Personally, I wear a jacket and tie every day… actually, every single guy in our office, stores, and warehouse wears a tie. It's a no-brainer in that our toughest decision in the morning is which tie I'm gonna wear. In a funny way, it makes getting dressed in the morning a heck of a lot easier. We work with a company that experimented with having their baristas wear ties in the Pacific Northwest… home of the casual look. The baristas got better tips and the morale was higher - they actually liked dressing with some structure. We quote Deion Sanders here a lot — "when you look good you feel good — and when you feel good you play good — and when you play good they pay good." Anyway. I love it. But unless you're a banker or a lawyer (or you work for us,) it's likely that you don't have to wear a tie. And "professional attire" or "business casual" are pretty broad terms… it's like, what does that even mean. For the better part of my career in design, I didn't have to wear a tie to work. It was just a choice that I sometimes enjoyed. It was a creative environment, and a lot of my coworkers really went all out getting themselves rigged up as "creatives." It was actually a blast watching what people showed up in. Like a costume party every day. Having fun with your clothes is great. But for me, especially these days, I just want to grab and go and save my brain for more challenging decisions during the day. So how do you look put-together, sharp, and professional… without thinking about it all that much? (Or looking like you're thinking about it all that much.)
So what are the go-tos? You're looking to edit your life with the least amount of items to prepare you for almost anything. You may not have a lot of dough yet — or at least I didn't when I was just starting out — so you want to treat these as building blocks. You'll have these things for years, not months, so focus on less-is-more, quality-over-quantity. Better to show up in great things more often. There is no shame in a uniform. And find a tailor you like and trust… fit makes a big difference. It's also worth the investment of the two bucks or so to get your shirts cleaned and pressed. I can usually get at least a couple of wears out of each one, and some of my best memories of being young in New York were the conversations I had with the neighborhood cleaners. Or learn to iron yourself! The point is, a pressed shirt is about showing effort and manners. But back to the list. I put together a handful of essentials — in this case, 11 — that go with everything in your closet. This should all make getting dressed easier in the morning (or in the dark!) and arm you for almost any occasion… a meeting with the boss, a trip to the bank, or a casual get-together after work.
Here's what I'd get as a starter kit, from head to toe:
• 1 navy suit (that can be split up into separates)
• 1 pocket square
• 1 light blue stripe dress shirt
• 1 white dress shirt
• 1 patterned sport shirt
• 1 navy knit tie
• 1 pair of grey dress trousers
• 1 pair of dark jeans (this means no rips or heavily distressed)
• 1 dark brown belt
• 1 pair of dark, over-the-calf socks
• 1 pair of dark brown lace-up calfskin shoes
This roll-up might seem basic, but it's super-versatile… it all works together wherever you live. If you've been asked to help with a board presentation, it's navy suit + white shirt + navy tie + dark socks + the lace-ups, shined. If it's a company outing, it's dark jeans + blue-striped shirt… sleeves rolled up. If it's hosting a client for a cocktail hour it's grey trousers + navy suit jacket + sport shirt, maybe go sockless. Any scenario, you're ready.
And of course you can build on this. Add in another pair of shoes (penny or tassel loafers), throw in some white jeans, add a few dress shirts that have a subtle pattern — a light stripe or graph check, or maybe add a pair of charcoal dress trousers in case you're getting invited back to that board meeting… and you'll be well on your way. Let me know how it goes.
P.S. And hey… as long as you're asking… I may just throw a bit of this in as well. That stuff above will help you dress for success — but you actually have to work to be a success.
RULES FOR WORK
• Keep your shoes shined, your clothes pressed, your breath fresh and your mouth clean.
• Show up early, stay late — and make the most of your time in between.
• Say less, be more.
• Smile, a lot. It communicates an ease and willingness to help.
• Keep a pen & paper on you — we think Caran d'Ache and Moleskines are pretty great.
• If you have a business card, always keep one on you. Use a business card holder. (I am reminded of this every time I forget my own.)
• Try and stay off your mobile phone… pay attention to those around you.