Nowadays, plenty of offices operate pretty lenient dress codes. But, when it comes to more traditional corporate professions such as law or finance, full-on suiting is often non-negotiable.
And then there are the men in the middle – those that are afforded ‘Casual Friday’. What should be a light-hearted way to welcome the weekend is for many a weekly event fraught with the worry of managing to look suitably relaxed but still professional.
So, to help you avoid some of the commonly made mistakes, we’ve highlighted a few ways you should definitely avoid doing it, as well as some simple styling pointers that will ensure you always stay the right side of smart.
The Guy That Went Too Far
Some men see casual Friday as an opportunity for some kind of misguided protest against ‘The Man’. Having been forced to wear a suit Monday through Thursday, The Guy That Went Too Far views this as his chance to truly relax and be as slovenly as possible.
Come Friday morning, he’s proudly striding through those rotating doors, bacon butty in hand, sporting a curry-stained Star Wars T-shirt and ill-fitting grey jogging bottoms. This is not rousing anti-establishment action. This is embarrassing.
To avoid being shunned at the Christmas party – or worse, landing yourself in an awkward disciplinary – it’s important to always make some degree of effort with your workplace ensemble, no matter what day of the week it is. Looking sharp and put-together will in turn make you appear more composed and confident, which are deemed positive qualities in any profession.
If you’re set on wearing a T-shirt, opt for a well-ironed neutral crew neck. American Apparel and Uniqlo are your best bets on the high street, offering quality fabrications and excellent value for money. At the other end of the market, Parisian brand Lemaire is a one stop shop for premium tees and Henleys cut a little boxier to set you apart from your colleagues.
Alternatively, consider a polo shirt, which will look that little bit smarter when teamed with a blazer. John Smedley offers an extensive range of long-sleeved 100 per cent Sea Island cotton polo shirts, all of which are beautifully soft to the touch, built to last and tend to resist shrinking in the wash.
As for what to team with your minimal tee or polo? It’s difficult to veer far wrong with some quality denim.
“Jeans are acceptable in most offices these days – and they don’t need to be uncomfortably skinny,” says Dan Rookwood, US Editor at luxury e-tailer Mr Porter. “Levi’s has just relaunched its iconic 501s as the 501 CT, a style that’s a bit roomier in the thigh and crotch but tapers towards the ankle. I’d suggest choosing a pair with minimal wash and/or distressing.”
But if you can’t quite let go of your one opportunity to don trackies in the office, then at least make sure you dress them up a little. “If you’re a more confident, fashion-forward dresser, you could swap out the jeans for tailored jersey sweatpants in navy or grey,” says Rookwood.
It’s worth noting that this type of legwear needs a conscious dressing-up, so combine with a long-sleeved polo shirt or button-down Oxford rather than a simple crew neck tee.
- Lemaire Cotton-jersey Henley T-shirt
- Uniqlo Men Packaged Dry Crew Neck Short Sleeve T-shirt
- Sunspel Crew Neck Cotton-jersey T-shirt
- Uniqlo Men Dry Pique Short Sleeve Polo Shirt
- John Smedley Exeter Sea Island Cotton Polo Shirt
- Orlebar Brown Sebastian Cotton-pique Polo Shirt
- Uniqlo Men Slim Fit Straight Stretch Selvedge Jeans
- A.p.c. Petit Standard Slim-fit Dry Selvedge Denim Jeans
- Levis 501 Ct Jeans 501 Ct Slim-fit Jeans
- Zara Basic Pique Trousers
- He By Mango Cuffed Hem Cotton-blend Trousers
- Acne Studios Johna Cotton-blend Jersey Sweatpants
The Guy That ‘Forgot’
The antithesis to The Guy That Went Too Far, this fellow might claim he forgot what day of the week it was, absent-mindedly putting on his three-piece suit and Windsor knotted tie because Casual Friday just “slipped his mind”. But, in actuality, he’s most likely come suited and booted because he finds the idea of hosting a meeting in jeans and a polo shirt as daunting as doing his weekly shop in a polka dot mankini.
While some are all too ready to break free from the shackles of conformity and their strict office dress code, others simply prefer the security of a uniform.
