The Clueless Guy’s Guide to Office Fashion

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Making the transition from school to work wardrobe can be tricky for everyone, but especially for guys. It’s easy enough if you’re working in a strictly “suits only” office, or in a super casual start-up where you can get away with the same jeans and T-shirts you wore to class every day in college.

But if you’re like a lot of people, your office dress code will probably fall somewhere between these two extremes.

We caught up with Jennifer Bendheim, a Personal Stylist with Share Some Style to get some practical advice on how a young male professional can make the right impression with his wardrobe and appearance. Jennifer wanted to preface the interview by saying, “This is general advice that will vary according to personal taste and budget. I encourage all my clients to begin building their wardrobe with the best quality basic pieces that they can afford and spend less on trendy and casual items.”

How should guys assess the dress code in a new office?

Ideally, men should be able to determine what is appropriate in a new office setting by observing their peers and colleagues. The casual setting of a start-up will clearly have a different feel from the formal attire of a bank or law firm. They can take their cues from those in more senior positions and dress accordingly. Is the senior partner older and more conservative or a more casual, creative type?

What are a few essential items that every young professional should have in his wardrobe?

The absolute essentials for a young professional are:

  • good quality button-down shirts in basic colors (white, light blue, and a narrow blue or gray and white stripe); look for the wrinkle-free variety to keep maintenance minimal and dry cleaning costs lower
  • a black, dark gray, or dark blue suit (single breasted, unpleated);narrow pinstripes are an option, too
  • a navy blue, mid-weight blazer for year-round wear
  • good quality, wrinkle-free khakis
  • black or dark brown lace-up oxfords with a belt in matching shade of leather

Which stores would you recommend for picking up wardrobe staples for men?

Banana Republic, J. Crew, Brooks Brothers, Nordstrom, and Bonobos. All of these have a strong online presence and assistance for those not in a major metropolitan area.

What are some general fashion rules for young professionals who are new to the office environment?

The transition from student to professional is a milestone; therefore, men should consider their wardrobe and overall appearance an important part of their “résumé.” They should assume they will be judged and decisions on their professionalism based on the time and effort they put into this “image.”

This is even more important in a profession that is client-based where they are representing their employer. Business casual should not be confused with weekend casual—no sneakers, sandals, or backpacks; consider loafers and a leather portfolio. In a setting where blue jeans are appropriate, they should still be a dark washed, well-fitting pair.

What advice do you have about hair and grooming?

Maintain good personal grooming habits. A good haircut, clean, well-trimmed nails, and a well-maintained wardrobe (shoes polished, pieces clean and wrinkle free) will convey confidence and seriousness. In a formal business setting, once again follow the lead of your colleagues.

What are some things that men in particular should be aware of when dressing for the office?

Don’t be afraid to show your personality with the use of color, texture, and accessories. A bright tie, gingham shirt, or scarf can complete an outfit, while a tweed sportcoat or V-neck cardigan or vest can be layered with the basics. It is easier to be more creative with these options in a casual setting.

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