How a war, an island state, and a brand shaped the way you dress to the office – Casual Fridays.
The Office Dress Code
Offices have changed and so have the ways we dress to the office.
In an era of process-oriented companies, the ’50s sported a lot of greys. Men were mostly in grey flannel suits and high-waisted pants and women were in slim-fitting tweed suits and below-the-knee skirts. It was formal.
The landscape has changed quite a bit from then.
A results-oriented approach has led to the rise of casual dress culture. Casual in its approach to clothing, as long as the work gets done. For anyone peeking from the ’50s, today’s offices are a riot of colours.
The casual dress code has evolved from being about comfort to an important part of the corporate culture. One of the universal exports of this culture is our beloved Casual Fridays.
A day when employees are allowed to dress more casually than on other weekdays. A day that signifies the end of the working week.
Ever wondered how something like Casual Friday spread across the world? Why wasn’t it any other day? What was the need for casual in the first place?
Turns out that the modern-day shift to casual clothing in offices traces its origin to the ’40s, a couple of thousand miles away from California, and even has World War II involved in its origin.
Come, let’s find out more.
The Sandwich Islands
In 1878, captaining the HMS Resolution, James Cook discovered a beautiful stretch of islands scattered in the south seas. He called them The Sandwich Islands, named after the Earl of Sandwich, the sponsor of the voyage.
The name lasted for four decades before it was changed to Hawaii. Thank goodness!
2,400 miles away from the nearest landmass, California, Hawaii is one of the Earth’s most isolated inhabited areas. Its isolated geography also puts it in a route of high geostrategic importance connecting Panama with Asia.
World War II
Realising its strategic importance, the United States annexed Hawaii in 1898.
43 years later, in 1941, Hawaii became the turning point in World War II, with the attack on Pearl Harbor, resulting in the United States’ direct involvement in the war.
When the war ended, Hawaiians were in limbo.
The war had cast a cold blanket over the island nation’s sunny culture and the end of the war put shackles on Hawaii’s economy. With the military moving back to their families, consumption plummetted.
The fear of loss of the Hawaiian identity coupled with a contracting economy worried the government. Thus began a chain of marketing efforts to re-establish the culture and promote tourism.
Aloha Festival Week
First held in 1946, the Aloha Festival ignited the culture and spirit of Hawaii. The week-long festival garnered 1,000,000 people from across the world and became a huge success.
The Aloha festival created a direct impact on Aloha clothing. Not only did the festival cater to tourists, but it also sparked the interest of the locals. The local demand resulted in manufacturing opportunities and jobs.
Given the popularity of the clothes and the summer months, Honolulu city allowed its employees to wear Aloha shirts from June through October.
Aloha for Business
The popularity of Hawaiian culture resulted in unique opportunities.
With more businesses and working people in Hawaii, in 1962, the Hawaiian Fashion Guild launched the “Operation Liberation” campaign, which resulted in a Senate resolution recommending aloha attire be worn throughout the summer.
Buoyed by the success of Operation Liberation, the guild launched the Aloha Friday campaign, which promoted wearing Aloha shirts on the last business day of the week.
Youngsters loved this and Aloha Fridays were born.
Aloha Friday spread east to California. Over the next 30 years, it made its way around the world. The name changed to a more universal one—Casual Fridays.
But there was a problem.
The Casual Friday movement was a double-edged sword.
While it was an extremely efficient low-cost perk, which buoyed employee morale, HRs worried that the colourful ensemble was a little too much fun. The lack of guidelines on what differentiates casual from outrageous created confusion.
Marketers at an iconic company sensed an opportunity.
Dockers From Levi’s
The brand “Dockers” launched in 1986 around the promise of smarter, comfortable, and versatile clothing. Little did they know that it would seat itself in the heart of the casual movement in the years to come.
“A Guide to Casual Businesswear”
In 1992, six years after the Dockers launch, the marketing team at Levi’s leveraged the potential appeal of Dockers and created “A Guide to Casual Businesswear.”
According to Levi’s, these pamphlets, which sported smartly dressed professionals in Levi’s products, were mailed to 25,000 HR departments across the country.
This sent the company’s phone lines buzzing with confused HRs lining up for dress code consultations. The knight in shining, casual armour had arrived.
In 1995, Levi’s recorded its highest-ever sales of $6.5 billion. The next year would go on to beat 1995 sales.
The business casual industry was set in motion.
Impact of Casual Fridays
What is marketing without any impact?
In 1995, Evans Research conducted a survey titled “Going Casual,” where it asked its respondents:
How often is casual dress appropriate in your company?
The results were breathtaking.
- 42% of respondents replied “One day”; up from 17% in 1992
Why do I mention breathtaking? Next point, please.
- 28% of respondents replied “Every day”; up from 7% in 1992
Talk about squeezing in a toe, getting the foot in, and opening the door!
Final Thoughts on Casual Fridays
Fast-forward, a 2018 SHRM Employee benefit study points out that around 50% of companies allow casual dressing every day.
A one-day affair turned into a week-long event and now a year-long phenomenon around the world. A great example of spotting a trend, riding it, and creating a category.
Levi’s, even now, has been unable to capture the peak of 1996 sales. Levi’s 2018 net sales were $5.58 billion, down from their 1996 peak of $7.1 billion.Tags: Fashion Marketing