Two words: Casual Fridays. Remove them from your lexicon. As creative fields and thought work begin to dominate the new professionalism of the Digital Age, the guidelines for workplace attire are getting blurry. When are jeans OK? Sometimes? Never?
“Business casual” conjures an image of an ill-fitting dress shirt, billowing out over the waistband of swishy black pleated slacks. No thanks.
Or take the now-meaningless term “business casual.” It conjures an image of an ill-fitting dress shirt, billowing out over the waistband of swishy black pleated slacks. No thanks. Of course, the rung below business casual on the attire ladder is “street wear,” and for a long time Emily Post and other etiquette mavens would probably have told you that never the twain shall meet.
We say, “Nonsense.” This intersection is all about mixing and matching. Remember one rule: something more formal paired with something casual. A blazer topping dark denim. A no-frills sweater with slim wool trousers. This, then, is our guide to the suit-less workplace of modern times, broken down piece by piece.
Yeah, everyone’s going on about fit lately, but this is where it really counts. Here it’s all about proportions, from the width of your lapels to the vertical stance of your buttons. (And if you find yourself wearing your suit jacket to work, here’s a tip: Pull out the pocket flaps to interrupt the lines and make it just a touch more casual). A sport coat is inherently dressy, so water it down with chinos or, shh, jeans. If one thing’s true about blazers in the workplace, it’s that they cover a multitude of sins.
Give chambray a shot. Texture-wise, it’s casual enough to take the formality out of the blazer or dress slacks. To up the ante, throw on a tie. Alternatively, pair a starched dress shirt with a pair of chinos to play the other side of the spectrum. Bonus: A well-tailored button-up is the equivalent of a month on the bench at that gym you never go to.
Business casual has typically occupied the vague middle ground between slacks and jeans. A lot of people will tell you that jeans are a no-go when it comes to the workplace. Obviously, you’ll have to feel this one out as you go, but now that denim has become classier, why not? The key is a dark wash with no rips. (Put your distressed bootcut light-wash Hollisters where they belong: in the dumpster behind the office.) Otherwise, washed chinos, wool trousers or even chambray pants are all classy bets.
If you go the sneaker route, they’d better be some sharp-looking leather or canvas—anything less belongs on the courts at that gym we mentioned earlier. Better still, try moccasins or leather boots. Wingtips? Nice. Pair with denim to complete the mix-and-match.
If your shoes warrant it, go sockless. Otherwise, rising hemlines offer a great opportunity to exercise some personality in the form of bright colors or experimental patterns. Start with Richer-Poorer or Happy Socks.
Your belt, watch, pocket square and tie clip are fair game for dressing up otherwise casual looks. Or, taking it the other direction, throw a paper clip or safety pin on your tie instead of a clip to ratchet things down a bit.
No backpacks, ever. Timbuk2, REI and MountainSmith, while great bags for bike couriers, don’t belong in the office. Messenger bags are a maybe. (But only if they say “diplomatic aide,” not “Kiefer Sutherland in 24.”) Better yet, go with a briefcase or attaché that hints at the multi-million-dollar contracts you are up to handling.
If the corner office is what you seek, err on the dressier side of these recommendations. Tailored everything: blazer, patterned shirt, trousers. The tie, pocket square and Italian leather of your dress shoes will set you on the path from worker drone to company boss—especially if you handle your work as smartly as you do your style.