5 Steps to Upgrading Your Business Casual Clothing

by Antonio on June 21, 2011 · 43 comments

in Dress & Grooming, Style

 

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Dressing for work used to be simple. Men typically donned a full suit and there were rules to dressing that were passed on from father to son.  These dressing guidelines were reinforced by society and informative publications that educated men on dressing well.

Then things began to change–hats disappeared, jackets were left at home, and men’s magazines started focusing on fleeting fashion and designer clothing. Casual Fridays turned into casual weeks and somewhere along the way men forgot how to dress properly.

Let me be clear: You do not have to wear a three-piece suit to look great and conduct business; in fact, if you worked at a company like Patagonia or Google, this type of clothing could work against you.  And really no particular set of clothing does justice to what it truly means to dress sharp. Dressing sharp goes beyond any article of clothing. Dressing sharp is about taking pride in what you wear and controlling what your image says to those with whom you’ve never spoken.

Light, pleated khakis a size too big paired with a baggy dress or polo shirt…walk into any office today and you’ll see men dressed in this new uniform of business casual. But what you wear to the office doesn’t have to be boring, frumpy, and Dilbert-esque.

This article outlines five guidelines that can take your business casual look from bland and unimaginative corporate-drone to smart and sharp go-getter. Whether you are managing a diner or selling commercial space in a retail center–you want others to view you as competent and trustworthy. And although the right clothing doesn’t guarantee you or your potential clients anything–it does set a good tone that you can build off of.

Step 1: Get the Right Fit

right fit business casualMany outfits that do not look “sharp” are actually fine in terms of color and style. The problem is often fit. It’s the most overlooked way to improve a man’s wardrobe–and often the cheapest.

The point to understand about proper clothing fit is that your clothing should have a defined shape as it drapes over your body. Even if you’re a bigger guy, you want clothes that don’t billow and sag. It is a common misconception that loose clothing makes a large man look better or provides a higher degree of comfort. In fact, the opposite is true. Clothing that is too loose is made to fit a different body type and will restrict movement.

Clothing Length

Proper clothing length is the starting point of a good fit. Trousers should fall just far enough to “break” on your shoes: the cuff should rest slightly on the top of the shoe but not bundle up with excess cloth there. Jeans can be worn slightly longer as the bunching on a narrower cut spreads out better over the leg–but don’t be afraid to have them shortened and ask before purchasing if this is a service the store provides for free.

The waistband should rest comfortably right above your hips, around the natural waist (the narrowest point on your torso, usually). Jeans will fit lower at the trouser waist, as will many modern cut chinos and dress slacks. The lower cut is easy to pull off when your waist is smaller than your chest–once the reverse is true you need to seriously consider moving away from low-cut trousers as they will never stay up properly. Start thinking suspenders–they are a lot more practical and stylish than pulling up your pants every few minutes.

Shirt sleeves should extend far enough to cover your wrist bone when standing with your arms hanging down. Take a look at where the sleeve joins the shoulder too–that seam should fall neatly on the end of your body’s shoulder, not hanging down on your bicep. Jacket sleeves, if you wear one, should start in the same place and be just a touch shorter, so that a half-inch or so of shirt sleeve is visible beyond the cuff. Shirt length should be enough that you can tuck at least 2 inches in all around–less than that and your shirt will come un-tucked every time you stretch to grab something.

Clothing Tightness

If the length of your clothing is sufficient, the next step is to ensure the clothing fits well circumference-wise or at least close enough so that a tailor can adjust it. A man’s clothing should fit close to the body with just enough slack to let you move comfortably.

Understand that the vast majority of men in the United States are accustomed to wearing their clothing too large, so when they wear clothing that actually fits, it may initially feel restrictive. Proceed towards closer fitting clothing with caution and ask a trusted friend to give you straight advice and feedback. You’ll find that you can adjust to the new fit and improved appearance quickly.

Pay special attention to the “rise” in the trousers–the distance between the waistband and the crotch seam. If the seam that joins the legs is hanging a few inches below your actual crotch, you’re going to get a saggy look that translates straight to your thighs and your bottom.

When buying a shirt, make sure it fits you in the shoulders–this isn’t something you want to adjust, as the needed tailoring will often cost more than the shirt itself. Next look at the fabric in the torso–most of us will find that if the neck and sleeve length are right, the torso looks like a balloon. The easiest way to avoid swimming in fabric is to buy either a slim cut dress shirt or go custom. Another option, if the problem isn’t too bad (3 inches or less) is to have a seamstress dart the dress shirt–basically tucking in the fabric semi-permanently with stitching.http://www.artofmanliness.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=17911&action=edit

Adjusting Your Clothing

It’s nearly impossible to find off-the-rack menswear that fits perfectly. Take the time to find a tailor that you like and get to know him or her. Small adjustments to clothing (shortening sleeves, taking the waist of a shirt in some, etc.) are fairly inexpensive and will make all the difference in how you look. Getting rid of eye-grabbing extra fabric and saggy clothing is absolutely the best way a man can update his business casual style.

Step 2: Improve Your Color Scheme

A big thanks to Barron over at The Effortless Gent for this chart that shows the difference color can make. Visit his website for more higher resolution charts just like this.

The “corporate drone” look is easy to spot: khaki trousers and a white or blue dress shirt. This combination is safe because it’s so common. However if you’re reading this, you’re likely not interested in looking like everyone else. So let’s discuss how small changes in color and pattern can separate you from the “Dilberts” at your office.

Shirt Colors

Start with the dress shirts. White and various shades of blue are the safe standbys we see 95% of men wear. Instead of these, try pastel colors in lavender, yellow, ecru, tan, or pink. These light canvases are easy to match with a wide variety of trousers, ties, and jackets and instantly set you apart in a crowd. But why stop there? Change the solid single-color look for a patterned shirt–stripes are fine for any business casual environment and checks are acceptable in many situations outside of conservative corporations, finance, and the legal profession.

Trouser Color

Only light khakis in your wardrobe?  Try a deeper brown, olive, or even summer white cotton. Or switch it up with a charcoal gray wool for a dressier look–lightweight wool for the warmer months and flannel in the fall and winter. For the more adventurous man, patterned trousers in a check or small pattern will add a punch of interest to a solid white or blue shirt.

Dark jeans–in a deep, un-faded indigo–may be acceptable in some workplaces, and if they are, they’re a great addition to your wardrobe as they match almost anything. Keep your denim dark, free of distress, and well-fitted.

Leather Accents

Your day-to-day office wear shouldn’t be restricted to plain black dress shoes and a black belt. Consider a light, buttery brown pair of slip-ons to wear with lighter trousers, and reddish oxblood leather bluchers to wear with your charcoal grey flannel trousers.

Step 3: Avoid Cheap Looking Clothing

Notice I’m not saying to avoid inexpensive clothing–there are many bargains to be had out there. But you want to avoid cheap clothing–clothing that contains poor quality fabrics that are uncomfortable, function badly, and make you look like a time traveler from 1973.

Fabric and Texture

A glance at the composition of the clothing is a good starting point. Anything that has a substantial amount of artificial fibers like polyester or rayon–more than 15% or so–is going to develop a slick, plastic-looking sheen over time. It’s also a good sign that the manufacturer was cutting corners. A bit of man-made fiber in the blend, done properly, can strengthen a garment and help with wrinkle and stain-resistance. Large percentages–over 40%–point toward cost-saving measures.

Know the basic “feel” of the fabric that you’re looking for. Wool garments can range from the coarse, hairy texture of rough tweed to a very smooth worsted finish or a soft, fluffy flannel. Cotton varies depending on thickness and the cotton used–it can be very thin and flimsy-feeling or quite heavy. Varying the textures of your fabrics can help keep your outfits unique from day to day. And, of course, you’ll want thicker, coarser clothing for winter and very light, smooth fabric for summer clothes.

If you can, try the clothing on and see how it “drapes”–how the fabric hangs and moves where it isn’t fitted around your body. Walk back and forth in front of a mirror and watch the trouser cuffs, or swing your arms around some to see how the shirt sleeves move. A very billowy, blousy fabric that shifts around at every movement is the sign of a thin, cheaply-made cloth. These tear easily, look saggy, and can even be so see-through that your undershirt will be visible in the right lighting.

Manufacturing Details

Buttons and other fasteners are worth a quick look as well. If the button is plastic, and stitched on so loosely you can wiggle it up and down in the store, you’re not buying a very good piece of clothing. Look at the stitching–is it a single line with 12+ stitches per inch or is it double stitched loosely at 8? Worse is a single loose stitch in areas that will be put under stress–expect these garments to maybe make it through one washing. You want business casual clothing that looks better 6 months after you’ve bought it–this gives you time to really become comfortable and confident in it.

It’s worth taking this opportunity to draw your attention to shirt collars. The button-down collar is a solid, no-hassle choice, although a more sophisticated choice is the hidden button down collar or medium spread with removable collar stays. Both of these provide a more crisply-defined shape and look great without a necktie.

French cuffs are normally reserved for more formal occasions–I do have a friend though who uses them on all his shirts–without a tie–as his signature style. They show an attention to quality as the double cuff requires more fabric and is a feature not generally found on cheap shirts.

Step 4: Learn to Layer Your Clothing

Layering your clothing is a learned skill. It requires an ability to combine colors, patterns, and fabric textures. The key to doing this right is to build an interchangeable men’s wardrobe–you want to select core clothing pieces that work with each other in various combinations.

Jackets

A jacket is the ultimate flexible outer layer as it can be dressy or casual, and even occasionally rumpled depending on the fabric and build. The classic men’s sport coat gives you the flattering shape of a suit (tucked at the waist, broad at the shoulders) without the formality.  Unstructured and unlined jackets give you a more refined look without trapping in the heat.

The key to a good jacket is proper fit and timeless style.  Avoid anything with a very specialized design or that is too fashion forward–a brightly-colored blazer in your alma mater’s colors is great at alumni events, but it’s going to stand out too much at work. Stick to earth tones or dark colors for business casual jackets.

