Friday, May 27, 2016

There’s business casual (and then there’s business casual)

Today’s Friday, so – in offices across America – employees are showing up in business casual. In some places, this is a Friday-thing only. In others, it’s business as usual. In still others, it’s anything goes. (After all, if business casual is the norm, how else can you differentiate Friday, other than to have it be the adult equivalent of PJ day?)

At my office, anything goes is actually the norm.

Since my office is right next to my bedroom, I have been known to work in my PJs. Or in a robe, straight out of the shower. I sometimes work – before and/or after – in workout clothes. Mostly I wear whatever I’m wearing for the day – jeans, khakis, knit pants, fleece, t-shirt, sweater. Mostly I’m wearing shoes, but some days I don’t make it out of my slippers (which are moccasins, so actually do resemble shoes).

When I worked full time, the dress codes were really company- dependent, and ranged on a continuum from jeans-always-okay, up through business casual, to business just short of suit, to suits or equivalent (for the ladies: dress and jacket).

Even at the jeans-always-okay outfits, I generally stuck with somewhere between business casual and business just short of a suit. Once in a while, I wore jeans to work, but not often. Decent pants or a skirt, with a nice sweater or jacket, was my norm. Suits when seeing a client.

I tended to avoid jeans because, for a good part of my career, I was one of “them”, holding some sort of management position. I wouldn’t say I dressed for success. But I did dress to convey authority and seriousness of purpose. (That sounds so prissy and/or gaggy, but it’s true.)

But it didn’t bother me that most others dressed down. Other than the guy who showed up one day in a pair of exceedingly short cut-offs and what appeared to be a pajama shirt with holes in it (and what seemed to be small blood stains – ewwww). I had a good kidding relationship with this fellow, and I did tell him I didn’t want to see him showing up in this ensemble ever again. Fortunately, he took my advice. (Or not. I just checked out his profile on Linkedin, and in his picture he appears to be wearing a pale yellow pajama shirt. Hmmmmm….)

What’s happening now in the work place is not a quibble over just how casual business casual is. I.e., do jeans fit the bill, or do we draw the line at Dockers?

No, these days it’s whether it’s okay to wear yoga pants to work.

Sometimes Amy Mains wears black yoga pants to work. She adds a scarf, accessories, and a shirt long enough to cover her backside. "Just making sure everything is as crisp as it can be when you're wearing tights," she said. 

Like many office workers, Mains, 31, wants three things from her workwear: comfort, convenience, and a professional look. Her go-to Lululemons meet two out of three, allowing her to switch from her San Francisco communications job to a studio without need of a gym bag: "It's primarily for comfort, but I do a lot of yoga," she said.

On the style front, though, a few bangles and a long shirt can't distract from the fact she's wearing clothing made for sweating, not working. Her yoga pants may be a welcome escape from the restrictive tyranny of shift dresses, but they still aren't entirely office-appropriate. Mains knows this, reserving the stretch pants for days when she won't see many other humans.  (Source: Bloomberg)

I’m sure that Amy Mains looks fit and adorbs in her Lululemons, but I can’t help but thinking that this is not quite right.

In the 1980’s, when I was often wearing a suit (menswear skirt suit, silk shirt with some type of bow), a quite popular outside of work outfit was black stretch pants worn with a long, tunic sweater. It was comfortable and convenient, that’s for sure. And those long tunic sweaters did the strategic backside covering. But – and I may be blocking some memories out here – I don’t recall anyone wearing this type of get up into even the most casual of offices. I sure didn’t. 

Yoga pants?

Thanks to ponte pants, “a firm yet stretchy style with an elasticized waist—an industrial strength version of yoga pants that have become a workplace staple” – women do have a pretty decent comfy, convenient, and professional alternative. Admittedly, they may still have to carry a gym bag with their yoga get-up in it, but aren’t they carrying a gym bag with their yoga mat and water bottle in it already?

So I’m going to be a clucking old prude here and say that – maybe other than in the most casual of environments, and then only on Friday – yoga pants aren’t a good idea for the office.

But then I think of myself, walking around in my gym clothing.

I live downtown, in a big city. My gym is in the middle of downtown-downtown – stores, office buildings. And I certainly don’t change when I get there. I wear my gym clothes, which are pretty much the equivalent of yoga pants and a t-shirt, on my walk there. And on my walk home. Often on that walk home I stop in a store. I do food shopping at Roche Brothers. I bop into CVS or Staples for something. I may even drop by Macy’s, if I have something quick to pick up – nothing the requires trying on, but maybe some makeup or a new pillow. Through much of the year, I have a long-enough jacket disguising the yoga-pant-ness of my outfit. But this time of year, I guess it’s all hanging out.

So let me quote Pope Francis here. Yoga pants in the office? “Who am I to judge?” Just be sure to cover your assets, ladies.

No comments: