As fashion trends come and go and casual Friday gains traction throughout the week, deciding what to wear to the office can be confusing - especially for men. It's time to take the guesswork out of dressing for work.
Here are 8 tips to help demystify business attire for men.
1. Know Your Corporate Culture
If you wear a conservative gray suit while working at an ad agency or tech startup, you will probably get some questioning looks. The response will probably be the same if you wear a pair of linen pants and a blazer to your job in a law office.
As an employee, you should get familiar with your company's dress code. Both the official HR version and the cues you gather by looking at the wardrobe choices of supervisors and company leadership are important to note. Remember, if you are the boss, your wardrobe is setting an example that employees will follow.
2. Build a Wardrobe Around a Suit
Even if your corporate culture leans towards business casual, there may be occasions where you need to dress more formally. Every man should own at least one high-quality, dark two-piece suit in navy or charcoal gray. These colors convey professionalism and work well with a wide variety of shirt and tie combinations.
For daily wear, avoid the austerity of black. This is more appropriate for funerals, weddings or dressier occasions. Shop at a reputable men's clothing store where sales assistants can help you find a suit that fits you well, especially if it's your first one. A slim-fitting suit will give you a sharp, contemporary style, while a loose-fitting suit can make you look sloppy. Attention to detail is key, so be prepared to have an off-the-rack suit tailored to your frame.
3. Invest in a Sports Jacket
A well-fitting sports jacket offers endless versatility and adds an instant shot of style and professionalism to your appearance. Typically made of flannel, tweed, herringbone or houndstooth, sports jackets are equally at home with trousers, khakis or jeans (in a complementary but not identical color).
Choose a basic color such as blue or light brown. An understated stripe or check will add a little dimension. They can be layered over button-down shirts, sweaters or tees, and have the added advantage of serving as a light jacket in cooler temperatures. Even in a casual workplace, this is an item to keep hanging in your office for last-minute meetings.
4. Opt for Lighter Color Hues
A white cotton shirt provides ultimate flexibility. Light blue or other light pastels are also ideal additions to your wardrobe. Shirts should complement the colors in your jacket. Subtle patterns add a little flair. For business casual, a button-down shirt with khakis is a good choice and can quickly be elevated with a sports jacket. Look for anti-wrinkle fabrics that stay looking fresh throughout the day.
5. Wear a Tie
Ties can be used to express a little creativity, especially in a more casual work environment. A variety of patterns and colors are acceptable as long as they are not too extreme and coordinate well with your shirt and suit coat. Stay with classic guidelines for length and width.
6. Understand Your Boss's Definition of Business Casual
This is a widely-used term that can be interpreted many ways depending on the company. In some environments, a golf shirt and khaki pants are fine. Others may define business casual as "tie optional" or "no sports jacket." Follow the lead of senior staff members. When in doubt, don't hesitate to ask a supervisor.
7. Take Your Socks and Shoes Into Account
Your shoes must be polished and in good repair with no scuffs on the heels. Select dark socks that reach mid-calf and match your pants for a conservative office look. Get creative with color in a more relaxed environment. White socks should only be worn with tennis shoes, which typically don't belong in most work spaces.
8. Thoughtfully Accessorize
Anything beyond a wedding band and a class ring can be viewed as a bit much. Wear statement bracelets with caution. While they are fashionable, they may not work in your office. Use cues from those who have the jobs you aspire for. The adage is true: Dress for the job you want, not the job you have today.