Having a jacket lets you dress up or down very quickly when needed. You can add a tie and give your shoes a quick rub with your handkerchief to be ready for an important meeting on short notice, or you can leave the jacket on a chair and roll your sleeves up for an informal look. It’s not a bad idea to have a neat, conservatively-styled jacket hanging in a closet at work.  Finally, remember that a jacket does not always require a collared dress shirt. You can wear the same jacket over a sweater or even a dark-colored T-shirt.

Sweaters

Properly selected sweaters will make the cold infinitely easier to dress for and are one of the most versatile layering assets in a business casual wardrobe.  A man should seek out a mix of materials, thicknesses, and styles to make his sweater collection versatile. A thin cashmere crew-neck in a plain dark color is a reliable staple that works on its own or under jackets. Something thicker with a corded pattern makes for a comfortable layer of warmth in the coldest weather, and a V-neck in thin wool can be worn in both the spring and fall.

Sweaters can be worn over dress shirts (with or without a tie), over sport shirts and polos, under jackets, or on top of a comfortable long-sleeved T-shirt. If you’re wearing the sweater with a collared shirt, you’ll need a V-neck cut to keep from forcing the collar beneath your chin unnaturally.

Vests

When it’s too hot to wear a jacket, but you want to be a bit more dressed up than just a dress shirt and trousers, wearing a lightweight men’s vest is a perfect compromise.  The advantage of a vest is that it that it helps create a more streamlined look from a man’s shoes to his head by eliminating the contrast point at the buckle (usually between a light shirt and dark trouser).  Vests also allow extreme freedom of movement, and are a favorite of men who need to dress sharp while working at a quick pace.

Step 5: Pay Attention to the Details

An otherwise perfect business casual outfit can be ruined by being careless when it comes to the details. Keep your accessories simple and clean, and never underestimate the effect–both positive and negative–the small details can have on an otherwise strong personal presentation.

Shoes

  • The right shoe for the right outfit is key. A pair of balmoral oxfords are great for formal occasions, but look to bluchers, slip-ons, and boots for a business casual wardrobe.
  • Know your men’s footwear options–lace-ups are only one option, as depending on your situation you may find tassel loafers or Italian moccasins are an easy way to change the look of the same old dress shirt and pants. Leather slip-on double monkstraps are not only comfortable but dressy enough to wear with a light colored suit–they are a European classic few men ever discover.
  • Black and dark brown are your classic shoe colors–they are flexible and relatively easy to match. If you’re dressing up your day-to-day business casual look, however, look to add lighter browns, reddish oxbloods, and suede/white bucks/two-tone shoes. Leather tooling or “broguing” is perfect for business casual footwear.
  • Have enough pairs of shoes that you can let each one rest a few days between wears. This keeps the leather strong and supple by giving it time to expel excess moisture.
  • Dust your shoes off when you remove them for the day. Smooth leather will need reasonably regular polishing, and an occasional conditioning with leather creams or oils is good for any leather product. Make sure you use a cream appropriate to the specific type of leather, however, and test it discreetly on the underside of the tongue or uppers to make sure it won’t alter the coloring!

Neckties and Pocket Squares

  • In a business casual environment, neckties and pocket squares should be used to add variety, not uniformity, to your look.
  • Consider tie materials beyond silk; woven ties and knit wools have a heavier presence and send a more relaxed signal. Always avoid neckties made from synthetic materials. They tend to look artificially slick and shiny and don’t age well.
  • Wear a knot style that works with your collar. Wider collar spreads will need a thicker knot (the Windsor adds a good bit of bulk) while narrower collars do best with a smaller knot like the four-in-hand. Ensure you create a “dimple” just below the knot.
  • Consider a bow-tie if you’re confident; they more often than not draw smiles and positive feelings from people.
  • Learn to properly match your tie with your dress shirt–this alone will prevent you from being the subject of more than a few office jokes.
  • Pocket squares can be worn anytime you wear a jacket with a breast pocket–I love to wear them when I am not wearing a necktie as it adds a splash of color and signals that I have the confidence to dress as I please.

Clothing Maintenance

  • Dirty, wrinkled, or stained clothing should never be worn in a business casual environment. Period. Dress shirts, suits, jackets and trousers should all be hung up and make sure wool jackets hang on wide suit hangers, not on thin wire ones.
  • Iron out the wrinkles in cotton; steam out bad wrinkling in wool. And only iron clean clothing–hot irons can press dirt into place permanently.
  • Finally, wool suits and sweaters do not need to be dry cleaned after casual wear. Brush your wool clothing after every wear and hang it neatly in an area where it can breathe for 24 hours.

Personal Grooming
Keep yourself as clean as your clothes. A good haircut, use of the proper hair product, and a clean shave makes a world of difference. Trim your nails and excess body hair if it extends beyond your nostrils or undershirt.

Video Summary of Post

I know there is a lot more we could have covered – so let me hear it. What else can a man do to step up his business casual look?

