I recently ran into this blog on how to dress for business - written by a guy in finance. Great information for Newbies like me. It stresses the basics across suits, shoes and shirts, and I wish I knew this stuff a year ago!
Needless to say this will be obvious to some of the style pros here. For you guys this will seem like someone is observing that water is wet... But people like me find this very useful so please be kind.
But I would like to hear 'pros' views on what else could be added or changed. For instance I do not agree with him that Thomas Pink shirts are high quality, at least not in my experience.
It comes in three parts - (1) suits (2) shoes (3) shirts. Here are the links and I have also pasted part (1) below, too.
Given that I work in the financial industry, I thought that my first post should run-down what, in my mind, makes for the basic work wardrobe. These are hardly ground-breaking ideas, but given how many questions I get from friends and acquaintances regarding how to dress for work, I thought I should put them in one place.
The first installment will be about the all-important suit.
First and foremost, and this is applicable for most things but particularly in the case of suits, one should always aim for a good fit above all else. You can get away with making many mistakes, but buying a suit that does not fit properly is not one. Not that the suit you buy has to fit precisely off the rack; rather, you need to buy the right size and have a tailor go over it to precisely shape it into “your” suit (more about the tailor later). Not only does tailoring add little in terms of overall cost, but the results are crucial to how your purchase shapes up. A well fitting suit today is one that has relatively natural shoulders (in other words, minimal shoulder padding) that do not extend past your actual shoulders, fits close enough when buttoned that there is some difficulty in fitting a fist between the fabric and your chest, nips in at the waist in order to create the illusion of broad shoulders and a narrow waist and is just long enough so as for the bottom of the suit to be level with your knuckles with your arms at your side.
A second consideration is the manner in which the suit is constructed. There are two alternatives: fused or basted, neither of which likely mean anything to the average person. A fused suit is one in which the pieces of the suit are attached via glue. A basted suit, on the other hand, is sewn together. A basted suit is far more durable than a fused suit and therefore often (but not always) is more expensive. Interestingly enough, many designer suits are actually fused and therefore are of less high quality than some lower-priced basted suits. Big names such as Hugo Boss and Prada construct their suits this way, and you are paying for both a modern, designer cut (not a bad thing at all), in addition to the name sewn on the inside. However, dry cleaning involves high heat and high heat has profound effects on glue. Therefore, after a few dry cleanings, the seams of the suit (particularly at the shoulders) tend to bubble and no longer look as crisp and clean as they did when you first purchased your suit. In a perfect world, I would recommend that everyone purchase a basted suit, such as one made by Samuelsohn in Canada. However, basted suits tend to be very expensive, particularly if you want both a modern cut and no fusing. So, if you plan on not dry cleaning your suit any more than once or twice a year (and therefore do not have to wear a suit regularly), you may be able to make a fused suit work for you.
The third issue is colour. In a business environment, it is always better to skew towards the traditional. Thus, the first two suits anyone should buy would be charcoal grey and navy blue. A slightly lighter than charcoal, mid-grey suit would likely be a good alternative to either of these. Notice that I did not say black; that is for a reason. Black is not a traditional colour for business suits, which may come as a surprise to many people under the age of 30. The problems with black suits, besides the fact that they aren’t traditional and thus should be approached with some degree of trepidation by the newly-minted businessperson, are two-fold: first, it is very difficult to pair colours with black. The primary colour for business dress is blue and you tend to take on the look of a human bruise with a black suit and blue shirt or tie. Navy or grey, on the other hand, go exceptionally well with nearly any colour imaginable and allow you the option of wearing brown shoes. The second issue is that black often doesn’t hold up very well to use. Anybody that owns other black articles of clothing know that the dark-as-night state that they came in begins to fade over time. More than that, black suits tend to take on a slightly greenish-tinge under artificial light and thus navy and charcoal often look darker than black. Given the regular use your suit will endure and that much of business is conducted under artificial lights, these are not problems to be brushed off lightly.
The next key consideration is the maxim of quality over quantity. It is better to purchase two decent suits than five mediocre ones. The reasons being that, first, contrary to what one might think, nobody will notice that you own only a pair of suits if you continuously mix your shirts and ties. Secondly, better quality suits tend to be cut in a more modern way. Currently, this means that they have slightly higher and narrower armholes (a look that flatters most people and actually serves to increase arm travel), the notch of the lapel is higher and the suit is cut slightly slimmer through the body and nipped in at the waist. Two excellent examples of this fit is the Ralph Lauren Black Label line (which is at a higher price point) and the Brooks Brothers Fitzgerald cut (which is more affordable). The major problem with purchasing suits from places like Tip Top, Moore’s, Men’s Wearhouse, etc, is that you are getting neither good quality or a modern cut. You are getting a suit that looks extremely mediocre all the way around. It is far better, particularly for younger people, to buy a slightly (notice that I say slightly) more modern cut from stores like H&M and Zara, take it to a tailor and have it fit exceptionally well. While the quality will be mediocre, at least the cut is modern; it is better to have one of the two rather than neither, as is common with Moore’s and Tip Top. That said, the best option is to buy the best suits you can reasonably afford because these (along with your shoes) anchor your business wardrobe. As you move up the food chain, you can start buying more expensive suits from such labels as Canali, Zegna, Ralph Lauren Purple Label, Brioni, etc, or having your suits custom-made, either via a Made-To-Measure program (for an in-depth discussion on Made-to-Measure suits, click here) or truly bespoke, constructed from scratch specifically for you. For the time being, your most important goal is to not look like a jackass, and so brand snobbery should not be your focus; rather getting the proper fit and staying relatively conservative ought to be your focus.
