In an increasingly casual world, it can be hard to know what constitutes professional attire. Certainly, what you wear in a corporate law firm is always going to be different from what you might wear in an Internet design company.
The good news for a confused guy is that certain basics remain the same, and you’ll never go wrong in a well-cut business suit.
Make an Impression in Professional Attire
In the financial, legal and management arenas, the expectation for serious professional dress is as strong as it ever was. Young blood may come in, but they must don the suits, dress shirts and neckties worn in such firms for decades. Furthermore, a new hire should be excited to do just this. The old adage is that you dress for the job you want, not the job you have. As such, you want to go into an office looking ready to do serious work with serious clients.
Everything counts, from your haircut to your shoes. Even when you are only interviewing, you want to make an investment in your appearance. Sure, there is no guarantee you’ll get the job, but you should still wear a good suit and shoes. Like it or not, most people that wear professional attire for a living will know a cheap suit when they see it. No one expects you to come in wearing a tailored designer suit, but you should show you understand what real style is. Make an investment in one good suit; it will pay for itself before long.
Professional Attire: The Basics
The suit is always the first item of your professional wardrobe. The safest choice is a traditional classic cut with conservative colors and fabrics. Navy and dark gray are the best. Black can look too formal, even with a subtle pinstripe. It’s still worn, of course, and Mr. Big wore excellent black suits on Sex and the City, but when you’re just starting to put together your professional wardrobe, you should steer clear of black. You also want a good fabric. Wool or a wool blend is the only way to go. While silk suits are classic, there are few professional settings where they are acceptable. Even in summer, you should wear a lightweight wool or silk-wool suit
Professional attire demands a long-sleeved shirt in shades of white or blue, and either solid or conservative stripes. There is a reason why Dwight on The Office is a joke character; his short-sleeved yellow shirts show he doesn’t understand how to be a serious corporate player.
Your tie should be simple and conservative in a good quality silk. You can show some flair with a nice vintage tie and matching handkerchief, but gauge your workplace carefully to be sure this is acceptable. Stick to classic patterns, as opposed to prints of animals or pin-up girls.
The Smaller Details
Don't be like the guy on TV who sits down for an interview, crosses his legs and shows that his socks are too short. Nothing looks worse than a patch of skin between a sock and trousers. Make sure your trousers are the correct length and wear dark socks that come up mid-calf and don’t slide down.
Many consider shoes only as a woman’s obsession, but they matter for men as well. Again, here is where making a serious investment pays off, because good shoes will last for years if you maintain them properly. Professional attire demands black leather shoes, either lace-up or slip-on. If you prefer to wear vegan shoes, make sure they are still high quality and look like leather.
Your belt should match your shoes, so black leather, or a reasonable facsimile, is the way to go.
Finally, most professional industries will frown on too much jewelry, especially earrings. A good, conservative watch should be the extent of your jewelry, besides a wedding ring if appropriate. As you continue in your firm, you may be able to branch out a bit, but you’ll never go wrong playing it safe.