By Gear Patrol reader Mitch Granger
For most of us, dressing for work involves little thought. We wake up, put on the obligatory pieces of clothing that insure we’re appropriately dressed based on our position and office environment, and walk out the door to greet the day. While there is nothing necessarily wrong with this approach, whether you personally agree with it or not, your attire serves as a key signal to those around you. Yes, I know we’d all like to think that our society has evolved past snap judgments and stereotypes based on superficial cues, but the reality is this – it hasn’t. What you wear and how you look can leave a lasting impression about who you are as an employee, coworker, and colleague, so being conscious of the signals you send through your clothes is a must.
This doesn’t mean that changing your morning routine to include an hour long pre-work style session is the solution. Blowing 3 months salary on the best designer clothes is likewise not advised. Instead, following the simple pointers and suggestions below can go a long way to improving your daily appearance and style with minimal strain on you or your wallet.
For most people, personal style simply refers to one’s clothing and accessories, but , in reality, good style starts with cleanliness. Lack of personal hygiene and/or dirty attire is always noticable, despite what you might think. Brush your teeth, style your hair, shave, and put on deodorant every time before heading to work. Running late is no excuse. Sacrificing personal cleanliness in exchange for being on time (or less late) is never worth it. Instead, take the extra time to gain your composure and look the part of a professional. Losing 15 minutes from the start of your work day happens to everyone occasionally and, in the long run, will be forgotten. Alternatively, looking rushed or dirty for an entire day has a way of sticking in people’s memories for far longer and can result in an unwanted reputation.
Similar rules apply to your clothes. No matter how good a particular outfit might look, if it’s dirty or wrinkled don’t even think about wearing it. Clean, laundered clothes will always trump stylish-yet-disheveled attire in terms of looks. Frankly anything not meeting these first two criteria shouldn’t even be in your closet as an option. However, this doesn’t mean you must become a slave to your iron.
On the contrary, this is an area where well-planned wardrobe acquisitions can make a tremendous difference. For instance, purchasing wrinkle-free, non-iron dress shirts such as the Dunning Performance Woven Sportshirts is an easy way to maintain a clean look with minimal effort. Not only do they eliminate the need to iron, but wearing them exclusively for work can reduce the need for trips to the dry cleaners and save you cash. Personally, I am a huge fan of Brooks Brother’s non-iron shirts (my closet pictured right) and can attest to their quality. They can be dressed up or down depending on your work needs, and can last for years, even in heavy rotation. Plus, stores typically run deals allowing you to purchase 3 shirts for around $150, and, at $50 bucks a shirt, they’re one of the best bargains around.
Likewise, stain resistant and “permanent crease” pants can save you from a world of laundry headaches, if suits aren’t the ticket for you. They can keep you looking pressed with minimal effort.
Properly storing the clothes you do have laundered can also go a long way towards extending their “clean” life and overall look. For those of you who’ve managed to skip through life without ever touching laundry, there is a proper method to hanging and folding dress pants. To become a pro, follow the lesson detailed below. Docker’s Colin flat front dress pant are a great example of what we’re talking about and can be found on sale for less than $50 bucks a pair.
- Step 1: Hold the pants by the waistband and fasten the closure and zip the zipper.
- Step 2: Position both hands on the front of the waistband approximately 3 inches out from the closure on each side (many dress pants will have a pleat or a belt loop here). Fold the pants in half by the waistband at this spot.
- Step 3: Grasp the folded pants by the waistband and hold them up so that the pant legs hang down freely.
- Step 4: Find the front pleats as you are holding the pants with the legs hanging freely down. Line up the pleats together. If you are not able to find front pleats, you can settle for lining the pant legs up together by making sure that the bottom edges are lined up and the pant legs are neatly arranged. Fold in half, then hang. For folding instructions follow the rest of the steps
- Step 5: Lay the lined up and folded dress pants down flat on a work surface. At this point the dress pants are folded in half so that you should see one entire leg of the dress pants. Make sure that the dress pants are neatly lined up on your work surface.
