How to Master Casual Friday

It’s Friday, and all you want to do on the last day before the weekend is loosen your tie and take a break from your favorite suit. While a change of pace from your strict corporate dress code can sound like a great idea, things can easily go wrong when choosing a dressed-down outfit.

But if you pay attention to what’s appropriate at your workplace, and stay smart about following your usual rules abut dressing well for work, it’s not hard to feel a little more casual on Fridays while still looking sharp. Read on for some easy ways to master casual Friday, all of which enable you to look stylish and professional while still feeling a little more dressed down than usual.

1. Understand the rules

You should still look professional

Even if you can dress casual you should always look professional. | iStock.com

Casual Friday is all about breaking free of the rules that restrict your awesome personal style the other four days of the workweek, right? Wrong. You’re still at work, your clothes still affect how people perceive you, and chances are pretty good that HR still has some rules on what you are and aren’t allowed to wear in to the office. (Pro tip: Read the employee handbook.) Anytime you’re at the office, you need to be dressed to impress and compete.

So what does that mean in concrete terms? Come into work on Friday dressed in an outfit you’d be comfortable wearing to a meeting with any of your clients or with anyone at your company. Let’s get this out of the way: Shorts, tee shirts, sandals, and any kinds of sports wear are definitely off-limits. In many offices, even a dark pair of jeans is a no-go. So read the handbook and pay attention to what your coworkers are wearing to determine what’s appropriate at your workplace.

2. Switch out your suit

Man in a navy, tweed suit

Go for different colors to change it up a bit. | Levent Kulu/Getty Images For IMG

Adding some new suits to your rotation is an excellent way to update your wardrobe for casual Friday. Swap out your usual suit for one in as lightweight a wool as you can find, thinking outside the charcoal or navy box with shades like dove grey, brilliant indigo, sky blue, light tan, or even rich olive. Choose a sophisticated slim cut — and if necessary, get it tailored to nail the fit. If you’re searching for a suit even more casual, look for linen, or even try out a chino suit or one in a rich blue corduroy. The idea is to find a suit or two you love in crisp fabrics, with both the color and the lightweight construction that feel casual while still looking sharp for a last-minute meeting.

3. Try a buttoned-up silhouette in a casual fabric

Colorful clothes on a rack

Do something different with printed or colored shirts. | Stefania D’Alessandro/Getty Images

Another great way to approach casual Friday is to apply our same suit philosophy to the other silhouettes you know and love. If you wear dress shirts the first four days of the week, choose a tailored shirt in a fabric or print that’s just a little more daring than you would usually choose. Embroidered and printed dress shirts abound if you’re not looking to switch up your fabric. Or a geometric print on linen is a choice that looks sharp but feels more laid back. A chambray shirt worn with a dark suit brings a more playful vibe to what’s still a respectable ensemble.

Likewise, if you wear chinos in tan or blue throughout the week, switch out your usual pair for one in a brighter shade. Speaking of chinos, in some offices it’s OK to wear a pair with a polo shirt on casual Fridays. Polos are a mainstay of casual attire, and if you’re wearing one to the office, you should perfect the fit with a trim cut and a sleeve that ends around the middle of your bicep. When choosing colors and fabrics, the same rules as always still apply. If your boss frowns on loud colors the first four days of the week, don’t irritate his sensibilities for the sake of a Friday. Regardless of whether they’re constructed of formal or casual fabrics, your clothes should all fit you well and look well-made. So you need to take just as much care with your polos and chinos as you do with your pricey suits.

4. Swap your shoes

Colorful shoes

Shoes give you a bit more room for experimentation. | Stefania D’Alessandro/Getty Images

Whether you’re wearing a full suit on Fridays or going with something a little more casual, you can probably choose footwear that’s different from your usual rotation of dress shoes. No, that doesn’t mean that canvas sneakers or other fundamentally casual shoes are acceptable. But you have a couple of options when it comes to shoes that will look sharp but feel more relaxed for casual Friday.

Suede shoes are a great piece to look for when you want to change things up. Many classic styles, from wingtips to double monks to oxfords, come in suede, in excellent color choices like light tans. Or you can switch out your usual shoe style of choice for a style like a loafer or a driving shoe. A classic, well-proportioned shoe will look a little bit dressy because of its pedigree, but will gain a more casual vibe thanks to the suede.

5. Leave the tie and socks at home

Mans accessories

Ditch the tie and leave your shirt open. | Levent Kulu/Getty Images For IMG

We make this recommendation with reservations, because its appropriateness is dependent on your office and the policies, both formal and informal, that govern what’s acceptable attire on casual Friday. But if you get the impression that the contemporary look won’t draw unwanted scrutiny from your boss, ditch the dress socks for a pair of no-show socks, which bare your ankles but protect your shoes and feet.

If you choose to leave your tie behind, make sure that your shirt is still buttoned and your collar is still kept in line. If you aren’t entirely convinced that you can pull off the no-tie look, or that your boss would want you to, switch out your usual silk tie for a knit tie, which will keep you looking sharp but will feel a little more relaxed.

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