{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Matthew June 21, 2011 at 2:58 pm

When you’ve got some weight around the middle, does that tight look really work? I don’t think so. It just looks like you’re about to pop a button and take someone’s eye out. I realize the answer is to work out and take better care of yourself, but in the end this article doesn’t seem to be written for the pudgy guy, just the in-shape guy, particularly judging by the included photos.

2 kasakka June 21, 2011 at 3:02 pm

I can’t stress good shoes enough. There are lots of nice ones but also a boatload of shitty ones on market. Sticking to well known brands over store brands (even though sometimes they’re made by a better known brand) is generally wise. “Designer” shoes are often quite crap quality, but if you like the slim, slightly longer styling they often have then look at the offerings from known brands like Loake. Good shoes do cost a fair bit of money but with proper care they’ll last many years.

Check eBay. There are tons of used suits and jackets available for next to nothing, many that would otherwise cost thousands of dollars. I’ve bought some rather old jackets that look just as good as new ones.

Find a good tailor. This is very important. I don’t think I own a single jacket that hasn’t had at least its sleeves lengthened. Often you may have a jacket that fits perfectly at the shoulders but is too boxy at the waist. If it’s not very drastic then a tailor can take that in. It’s also not expensive.

Consider your skin tone. Just today I saw an Indian fellow at the bus stop who was dressed in dark brown and dark green. He basically almost disappeared because he had dark skin and dark color clothes. At the same bus stop was an African guy who was wearing a white shirt and lighter color jeans and it looked great on him.

PS. Get this book: http://www.amazon.com/GENTLEMAN-TIMELESS-GUIDE-FASHION-Ullmann/dp/3833152702/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1308682252&sr=8-3 It’s a really good book on men’s fashion and it’s written in a rather entertaining manner.

3 John June 21, 2011 at 3:31 pm

I can’t agree with you more on “fit” and the comments about avoiding clothing that is too loose. the Modus Operandi for my job involves looking professional while still getting dirty once in a while. This means jeans most ofthen, and the collared “work” type uniform shirts. Some of the guys I work with insist they are more comfortable wearing their shirts untucked and baggy, but watching them work for even a few minutes you can see all the wasted movement they have to constantly do – pulling the shirt tail out of the way before leaning over an engine, hiking up pants that are falling down, even pulling up the crotch of pants that are halfway to the knee and limiting the ability to take long steps swinging from one side of a big piece of equipment to the other. Loose clothing is OK if all you are doing is lying on the couch watching TV, I suppose. Properly fitted clothing, although not “tight”, will lie close to your body and move with you. Wearing loose clothing in a job that requires movement and agility is like being caught in a fishing net, or trapped under a collapsed tent. Trim, fitted clothing is like the acrobat’s spandex – moving with you.

Same can be said for office casual, etc. My Dad farmed for 60+ years – someplace you wouldn’t think tucking a shirt in would be necessary – but his shirt was always tucked into his pants and his clothes were always fitting, never loose and baggy. Loose clothing or untucked shirt tails present another problem around any kind of moving machinery: a real, genuine safety issue if a flap of this or a bag of that gets caught on a moving, rotating, spinning, or otherwise motivated piece of equipment.

4 James B. June 21, 2011 at 3:47 pm

@Matthew
Fitted does generally mean its for lean, slim guys, but, to have your clothes fitted by a tailor, for example, just means to get them taken in to fit you properly. You can have “some weight around the middle” and still have your clothes fitted to your proportions. I think the article is trying to suggest losing the billowing, deflated balloon look that off-the-rack shirts and such usually give. Sydney Greenstreet was a big guy, but always pulled off a 3 piece suit like it was nobody’s business. I also think double-breasted suits look infinitely better on bigger guys. If you can afford to get your stuff tailored it will do wonders for any mans wardrobe, regardless of body-type.

5 Steven June 21, 2011 at 4:21 pm

@Matthew,

A close-fitting shirt on a pudgy middle still looks better than a baggy shirt. It doesn’t have to be so tight the buttons are pulling. That’s too tight even for slim guys. But the incredibly baggy dress shirts men wear don’t hide the pudgy belly, it just accentuates it even more.

6 Graeme June 21, 2011 at 4:45 pm

Best to fold your wool (or similar material) jumpers as hanging tends to cause them to lose their shape over time, especially in the shoulders.

7 Andrew June 21, 2011 at 5:02 pm

Best advice I ever heard for dressing business casual.
“if you come home from work and dont feel like changing you were not dressed up enough”

8 Eric Granata June 21, 2011 at 7:26 pm

Great job on the video. I enjoyed watching/listening to it.

I sympathize with those dealing with the pudginess. My weight has fluctuated quite a bit in the last couple of years and I have avoided getting anything tailored because of this fact.

9 Antonio June 21, 2011 at 8:21 pm

@Matthew – The advice I provided is general, as every body has unique issue. Height, weight, muscle mass and placement, complexion, hair color, geographic location, personal wants. As you can see a lot of factors go into this – therefore I try to give guidelines so you start to think about these things. When you are ready to act on and improve – you use the rules and put them into practice at a clothing store that meets your needs.

