Monday, 7 May 2012

What is "Comfortable casual"?

Appropriate Casual Choices

Closet Content Analysis: 
What is comfortable casual?
NICE             NO THANKS         NOTE-WORTHY           NEED             NEW

Clothes are never a frivolity: they always mean something.
- James Laver

I made reference to comfortable casual in my "appropriate choices for work" post and have received several emails asking what that term means. I have my interpretation but I wanted to know what others thought and so here are the responses given to that question (a statistically unreliable sample, by the way): 
  • Dumpy. No, maybe one step above dumpy. (for my French friends - je pense - disgracieux)
  • It's not a style - it is a wardrobe choice for a weekend when you will be cleaning your place, watching movies or playing online games and eating popcorn.
  • Jeans, yoga pants - LuluLemon.
  • Casual pants jeans, cords, khaki and and a crew neck something such as t-shirt, sweater.
  • Less than business casual
  • The same as business casual.
  • You don't mean smart casual, do you?
  • Inappropriate in most situations.
  • Exactly what it says casual clothes that are comfortable - no tight anything - and sneakers. 
  • Big and comfortable, nothing fitted or close to the body.
There was little consensus and the answers ranged wildly from dumpy to business casual. Relative to my experience, my first reaction was to concur with the following statement about the comfortable casual label: It's not a style - it is a wardrobe choice for a weekend . . . Because labels are open to interpretation, perhaps we should do what C. Z. Guest, American fashion icon, said and that is to dress appropriately for the occasion. Relative to appropriateness, if a business encourages t-shirts and jeans or sweats, or at the very least tolerates comfortable casual then it is what it is, acceptable and appropriate for that business.

Insofar as a definition goes, there is no formal meaning to the term unless a significant number of people use the terminology and are in agreement with a similar meaning.

Find your own uniform.
- Tom Wolfe, American writer and journalist who adopted the white suit as his uniform

Those in the fashion and media industries dress more fashionably than teachers, teachers dress more casually than they did twenty years ago, computer games developers wear blue jeans and t-shirts, therefore, what's all the fuss about dressing appropriately anyway?

No one has ever had an idea in a dress suit.
- Frederick G. Banting

NOTE-WORTHY ASIDE: I really don't care if Dr. Frederick Banting ever wore a dress suit. I wouldn't be alive if it wasn't for his ideas and so I have great respect for what he said although he may have overstated that "no one has ever had an idea  . . ."

For the most part, I would guess that clients and bosses tolerate comfortable casual over provocative or too sexy. Now the question begs to be asked . . . what is provocative or too sexy? For a man this might be that his jeans are too tight and that the outline of his genitals are showing and for a woman her sweater is too tight and there's too much cleavage showing or the skirt is uncomfortably short. The answer may lie in perception and the comfort level of the person with whom someone is working or doing business. So if a client is uncomfortable with comfortable casual or provocative, then he or she has to decide whether clothing matters as much as the quality of work; given that these two, quality of work and clothing choices have nothing to do with each other.

The finest clothing made is a person's skin, but, of course, society demands something more than this.
- Mark Twain

It is a conundrum. I suppose if you are uncomfortable with the dress of the employees in the company you are doing business with or with your colleagues, then it is incumbent upon you to inform administration. I have to admit when I have gone into a Canadian bank on casual Fridays in the summer and the tellers are in t-shirts and shorts, I'm a bit taken aback; although I've still done business with the bank. And it seems that every bank has its own interpretation of casual Fridays. If I feel that strongly about something, I should let them know and I haven't, so it obviously did not bother me that much.

Those who make their dress a principal part of themselves, will, in general, become of no more value than their dress.
-William Hazlitt (1819 in On the Clerical Character)

If you find this post imprecise, I blame my imprecise opinions on the fact that I am a Libra. I find it easy to acknowledge differing points of view and am a decent debater because I can assume a point of view that is opposite what I am thinking at any given time. Some might call it "sitting on the fence"; I just call it wanting balance, being a Libra.

I appreciate your emails but shared comments bring forth more interesting interaction.


  1. I'm always shocked when I go to the doctor on a Friday and the assistants are wearing sloppy T-shirts and jeans. I totally agree that our choice of clothes always means something about how we see or what we feel about ourselves.

    1. Presently I'm in France and last Thursday we went to the bank and "shocked" is what I was when I saw the receptionist who greets you for any "face to face" business. She was so casually dressed I thought it was a "casual Friday" in Canada. That is exactly it . . . "how we feel about ourselves" no matter where in the world we are.

  2. My beef is how various hospital personnel dress. I'm not concerned that everyone is in scrubs – they're comfortable and practical, but how do you tell a doctor from a cleaning lady? Perhaps it's not the dress I'm concerned about, but the identification tags. They're not easy to read (and I have good eyesight) and sometimes they're hard to find.
    Maybe this isn't an appropriate (there's that word again) comment for a fashion blog, but this is as fashionable as I get.

    1. Thanks for your response. I've used the word "fashion" but really I would like to think that this blog is developing in an ethnographic/anthropological way rather than in a fashion-specific way; therefore your comment is perfect. In all societies, past and present, industrial and subsistence livelihoods, clothing was used to indicate social status and economic standing. Consider this an anthropological overview of ways by which status is differentiated. And it is important when you can't tell the cleaning staff from the medical staff!

  3. Your article is amazing! Keep up the good job. Congrats!

    1. How kind you are . . . I'm glad you found it so. Thank you so much.

  4. Thanks for taking the time to discuss this. I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic. If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more information? It is extremely helpful for me. Thanks!

    1. We are judgmental creatures and what is "appropriate" is definitely moot. The best one can say is, "It depends . . ." and then identify the criteria by which you make your decision on what to wear.

  5. That is really nice to hear. thank you for the update and good luck.
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Your comments inspire me and so I read them in gratitude and reply with delight. Thank you.