Monday, February 28, 2011
It's Just Business
I received the following via a comment on "Pack Much Back, Much?":
"I REALLY love your blog and I'm always awaiting updates. I have a question that may sound extremely dumb, but I wanted some expert clarification (I don't know if this is an 'ask' type of blog, but I figured I'd give it a shot).
What is the clear definition of 'business-casual' for men? I thought I knew what it meant, but I'm confused when I show up to work sometimes and see men wearing ALL TYPES of stuff. I see people wearing the dress shoes, slacks, and collared shirts (which I figured was appropriate). However, I sometimes see extra-fancy suit jackets & blazers, sneakers, ties, rumpled shirts, cardigans, jeans, short & long sleeves, some tucked and untucked shirts, vests...the whole spectrum (not ALL on the same person at the same time of course). Any advice for what is appropriate business-casual wear and acceptable variations of the 'template?'"
First things first: thanks for the love, Anonymous. I appreciate you reading DLAMGD and hope you continue to do so. Second, this blog certainly has an "ask" component to it, and I'm happy that you asked.
The thing is, your question is impossible to answer. The inherent problem with business casual is that there is no one clear definition, and this is what frustrates and confuses many men in the professional realm. You have, however, correctly inferred that there is, in fact, a template of sorts by which you can decide what to wear to the office. Here are some suggestions, paraphrased from Alan Flusser's Dressing The Man:
1. Cleanliness is paramount. Slovenliness in attire or hygiene is completely unacceptable in any profession where business casual is the dress code. The only excuse to break this rule is if you're doing yardwork or are so old that incontinence is the new black.
2. If you don't know what to wear to a meeting, wear a suit.
3. When in doubt, overdress. Worst-case scenario, you can ditch the tie and jacket.
As a fourth tip coming from yours truly, remember that there's no replacement for impeccable fit. If your clothes fit well, you can wear jeans and a white t-shirt and still look decent. In addition, learn some basic color and pattern coordination. I've written a bit about these concepts already; links can be found here and here.
To address your question more directly, remember that the word "business" is found in the phrase "business casual," so things like sneakers, rumpled and/or untucked shirts, and most jeans are inappropriate. On the other hand, I've always thought of business casual as more or less a combination of some of the following components:
-Khakis that are pressed and tailored, not rumpled like the ones J.Crew says are all the rage that you can wear on your own time. Dress pants are always a safe option.
-A dress shirt. This does not mean any shirt with a collar; some polos are fine in the summer, but there are plenty of casual button-up shirts (sometimes referred to as "sport shirts") that are too casual and funky for most offices. And it should never have short sleeves. If it's warm in the summer, roll up your god-damned sleeves.
-A v-neck, crewneck, cardigan, half or full-zip sweater in a tailored fit and material like merino, cashmere, or a non-chunky lambswool.
-A blazer or sport coat that coordinates with your pants but doesn't necessarily match (this would be putting on a suit, which is more in the "business professional" dress code). Start with navy and move on from there.
-Throwing on a tie never hurt anyone.
-Relatively thin casual socks or dress socks. Feel free to play with color and pattern here as your style/office/the season permit.
-Shoes with some kind of heel. It doesn't have to be a "dress" shoe per se (i.e. have a leather sole and intended for wear with a suit), but it should be based on that silhouette. You can go with lace-ups, loafers, chunky suede wingtips and boots in the winter, light tan tassel loafers in the summer, and whatever else so long as it retains a dress shoe's silhouette. Don't forget to shine the shit out of them.
-A vest, you say? Give it a shot if your office isn't sartorially stuffy.
As with any situation where you need to look presentable (i.e. pretty much all the damned time), keep yourself well-groomed. A little stubble might be alright, but if your hair isn't combed and you smell as if you haven't properly, ahem, washed your ass, people will become much less forgiving. Finally, walk tall. Nothing looks better on anyone than confidence.