@kasakka – great points, great book. Bernhard did a great job putting that together although it does have a European tint.

@John – Love the farmer example. I see it here in WI as well (my neighbors are farmers) – wear clothing in a manner that is functional and serves its purpose – which does not mean dressing like a slob.

@Graeme – Good addition

@Andrew – I like that advice as well, thanks!

@Eric – Great to hear from you bud and thanks for the props on the video. I like doing them!

10 Pete June 21, 2011 at 8:32 pm

My workplace is “business casual”, but we’re in IT where the “uniform” is khakis and polo shirts. Most all of us wear the polos untucked, too. I’d get some funny looks coming in with sharp looking dress shoes and a jacket, even just a regular button down feels out of place unless it’s the winter months. I can’t imagine being constricted in a tucked in button down while writing code all day!

That said, I definitely keep tabs on these tips and try and work in parts here and there. Hah working as developers in IT makes us lazy I think…

11 Erik June 21, 2011 at 11:27 pm

A few thoughts I had riffing off what Antonio said in the article.

Fit: When shopping for dress shirts buy fitted or athletic cut. These are tapered near the waist with more room in the chest. It gives you the V look which women are extremely attracted to. It’s one of those few universal things that women dig. Narrow waist into a broad chest. This looks great on slim to average men. Bigger guys like Matthew may look better in classic fit, but at least give the fitted shirt a shot.

Layers: Layering is useful, but I don’t think undershirts look good. Show a bit of skin. Buy dress shirts with a fabric that feels good and breaths so you don’t need an undershirt protecting you. You’ll notice Antonio in the video up top is not wearing an undershirt. Now try to imagine him with an undershirt on… Just doesn’t look as put together.

12 Josh Calkin June 22, 2011 at 2:24 am

@Erik: While I agree that a visible undershirt looks sloppy, NOT wearing an undershirt can mean sweat stains on your dress shirts and, in the right light, people seeing through your shirts with less-than-flattering results. I recently switched to V-neck undershirts and they are not visible with the top button of your shirt open. They work great; give ‘em a try.

13 P.M.Lawrence June 22, 2011 at 4:19 am

White and various shades of blue are the safe standbys we see 95% of men wear. Instead of these, try pastel colors in lavender, yellow, ecru, tan, or pink… Only light khakis in your wardrobe? Try a deeper brown, olive, or even summer white cotton.

I know what white, blue, yellow, pink, khaki and brown are. What are those others?

By the way, I thought most of the “before” pictures on The Effortless Gent chart were better than the “after” ones, but that was partly because some of the “after” ones had poncy tight fittings – the chart is putting its thumb on the scales by varying things like that, posture, etc. as well as changing the colours.

It’s not a bad idea to have a neat, conservatively-styled jacket hanging in a closet at work.

I’ve heard that in Italy it’s common to have a jacket at work so you can leave it on your chair to give the impression of a brief absence when you take a long lunch.

Pocket squares can be worn anytime you wear a jacket with a breast pocket–I love to wear them when I am not wearing a necktie as it adds a splash of color and signals that I have the confidence to dress as I please.

They also signal that you are a bit pretentious.

14 Rick June 22, 2011 at 5:11 am

Wow, great article! Over the years, I’ve managed to drop a few pounds, and like to wear my shirts a little tighter. Amazing how difficult it is to find shirts that don’t billow like parachutes. Even ‘athletic fit’ often doesn’t tuck properly. Shirt garters are a possible solution; I used to wear these while in the military, and they work just as well with civilian attire.

15 Aaron R June 22, 2011 at 7:22 am

Antonio, great article and advice! Many thanks!

16 JMaestroB June 22, 2011 at 9:30 am

Agree with you on the fitted look. Even if you have 20 extra pounds in the middle, its better that others have a glimpse of the “business belly” vs. the billowing, long sleeve….poofy, wanna-be homeboy of the office look. We already know you don’t exercise or eat well…..don’t double-down on looking sloppy!

As for this advice: “try pastel colors in lavender, yellow, ecru, tan, or pink.” That is catastrophic advice for some. If your gut is telling you that those colors are too effeminate, trust your own judgment.

Get yourself dark khaki, light khakki, white khaki, black, brown, light grey, charcoal grey and 3 kinds of good jeans…..light (for super casual), regular and dark-dark blue. Pair them with tops (whether long sleeve button-downs, light sweaters or 1/2 zip sweat-shirt sweaters) that are the following colors: light blue, regular blue, dark blue, black, tan, light stone, light green, burgundy, red, dark red, maybe a yellow, faint orange & brown. Experiment with fitted polos & button-downs that have faint stripes & etc to splash in different colors.

The key is flexibility & options. Have 2-4 solid tops for each pair of pants.

Details
-Pants with different cuts: jean cut khakis are awesome, but you do need traditional dress slacks (flat front!) and more summer-type thin poly.

