Ten years ago, Levi Strauss & Co. launched the campaign for Casual Fridays. The concept: get American men out of three-piece suits and into khakis and sport shirts. Employers saw it as a way to loosen up corporate culture, raise morale, and increase productivity.
The plan worked. Men flocked to stores in search of clothing that was a step-up from jeans and a T-shirt. Suit sales dropped from 13 million units in 1996 to 9 million last year as khakis proliferated across the office landscape.
Now, a group of menswear manufacturers wants to institute Dress-up Thursdays. Clothing makers cite a mood among CEOs that casual has gone too far, creating "a workforce of slobs, a workforce that lacks professional etiquette," according to The Toronto Star. The group even has a Web site: www.Dressupthursdays.com
Earlier this month in New York, fashion designers hastened the demise of Casual Fridays by showing dozens of snappy men's suits in their Fall 2000 collections.
It's hard to know who or what is to blame for the casualization of American offices. Fridays may have been the catalyst, but seeds of fashion anarchy were sown decades ago in the cubicles of Silicon Valley. Now, college grads are hired without a suit to their name.
An argument can be made that professionalism has suffered. A downgrading of appearances has crept across corporate office parks. Dress codes have fallen - sacrificed to an American business culture that prizes youth and innovation over experience.
For good or ill, companies have shed "buttoned-up" thinking.
The genie is out of the bottle.
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