Fall is the time of year when many professional men evaluate their wardrobes and update them with new pieces. When doing this, think about three things; your company’s dress code, the pieces you already have in your closet, and your personal style.
Let’s look at dress codes first and what they mean.
- Business Dress – You still need to wear a suit, guys. It should be dark but can have a subtle pattern. Your shirt should be light colored but again, a pattern is ok. A tie is expected. Shoes and belt should be tasteful and match each other’s color closely.
- Business Casual – This implies that a tie is optional. A sweater or vest might replace a jacket. Your shirt should still have a collar and your trousers should be dressy. Add any leather dress shoe and you’re good to go.
- Casual – If your company states “casual attire” or “casual Friday” it means you’re still expected to present yourself well. No, you can’t wear your ratty shorts, t-shirts or sneakers. Save those for your yard work. Jeans are ok but remember that darker washes have a dressier look than faded ones. Five-pocket pants, polos or golf shirts are acceptable. Shoes should be moccasins, boat shoes, or similar.
Always consider what’s standard in your industry and your specific company. A small business owner will dress differently than a litigation attorney, who will dress differently than a teaching professional. If in doubt about which of these is appropriate, aim to dress at a level above the perceived minimum expectation. Your colleagues will be more likely to view you as someone who is “going places.”
Now examine what’s in your closet.
First, keep in mind where your company falls within the above guidelines. Then rule out anything with obvious signs of wear or staining. If you have multiple wardrobes based on seasonal weight gain or loss, don’t wear those items when they’re too loose or too tight. A suit that’s too large looks like you’re playing dress-up in Dad’s clothes, and tight clothing is never acceptable. Ever.
Now that we’ve pared it down to what’s workable, look to see what you have in solids and patterns for suits, trousers, sport coats, and shirts. Writing them down may help you to work out a plan. Create a column for each type of garment and write down the color/pattern of each. Then you can see which pieces you already have that complement each other, as well as what you may need to purchase.
The rule of thumb for a business dress wardrobe is to have a minimum of five suits (navy, grey, navy stripe, grey stripe, glen plaid). A navy blazer and several trousers are a versatile supplement to your suits, if deemed appropriate by your employer. Plan on 14 shirts in various fabrics, especially if half of them are at the cleaners on a regular basis. Ideally, you should have two ties for every suit or sport coat. Round this out with dress shoes and matching belts in black, brown and English tan. Less formal wardrobes may require sweaters or vests for layering, and don’t forget to have a warm coat and scarf available for extreme temperatures.
Finally, consider your personal style.
If you lean to the conservative side, you may not feel comfortable or confident in bold plaids or checks. Or if you like to push the envelope a bit, you’ll likely feel “blah” in a solid blue or gray suit with a plain white shirt. Study your closet to see where there are trends in what you’ve previously purchased. This will give you clues about your comfort level. If you want to venture outside your comfort zone, do so gradually so you don’t spend money needlessly on something that you won’t wear because it feels too extreme.
Ready, Set, Go!
Now you’re ready to complete your wardrobe for the upcoming cooler season. Knowing what your dress code means will help you avoid potentially embarrassing mistakes. Remember, too, that properly fitting clothing increases your comfort level and your self-confidence. Looking sharp means feeling sharp!