Dressed Up Fridays
I work in a casual office, but I usually dress up on Fridays so that I can go to shul directly after work. When co-workers ask if I'm dressed up for a party or a date, I tell them that it's for synagogue — but I feel awkward mentioning my religious observance. Is that weird?
Dressed Up Fridays
"Weird" is a hard call to make, especially concerning personal feelings, but several things in your letter do strike me as a little odd. For one thing, you seem to work in an extremely nosy office! If your co-workers deem it appropriate to question your choice of clothes on such a regular basis, then it's presumably a tight-knit enough group of people that they should already know about your religious observance. If personal matters typically aren't discussed at work, then really, their line of questioning is out of place. Also, once someone asks you why you're dressed up on a Friday, it seems like they should remember the reason a week later.
Regardless, there are a few things you can do to minimize the strain your pre-Shabbat wardrobe puts on your work environment. Fashion experts often talk about "day to evening" looks, and you need to consider outfits with that level of versatility. If your office is really that casual, wearing a suit would be noticeably out of place. If you're a man, consider a button-down shirt and nice pants instead. You could add a tie and jacket when you leave the office. If you're a woman, you definitely don't need a suit for Friday night services. A simple dress or a skirt and blouse should be appropriate both for work and for synagogue. If anything other than jeans and a t-shirt raises red flags and the whole situation becomes too uncomfortable to deal with, then bring an entire change of clothes to the office or find a way to stop home to change before services.
A better solution, though, is to find ways to be comfortable answering, and then deflecting, their questions. Next time someone says, "Why so fancy? Hot date?" simply say, "I'm going to synagogue. What are your weekend plans?" If you're feeling particularly snarky and fed-up, you could say something along the lines of, "You look all set to spend the weekend on the couch." Then just move on. As long as you're dressed appropriately for work, your clothes aren't their business and you don't have to justify your choices.
If anyone persists with questioning why religion is part of your life or why you want to spend Friday night praying instead of at the bar, handle it like you would any other personal interaction in a professional setting. Engage in the conversation if you think it's valuable, and don't if you don't. You could try, "I'm happy to talk about Judaism with you, but I'd rather do it outside of the office," or, if it's someone you'd consider hanging out with socially, say, "I'd love to have you over for a Shabbat dinner sometime so you can see what I do on the weekends."
If you're uncomfortable talking about your observance, people will sense that and wonder why you're making such a public display of something you don't want to discuss. If you're confident and comfortable but private, they'll pick up on that, too. That may mean your co-workers won't interact with you on as personal a level anymore, but maybe that's a good thing. You also have the option to be straightforward and upfront in response to their questions, and if anyone is uncomfortable hearing you talk about religion, then that discomfort is on them, not on you.