Friday is every nine-to-five worker’s favourite day of the working week. It’s the last day before the weekend, tends to be more relaxed, after work drinks are just hours away and most offices allow you to dress casually. The day, better known as “casual” or “dress-down” Friday has become synonymous across western business culture with staff regularly arriving into work wearing jeans with comfortable shoes rather than their fitted suit with polished Oxfords or their work dress and heels. Many businesses are now adopting ‘dress-down’ full time, with every day now being “casual Friday”. So, where does dress down Friday originate and how did it travel across the entire western business world? It’s a strange history which involves many different aspects, with a starting point you might not have guessed.
Let’s go back to 1962, take a trip to Hawaii and examine the Hawaiian Fashion Guild (HFG). The HFG was trying to establish Operation Liberation which allowed workers to wear casual, lighter and brighter shirts to work, due to the unbearably hot summer months, whilst trying to push sales of their iconic Aloha shirts (also known as the Hawaiian shirt) as an acceptable piece of business attire. The HFG argued that not only would these shirts help with uncomfortable working conditions, it would also help bolster the Hawaiian garment industry. In order to pursue this goal, the HFG sent Aloha shirts to every member of the Hawaiian Senate and House of Representatives. After months of discussions, the Hawaiian government recommended that male workers should wear Aloha shirts in the summer. However, this was not enough for the HFG who wanted this initiative to become permanent. So they continued to lobby and, in 1965, it was agreed that, every Friday, workers could wear the Aloha shirt to work. So what do you get when you mix the HFG trying to promote their Aloha shirts with an operation seeking to allow workers to dress more casually? Aloha Friday of course.
The former mayor of Honolulu, who was a proud owner of hundreds of Aloha shirts, claimed that what initially began as a marketing ploy to boost sales ended up becoming a cultural statement of “sticking it to the man” and “don’t take yourself too seriously and get caught up in the rat race”. The operation helped workers relax as the work-week was winding down.
The ever so fashionable Aloha shirt.
Let’s fast forward to early 1990s recession and head towards mainland America. Businesses were trying to think of ways to help their employees feel more relaxed and happy whilst on a tight budget. By this point ‘Aloha Friday’ had swept across mainland America and businesses thought a similar tradition could help employees relax without having to spend any money; however, it was widely considered that Aloha shirts were too fun and could be distracting. In the midst of this, Levi’s was releasing it’s latest range of Dockers, also known as chinos and saw that, rather than being a concern, ‘Aloha Friday’ could be an opportunity. With this, Levi’s released a guerrilla marketing campaign to try and define the term “business casual”. They sent a brochure entitled “A Guide to Casual Business Wear” and sent it to approximately 25,000 businesses across the United States. This brochure not only helped businesses determine what constituted appropriate casual wear, but it also advertised Levi’s new range of Dockers and how to wear them with shirts and loafers. The campaign helped set the tone for the tradition of casual Friday across mainland America and, as times moved on, businesses become more lenient towards dress code and, the Levi’s idea of “business casual” started to become more permanent. The ritual of dress-down Friday’s then swept across western business culture and is now the norm in most work places.
So there you have it, next time you’re in the office on a boiling hot Friday, grateful for the custom of casual Friday, you can thank two organisations; the Hawaiian Fashion Guild and Levi’s.