Dear readers, allow me to enter the foray of work-clothing advice. I feel there is mass confusion on the topic and that it is high time to restore decorum and common-sense.
As readers of my blog know, I take a relatively conservative stance on dress. This is for various reasons, including my aristocratic tendencies. However, beyond my predilections for old dress, there is a value to a well-constructed wardrobe that encourages a professional image and demands respect.
The point with a business wardrobe is to be at the point where respect and practicality meet. This allows your wardrobe to be comfortable and yet functional as you enforce the image of competency you project with your daily actions.
To this effect, because many people of my generation (and following generations) have grown up dressing extremely casually, it appears that a general guide may be of use to avoid a number of pitfalls that I have observed or had mentioned to me over the last few years.
To begin, let's also remember that in every industry, there are varying expectations. In construction, you will likely wish to focus on clothing that protects you, in fashion you may get away with more artsy/whimsical outfits, and some places are just generally more laid back.
However, for the purposes of this guide, we will assume you work in a more conservative office and that your superiors would appreciate you showing up in something beyond a t-shirt and shorts paired with flipflops. Just because this is 2012, doesn't mean you can wear the outfit that would be ok in a club or your dorm lounge to the office. If your office is more modern/casual, you can still apply some of the tips to spruce up your business classiness.
I'm going to break this into tips for both men and women (the women's guide will be posted soon once I have finished reviewing it). The fashion crimes aren't always the same, but invariably, there are points to be made. This guide is also meant as a starting point, as once you master the basics, you will learn how you can be more creative and stretch the rules in good ways. I like to add extra color to my wardrobe in the summer, but I try to make sure it's within the guidelines of a well put together outfit.
Life Liberty and the Pursuit of Elegance, Guide for Men's Business Dress:
Let's get some things out of the way quickly. Here is a list of things NOT to wear:
- Flip Flops / Sandals
- Shorts. Are you in the Bahamas? If not, don't do it.
- Wife beater / sleeveless undershirts. Ideally, we should not see your undershirt too much. A wife beater style shirt is extremely obvious and unflattering. Also, I assume you know that undershirts should be worn under a dress/sport shirt.
- Ill-fitting clothing / baggy clothing / clothing that sags below the hips. I'm sure you like your underwear just as much as we like not having to see it in public.
- Denim that isn't dark. If you can avoid denim altogether, even better. (I personally dislike denim, but paired with a nice blazer, it often passes for business-appropriate nowadays.)
- Clothing with holes. Nobody cares how on-trend you are. You look like an idiot.
- Excessively tight trousers. I don't want to know how big your wallet is or if you're turned on by the girl you're talking to.
- Excessively wrinkled clothing. I get that you didn't have time to iron--don't make it look like you scrunched it up and sat on it for a week before deciding to pull it out to wear.
- Belts + Suspenders = huge fashion crime. Pick one or the either, please.
- Pre-tied bow ties. I gentleman knows how to tie his own bow ties and neck ties (clip-ons and pre-tied bow ties are for children). It's not hard, there are plenty of guides available online. Also, practice makes perfect, so do it a few times so you're ready when you need it!
- T-shirts are underwear. If you're wearing a t-shirt and it isn't an undershirt, you're probably too casual for more traditional office environments. Showing up with a comic book hero on your torso, probably isn't a great move if you want to impress.
- GQ Magazine: If your office is more traditional, be careful with some of their trend ideas (most offices will not be pleased to see you wearing lace-ups with a suit and no socks). Otherwise, you can use some of their creative tips. Personally, I prefer Esquire Magazine when it comes to style (or better yet, classic men's fashion blogs and forums such as Ask Andy About Clothes).
- Tennis / athletic shoes. I understand you might find them more comfortable during transit, but avoid wearing them in the office if you can help it! I remain convinced that comfortable yet classy shoes exist. :)
Now that we have that covered, here are some things you can do to improve your wardrobe:
- Buy non-ironed dress shirts. These will save you time and money.
- Hang your shirts, trousers, and suit coats/blazers/sportcoats. This will prevent/reduce wrinkles. Some items may even lose their wrinkles if you hang them properly for a long enough time.
- Get a travel steamer. These are great, because you can arrive at a destination with wrinkled up clothes from your suitcase and emerge shortly afterwards looking nicely pressed. Also, they are safe to use on wool and silks, unlike irons. Very handy!
- Buy clothing in your size. Don't guess. Get someone to measure you at a proper men's retailer and help you find your exact size.
- Find a Tailor / Have Alterations Made. When the clothing isn't exactly your size, get it taken in, you will look great. Work clothing isn't meant to automatically fit your body off the rack, some of it will need adjustment.
- Buy natural fibers when possible. The lower the synthetic content, the better your clothes will feel and look. Want to know who is wearing polyester? Look for the guy with lint balls on his trousers.
- Wear the right undershirt. If you're wearing a tie or bow tie, wear a crew neck undershirt. If you're wearing a dress shirt without a tie, wear a V-neck undershirt. The point is to make it less obvious. Also, undershirts help protect your dress shirts from sweat stains, helps them stay cleaner longer, and gives them increased life.
- Buy quality clothing. Remember, it's not having lots of clothes that matters. It's having clothes that are worth being seen in that matters. Additionally, if your clothing is constantly wearing out, it will cost you more money having to replace them continually than if you got something that was well constructed in the first place. If you can't afford a large wardrobe, start with a few essential pieces that you can pair with different accessories.
- Essential pieces: Navy/dark grey suit/slacks, tan slacks are nice too (good for summer, and providing extra color in your wardrobe), navy blazer (goes well with most color trousers except navy and black), white dress shirts (long sleeves!), etc.
- Leather shoes. Dress shoes should generally be leather. If you can get them with leather soles too, you will find they look even more classy. Leather soles wear evenly and therefore don't look like the keels of boats once you've been wearing a pair for a while. The drawback is that they wear faster than rubber soles.
- Match your colors! Socks should normally match your trousers. Belts should generally match your shoes. Ideally your pocket square (should you wear one) should be complementary to your tie, but not the exact same pattern. Try to keep from wearing conflicting patterns that cause a dizzying effect. Make sure you have sufficient contrast and that your colors look good next to each other. Also: black and navy trousers/blazers do NOT go together.
- Galoshes / Overshoes. Protect the investment you make in your shoes. Rain is bad for them, and wet feet are not comfortable. Slide these on when you walk out the door and your problems disappear on both fronts!