A long-drawn-out answer to the biggest question you face on Fridays
“I have often said that I wish I had invented blue jeans: the most spectacular, the most practical, the most relaxed and nonchalant. They have expression, modesty, sex appeal, simplicity – all I hope for in my clothes.” – Yves Saint Laurent
When a luxury fashion house gives you such a resounding stamp of approval, you know precisely what a good pair of denim brings to your wardrobe. A good pair of jeans is a staple fashion item, and it is ubiquitous in its usage. So why do we still consider jeans a strict no-no at workplaces?
Jeans at the workplace: A History
In the industrial days, only the “working class” wore jeans, blue-collar jobs that had you working in roughened conditions. A pair of jeans were worn, sometimes every day, to withstand work environments where it was a real possibility that your clothes were going to get stained, ripped, dirty, or worse. The top brass dressed in crisp suits were “professionals.” This definition continued well into the 80s, and subconsciously just the dress code made people strive for white-collar jobs.
The software boom spearheaded the clothing revolution at workplaces. Now we had money-making enterprises that required you to sit around all day taxing your logic center. This industry was unstructured- hierarchy in an IT company was doubtful at best. Employees chose comfort over layered suits and turned up to work in a pair of jeans.
But this industry, too, needed the backing of clients and investors to propel them higher. Dressing up for such formal meetings became a practice and, eventually, a dress code. This mental conditioning has played out to this day, deciding what’s professional or not based on what you’re wearing.
Since the Millenium, jeans have made a comeback of sorts to the workplace with employers announcing Casual Fridays. Some workplaces encourage the let loose attitude while some frown at it. So the question rises again “Are jeans business casual?”
It is a definite gray area. Different factors go into deciding whether denim is business casual. The type of industry, your boss, the values that you stand for, and your role there. There are some more that we will go into detail right here.
1. Where do you work?
The more formal ones like Government branches of the executive, legislature, and judiciary demand a strict adherence to dress code. The employees are representative of the government, and it doesn’t do too well to turn up in denim at a press conference.
Workplaces like an accounting and auditing firm, a law firm, all businesses that thrive on clients coming in every day are formally attired. Pantsuits, slacks, crisp blouses, and a sharp suit has always taken the boardroom by storm. Even casual Fridays see employees in khakis and sweater vests in neutral tones that maintain professional decorum.
Startups and tech companies where there isn’t a strict dress code have employees turning up in jerseys, jeans, and sneakers even on other days. And that’s okay. With hierarchical lines blurring and fluidity of roles, employees choose personal style and comfort to mark their workdays. Manual labor is always best done in casual denim for the amount of wear and tear it can take.
Also, creative professions like photography, designing, and ideation demand a lot of movement. These workplaces strive to break barriers for brainstorming sessions and unleashing creative juices. A pair of jeans might be the best fit for such places.
2. What does your company/boss believe in?
A startup might have a formal dress code because that’s what the founder believes in. He envisions a company where his employees are reflective of the service they bring to the client. Business attire with orderly lines gives an impression of professionalism, quality, and dependability of service. The above example shows how a company runs and the beliefs the management holds for it. Casual Fridays may look like dark jeans with blazers or jeans with loose blouses in such workplaces.
There are also startups that believe that talent does all the talking and encourages employees to wear what they will.
The way your boss dresses also sets the tone for the employees to follow suit. We have all seen the monochrome wardrobe of Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs. It is fascinating to see that the energetic style they project is the company’s spirit as well. Employees in such places wear dark jeans with t-shirts and turtlenecks.
3. What do you do at your workplace?
Do you meet with clients or investors regularly? Or do you mostly operate from a computer to fulfill your professional obligations?
This demarcation could mean the difference between jeans and slacks in your company. Most companies with clients walking in and out of their premises prefer employees wear formal attire to maintain dignity and professionalism. To reiterate, these are stereotypes brought on by the mental conditioning through our exposure to magazines, movies, and the news. The varying ages of clients make it difficult to land on a style that satisfies all. Better safe than sorry.
Employees working in the back end, either in warehouses or with computers, focus on their clothes’ suppleness rather than the impression it creates. Bosses, too, encourage such employees to make their mark as they wish to.
Another primary reason, business casual is defined in organizations is because of the varied humans we all are. Casual is interpreted in many ways depending on personal styles and moods. Having clear guidelines on what is okay and what is not can help the company and employees mutually.
“Looking good isn’t self-importance; it’s self-respect” -Charles Hix.
Read between the lines.
There are many gray areas between these factors above, and I will summarize them right here.
- Wearing jeans to external meetings is not recommended. After all, Zuckerberg did wear a suit and tie to his Congressional hearing.
- Wearing ripped jeans in awkward places is not recommended. Even though it may be uber casual, faded, ripped jeans will not be taken well at some workplaces.
- Wear dark solid jeans to play it on the safer side. These jeans go well with company tees, blazers and say that you are confident and sure of yourself.
- Strictly avoid jeans at interviews. Did I have to tell you that? Unless mentioned anywhere in the interview letter, stick to simple suits and sensible shoes for a positive impression.
- Dress comfortably. Well fitted suits and jeans make a better impression than ill-fitting formal wear. It doesn’t need to accentuate your body; instead, it should provide comfort in movement and design.
- Reach out to HR and management stylists to create a comprehensive definition of business casual so that there is no confusion.
The answer to the big question is thus, Yes and No. Study your surroundings to decide whether jeans would be a good fit for yourself. To allow for free movement, dress comfortably in breathable fabrics. In case you feel jeans don’t qualify as business casual for your context, stick to a sensible pair of slacks with a quirky little twist on your accessories. If you belong to the other camp, you can dress up your jeans by pairing it with blazers and jackets with a shirt.
Business casual, formal, dressy, or chic- Follow the golden rule of comfort over tightness and instincts over trying too hard. How you feel about your clothes is what puts the strut in your walk and talk. A well-fitted pair of denim will always be our best friend. With some reflection, Fridays are yours to create magic.
“I believe in comfort. If you don’t feel comfortable in your clothes, it’s hard to think of anything else.” – Donna Karan