The fact of the matter is that there’s no need to completely throw out the rulebook when it comes to dressing down for the office. Why not try a crisp button down Oxford shirt and a pair of tailored chinos to bridge the gap between smart and casual?
If the thought of going sans suit is nothing short of nerve-racking, it’s still possible to dress your tailoring down. “Instead of a collared shirt, try teaming your suit with a collarless or granddad shirt, T-shirt, jersey sweatshirt or fine-gauge round neck knit jumper,” says Rookwood.
You can even mix and match these pieces during the cooler months when layering becomes key. A T-shirt or granddad shirt worn underneath a sweatshirt or jumper looks effortlessly stylish when topped off with a suit jacket.
But it’s your footwear that really makes the visual difference. People’s eyes are often drawn down to a man’s shoes, be it consciously or unconsciously, so it’s important not to fall at the last hurdle. A formal leather silhouette like a brogue or Derby won’t sit quite right with this new casual take on tailoring, so try something slightly more relaxed like a rakish suede loafer or a fresh white trainer.
Smart Separates: Lookbook Inspiration
Ready to step out of your suited and booted comfort zone? Try mixing smart-casual staples such as chinos, polos and Oxford shirts with your current tailoring collection to craft refined looks that work for everything from staff meetings to relaxed business lunches:
- He By Mango Slim-fit Cotton Oxford Shirt
- Zara Mao Collar Shirt
- Selected Formal Grandad Shirt In Slim Fit
- He By Mango Jersey Henley T-shirt
- He By Mango Fine-knit Cotton Sweater
- Asos Merino Crew Neck Jumper
- Uniqlo Men Oxford Slim Fit Long Sleeve Shirt
- He By Mango Slim-fit Tailored Cotton Chinos
- Reiss Jeremy Suede Tasselled Loafers Blue
- Reiss Ascot Button-down Oxford Shirt Sky Blue
- Reiss Medway Classic Twill Chinos Stone
- Grayers Newport Slim-fit Cotton Chinos
- Sunspel Loopback Cotton-jersey Sweatshirt
- John Lewis Lloyd Suede Penny Loafers Chocolate
- Common Projects Original Achilles Leather Sneakers
Otherwise known as the guy who sees Casual Friday as an opportunity to bring his special brand of sartorial ‘lols’ to the office, especially in the form of loud, clashing prints and colours, novelty glasses and possibly a slogan T-shirt – think ‘pawn star’ or something equally ill-advised emblazoned across the chest.
Remember the HR handbook fellas – it says casual dress, not fancy dress. So, is there a way to add a little humour to proceedings without putting your neck on the line?
“Get playful by subtly incorporating colour and print or pattern,” says Rookwood. “In a professional environment, the trick is to pick one item as the focus of the look rather than clash too many patterns or colours together.”
Although print and colour clashing can work in certain contexts (a festival or high summer rave, for example), it’s simply not suited to the workplace. Instead, why not opt for a printed shirt in a muted palette that will help bring a touch of personality and character to your attire, without being brash or over the top? From florals to geometrics, there are plenty of options on the current market across all price points, so apply common sense and pick something that is appropriate for your specific office and profession.
When it comes to styling, frame your chosen shirt with pared-back, neutral surrounding pieces to let it become the focal point of your look (and a guaranteed conversation point with colleagues). Alternatively, you can dial back its impact by layering a simple sweatshirt or blazer over the top, reducing the amount of print on show.
- Pepe Shirt Hugo Ditsy Floral Print
- He By Mango Slim-fit Printed Shirt
- Zara Floral Print Shirt
- He By Mango Slim-fit Floral-print Shirt
- Uniqlo Men Oxford Slim Fit Printed Long Sleeve Shirt
- He By Mango Slim-fit Printed Voile Shirt
- Denim And Supply Ralph Lauren Floral Long Sleeve Shirt
- Nn.07 New Derek Floral-print Cotton-chambray Shirt
- Zara Printed Shirt
- Reiss Bondi Dark Bloom Shirt Black
- Club Monaco Printed Cotton Shirt
- Reiss Caviar Check Shirt Black
The Football Fan
There’s always one guy in a football shirt. Always. What’s that about?
OK, we kind of get it. For many of us, there’s no love as pure as our love for the beautiful game. But there’s also no denying that turning up in a tired-looking Real Madrid shirt complete with popped collar is edging perilously close to a lack of professionalism.
