, it's everybody's individual call. And I think that's great. The work gets done, and nobody has to worry about whether they're violating some unspoken dress code.

SHE: A co-worker said she likes to dress up because it shows respect for her job, makes her feel great about her work. If she dressed down on a regular basis, she would begin to feel like she was in a dead-end job, she said. I buy that. Dressing like a professional goes a long way toward making you feel like a professional.

I'm all for relaxing the dress code on certain days (according to an article in the Hartford Courant, about two-thirds of U.S. companies have relaxed their dress codes in the past five years), but there should be boundaries. No cutoffs, crop-tops, that sort of thing.

HE: Depends on what sort of business we're talking about, I think. If it's a shop that has a fair amount of direct contact with the public--a law office, say, or a restaurant--the employees should dress in a way that inspires confidence. If a maitre d' greets me in baggy shorts and an MTV T-shirt, I'm going to head straight for Burger King, where they dress with more panache. And what sort of impression would your lawyer make if he tried to clear you of those tax evasion charges while wearing jeans and a flannel work shirt?

There are gray areas. My dentist always seems to be wearing khakis and polo shirts--not medical whites--and I think the guy's a gem. And my accountant at work usually looks like he's getting ready to take a stroll on the beach, but he's saved my, uh, assets more than once.

But if the boss scowls at anything kinkier than blue pin-stripes, then it's blue pin-stripes or the unemployment line. Sad to say.

SHE: My favorite casual office look: black jeans, white T-shirt, black blazer and flats. It's a conservative, semi-professional look that feels fabulous. You can't beat a black blazer for versatility. My least favorite office look for women: bold print dresses that are so full they can't decide whether they're muumuus or caftans.

HE: My favorite casual office look: my robe. (I have an office at home.) It's a rumpled, go-to-hell look that feels lived-in. And you can't beat a cotton robe for absorbency. Also, the monogram is very impressive to potential clients. It's the perfect business suit, and it doubles as my official couch potato uniform.

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