Dockers® And The Birth of Casual Fridays

Levi Strauss & Co.
July 7, 2014

Loving the everyday comfort of Dockers® at your desk? You’re not the only one. Over the past two decades, a button-down shirt and Dockers® khakis, an ensemble that was originally deemed too casual to constitute business attire, has taken the corporate world by storm.

Dockers® is often credited with the invention of Casual Fridays, the phenomenon that inspired a cultural shift in how we dress for the office. It’s partially, but not entirely, the truth.

In 1966, a professional manufacturing association known as the Hawaiian Fashion Guild figured out a plan to boost sales of Hawaiian shirts and dresses. “Aloha Fridays” gave employees the fashion freedom to wear these colorful garments in the office at the end of the week. Their strategy not only sold many shirts, but also enforced a societal message: There’s room for fun and relaxation in the workplace. (They don’t call it “island time” for nothing, after all).

The tradition inspired the popular sing-along “Aloha Friday,” with lyrics that include  “I work hard all week long. I can’t wait to get away.” Try listening to this catchy tune and not fantasizing about piping it into your office loudspeaker next Friday afternoon!

Aloha Fridays eventually made their way to the mainland during the dot-com boom of the early 90s. While some offices rejected the practice, thinking it would decrease workplace productivity, other management realized that allowing their employees to participate might be a great way to boost office morale and give the workforce an end-of-the-week “perk” that was cost-effective.

The practice encountered a few issues early on. Some HR departments worried that Hawaiian shirt and flip-flop ensemble of Aloha Fridays was a little too much fun. And the lack of any real guidelines for how to dress beyond the confines of a business suit left many professionals scratching their heads while staring into their closet Friday morning.

Dockers® found themselves in the perfect position to come up with a creative solution. “When Dockers was conceived back in the ’80s, it was at a quintessential time when business people were looking to break away from the suit and showcase a bit more of their unique style.  This represented a significant shift from the traditional dress code of that time towards something that was considered both modern and professional with a nice twist of laid back style,” said Adrienne Lofton, Chief Marketing Officer of the Dockers® brand at Levi Strauss & Co. In 1992, they created a trusty “Guide To Casual Business Wear,” and mailed the pamphlet to approximately 25,000 HR managers across the country.

If there was ever any doubt that Casual Fridays caught on, here are some numbers to chew on. In a survey conducted by Evans Research in 1995, nine out of ten companies allowed their staff to dress casually in the workplace, either on an occasional or full-time basis, up from about two-thirds in 1992. And while in 1992, 20% of companies dressed casually every day, by 1995 those numbers were closer to 33%, with a whopping 42% of companies allowing their workers to dress casually one day a week.

The “Guide To Casual Business Wear” was undoubtedly the culprit. With handy tidbits such as “consider the style and tone of your outfit when choosing belts scarves and jewelry,” the guide provided instructions as well as handy visual inspiration.  It stressed the idea that casual was not another word for sloppy—“Keep wrinkled, stained, or dirty clothing out of the workplace”—and cautioned that anything too revealing—lingerie looks, transparency and in some cases, bare legs—could be a major no-no. Dockers® even sponsored in-office fashion shows, and provided a hotline for workplace dress code emergencies.

This roadmap for dressing in casual business attire formed the foundation for the relaxed look we’ve come to know and love, and boosted worker morale nationwide. Dockers® was hailed as revolutionary for creating a cultural shift that propelled their khakis into the mainstream.

It was a pioneering and forward-thinking approach that the brand continues to implement today—for instance, with the development of their dynamic and modern Alpha Khaki. Whether you have Casual Fridays in your office or not, we guarantee you that when you invest in a great-fitting pair of pants, you’ll want to wear them more than one day a week.