As computer software began to receive more and more media attention in the late 1980s, informal office situations and casual, even eccentric, clothes became identified with the wealth and creativity of the highly successful computer executives. Managers of other successful businesses began to wonder if this informal atmosphere could work to improve their own offices.
In 1991 Levi-Strauss, manufacturer of blue jeans and other casual wear, joined with the United Cerebral Palsy Association (UCPA) to launch a nationwide fund-raising event. "Casual Day," as it was called, would allow employees to buy the privilege of dressing more informally for the day by making a charitable contribution to UCPA. Many businesses joined in the project, and it was very successful, leading not only to more fund-raising casual days, but also to many businesses establishing a regular casual day, usually on Fridays.
Casual Fridays steadily increased in popularity. By 1996 a Levi-Strauss study found that 90 percent of American office workers were allowed to dress casually on Fridays, as opposed to 47 percent in 1993. Many business owners and managers found that allowing their employees one day of informality did increase their productivity and gave the office a more welcoming, relaxed atmosphere. Some noted that fewer workers were absent on Fridays than before the introduction of the casual day. Many banks expanded the policy, introducing casual summers. Some clothing manufacturers introduced new lines of clothing just for casual work dress.
Others did not approve of the new policy, however. In 1995 a group called Dress Right formed to ban casual Fridays, and some business magazines spoke out against the policy as bad business practice. In addition, the definition of casual was often open to debate, and this frequently led to endless office memos, forbidding items considered too casual, such as ragged blue jeans and halter tops. For the employee, choosing the appropriate clothes for casual days could be more difficult than dressing for a regular work day. For many men, whose regular office wear was a fairly simple dark suit and white shirt, casual Friday was the only work day where they were required to think about what to wear.
Casual Fridays originated in the often-informal United States, but in the late 1990s the idea was successfully exported to other countries as well. Office workers in Japan and Great Britain, for example, welcomed the occasional chance to dress more informally, and the new sales of casual business clothes gave a boost to some clothing manufacturers. By the late 1990s many businesses moved to an entirely "business casual" dress code.
"Dressing Down: At the Firm, Casual Friday Is Anything But Relaxing." Los Angeles Daily Journal (May 14, 1999): 8.
Kemp, Kristen. "Casual Friday Clothing Fiascoes." Cosmopolitan (November 1999): 227.
Mannix, Margaret. "Casual Friday, Five Days a Week." U.S. News and World Report (August 4, 1997): 60.