This brings us to the question of vents; how many should a suit have, one, two or none? Most suits today have two, however it is completely acceptable to wear a suit with a single vent. What you want to avoid at all costs is having no vents at all. This type of suit evokes the 1980′s and also does not lend itself well to sitting down (which you likely will have to do at some point). The double-vent has its roots in Great Britain where jackets were cut in this manner to accommodate riding a horse. The single-vent is a more American style and is commonly associated with Ivy-League Universities on the East Coast. Italian suits were often ventless in the past, however most of the reputable manufacturers have adopted the British double-vent as of late.
The next issue is that of cuffs and pleats. For most people, having pants with no pleats looks the best and is more in keeping with modern preferences. However, I will not begrudge anyone a single pleat on each side of the fly if they wish to sacrifice a touch of style for small gains in comfort (or they otherwise like the suit). That does not open the floodgates of pleats; it is one or none and nothing more, particularly if you’re under 40. In terms of cuffs, the traditional rule of thumb was for pleated pants to have cuffs and flat-fronts to be un-cuffed. I’ve never really seen the point of this rule and therefore I would not really think twice about ignoring it if you so wish. Neither do I have any particular thoughts as to whether one should cuff or not cuff one’s pants. Two things to keep in mind, however: First, pants without cuffs make one’s legs look longer and thus shorter or mid-size gentlemen should generally trend towards not cuffing their pants. Second, cuffs are seen as being slightly more informal, and therefore it might be a good idea to not cuff the pants of one’s sole suit. (As a side-note, one should never cuff a pair of tuxedo pants for this very reason).
In addition, as mentioned above, it is essential to have any suit professionally tailored. The cost will likely not be significant (likely in the realm of thirty to fourty dollars) but the difference will be substantial. A good tailor can improve the look of any suit in the same way that a shoe shine can improve the look of a pair of shoes. I would also hesitate to use the in-house tailor at many stores as you will almost certainly not receive the level of personal attention you will if you build up a rapport with an independent tailor (and the work is often done very quickly and somewhat sloppily). When buying a suit, it is important to understand what a tailor can and can’t do. First, a tailor will be hard-pressed to help a suit that does not fit in the shoulders. If the shoulders jut out like shoulder pads on a linebacker, you’re out of luck and the suit will never fit correctly. Also, you cannot attempt to resuscitate a overly-shoulder padded suit by removing the pads. Shortening a too-long suit will cost you an arm and a leg and also will mess up the suit’s symmetry, with the pockets and buttons now lying at different heights than was originally intended. A suit with working buttons at the cuffs will also create a headache for your tailor (and your wallet) and so think twice about buying a suit with working buttonholes that doesn’t fit in the sleeve (although working buttonholes are one of the signs typical of a very high-end suit). To reiterate, never buy a suit that does not fit in the shoulders; a tailor can take in a suit that is slightly billowy through the body but the shoulders are a bridge too far.
Finally, it is important to consider how many buttons your suit ought to have. There are really only two clear choices: two (think JFK) or three (think Cary Grant in North by Northwest). One button suits are very dashing but are still slightly unconservative and flashy for office-wear (although I highly recommend a one-button tuxedo as this actually is the classic style). Any more than three buttons and you risk somebody handing you a basketball jersey and a hat like you’re at the NBA Draft. Most suits at most stores today have two-buttons, but if you prefer the look of a three-button suit, do not hesitate in the least. One advantage of the two-button suit is that it creates a deep “V” shape that accentuates the length of one’s torso and thus can aid in making the wearer appear both subtly taller and subtly thinner. However, I myself have always enjoyed the look of a three-button suit, especially when the lapel of the suit rolls to the second button so as to create much the same appearance as if the suit had two buttons. I find that these types of suits fit me better. Note that one should NEVER button the bottom button on any suit (barring the one-button mentioned above). It is not only traditional, but often suits are cut in a way that expects you to leave that button undone and thus can throw-off the look of the suit. Another style tip is to only button the middle button of a three-button suit as this creates the deeper “V” mentioned above and looks far more dashing. Many three-button suits are actually made to only be buttoned in the middle, with the lapel “rolling” to that button (as can be seen in the photo below)
One additional feature that I’m partial to are side tabs, which tend to be found on bespoke suits (a Saville Row bespoke suit will never have belt loops) but can also be found on some suits made by Ralph Lauren Black Label. The advantage I find with the side tab is that it better allows you to adjust the fit of your pants throughout the day. Furthermore, I believe it provides a cleaner look than a belt does, although I do own suits that have belt loops. Nonetheless, this is a matter of personal taste and I would never fault anyone that prefers belt loops (although this means you need to wear a belt). Except in the case of a tuxedo, where belt loops are never appropriate.
The essential goal of building a work wardrobe is to avoid standing out in a negative way (and, to a lesser extent, avoid standing out too much at all, even in a positive way). It is always safe to go in a traditional direction and it is always better for your image as a competent professional to be dressed in a clean-cut, put-together and non-sloppy manner. As much as many people wish that their clothing preferences were irrelevant or that “people should only judge me by the quality of the work I do or my personality”, that isn’t a reality in our world of first impressions and snap judgments. I hope this post has shed some light on purchasing suits. If you have any further questions or comments, post them below.