Q & Answer: How To Do Business Casual?

December 14, 2009

Q & Answer: How to do Business Casual?

Tyson writes:

I try to present myself well at work.  I iron my shirts, shine my shoes, and try to match.  Some people may say, dress for the job you want.  What’s the PTO take?  I work in a khaki/polo/button down habitat.  A suit would be too much.  What are some nice styling’s that don’t scream look at my new suit, but still out-class Dockers and a semi-old Ralph Lauren polo.

Let’s start with the bad news: you can’t really wear a suit in a polos and Dockers business casual environment.  When you’re doing business, you always want to look as good as you can without seeming like a dick, and when everyone else is wearing polos, you’ll look like a dick in a suit (even with a tie).  Unless you’re meeting with clients that day, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb.

That doesn’t mean you have to dress like the guy pictured above, though, and it sounds like you’re well on your way to a better look.

  1. No polos.  Don’t wear a polo shirt anywhere you wouldn’t wear shorts.  Playing tennis, weekend in the park, wear a polo, fine.  Having a meeting?  You can handle the five extra buttons and full sleeves on your shirt.  (No short-sleeved dress shirts, either, but that should go without saying.)
  2. Don’t wear a tie without a jacket.  This is the fast route to looking like you work at Blockbuster or maybe, at best, are a teller at Wells Fargo.  Ties are meant to be worn with coats.
  3. Watch your fit.  Most men wear casual pants like chinos way too long and way too baggy.  A trim, clean fit in your pants is key.  Buy them the right size and avoid pleats at all costs.  Similarly, your shirt shouldn’t pool out around your waist.  Buy a slim-fitting shirt, or take your shirt in to the tailor to get the waist taken in – it’ll cost $10 or $15 and make a huge difference.  A button-down collar is a nice way to keep your collar in check if you’re not wearing a jacket.
  4. Wear good shoes.  A great pair of shoes will take you from boring to sharp.  No Kenneth Cole duckbilled b.s.  No corrected-grain leather with a plastic-y finish.  Rotate a couple pairs.  Wear a belt that matches.  No clunky rubber soles.  You work in an office, not on a marathon team.
  5. Wear a sportcoat.  Even a quiet pocket square if your office won’t think you’re totally insane.  It shows that you care without showing anyone up, particularly since you won’t be wearing it around the office much anyway.  A nice cashmere sweater won’t hurt in the winter, either.

We’re essentially talking, here, about focusing on the fundamentals: wear quality clothes that fit.  Dress so that someone looking at you would think you’re someone who they’d trust to work with.