-Button down shirts: dark shirt with white buttons? Forget it. If it is a dark shirt, you want dark buttons. Opt for “open collar” vs button down, ESPECIALLY with no tie.

-Un-tucked look: some shirts were not made to be tucked in. Rare is the shirt that is perfect for both tucked & untucked look. If the shirt is a scoop tail, maybe you can wear it untucked…………..but NOT if it is touching your crack! Untucked look is for length just below the waist. Any longer………you look like a wanna be

-Socks: do not wear white socks with ANY dress clothes. You need brown & black for SURE. I have a 2 week supply of grey socks that I wear with jeans. H&M has the cheapest out there. Costco makes awesome black & brown socks that feel nice and last long.

-Belt: always wear a belt. Marshalls always has a decent selection of reversable brown/black. I also encourage casual, dressy and every-day type belts. Look of the belt should match the look of the outfit. Get a couple belts.

Lastly………….don’t be afraid to browse regularly. Just stop at stores or outlet malls when you have 30 mins here or there. Spending $65 per month on clothes and having an idea of what you want before you buy will save you money vs. running to to the mall 2 times per year dumping down a hefty sum on getting “outfits for work.”

17 Dan June 22, 2011 at 9:34 am

“Shirt length should be enough that you can tuck at least 2 inches in all around – less than that and your shirt will come un-tucked every time you stretch to grab something.”

2″. This is hardly enough to say it’s even tucked in and if you are active at all it will be riding outside in short order. Even at 5-8, I buy t-shirts and other shirts in the long/tall if available so that I have enough to tuck in and stay in. If the sleeves are too long, I have them hemmed shorter. I wear a t-shirt under all shirts and don’t care for the v-neck at all. I have for years. In my extreme weather climate it wicks away moisture in summer and adds a layer in the winter and overall helps the shirt hang better. On a dress shirt, it keeps the color of the skin a mystery.

18 Chris E. June 22, 2011 at 9:39 am

Good overall article. But I think they missed the part about the way a shirt should fit as far as being baggy/tight. I am 5’10″ and around 185, I have a bit of a belly but nothing huge, it’s hard for me to find shirts because I wear a 17in neck and need a 34″ sleeve, if I go to a big box store then all the shirts fit as you described, like a balloon. I just recently started ordering shirts from Charles Tyrwhitt in their Slim Fit with a custom neck and custom sleeve length, the shirt fits like a dream and I purchased 2 on sale for $39.99 a piece and $10 to ship both shirts. Not to bad considering they’re shipping from England.

Overall I would advise for buying a shirt that fits getting you’re proper lengths figured out by either going to a tailor or having someone measure you using a guide. I look for 2-3 inches between the shirt and the body, I have a little bit of a belly but I don’t want such a huge shirt it looks like i have something to hide, but also i don’t’ want it so tight i look like an idiot. These are just my two cents and solution to my shirt problem. The Charles Tyrwhitt shirts are now my choice of shirt for my everyday clothing.

19 Samuel Warren June 22, 2011 at 9:50 am

First, as a larger man, I can say that the tighter look does work better. The key is that your dress shirt should be slightly loose when sitting down. If you can’t find a good fit, try different brands.

Second, man made fabrics add the no-iron to many things. I feel like the 40% rule is a little oppressive. One of my favorite cuts in dress shirts is the Stafford super shirt, which is a 65 cotton/ 35 Poly blend. It’s a very well made broadcloth shirt that last a long time without getting a “sheen” to it.

Kudos for the pocket squares. I’ve threatened to keep a couple in me desk drawer to provide when people here don’t wear them. It makes a sport coat look rather naked.

20 Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy June 22, 2011 at 10:16 am

My husband just asked me to help him update his wardrobe and we’re going shopping today. I’m so glad I looked at AoM first!

Thanks for the excellent post. My man hates light khakis and blue shirts and I love how you’ve provided alternatives. (And the link on the intro to proper fit is very helpful.)

21 Mike June 22, 2011 at 10:35 am

Antonio: Great article that makes you really think about image and perception..and self-image as well.

Business casual has many definitions and styles based on the region of the country as well. In some cases, BC is synonymous with what you would wear to dinner on a Friday night with your wife and friends, or what you would wear to a casual gathering one evening. Can you (or will you in the future) elaboate on how to effectively take this look down one notch so that includes denim jeans, cotton button down shirts/or other pullovers, boots (hiking, chucka and/or conservative cowboy), and jackets/coats?

And how would this vary based on body type (I am tall but athletic build).

I am working on an image change based on some serious time in the gym and would appreciate the help from you, or anyone else who has an idea. The preppy-type “polo and chino” image doesn’t work for me any more at 42. Even though the wife likes it, it doesn’t feel right anymore. THANKS

22 Ayn R. Key June 22, 2011 at 1:39 pm

Ok, time for a follow up article.

I live in the desert in southern California. It is blazing hot for much of the year. I basically ignored the entire part about layering because we just don’t do that sort of stuff here.

I have a hell of a time finding short sleeve dress shirts, because manufacturers think about the climate in New York City. I search hard and long for them, and occasionally find good ones.

