Dressing the Part

My colleagues, friends, and I have recently engaged in significant talks about what is and is not appropriate attire for work. Inevitably, we fall all over the board as it relates to what is the best bet in terms of work dress. However, I think we can all generally agree on a few principles and best practices as it relates to acquiring and coordinating a good office wardrobe.

First, you should always dress at least as well as your coworkers or clients. This is so that you are meeting them and collaborating with them in attire that is comfortable for them, as you are neither underdressing them or severely overdressing them. Some will argue on the latter point in that statement (e.g. the typical “management consultant” that feels they should be in a three-piece-suit every day regardless of the client culture to justify their $250/hr charge-out rate), but I will always argue that showing up in a suit to a factory floor where even the top dog on site wears jeans every day is overly arrogant and will cause for you to be unfairly judged by the majority of the workforce unnecessarily.

Second, you should still aim to dress in something that fits you and makes you comfortable. Let’s face it: many of us struggle with various personal hygiene or appearance deficiencies that we need to care for when we go to put ourselves together in the morning. If you, like I, tend to be warmer than average on a temperature scale, it would be advisable to wear fabrics that are more breathable so that you aren’t sweating through your shirt just walking to a 9 AM meeting. If you are an especially tall person, it is important to select clothes that are proportional to your frame so that you don’t have to be self-conscious about wearing clothes that don’t fit. Ill-fitting clothes are one of the most inexcusable offenses anyone in the working world can make in my opinion. I know it can be costly to replace a wardrobe if your weight or muscle mass change, but in order to look the part, it is really important to dress in proper fitting clothes. You will ultimately be more comfortable and confident in whatever you do.

Third, there are several ways to “dress the part” without breaking the bank. One of my favorite sites for advanced men’s wardrobe on a budget is dappered.com, which aims to help aggregate style tips, large retailer sales, and under-the-radar merchandise that is available (often for a fraction of the cost of big name premier brands). Another great option for building a professional and sufficient wardrobe is to try out thrift stores. It is pretty easy to tell the quality of an item with a cursory inspection, and often times some of the merchandise will still have original tags on it because it was never worn. Just be sure to dry clean whatever you purchase, and you are all set as far as I’m concerned to start embracing “reclaimed” clothes.

While the conversation surrounding “dressing the part” is something that probably needs to be done specifically for each person with respect to their own colleagues, clients, and corporate culture, I believe the guardrails above at least help tailor the conversation to the things that matter when thinking about how to dress for success in your respective arena.

Bonus: here’s a great short video on finding a jacket that fits, courtesy of Birchbox Men, leveraging one of my favorite shows for the discussion: Suits (a MUST WATCH if you enjoy witty humor, Corporate America, and fashion in the Big Apple).


Til Next Time,

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