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Business Professional Dress Code

The corporate world requires a well groomed and polished professional image.  Whether you are an assistant, executive, managing partner or CEO, your dress code should reflect the job you want, not the job you have!  Today’s professional business world is diverse, if are unsure what is appropriate in the office, simply observe the environment and take note of what your boss wears.  If you are the boss, think about the message you want to send to your employees and lead by example.  Professional business attire is relatively formal which makes it easy to combine simple, classic, or subtle looks.  The following tips are a guide to help men dress business professional in a corporate environment.  Appropriate professional dress code includes the following:

  • The Suit: Your suit should be well tailored and conservative.  This is the most important and basic piece of your professional wardrobe.  Every gentleman should have at least two great suits, one being a 3-piece set.  Preferred suit colors include: Black, Navy and a medium shade of Grey.  Avoid loud and distracting patterns.  Fine pinstripes or window panes are acceptable as long as they are subtle and appear professional.  If you have a long torso or bulky upper body, a three-button suit jacket is better for your frame. Heavier set men carry the bulk of their weight in the torso area which includes the chest, waist, and seat area in which case, it is best to find a three-button suit jacket with double vents in the seat.   If you have an average or narrow torso then you will need a two-button jacket with a single vent.  The office environment is not the place to try out the latest and greatest fashion trends.  If your feeling creative and are in the market for a higher end suit, try a bespoke style.  Bespoke suits are custom made from scratch to your exact measurements.  You can pick out your own fabric, lining, styling and details including buttons and lapel styles.  Whether your suit is custom made, made to measure, or off the rack you should make sure to pay attention to the following details:
The Lapel – the collar or lapel should never be wider than 3 ½” and never smaller than 2 ½”at the widest point.  If you are a heavier set man then the lapel should be on the wider end of this scale.  A large lapel on narrow frame will make the suit jacket appear too big. There should not be any button holes sewn into the lapel.  Many off the rack suit makers use this as a styling tool when in fact, it cheapens the overall look.

The fabric – Suiting fabric should be wool blends that range from 80-180. Merino wool is usually a higher quality which will result in less pilling.  Pilling is what happens when a natural fabric begins to wear.  The face of the fabric becomes worn down and it starts to look fuzzy.  A higher quality fabric usually falls within the 120-180 range.  These weights are shinier, lighter and drape very well. These fabric qualities are engineered specifically to acquire shape memory and durability as well preserve it’s inherit softness and absorption.

The Sleeves – One quick way to sniff out a well made suit are the buttons and button holes.  If the button holes are sewn shut with plastic buttons, it is a factory made assembly line piece.  If the button holes are not sewn shut, this usually means it was machine or hand sewn with care and precision.  Most off the rack suits fall into the first category.  The sleeve length should come ½” below the wrist, no exceptions!

The Pants – The main thing to avoid with suit pants is the “saggy bottom syndrome”. This happens when the seat is too big which usually means the pants are too big.  This also happens if you have the suit pants taken-in around the waist.  They may fit in the waist after alterations, but they will still be too big in the thighs and seat area.  Make sure you get the right pant size!  For the average guy, a flat front pant with no cuff will work best.  If you are on the heavier side, try pleats and a cuff to balance out your lower body.

  • Dress Shirts: The second most important item is the dress shirt. You should always wear a long sleeved shirt.  If you were to walk through a law office you would find most employees wearing light blue or white shirts.  Clearly these are the most common business professional shirt colors.  Every gentleman needs a crisp white dress shirt, there’s no doubt about that!  However, there’s nothing worse than seeing these gentleman head out to lunch together.  They all look the same which can get a bit uniformed and boring.  You can be conservative and professional without looking like everyone else in the office.  For a classic and traditional twist; try a French collar and cuff on a light blue or yellow dress shirt.  Small navy pinstripes also look great with a French collar and cuff.  This is a great way to upgrade the boring traditional styles that everyone else is wearing.  If you choose to have custom made or “bespoke” shirts; you have the ability to mix and match collar styles, cuff styles and fabrics.  If you have a unique shape or size, then you should definitely go the extra mile to have custom shirts made for you.  Some men struggle to find shirts with the appropriate sleeve length. Others buy off the rack shirts that make them look like a flying squirrel.  A nice shirt should NOT look like a parachute when you tuck it into your pants.  If you are buying an off the rack dress shirt,  try a European brand for a slimmer fit.  If your shirts make you like a flying squirrel, then take them to the tailor.  A good tailor will add a back pleat and take the shirts in on the sides including the chest, waist and seat area.  Floating fabric looks sloppy and frumpy!  Your dress shirt sleeve should peek out from your suit jacket by ¼”.  If you don’t see the shirt sleeve peeking through under the jacket sleeve, then the shirt sleeve is too short!
  • The Shoes: Keep your shoes simple and polished.  Invest in a nice pair of black shoes that will hold up over time.  There’s nothing worse than seeing a great suit with worn out shoes.  The winter and fall weather is hard on leather so make sure your shoes are conditioned and polished on a regular basis. This will maintain the longevity of the hide.  Shoes should be kept in your closet with shoe trees.  One pair of shoes trees can work with any pair of shoes. Make the investment, your shoes will thank you!  Avoid shoes that have hardware including buckles and logos.  Suits that have a narrow leg look best with lace up shoes.  Suits with cuffs can be worn with either a lace up or slip on style. Just make sure the sole of the shoe doesn’t come out too far. A wide sole makes the foot look enormous.
  • The Tie: The most important accessory complimenting professional business attire is the tie.  When wearing a dark suit and a light dress shirt; a darker tie is a suitable (no pun intended) choice.  When selecting prints just make sure they're conservative and professional.  Avoid loud patterns with bright colors.  If choosing a stripe, make sure the stripes are a reasonable size. If the tie is printed, then keep it simple.  Skinny ties, clip-ons, and double knot 4 fold ties are unacceptable.  A ties width should be an average size, usually the width of your four fingers.  Anything bigger or smaller is a fashion statement which is inappropriate for the office.  Make sure your tie is right length.  The tip should come to the waist of your pants.
  •  The Belt:  In a professional business environment, a man’s belt is his second most important accessory.  The belt should be the same color as your shoes or the same color as your pants.  A black belt will usually do the trick for navy, grey and black suits.  Keep the belt simple by avoiding over-sized and shiny buckles.  Refrain from big logos or initials on the belt buckle as well.  Your belt should comfortably fit into the 2nd or 3rd hole.  If you’re fastening the belt past the 3rd hole, then it is too big and you will have a lot of access belt to tuck into your belt loops.  Suit fabric is genuinely delicate and can’t hold excessive weight. Keep the belt light and thin so you don’t tear the belt loops.  If you have a belt that you like but it is too big, take it to the tailor or shoemaker. They can usually cut it down for you and get rid of the access leather overlap.
  • The Socks:  Sock selection is pretty simple; keep the color the same as or one shade lighter than your shoes.

Now that you have the Dress for Success recipe; here are some places to shop:

  • Thomas Pink $
  • Ralph Lauren Black Label  $$$
  • E.C Stitch Custom Clothing $$$
  • Kenneth Cole $$B
  • Burberry $$$
  • Boss $$
  • Tommy Hilfiger $
  • JoSA.Bank $
  • Ermenegildo Zegna $$
  • Banana Republic $
  • Nautica $

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