So, what is your advice for someone who wants to follow your advice, but live where the temperatures get above 105 for much of the year and the office is only cooled to the low 80s?

23 Antonio June 22, 2011 at 2:23 pm

@Erik – Actually, I was wearing an undershirt. I use V-neck undershirts made by Ribbed Tee – here is my video review http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ed_DA8moX3o You’ll get to hear me say “good” like a West Texan and why I love them.

As for hot weather dressing – search the AOM archives as I’ve written about 8000 words on the subject on this blog alone:) !

R/S

Antonio

24 John June 22, 2011 at 2:44 pm

“”Dan June 22, 2011 at 9:34 am
“Shirt length should be enough that you can tuck at least 2 inches in all around – less than that and your shirt will come un-tucked every time you stretch to grab something.”

2″. This is hardly enough to say it’s even tucked in and if you are active at all it will be riding outside in short order. Even at 5-8, I buy t-shirts and other shirts in the long/tall if available so that I have enough to tuck in and stay in. .”"

————————————–

If there is not at LEAST 6-8 inches of “tuckable” material at the bottom of your shirt, it will pop out every time you breathe. I always buy the TALL shirts, t-shirts, etc. There’s a company called Duluth Trading that makes a line of “longtail” shirts for this purpose, calling them the cure for plumbers butt. I agree. My belt is wider than 2 inches.

25 Erik June 22, 2011 at 3:16 pm

@ Antonio – I stand corrected.
I suppose if no one can notice your undershirt it makes no difference either way.

26 Chris June 22, 2011 at 4:20 pm

This is a great article. The complex (for some of us) made simple.

I believe that the “dumbing down” of our dress in North America has come as a result of our “low context” culture. At one point in time, much of our culture had a strong European influence in our sense of what is “proper” (high context). This has impacted our dress, language, and manners. Over the last few centuries, as other cultural influences have been introduced to the mainstream of our culture, we have begun to create our own culture. But in the process, we have also become more relaxed. This has eventually translated to our attire, personal appearance and common everyday language. This became especially evident shortly after World War II.

Since then, we have begun to lose our grandparents and parents who have taught us these cultural standards. We’ve created our own “good enough” lifestyle and have labeled it as the standard. Hence, the casual Fridays becoming casual weeks.

I happen to work with a youth organization and among many young people in their early twenties. It is common place to see shorts and baggy t-shirts. I have always tried to dress in a way that I don’t stand out yet at a level above those around me. It’s amazing the level of respect that automatically comes with proper dress.

Hopefully I’ll be able to implement some of these suggestions to take me to yet another level.

27 Lee June 22, 2011 at 5:02 pm

I like this article, however, I feel the title was a little misleading. This was more of a “how to dress better” article rather than a specific business casual article. That said, there were some tidbits that are business casual specific, such as the shoes and how to wear a jacket in a business casual setting.

Disagree about the pocket square though. It is extremely situational. It can cause all sorts of problems in the wrong place, and look extremely thoughtful and artistic in the right situations and offices.

That all said, this article really gravitates towards the more business side of business casual. What about polos? Should we always have creases down our trousers? Flat front v. pleats is obviously a personal choice, depending on how much you weigh or whether you have a custom made trouser with pleats. OTR pleated pants are usually pretty bad looking in most instances. What about doing away with the tie altogether if your office allows it? Or unbuttoning the top button? Well, maybe these are some ideas for part two in the series.

Regardless, a good read. I hope to read about the more casual side of business casual in the near future.

28 Lane June 22, 2011 at 7:27 pm

I’m an old geezer, so the less skin that shows, the better. I wear long-sleeved button-down dress shirts year-round, occasionally rolling the cuffs if it’s really hot. When I’m not wearing a tie, I wear a regular undershirt, but in a color that matches the shirt. That seems to eliminate the “underwear” look.

29 Rich June 22, 2011 at 8:32 pm

Awesome article.

30 Shoeless Joe June 23, 2011 at 10:28 am

Thanks Antonio- I like your posts because they give me some classic ideas without necessarily falling into one camp or another (trad vs. trendy). You have a good “hybrid” approach that suits my personality and my workplace.

31 Jason June 23, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Thank you SO much for this article. Even though I am a bit of a fashonista I found myself confounded by creating the business casual look since I have recently begun a summer job with Harvard Business Publishing. This article is my savior!

32 Drew Jacob June 24, 2011 at 12:05 am

One great accessory that steps up any outfit is a killer pair of sunglasses. You don’t have to get expensive designer shades, but spring for something above $20. Metal frames with dark, non-colored lenses will work with a wide range of looks. Consider aviator frames for something eye-catching but not over the top. Sharp glasses draw a lot of attention and get across that cool, confident feeling that men strive for.

Thanks so much for this article by the way. Over the past year I’ve lost about 50 lbs. I thought my wardrobe was great but only recently have I come to terms with the fact that most of what I wear is too big. I’ve been making careful selections at consignment clothing stores to add new pieces that fit my current size without spending a lot of money.

