Yesterday saw the e-publication of phase one of Richard Press’ memoirs, which he has been hard at work on for the past couple of years (and which is why you haven’t seen as many Golden Years columns).
The lengthy stand-alone essay, entitled “Rebel Without A Suit,” is available from Amazon for $2.99 and can be read on a Kindle or many other devices, including your desktop computer.
In the following column, King Richard The Forty-Fourth tells us how it all came about. — CC
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Anti-corporate types who think they’re sticking it to the man don’t realize that they’ve been tools of sophisticated behind-the-scenes corporate marketing. They are only rebels without a suit, fattening the bottom lines of companies eager to sell them khakis and plaid shirts by the dozen.
Joe Cosgriff, co-author of “World On A String: A Musical Memoir” with jazz guitarist and singer John Pizzarelli, was introduced to me by my literary agent. From the first pitch we hit it off, agreeing to join forces on a book about menswear in America. Cosgriff, an all-star pitcher for Columbia University circa 1980, continues his baseball allegiance emceeing events for the Blohards, a New York-based fan club of the Boston Red Sox.
In carrying out research for a book about navigating the minefields of men’s fashion, we stumbled across a surprising and unanticipated explanation of how Casual Friday (and now Casual Everyday) made its way to the workplace. Rather than saving the chapter for our book, we have decided to publish it as a stand-alone, 6,500-word piece.
While the early roots of Casual Friday began when Londoners wore their riding clothes to work in advance of a weekend in the country, we officially start the clock in post-WWII Hawaii. Aloha shirts first made their way to places of business during the Aloha Week festival in 1947. The Hawaii Fashion Guild formalized the wearing of aloha shirts at the workplace in a marketing campaign that extended from 1962-1965, “for the sake of comfort and in support of the 50th state’s garment industry.”
Meanwhile, the practice began to drift over to the mainland, where Casual Friday was the perfect no-cost perk for companies to dispense, particularly during recessions of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The first problem men faced was not knowing what to wear after being told they could shed their suits and ties. Predictably, their fashion choices ran the gamut, from suits and ties with red Converse sneakers to torn jeans with aloha shirts. Most human resources departments provided no written standards for what “casual” meant, but, at least early on, they knew they didn’t like what they were seeing.
Enter the Levi’s brand Dockers. With Baby Boomers getting thicker around the gut, sales of classic Levi’s had plummeted, eroding company earnings. This was until they came up with the idea that perhaps Dockers, their branded khaki pants, could save the day. And noting a vacuum in the casual dress literature, Dockers decided to print a million copies of “A Guide to Casual Businesswear,” which they sent to 25,000 HR professionals. As you might have guessed, nearly all the suggestions involved wearing Dockers to work.
With the advent of the 100% casual workplace, we thought it useful to examine how it all came about. And while there are elements of rejecting the stiff clothes of previous era, as well as a disproportionate desire for comfort in workplace attire, the real driver of Casual Friday/Everyday appears to have been commerce. Go for the buck. Sell the boomers something to wear besides jeans.
Top quote in the book: “Business casual said to the world that making money is so easy, any slob can do it.” — RICHARD PRESS