“Formal Fridays” — A Modest Proposal to Combat WFH Frumpageddon

A whimsical remedy for the race-to-the-bottom in home office attire…

Photo by Jonathan Francisca on Unsplash

At some point in the 21st century BC (Before COVID) the concept of workplace “Casual Fridays” took hold. It was an attempt at making things less stuffy at the office. It was aimed, presumably, at building teamwork and camaraderie. It was also a leveling of sorts — the “suits” (male and female) in the executive offices would seem more approachable if they showed up in khakis. And sweaters. Even (gasp!) jeans.

Fridays were chosen because there are usually fewer client visits, fewer formal presentations. And it was seen as a nice transition into the casual weekend. Most employees tended to participate and ditched the biz attire on those Fridays.

In fact, over the years I heard male colleagues remark that not wearing a tie helped them think better because the blood flow going into their heads was no longer restricted by a tie (I’m not making that up…).

Fast forward to the COVID-accelerated Work From Home (WFH) age. Every day has become a casual day for workplace wardrobing, it seems. On work video calls I’ve seen things that would make a Brooks Brothers rep weep. For example:

  • Scruffy baseball caps, or even worse, baseball caps being worn backwards. I’m still not sure how or why wearing a ball cap backwards became stylish unless your day job is being a catcher in baseball.
  • Rock band tour souvenir tee-shirts. Seriously, I like Green Day too but does anyone care that you went to their 2016 concert in Columbus?
  • Hockey jerseys. Um, did you just get back from the ice rink in time for our client review Zoom meeting?
  • Work-out and athleisure clothing of all types. I get it — it’s comfy and the gyms are mostly closed. And the lululemon stuff ain’t cheap — you can be set back a hundred bucks for sweats. But where does one draw the line for acceptability for casual work wear? Pajamas? Bathing suits?

While a more casual workplace dress code has some benefits, it’s also a slippery slope and has led to the decline of entire civilizations. The Romans, for instance, were conquered when many of the Roman soldiers decided to dress down and wear togas instead of body armor to work because of the hot Italian summers, making them easy pickings for the Visigoths on the battlefield. The Visigoths are long gone but equally bad things could happen today without appropriate vigilance.

Hence the call for “Formal Fridays.”

Under this plan, on Fridays all leaders and associates in company offices or home offices would be expected to dress up instead of dressing down. Exempt from Formal Fridays would be people working in the field (not farmers), in factories, people working outside, people who ordinarily wear uniforms or personal protective equipment, etc.

But for everyone else, we are talking dresses, suits and ties. And shoes you actually have to shine. Ladies, black dress would be especially lovely. And gents, get out that tux you last wore for that cruise ship formal night in 2006. It will speak volumes to your impeccable taste.

And for Friday video calls everyone will be expected to briefly stand up to prove they are in sartorial compliance and not wearing beach attire from the waist down. Call it “trust but verify.”

Even if you are not on video calls on that day, dressing up is still expected, and sending a selfie to your leader will proudly confirm your observance of this new “dressing for success” policy. You’ll feel great about doing your part in giving the middle finger to slovenliness.

It’s been said that when you look good, you feel good about yourself so there will likely be an explosion in self-esteem which in turn could lead to huge gains in productivity. Who knows — after a few months of Formal Fridays there could be demands throughout organizations for expanding dress-up day to other days of the week.

The folks working at Goodyear or Bridgestone have always attested to the importance of attire. Now it’s everyone’s turn to step up.

Now excuse me while I go embroider MATA (Make America Tailored Again) on my cummerbund for my 2:00 Zoom.

About the author: Mike Hoban is a West Michigan-based leadership coach and advisor who also writes about business topics, sometimes in a whimsical way. In addition to his 40 years experience as a leader and consultant he has also published extensively in Fast Company and also wrote a business column for 10 years. Many of his recent commentaries — including several about leading during the COVID crisis — can be found on his LinkedIn page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mike-hoban-b5756b6/ He can also be reached at mjhoban99@gmail.com.

Mike Hoban is a West Michigan-based leadership coach and advisor who also writes about business topics.

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