Ideally, you should leave the jersey at home, according to self-confessed footie fan Dan Rookwood: “The only people who should wear football shirts to work are professional footballers.”
That said, if you’re sticking to your guns on this one, then there are options out there:
“As long as you don’t go all out and rock the full kit you’re fine,” says Alfie-Lee Marcus, Personal Shopper at Topman. “With so many sports brands currently experiencing a revival in popularity – from Umbro to Ellesse – sporting your team’s favourite colours in a stylish and modern way is now easier than ever.”
The key to nailing this look involves taking inspiration from the 1980s-era terraces: a short jacket like a Harrington or bomber worn over a pique polo shirt will help sharpen up your silhouette and ensure you look a little more ‘Casuals’ and a little less outdated Carlsberg ad.
Baracuta are the leaders in the field when it comes to this style and their masterfully-cut jackets are worth every penny, but you’ll find alternatives at every price point this season, from high street to high-end.
- Lyle & Scott Vintage Harrington Jacket
- Asos Harrington Jacket
- Scotch & Soda Bomber Jacket In Garment Dye Cotton
- Ellesse Track Jacket With Chest Stripes
- Adidas Originals Superstar Track Jacket
- Fred Perry Laurel Chevron Track Jacket In White And Blue
- G9 Original
- G9 Original
- Ben Sherman The Harrington Jacket
- River Island Navy Casual Harrington Jacket
- River Island Blue Only & Sons Bomber Jacket
- Cos Cotton-blend Bomber Jacket
The Guy In Shorts
Is it ever acceptable to wear shorts in the office? The short answer is: no. You may have noticed it’s a lot tougher to have people take you seriously in shorts. Unless you’re the boss. In which case – hats off to you, but may we remind you that it does look a bit naff, whether you’re the CEO or a coffee-fetching intern. Even Steve Jobs had his work cut out for him carrying off a pair of beige cargo shorts.
If you’re serious about office style, you’ll swap the shorts for a pair of rolled up chinos and team them with some minimal leather sneakers or tasselled loafers. If, on the other hand, a world in which you can’t wear shorts to work is a world in which you simply won’t live, make sure you opt for a tailored pair.
“Tailored shorts can look great when worn the right way,” says Alfie-Lee Marcus. “Keep the styling simple with a classic suede loafer and button-down Oxford shirt for a professional yet slick look.”
For those that fancy going the extra mile, a shorts suit is a viable option for some Casual Fridays, depending on where you work. The best versions are readily available on the high street (particularly Zara and Reiss), and it’s advisable to keep things as pared-back as possible when it comes colour – black, navy, grey and off-white should be top of your list – and accessories.
As we mentioned, keep in mind that while a shorts suit can work for a more relaxed office environment, if you work somewhere particularly corporate, it’s best to give this one a wide berth.
- Reiss Shannon S Cotton Tailored Shorts Stone
- Reiss Lute S Jacquard Weave Shorts Grey
- Reiss Shannon S Cotton Tailored Shorts Blue
- J. Crew Ludlow Suit Short In Fine-striped Cotton
- J. Crew Ludlow Suit Short In Italian Cotton Pique
- Zara Cotton Suit
- He By Mango Side-tab Cotton Bermuda Shorts
- Asos Slim Fit Smart Shorts In 100% Linen
- Reiss Shannon S Cotton Tailored Shorts Navy
- Topman Grey Oxford Tailored Shorts
- Uniqlo Men Light Weight Cotton Shorts
- Topman Blue Oxford Tailored Shorts
Casual Friday is a welcome treat after a tough working week, a chance to let loose a little and shed the stuffy formality of your standard office wear.
That said, this phenomenon isn’t without its potential pitfalls; by heeding our advice, you’ll always strike the right balance between casual and careless.
Just remember: when getting dressed in the morning, take one last look in the mirror before you set off, taking the time to visualise the day ahead and ask yourself whether you’ll feel just as confident in what you’ve got on as your usual attire. If the answer is yes, then you’re on to a winner.
Care to share any good or bad Casual Friday stories? Maybe you have advice to share on how to make sure your look lands right in that smart-casual sweet spot?
Let us know in the comments below.