There’s nothing better than a well-dressed man in a suit. And yet, while suiting is one of my favorite things to style, many Rath & Co. clients work in casual environments and don’t have the need or opportunity to wear dressy clothes very often. For these clients, the challenge becomes how to be well-dressed and get noticed without looking out of place among their peers. There’s a fine line between putting some effort into your appearance and seeming like you’re trying too hard (which can often result in getting busted on by coworkers – never fun). Those offices where jeans, t-shirts and sneakers are more common than a jacket and tie can range from tech startups to laboratories.
With these challenges in mind, I’ve created the below list of 8 tips on how to step up your style just enough so that it improves your self-image and the way you’re perceived by others, but not to the degree that you overdo it and become the object of skepticism or even ridicule.
1) If you’re wearing sneakers, make sure they’re not ones you’d actually exercise in but rather what I call “social sneaks.” These are sneakers you wear for every day, not working out. They should be clean and fresh-looking. Wash or replace them as soon as they start to look grungy. Converse Jack Purcell’s are a great choice.
2) Same goes for any other kind of footwear you might find yourself in: keep it classy and avoid anything with the word “hybrid” in its description. The place where the sneaker meets any other kind of shoe (i.e., dress shoe, boot or sandal) is like a dark alley late at night — nowhere you’d want to be.
3) Just because you’re wearing a casual shoe, you don’t need to wear white gym socks or plain black dress socks. In fact, wearing more interesting socks is a great way to inject style into your look without going over the top. Try different colors or patterns, like those above from Drumohr. And even simply switching from black to navy or grey is a big improvement.
4) If you’d like to wear ties but aren’t sure where to start, go with one in a fabric with texture as opposed to a more business-y silk. It can be cotton, wool, cashmere or silk knit. Texture makes you look approachable, so this gives you the added effect that comes from wearing a tie, done in a toned-down way. Pierrepont Hicks makes a number of good choices with texture, like the one above.
5) Just because you wear glasses does not mean you have to resign yourself to life (visually) as a nerd. In fact, I get really excited (maybe too excited) when I have a client who needs glasses. There are so many terrific frames out there, and wearing glasses is an excellent way to improve your look – even if you sit behind a computer all day. The other nice thing about using glasses to step up your look is that wearing them is utilitarian, and unless you choose something that’s really wacky or overly-stylized, you won’t be perceived as trying too hard (assuming you actually do have a glasses prescription!). Here’s a guide I wrote on how to choose. One of my favorite resources for glasses in New York City is 10/10 Optics, and they were kind enough to offer the $100 discount above for my readers (Offer good on complete pair of frame and Rx only. Not valid on existing orders, contact lenses, Maui Jim or Ray-Ban Rx Eyewear).
6) Are untucked shirts more common in your office than tucked? If so, there’s a right way to do this – and several wrong ones. Done correctly, the shirt length should hit about halfway down your pants fly and no longer than that. Also, the bottom of the shirt should have a straighter and shallower curve than the tails you see on a traditional dress shirt (which are designed to help stay tucked in). If you buy a shirt and decide you’d prefer to wear it tucked out than in, take it to your tailor to have it adjusted accordingly.
7) Keep a sportcoat or blazer in your office – one that fits well and is easy to match like a solid navy or grey. That way, if you’re heading to a networking event after work, all you have to do is throw it on (but note, if your button-up shirt is untucked, switch to one that you can tuck in; you don’t want to wear a sportcoat with an untucked shirt).
8) For those of you in jean-friendly environments, keep your denim crisp and polished. Hint: these are not your weekend knockaround/football-watching jeans. Look for dark rinse, straight-leg styles with no holes or excess whiskering and detailing on the back pockets like those above from Bonobos.
Working in a casual environment is no excuse for giving up on the possibility of looking pulled together or stylish. By paying attention to a few details like those above, you can easily manage your appearance so that it enhances, rather than detracts from your overall appearance.
How do these tips strike you? Do they seem doable for you? Leave me a comment below.