In today’s business world, dressing is an increasingly casual affair. After the sartorial strictures of the 1930’s dress codes started to loosen up, and with the emergence of corporate giants in the US a more relaxed business dress code has evolved. While there are still professions and companies who require formal dress at the work place, a lot of them only do when meeting clients personally. For men who care about their appearance, in my opinion, this allows one to leave a mark and subtly stand out from the crowd.
But what are those small details, which ensure you will be remembered? Our style correspondent, the London trained bespoke tailor, Simon Skottowe, shares his experience to facilitate business through the self confidence of appropriate dressing.
While different business situations require differing stylistic considerations, from the most formal to weekend team building, the same care should be applied. This may sound really basic, but clean, nicely polished shoes and a rigorous grooming regime will take you a long way. Similarly, the fit of your clothes makes a huge difference in the perception of others. Whether you wear a suit or a pair of cotton trousers and a casual shirt, they should fit and enhance your physical appearance.
Client appointments, high level internal meetings and job interviews are all considered as formal obligations, which require the combination of a ‘business suit’ worn with a shirt and a tie. In modern terms business suits can be described as:
- Conservative cut: Usually single breasted with two or three button on the front. While slim and short is fashionable today, timeless elegance is considered as a virtue in a high level business environment. This means the jacket must cover your rear and the trousers should be cut slim, not tight with a slight break on the shoes, think streamlined.
- Fabrics in fine worsted wool (combed wool, with a smooth surface and soft touch), in mid to dark grey or mid to dark blue colours. Plain is always favourable or in traditional patterns associated with business like pinstripes or a muted glen plaid. If you need to wear a suit regularly, look for fabrics with a bit of weight to them, don’t go for the most luxurious cloths, the finer the yarn, more the fabric is prone to wrinkling, losing its shape and with time developing an unpleasant sheen. Most fabric suppliers and off the peg brands offer so called “travel fabrics” which characterize by their high twist nature, meaning that the yarn was twisted more during its spinning. The result is a durable fabric, which creases far less and bounces back to its original shape, due to the “memory” nature of the high twist yarn.
- Steer away from fancy, faddish details like contrast coloured buttonholes. Exaggerated proportions and wild colour combinations are also out of question, unless you are an artist.
- Three piece and double breasted suits are welcome, save the latter for special occasions, as it’s not the most practical option to wear in the office.
Shirts in white or light blue, thin stripes or micro checks are also welcome. Look for plain (poplin) or horizontal (twill) weave fabrics in a mid weight, which you can wear all year round. It’s good to invest in a quality shirt wardrobe, which will last years. (Avoid deodorants with aluminium in them; this is the reason of yellow stains on white shirts). While we see less and less men wearing double cuffed shirts with cufflinks, it can really add a personal touch to formal business outfits. Just don’t wear them with jeans, please.
Ties should be plain silk or in a small repeating pattern. The tie is the focal point of the outfit, when selected well; it guides the eye towards your face. Try to avoid wearing regimental striped ties with a suit, unless it’s from your school or college. Save this look for second tier politicians or weather forecasters on TV. Stripes, which I like, go much better with your blazers and sport coats.
Again, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of the right pair of shoes, properly cared for. The most versatile option is a pair of black polished calf leather oxford shoes. This will work with most of your blue and grey suits. While the old adage of “no brown shoes in town” has somewhat lost its relevance, in some circumstances rightly so, but one should still take into account the followings: the colour of the shoe should be at least one shade darker than the colour of the suit. Stick with black for evening occasions and with dark (midnight) blue suits. The latter may sound too traditional, but works best in practice. When wearing a belt with a suit, match the colour of the belt to your shoes. Another nice way to coordinate your outfit is to “match your metals”: Choose the same type of metal dress watch, cufflink and belt buckle.
If daily work at the office doesn’t always require you to wear a jacket, it is still best to keep one handy. You can never go wrong with a combination of a navy blue blazer and grey wool trousers, with cotton chinos for the summer. It gives you a myriad of options to choose from: you can wear it with or without a tie, with black or brown shoes or layer knitwear under it in the colder months. Even when wearing a jacket is optional, a well cut shirt and trousers are essential. The rule here: keep it simple and sophisticated. The trousers single pleat or flat front in blues and greys, shirts should be also on the restrained side, as discussed before. Put the emphasis on the quality of the fabrics, as these pieces serve as a “uniform”, and will be the most worn items in your wardrobe. Shoes and accessories provide an opportunity to show some character with your outfits. Find what you like and stick to it, this way these pieces can become your ‘signatures’, what about a double monk strap or a penny loafer.
Dress down Fridays has gained popularity over the years and had an effect on offices dress codes around the world. Initially in Japan dress down Fridays was a merchandising idea to push sluggish retail sales. It became essential to be “dressed down” perfectly on Fridays. Button down check or chambray shirts, chinos, sports jackets and loafers had to be purchased. More recently the possibility to wear jeans and trainers in the office gave rise to an ever loosening dress code around the world. For the conscious dresser this means another opportunity show off his style in a refined way. Instead of running shoes wear a pair of suede brogues in a brighter shade of brown or in navy. Try a nice pair of cotton chinos or some dark denims with a polo shirt or a casual shirt. These pieces will come handy at work related casual appearances as well.
Whatever your job, or type of workplace, dressing with style and making the most of yourself not only boosts your confidence but has a positive impact on your career. In my book, quality = discernment=attention to detail; all very important in business.
Don’t buy a lot, consider and buy quality pieces that are special. This shows the wearer is similarly special.