- Step 6: Fold the dress pants in half again, from top to bottom, at the mid point of the pants legs. Arrange the fold so that it is neat. Have the waistband of the pants facing up.
- Step 7: Fold the dress pants in half one more time, so that the legs of the dress pants are inside the fold. The waistband should be facing up as you are looking down on the folded dress pants. The bottom edge of the legs of the dress pants will be folded inside the folded pants.
- Step 8: Arrange the dress pants so that the folds are neat and crisp.
Button up shirts should, likewise, always be hung when possible and buttoned in at least 3 places to avoid developing unnecessary hanging creases from being off center.
Shoes aren’t to be forgotten, either. Though spit polishes aren’t a must, walking into the office with dirty shoes is a definite no-no. Cleaning/polishing them on a monthly basis will help eliminate those “oh, shit” moments when glancing down at your feet and help extend the life of the shoe.
Mind the Details
Outside of certain professions such as finance, where clothing can be some what of an arms race, spending exorbitant sums on work outfits is simply a waste. The fact is, most people will be hard pressed to tell the difference between dress shirts costing between $60-$100 and $300. The same goes for pants (especially when properly laundered and maintained). You’ll also be wearing these items around the same people all the time, so it’s better to have a greater variety of lower cost outfits than a few high quality ones. Finally, remember that this is clothing you will wear often and subsequently wear through faster than other pieces of your wardrobe, like that which you reserve for the weekends. So save your cash for those unique style pieces that make up your life outside of work and that will have a longer shelf life.
Along with the brands mentioned earlier, retailers like: Banana Republic, Jos. A. Bank., Thomas Pink, Ralph Lauren, and Charles Tyrwhitt all offer classic work attire along these lines at reasonable price ranges.
When deciding exactly what to buy, focus on versatility and fit. Those penstriped pants may be eye catching, but keep in mind just how many potential outfits can be created by matching different shirts using them as a base. If only one or two come to mind, they probably don’t represent an effective use of your (limited) funds. A general rule of thumb for pants is that neutrals are always your friend. For varitey and expression, pick unique shirts to go with.
Similarly, Banana Republic Khakis might be a great bargain, but even paying $20 for a pair that doesn’t fit you properly is a waste of money. Cough up the extra $20 to have pants properly hemmed, and jackets and shirts altered, when possible. Nothing provides polish to a look like great fitting clothes. Along those lines, if your willing to part with brand names all together, Proper Cloth Custom Tailored Dress Shirts are a great bargain and are guaranteed to fit your specifications. Indochino is also a good options for affordable tailor-made suits.
If you do feel compelled for some reason to spend extra money, spend it on shoes belts, blazers, cufflinks, and ties. Though some may personally disagree, I’ve always found that wearing high-quality accessories can provide a “richer” appearance by association to the look of less expensive foundational pieces. They also far better at adding distinction compared to basic pieces. Everyone has a pair of black pants, how many have skull and cross bone ties?
Leather goods, such as shoes and belts, can be a particularly good investment, as they tend to have longer lifespans. High quality shoes also have the opportunity to be resoled on the cheap. which effectively doubles their usefulness. Some affordable options we’ve covered in the past include the Cole Haan Air Delancey Penny
For tips on matching ties with shirts, or suggestions on great work outfit combinations and accessories, check out these other GP articles:
- Know How to Pair a Shirt and Tie
- 5 Easy, Inexpensive Ensembles for the Workplace
- 5 Easy, Inexpensive Pairs of Shoes for the Workplace
- Upgrade Your Suit: Ditch the Black
- Merona Wool Suit
- Gear Patrol Talks Shoes with Brett Fahlgren
- Bonobos Your New Favorite Pants
About the Author: Working as a CPA in northern California, I came across Gear Patrol while looking for cufflinks and have been a loyal reader ever since. In my free time, I enjoy cycling and snowboarding. I’m also pretty much obsessed with anything showing on HBO or stemming from the Marvel universe.
Have other suggestions you can add to Mitch’s pointers? Let us know in the comments below.