While I’m not the fashion horse my father was (I don’t think even Prince is the fashion horse my father was), and I’m privileged now to work in an environment where I don’t need to be, I have been working in and around a lot of companies over the years, and in that time I’ve developed a fairly good sense of what professional attire should be. Sad to say, what I have been noticing over the past twenty years is a distinct decline not in what is considered professional attire (sorry, can’t blame it on Casual Friday), but rather in the knowledge and understanding among so-called professionals of what is professional attire.
With that in mind, I’d like to offer the following modest suggestions to men both young and old about what they might want to consider for their professional wardrobe.
First, own at least two suits. By this I mean actual suits, not a pair of slacks and a blazer or sport coat. The kind of suit that you buy as a complete set, coat and jacket (vests are optional and not particularly necessary). Not that there’s anything wrong with a pair of slacks and a sports coat, and in fact I do believe you should own at least a few pairs of slacks and a couple of sports coats that you can mix and match between them as well, but there’s just something about a suit that makes a comprehensive statement you just don’t get any other way.
Also, I’m not speaking about a hand-me-down suit or a suit you purchased at Discount Suit Warehouse. I mean a high quality suit, the kind that comes from a high end retailer or specialty shop. Save up your nickels and dimes and get them on sale if you can, because these kinds of suits are not cheap (trust me, I know this). Many retailers will have sales once or twice a year, and they will offer good discounts on the outgoing styles. Why do you care that they’re last season’s (or even last year’s) fashions? Ideally you will have these suits for years anyway.
While you’re there, make sure to get the suit tailored to you so it fits properly (if you have a favorite tailor elsewhere you can go there, but I have yet to find one who does the job better for less). Don’t let them bully you into wearing the suit the way they say it “should” be worn. I wear the waist of my pants much lower than any tailor seems to think is “right”, and for years my pants didn’t fit right. Then I finally insisted they simply let me wear the pants the same way while them hemmed them as I did when I got them home, and suddenly my pants fit well. Did they look as good as they could? No, but they looked better than they did, because they were tailored for me.
Pick up a lint brush, preferably two. Keep one in your desk drawer at work and one close to the door at home. Use them. Even if you don’t have long hair or a pet, someone else does; your wife, your husband, your girlfriend, your boyfriend, your roommate, the person in the elevator next to you with the five corgis. Hair, lint, and all kinds of other stuff transfers very easily, and you won’t notice you need a lint brush until you don’t have one; if nothing else, you can be the hero of the day for someone else. If you don’t have one handy when you need it you can fake it by rolling some tape (sticky side out) around your hand and running it gently over your suit. It’s not great, but it’s better than nothing, and people will appreciate that you took a little time for your appearance.
Second, I’ve heard more than one person say that if you want to get attention at work you should dress better than your position (or better than the other people at your level). This fascinates me, since I’ve always found that the best way to get attention at work is to be good at your job. Dressing “for the job you want to have” as they say is a good way to annoy the people around you, as it does make you stand out, but not in a good way. If you are good at your job and you’re not getting attention for it, you need to find another job.
What I do recommend is dressing better, worse, or just the same as the people around you, if that’s who you are. What people will respond to is confidence: are you comfortable in your own skin? Are you showing up as the person you believe you are, or are you putting on a show? That’s not to say you should dress inappropriately for the work environment, and if you are completely uncomfortable wearing anything acceptable in that workplace, then again maybe you need to think about getting a different job.
Third, make sure you own at least two nice pairs of shoes. Note that there is a difference between “nice” shoes and “dress” shoes. Any kind of shoes can be nice, and even “dress” shoes can be cheap. Don’t buy cheap dress shoes. As I mentioned earlier, every major retailer has sales, and there’s nothing wrong with them. Make sure to get quality shoes that fit comfortably, because hopefully you’ll be wearing them a lot (because you have a good job to wear them at).
Here’s the thing: if you buy cheap shoes, you will spend a lot of time and money replacing them, and you will have to break them in over and over again (which is not fun), and in the long run you will spend as much money on multiple pairs of cheap shoes as you do on one pair of quality shoes. But there’s more: people notice a man’s shoes, especially if he’s wearing a nice suit (like the one I told you to buy earlier). If you wear cheap shoes with a nice suit, people will laugh at you. Women will laugh at you. Maybe not to your face, but I have heard it. And gentlemen, they are not nice about it. Better a slightly worn pair of quality shoes than a brand new pair of cheap shoes.
Once you have your nice shoes, please be sure to take care of them. Don’t stomp through the mud in them, avoid puddles, don’t walk across the grass in them, and please be sure to polish them. Take care of your shoes, because they are quality, and people notice these things.
That’s not everything you need to know, but it should at least get you started.
You might also like: