Today is Friday. It’s also Wear Sneakers at Work Day. If you didn't know it was such a special day, don't worry: no one I talked to knew either; in fact, they'd never even heard of it. Sneakers@Work Day was established only two years ago by the American Prostate Cancer Initiative in an effort to raise awareness about prostate cancer. On its website, Sneakers@Work invites employers to register to host the event at their office, as many professionals are not able to (or would simply be too out of place to) wear sneakers.
I asked a number of professionals in different industries their thoughts on the special day. All said they could not be the only one wearing sneakers in the office. "I might wear them to work but would change out of them at work," says an associate at a Manhattan law firm. Since his firm doesn't have casual Fridays, "wearing sneakers would not be acceptable... I wouldn't want legal advice or business advice from anyone who lacked the judgment not to wear sneakers with a suit." Because of the formality of their service, the firm doesn't have casual Fridays. And as the associate points out, participants would "look foolish in a suit with sneakers." Would having casual Fridays make any difference?
I asked an investment banker at a boutique Manhattan firm about casual Fridays and he broke it down. "We are business formal Monday through Thursday and either business formal with no tie, or slacks and a sport coat on Friday. If there is a client in the office, we remain business formal, regardless of the day." What about sneakers? "It would be unacceptable in our office." Even for charity? "I would be surprised. There will probably not be anyone participating in our office."
Let's go even more casual. In a recent Vault poll, 32 percent of respondents said they regularly work in sneakers; and 22 percent said sneakers are always welcome on Fridays, whether or not they themselves sport the sporty shoe. Lots of online companies (networks, start-ups, blogs, etc.) have a much more relaxed dress code. According to a recent , Facebook.com founder Mark Zuckerberg's usual garb is a "gray T-shirt, bluejeans, and sneakers." "Every day is casual Friday," says the director of business development at an online advertising network. "Our CEO and president wear jeans and sneaks to the office every day." Sometimes, just because the head honchos do it, it doesn't mean it's OK for everyone. Here, "as long as they get the job done, they can wear whatever they want within reason." In fact, she says, "business formal is regarded with suspicion. If you're dressed nicer than usual, management worries you're interviewing elsewhere!"
Many people—including the director of business development—prefer not to wear sneakers to work, not because they wouldn't be acceptable but because sneakers don't feel right for work to them. "I don't feel like I am dressed for work in sneakers. I feel like I am going to play sport or go out dancing," says a product manager at a start-up. That said, "there is a huge variation between one pair of sneakers and the next. There are Chucks, which say hipster; Vans, which say skater; Pumas, which say EuroTrash; high tops, etc., etc., or running shoes. I think if you can rock a sneaker type that reflects your personality and are in decent shape, that is really cool." Will the product manager be wearing sneakers on Friday? No. What if your employer is a registered participant? Almost 20 percent of Vault's poll respondents said they would participate—but only because it's for charity. "If the event is for charity, I will still give money... Then again, maybe I would wear my pale pink Chucks to work."
Wearing sneakers to work is a personal choice—assuming it's kosher at the office. Says the director of business development at the uber-casual online ad network, "I only wear sneakers to the gym—I don't wear sneakers anywhere else, but that's my personal style." Would she wear sneakers if her office were participating in Sneakers@Work together? "For a good cause, sure!" What if you do feel comfortable wearing sneakers to work? Says an economic research fellow at an environmental nonprofit, where people often wear sneakers: "I've worn sneakers to work a couple times ... They're decent-looking and non-flashy." Will he be wearing them on Friday? "If the whole office ever decided to wear sneakers one day, I'd be happy to join in. I don't think that'll happen anytime soon unless someone comes up with a 'Wear Sneakers to Work to Show Your Support for Federal Climate Change Legislation!' event."
-- Carolyn Wise, Vault.com
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