Friday, January 11, 2013

Today, in tribute to Formal Friday, I’m wearing a suit

My career was in high tech, and from the outset, in the early 1980’s, the dress code was generally business casual. Suits were for client calls or client visits.  (And, of course, for job interviews.)The rest of the week was, for women, dress and jacket or skirt and jacket. Maybe slacks and a nice sweater.

Over time, things became more casual: jeans okay on Friday; then mostly jeans okay anytime. I was never a huge jeans-at-work person, but occasionally I did go fully cas.

My second job out of B-school was with Wang, and that was pretty much all suit, all the time for folks in product management and marketing. Very nice separates were okay, and very nice slacks with a very nice sweater on a Friday were okay. Maybe. As long as there were no clients visiting. And there were always clients visiting, even though at the time Wang was already slip siding away. (Techies were, of course, exempt from the suit rule.)

So I went out and augmented my couple-of-suit wardrobe with a closetful of power suits – menswear skirt suits that would have lasted forever if I’d had any need for them, and which were worn with silk shirts with self-bows or – ugh! – broadcloth shirts with – ugh! ugh! – floppy bow ties.

One summer day I decided to go a bit wild, and wore a pretty colorful – think white, navy, royal blue and chartreuse – Ellen Tracy skirt and matching sweater. When I got on the elevator with a colleague whom I vaguely knew, I though her eyes were going to fall out of her head. Ah, the year – or the one fine summer’s day - of living sartorially dangerously!

My post-Wang job was in an extremely casual environment, but I never fully got into the cut offs, flip flops, and ripped tee-shirt look. The men seemed to embrace ultra-casual more readily than the women did. (Who needed to give one of the male powers-that-were yet another reason to treat you less seriously than they were already doing?)

Once in a blue moon, I wore jeans, but not very often. And always with a nice sweater.

Subsequent jobs were more or less business casual, with the techie dispensation to be fully casual.

As someone who always went on customer calls and participated in client visits, I always had a few good suits in the closet.

Meanwhile, since I left full-time work, I’ve shed most of my “important” business clothes. Suits, skirts, jackets, slacks, mostly retired.

Sometimes I forget they’re retired, as I realized when for some reason I went looking for my good navy skirt suit a few months ago. Oops!

I kept a couple of pant suits – black and beige (bor-ing) – but they were just for when I had an initial meeting with a local client.

When I work from home, I’m in jeans, cords, khakis, workout clothes, or – I’ll admit it – my bathrobe.

Last spring, I sprung for a new suit – a nice black pant suit (with a more updated look than my old nice black pant suit) from Nordstrom, which has come in handy for client meetings and any events where I had to be a bit dressy. (It was also an excellent traveling suit when we went to Rome last April.)

Last month, I got a new client – a tech company, surprisingly located in downtown Boston. I wore the new black suit to my first meeting with them and figured that, if I was going to be working with that outfit, I’d better get me another decent outfit. So I stopped at Lord & Taylor’s on the way home and lucked into a sale: $600 suit for $233.

Which is the suit I’m wearing today to my second meeting at the new downtown client. And which I’ll don for a board meeting next week, and a different client meeting the week after.

So I guess I’m having a Formal Friday.

Who even knew there was such a thing?

But apparently there is…

Having seen the rest of the boring, corporate world embrace the notion of casual Friday, Silicon Valley is starting a new tradition: Formal Friday. Suits on!

At some tech startups, Formal Fridays stem from employees' desire to free themselves from the hoodies and jeans that are standard weekday dress…

For some Silicon Valley companies, like gaming giant Zynga Inc., there are informal Formal Friday traditions, where small groups of employees dress up on occasional Fridays.

Even Facebook, whose chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, took the hoodie and T-shirt uniform to new heights, has a design team that often dresses up for what has come to be known as "Corporate Friday," a team tradition that dates back to as early as 2005. (Source: WSJ Online.)

There’s even a little company with three – count ‘em – three full time employees that does a “semiregular Formal Friday” as:

…a way to introduce some cohesiveness in a company with no formal office, he says.

So they dress up and go to each other’s homes, which for whatever reason reminds me of when my parents friends would come over on a Saturday night to play cards: the men in suits and ties, the women in nice dresses and heels. Let’s get down with the Old Fashioneds and the whist. (Or was it pinochle.) The thought of getting dressed up to go to someone’s home… Yikes. (Needless to say, I’m not the type who’s invited to fancy dinner parties.)

I really can’t see Formal Friday catching on.

Whether you’re in full business drag, or business casual on Mondays through Thursday, Friday’s the last day of the week you want to suit up.

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