Casual Fridays (also known as Dress-down Fridays, Bis-Cas-Fris, or simply Casual day) began in the 1950s as employer-sanctioned faux-rebellion. Obviously just a perversion of natural order, occasionally those who don’t observe are required to pay a small fee. Interestingly, it’s like Saturnalia or April Fool’s day, a tool to keep the oppressed happy under the guise of benevolence from our betters.
After watching all eight hours of the Academy Awards ceremony last night, it’s increasingly clear that men are increasingly confused by, ignorant of, or just wrong-headed about men’s dress.
You had Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin dressed like waiters in a Havana nightclub and a large number of attendees wore black business suits, looking more like bankers than guests at what’s supposed to be a prestigious awards show. I suspect there was a directive to ditch the traditional tuxedo in an attempt to appeal to the youth, who increasingly carry on dressing like children well into middle age.
At Amoeba, the only rule I know of regarding dress is that we not wear open toed shoes. When former employee Joel Huggins wore an A-shirt, a jirga was called to session to debate about its appropriateness. Although designed for a man, an A-shirt is now strangely much more accepted when worn by women (something about which I’m NOT complaining, mind you). Amoeba is a pretty casual place. As casual and sports attire *shudder* unfortunately metastasize into more and more workplaces, the equation of casual wear with rule-breaking becomes more and more meaningless. In other words, tattoos and T-shirts are emblems of mass conformity for the brainwashed masses.
That’s why I instigated and participated in Anti-Casual Fridays at Amoeba when I worked on the floor. Other participants stood out like peacocks in a flock of buzzards with their individual sartorial splendor. Scintillating debates about what was appropriate dress came up. I didn’t always wear a tie, Job routinely wears jeans and tennis shoes and most provocatively, KXLU DJ Ned Learner dressed like an unholy mixture of a porn star and Century 21 salesman in an garish, plaid, polyester abacost.
As with some employers’ Casual Fridays, we charged a fine for forgetting to dress up. The fines paid for a pizza party which had unintended, disastrous consequences, namely having to do with the most faithful observer (Job) of the day not getting any pizza. In the fallout, many abandoned their frippery and were re-absorbed into the masses.
Although it lives on today, it does so at a much lower level, sometimes observed by as few as two workers. After witnessing the excruciating spectacle last night (which, to be honest, didn’t have that much to do with men’s fashion) I am re-committed to restoring and spreading men’s dress code, one day, one Fancy Dan at a time!
The alliterative and perhaps catchier term “Formal Fridays” began to be more common although speaking as a graduate of Beau Brummell University, no-one has ever approached the formal tier of dress code. In fact, as far as I know, I’m the only Amoeba employee to even dress informally (in a business suit). I’m afraid that our job is just too physical for formal dress and it would look like some sort of bizarre costume requiring too many explanations. I still prefer the original “Anti-Casual Fridays” because I started the practice out of hatred for Casual Fridays more than a love of formality.
For your aid, I’m gonna break it down and tell a little story, straight out the box of the dandy category:
Formal wear is broken down into two categories: daytime and nighttime. If Fridays at Amoeba ever became truly formal, presumably those working the opening shift would want to wear morning dress until clocking out at 7:00, despite convention. Closers present more difficulty, as wearing evening dress when their shifts begin at 2:00 would be outrageous and provocative. One may only wear top hats with formal wear, despite what goths and theater majors would suggest with their rude effrontery.
Morning dress (sometimes referred to as a cutaway) is these days most often seen at daytime weddings… especially in soap operas, period dramas and English horse races. It’s also worn occasionally in the US Supreme Court and the Japanese cabinet.
White tie (sometimes referred to as full evening dress) is worn at state functions, formal balls, the opera. We’re not talking about mafioso style here, we’re talking Fred Astaire in white tie and tails.
This is what men should be wearing if they want to make the Oscars prestigious. Another option would be to start nominating better films (but that would mean watching more films that aren’t in English).
The stroller (also known as a black lounge) is the appropriate dress for a semi-formal daytime occasion. When my brother and I attended my sister’s wedding, we wore strollers but were shocked to see, though the sun was high, many of the groomsmen dressed in black tie! I felt like I was through the looking glass.
Black tie, commonly known as tuxedos, should NEVER be worn before 6:00 unless the sun’s already set. Appropriate semi-formal hats are homburgs, derbies (and bowlers) or straw boaters.
The informal category is the most formal category in which different attire is expected during the day and night (although I don’t advise men to wear brown suits at night). Informal attire is the lounge suit (or sack suit). Sometime in the past generation or so, the lounge suit has overtaken semi-formal wear at most weddings, at least on the west coast. I’ve never been to so many informal weddings. Much of the encroachment of casual pandemic has occurred at this level. At the beginning of the 20th century, the sack suit was the uniform of most physical laborers. Waistcoats began disappearing in the 1940s, hats went out in the ’50s, by the ’70s, grotesque suits were common.
Which brings us to the ’70s, or the most compelling reason Mad Men must absolutely end its run after the next season — business casual is the hellspawn of that decade. Though it purported to encourage individuality, it abandoned all that is aesthetically appealing about men’s dress. Ill-fitting oxford shirts, pleated slacks, no jacket or tie or (invariably ugly) tennis shirts. It’s also the predominant dress code of most white and Korean churchgoing males.
Appropriately, as we move further into casual, the definitions become less rigidly defined. Jacket with jeans, tie, sweater, docksides, loafers, long sleeve dress shirt, belt. Smart casual is the preferred dress of university professors, academics, Jarvis Cocker, and Mr. Rogers (and myself). A tragic take on smart casual is also widely worn by stand-up comedians who generally break with convention by wearing tennis shoes, one supposes to show that they have an irrepressible playful side.
Loafers, dark socks, slacks, button down shirts, tennis shirts, sweater vest, no neckties.
Of course, there are casuals and casual and the two shouldn’t be confused. Casuals are football hooligans who tend to actually be pretty natty dressers, having a modish preference for various quality labels and sticky fingers.
Casual in the clothing sense suggests shorts, wife beaters, dungarees, T-shirt — totally appropriate for field hands, the gym and people beautiful enough to pull off anything. As said before, it’s meant to be an expression of freedom and individuality but in reality fast food uniforms say more about the wearer than most T-shirts, especially since the advent of the “ironic T-shirt” in the 1990s.
So don’t be afraid to rebel by showing some class. Dress up for change and…
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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