Dress For Success – Cliché, But Accurate

1.30.2013

Ahhh, springtime. The snow melts, the flowers bloom, and hot girls start coming to class again (where do they hide all winter?). But spring is also the time for career fairs, job interviews and preparation for summer employment, all of which may cause bring a lot of confusion regarding appropriate business garb. Checkin’ out your resume, but not quite feeling so fresh today? Keep reading for the breakdown on corporate clothing.

BUSINESS DRESS

Business dress is the easiest to define of all workplace attire. Suit, shirt, tie, dress shoes. Bada bing bada boom. It can become more intricate from there, but let’s start slow.

The Suit

Your suit should not be black. (Note: this one is a dark grey.) Black suits are reserved for the most formal of occasions, like weddings and funerals. Conservatives out there will recommend sticking to navy or charcoal suits colors, but this is a style website and clothes don’t have to be boring. You can also branch out to grays and browns if you’d like; just keep your audience in mind. For instance, a job in a creative field has more sartorial leeway than law (*ahem*) or banking. If it’s your first time  (everyone does it in college at some point), go with navy. It will serve you well in any job interview, or any occasion. Do your research, buy something you can afford and get it tailored to fit perfectly.

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(And yes, go to a tailor. I don’t care if you don’t think you need to. You are wrong, you do, and you WILL thank me later, in person or by card.)

So when buying your suit, consider the following because it will save on tailoring in the long run:

1. The shoulders should hug yours. No overhang, but not too tight. A well-fitting jacket should make you stand up straight improve your posture, but still allow you to move.

2.You should be able to cup your hands around the bottom of the jacket while your arms are at your sides. Trending suit jackets are shorter, but if you’re investing in something, opt for a timeless cut that will look just as good now as it will in 20 years.

            3. Sleeves should end around break in your wrist. You want them to be just this side of short, so that about a quarter of an inch of your shirt cuff will be exposed.

Things like lapel width, gorge height, button stance (though you won’t go wrong with a single-breasted, two-button) are all largely your decision. Again, remember that a suit is an investment, so it should be something you can wear and look good in for years, not just this season.

Shirts and Ties 

Absent any questions over pattern mixing, shirts and ties are also simple (if you have any questions on pattern mixing, now is not the time. Stick to a white pale blue shirt and a dark blue tie. The more advanced among you, go nuts).

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Shirts should be dress shirts. A dress shirt is recognized by its button-front (called a placket), stiff collar, long fronts and tails (to be tucked in), and sizing by collar width/arm length. These are not to be confused with sport shirts, which are usually colloquially referred to as “button-downs.”

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A “button-down” actually refers to a shirt with a collar that buttons down, a style invented by Brooks Brothers at the turn of the 20th century. It’s a uniquely American look, and it’s also considered more casual.

Sport shirts are more casual than dress shirts. They typically have louder patterns, the collars are less rigid and they’re usually sized in the standard S/M/L/XL. If you’re in a bind, then a simple, clean, and ironed sport shirt can serve as a substitute, but if you have time or you’re in a more conservatively dressed field, go home and change.

For the tie, again stick to something simple like; a subdued pattern or solid color. Silk ties are considered most formal, with wools, cottons, and knits as your less formal options. Again, dress to your industry. And if there are any comic book characters, cartoons, animals, anything like that on your tie…so help me God.

If you want to rock a tie clip or pocket square, all the better. Abide by simplicity, like a small silver tie clip and a white, cotton square a la “Mad Men,” and you’re golden.

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Pants

Pants come with the suit. Get them hemmed with slight to no break. If you don’t know what this is, your tailor will. TAILOR GAME OR DIE.

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Shoes and Socks

Many people seem to struggle with what color shoes and what color socks go with what color suit, what color belt, what color hair – whatever.. Here’s all you need to know:

1. Match your shoes and belt.

2. For shoes and suits, check out this little link I dug up here.

3. Traditionalists match their socks with their suit. Stylists pick socks that compliment another piece of their outfit, like a shirt or tie. I say go with what works. I sometimes wear brown socks with brown shoes, and while this might be a faux-pas, I doubt it’s the reason I can’t get hired.  If all else fails, wear dress socks. And those calf-length sweat socks that people think look good with their New Balance 574s? No, not today.

As far as shoes, go with quality and simplicity. Stick to brown or black oxfords and avoid patent leather at all costs. If you’re feeling ballsy, try a wingtip or double-monkstrap. That will have you steppin’ freeeesssshh.

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CASUAL

This I’ll define as a sport shirt, jeans or chinos, and shoes of some sort.  Now I know this is college and for many people “casual” is interpreted as a t-shirt and sweatpants, but again this is a style website, and you shouldn’t own sweatpants anyways.

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Casual is what you wear to class. It’s what you wear to the grocery store. It’s not what you wear to an interview. Period. Don’t get it twisted.

BUSINESS CASUAL

Corporate formality has been downgraded a lot in the past 30 years, so many offices now require or allow “business casual” – a murky, ill-defined term for a conglomeration of clothing. As fellow style writer Steve Dool put it, “Even the name ‘business casual’ makes no sense to me, as there is nothing casual about my business. My business is f***ing fancy.” But that’s us, and we write for style websites. But then again, that’s just us being style writers.

My best advice for determining what exactly a company means by “business casual” is to straight up ask. There’s no harm in asking, and people will generally be understanding of your plight, due to the rampant ambiguity in the term. I’ve worked in several “business casual” offices, where the norm has ranged from sport shirts tucked into chinos, to dress shirts, sweaters, suit trousers, etc. In short, nobody knows what the hell “business casual” is. So save yourself the embarrassment and ask.

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In the pursuit of helpfulness, however, I’ll attempt to describe how I interpret business casual: Wear a dress shirt, with or without tie. I would advise wearing a tie in the warmer months, and nixing it during the colder months if you’re donning a sweater or cardigan over the shirt – personal discretion here – or try trousers of some sort – either nice quality chinos, “slacks” (another ambiguous term I hate), or suit pants worn as separates. And don’t forget the dress shoes.

FINAL ADVICE 

I’ve said it a few times, but it’s important enough to reiterate: dress for your industry. Graphic designers and photographers have a lot more leeway than accountants and lawyers.  You certainly want to stand out and have your personality come through, but keep it subdued. Let people hire you first, then they can find out how weird you are. It’s like dating.

Examine your clothes at least a week before the big day. If a shirt needs dry-cleaning, or if a suit needs to be pressed*, give yourself enough time to get the garment back clean and ready to go. Then shine your shoes and put a bit of smellum in your hair. Look good, my man. And don’t go out the night before. You will reek of alcohol the next day (as one interviewer politely explained to my hungover self).

Make sure everything fits. Try it on at home and see if it needs tailoring. Learn to tie a tie well (see here for guides). Tight, crisp, clean, confident. That’s what your look should portray. Not, “I’m wearing my dad’s suit.”

Instead of dressing for the job you want, my advice is to dress one step above where you’ll be actually apply. If everyone in the office wears “business casual,” wear a suit. If everyone wears a suit, rock a three-piece. Dress like you have someplace better to be. I personally do this all the time. Even during sex, on those rare occasions. People take notice of a well-dressed guy, and girls (supposedly) think it’s sexy, which is all I care about anyways. Beyond that, it’s up to you.

* only dry-clean a suit if it’s actually dirty. Overdoing it quickly wears out the wool fibers, so just get it pressed if it needs the wrinkles taken out

Nick Longsfeld

Photography by Sabrina Liedtke

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