Looking Back

The JofA ’s “Focus On” series, which ran in the mid-1990s, asked CPAs for their opinions on a variety of issues, including casual-dress policies. It was only in the early to mid-1990s that casual Fridays ushered in a more informal era in office dress. In May 1995 the JofA asked some CPAs about their experiences. Excerpts from their diverse and inconclusive answers are presented here as part of our ongoing series of excerpts from past issues leading up to our centennial issue in October.

Looking Back

What Is It?
“People do seem to be confused about what ‘casual’ is,” the chairman and chief executive of Jos. A. Bank Clothiers, a CPA, told the JofA . “The problem we hear most is that the CEO suddenly looks like the janitor.”

What Does the Client Think?
Back in the late 1970s, “especially in large, conservative CPA firms, the term ‘business dress’ meant ‘wingtips’—a symbol for the dark suit, white shirt and a conservative tie,” said one partner from Minnesota. “While the new rules are less rigid, they also give you plenty of opportunity to mess up—which is why I always call ahead [to the client-service partner] when I’m not sure. An example of how complex this issue is: One casual-dress Friday I bumped into one of my clients, who was visiting someone else in our office. He chewed me out for my casual attire. He said, ‘If we’re going to pay you professional rates, I expect you to dress like a professional.’…For women, the dress code issue is a bit more complicated. No one is really sure what appropriate attire is in each setting. Ask 30 professional women what’s appropriate and you’ll get 30 different answers.”

Lost Productivity
“Recently, the partners observed that this casual dressing was creating much too informal an office atmosphere and sensed that our professionalism was not being presented appropriately,” one partner from Pittsburgh said, in explaining why his firm went from informal rules and clothes to strictly business attire every day except Saturday. “It was awkward when a client came to the office with less than a day’s notice and we were dressed casually. In such a case, you can only hope the client can look beyond the way you are dressed.

“Our informal, relaxed atmosphere…resulted in reduced employee productivity,” he continued. “During a typical 40-hour week, we billed fewer hours than before we allowed casual dress. In some weeks, we lost as much as 20% to 25% in productivity.”

Regional Differences
“Our firm’s dress code requires women to wear a coordinated suit or business dress,” said a partner in Indianapolis. “Only recently has ‘suit’ been understood to include pants suit…. There may be a significant shift to pants suits occurring across the country, but parts of the Midwest have not experienced this shift.”

Boosting Morale
“Our firm isn’t really joining the movement toward casual dress—the movement is coming toward us,” said a Pennsylvania firm partner whose firm allowed relatively informal dress—especially among those who didn’t meet with clients. “We aren’t leaders, we just have a policy that’s different from most accounting firms. One of the reasons I feel this is important is because our employees all work very hard—they never complain if they have to work late. We’re a team and we try to create as happy, comfortable and cooperative an atmosphere as possible.”


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