Dressing Professionally: A Guide for Guys to Polish Up Their Work Attire
Business casual doesn’t have to be boring! When it’s time to get dressed for work, it’s all too easy to throw on the same old slacks and button-up and call it a day. While it’s true that some dress codes can make it difficult to fully express yourself through your unique fashion sense, you might be surprised by how stylish you can look if you take the time to upgrade your professional wardrobe.
Even if you prefer a more conservative approach to fashion, there are plenty of ways to elevate your usual work attire while still maintaining your go-to traditional look. Your clothing says a lot about you, so it’s worth investing in some basic staples and accessories. Not only will you feel more confident in yourself, but you’ll instill confidence in colleagues, clients, and customers.
Without further adieu, here are seven tips to help you dress for success!
1. Know the Business Casual Basics
Before we dive into the details, first, you should know the basic rules of business casual fashion. From there, you can make adjustments to fit your personal preferences.
In the world of fashion, rules are often broken. However, business casual is different, as companies often have actual rules in place that need to be followed. Even if your job lets you wear anything, a professional appearance is still expected in most industries.
Here are the majors do’s and don’ts of business casual:
- DO wear sweaters, sweater vests, turtlenecks, and button-ups
- DON’T wear polos (unless your workplace leans on the more casual side)
- DO wear a tailored blazer
- DON’T wear a suit, tie, and dress shirt unless it’s for a formal occasion
- DO wear a fitted, neutral t-shirt under a blazer
- DON’T wear a t-shirt on its own
- DO wear khakis, chinos, or high-quality, fitted denim
- DON’T wear worn jeans, sweatpants, track pants, or cargo pants
- DO wear neutral tones and simple patterns
- DON’T wear anything loud, bright, flashy, or avant-garde
- DO keep it simple and clean
- DON’T wear anything made for athletics
- DO wear stylish dress shoes or boots
- DON’T wear sneakers
- DO wear comfortable clothing that fits well
- DON’T wear loose leisure clothing
Follow these guidelines, and you should be good to go. That said, don’t be afraid to break the rules if it makes sense. For example, in areas with a hot climate, some tailored shorts that sit above the knee might be acceptable. When in doubt, look around and read the room! See what types of outfits your colleagues are wearing, and use them as your guidelines.
2. Incorporate Stylish Accessories
Because professional attire tends to lean on the more subdued side, accessorizing is a fantastic way to give your look some personality. Watches are always a solid choice, but you may want to skip the shiny metals and opt for something with a classic leather strap. Smartwatches can go either way. In most cases, they’re a bit too casual for business casual, but you could always use aftermarket Apple Watch bands to give your personal tech a more sophisticated aesthetic.
A high-quality belt can really pull an outfit together — just make sure it matches your shoes. Jewelry can add some flair to an outfit, but it could also be distracting if you’re not careful. For example, some minimalist studs, cufflinks, a ring, or even a subtle necklace could work great if you want to add some shine to your look, but gaudier pieces should be avoided.
3. Boost Your Blazer Game
Every professional gentleman should own at least one fitted blazer, and ideally more. A suit is usually too formal; a sports jacket can be appropriate in the right context, but still leans on the casual side. A blazer — ideally a custom-tailored one — is the perfect middle ground. They look incredibly snazzy paired with virtually any top, and they give you a put-together look without crossing into overly formal territories.
4. Be Cautious With Color
Neutral tones are the safest choice, and it’s hard to go wrong with them even if you’re mixing different shades of blacks, whites, grays, and browns. That said, adding a splash of color here and there can liven up your look without being too attention-grabbing. Learning how to incorporate and pair colors can take time and effort, but the results are worth it.
Avoid vivid colors that draw attention away from the whole, instead opt for pastels, earth tones, and muted tones. If you’re not confident in your ability to combine more than one color, just keep it simple and highlight just one color while keeping the rest of the outfit neutral. Even something subtle like a pocket square, watch band, or cufflinks can add some color without taking over the outfit.
5. Mind Your Footwear
The right shoes will bring any outfit to perfection. On the other hand (foot), the wrong shoes can ruin it completely! Oxfords, loafers, and monk straps are all great choices. Certain styles of dress boots — Chelsea boots, for example — can look amazing with slim-fitting attire. While you don’t necessarily need to polish your shoes or boots on a daily basis, make sure they’re always clean, and go ahead and shine them once in a while when the mood strikes.
6. Invest in a Few Staple Pieces
Even the most stylish outfit can wear out its welcome if you wear it too often! At the same time, purchasing a massive wardrobe isn’t always a practical option. Consider building a capsule wardrobe with a few staple items that can be mixed and matched to create different looks. You might be surprised by how many different outfits you can create with just a few different pairs of pants, shirts, sweaters, blazers, shoes, and accessories.
If you take this approach, stick with simple, neutral tones, and think about the outfit as a whole, rather than individual pieces. Sure, that plaid shirt might work with a variety of different pieces, but people are still going to notice it. If you wear blacks, whites, grays, and browns, you should have no problem keeping your look interesting, even if you’re recycling your wardrobe staples on a fairly regular basis.
7. Seek inspiration
Hopefully, these guidelines help you on your quest to elevate your work attire. If you truly want to master the art of smart-casual dressing, take the time to learn! There are endless resources out there. Pay attention to what the stylish guys are wearing at the office and next time you’re out on the town. View photos online, participate in online forums and watch videos made by fashion experts. Like any skill, developing a strong fashion sense takes time and effort. Do the work, and reap the rewards!