33 Jeff June 24, 2011 at 5:10 am

Maybe it’s sacrilege? But if you want a formal short-sleeve shirt, just buy a long sleeve shirt and take it in to a tailor. It’s a simple thing to do and should cost less than $10.

34 Jack A June 24, 2011 at 11:56 am

One trend that I really don’t like are jackets/sports coats that are cut too short and/or ill fitting. Even the newest stuff being shown for spring 2012 includes these short length jackets. I think guys look best (no matter what their build) when the jacket is long enough to cover the butt. I also see jackets that look two sizes too small (I’m not talking about Italian style close tailoring, I’m talking about Pee Wee Herman looking jackets. Conversely, too many jackets are cut so that they fit in the shoulders, but then are too loose and ill fitting for the rest of the jacket. Combine this “tent” with a cut too short and a guy just looks sloppy (and I’m not talking casual).

The other trend – I personally like the no socks look with loafers/slip ons. But what doesn’t work for me is the no socks thing with lace up shoes. Add to that pants that are too short or rolled up. Yes, I know the designers and men’s magazines are showing this as fashionable. But just because some editor says it’s fashionable doesn’t mean real guys should pick up on it.
Just my opinion.

35 Danny June 25, 2011 at 11:35 pm

Hi,
I’m a student so I stick with all the slimfit outfits. The most important thing about my suit is it should be comfortable to wear. The slimfitted look is still there and it makes you look good. The other thing is the shoes. My shoes are very decent and I don’t want people pay attention a lot to them, other way I feel like I have dressed up.
So to keep it short:
- Comfortable, fitted suit.
- Comfortable, decent shoes.

36 Kyle June 27, 2011 at 3:56 pm

Great tips, particularly on how to quickly identify cheap cloth that may not initially look poor. The bit on jackets is very true — having a versatile blazer that can be dressed up or down is well worth it.

37 Chris H June 27, 2011 at 11:12 pm

Off the top of my head, I cannot recall there ever being a mention on the site of the unsung hero not looking like you slept in your clothes; the shirt-stay.

Essentially it is an upside-down pair of suspenders for your shirt. Attach one end to the hem of your shirt, and the other to the tops of your socks, and throughout the day it will keep ones shirt from billowing and wrinkling as you move around the office, walk to meetings, and drive to meet clients for lunch.

I personally prefere the military straight style
http://www.amazon.com/Black-Military-Straight-Shirt-Stays/dp/B0001XLP9Q/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1309229898&sr=8-4
but they are also available in Y-styles.
They prevent the occurance of the “Al Bundy Look” by 3pm (front partially tucked in the front, flapping about in the back), and will keep one looking sharp on even the most stressful of days, which is very much a plus:

As shallow as it may sound, humans are visual creatures, the man who looks effortlessly put together (as opposed to constantly and conspicuously working on their appearance), even in the face of the worst company crises (tripple-checking the books to find the $100, 000 of misplaced funds) will be pegged by the higher-ups as a man who is not only able to keep his own head while doing his work, but also as a man who will inspire those around him.

See? I could totally write for this site, haha.

38 Wesley June 29, 2011 at 10:04 am

Thanks, Antonio–
I’ve taken your advice here on AoM to heart, and your pointers and information have really helped me improve my wardrobe and understanding of how to dress properly. When I shop for clothing, I feel confident that I’m going to look good with the choices I make. I do quite a bit of thrifting, and having a knowledge of basic style makes a huge difference in that when I put on those clothes, I never look as if I’ve gotten them at a thrift store.
Thanks so much for making this information freely available.
Cheers!

39 neim July 1, 2011 at 1:03 pm

Please, never suggest pink colour. Its uncool.

40 happy5 July 1, 2011 at 10:40 pm

What is the origin of the photo with the man with the black sweater and blue dress shirt? It looks from an artist at an award show, and the combination is killer. Would love to have it!

41 BonzoGal July 7, 2011 at 4:46 pm

Neim and others, there is NOTHING wrong with pink or other pastels on a man. On many men it looks downright hot. My husband is a tall, burly man, and in addition to blue and green business shirts he has a couple of pink ones. He wears this great blue tie with them and looks super sharp. The pastel colors look great with his darkish complexion. The attorneys at his firm often compliment him on the way he dresses.

42 SheepLute July 21, 2011 at 8:55 am

This might sound weird, but I’m an artist; you’ve been warned. One thing that I think would look good is, if you’re wearing a jacket, embroidery. Nothing tacky like flames, but something creative and original. You could also do that on your jeans. I think it would look great. Presuming you get it done at an embroidery shop, and draw (or have a friend draw) your design for them, it looks very creative and original, and if you don’t mind me saying so, “artsy”. But the artsy look is what I go for…

43 julia December 12, 2012 at 9:53 am

Hello: can anyone offer me suggestions for a nice pair of kahki’s and a nice dress shirt. A person I have a secret santa gift doesn’t want to look like he’s in the 80′s. Just need some “IN” brand names. he’s 50. Tks

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