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As we awake again from our Covid slumber and ready ourselves to return to workplaces, many men will again face the elephant in the room: ‘business casual’. Now there’s a wonderful opportunity for men to embrace this look and hit it out of the park.
Last week I had a young man in the store buying some new items for his return to the office after working from home. I asked if he was excited to get out of the house.
"I'll miss working in my trackies," he said. "I don't even really know what 'business casual' means."
This guy isn't alone. Young, fashionable, working a really good job, but confused about what he should wear in a professional environment now the simple jacket-and-tie days are behind us.
There have been attempts over the years to change the way we dress for work. Some time ago, the ‘casual Friday’ concept was introduced by the bastion of suit-wearing corporates. This was supposed to be an opportunity to essentially wear a sports coat to work, with a pair of sports trousers and smart open-collar shirt without a tie.
This was a disaster, as many men interpreted this as a free-for-all and as inappropriate dress to the office was so abundant, the suit-wearers quickly did away with the concept.
Reaching for a dark navy or charcoal suit simplified the morning regime. Variety meant wearing a blue shirt instead of a white, and if you were feeling a little racy, maybe a stripe. But whatever your choice, there was a reassurance that you would look the part, you were a best representation of your company, and you were ready for Business.
Fast forward to a couple of years ago, changes were again afoot. Ties were no longer a prerequisite; an open-neck shirt under your suit would suffice. Then catchy wardrobe directives emerged, like ‘dress for your day’, an opportunity to do away with your suit if client facing wasn’t required. The writing was on the wall for formal suits, as these new directives were headlined by the traditionalists and executives in finance, law, and accounting.
The theory makes sense, but we all know that theory and practice are not the same. I have seen too many men who miss the ‘business’ part of the brief and just seem to go casual. But many, especially those who sit at the top of their company, or aspiring to climb theirs, have a light bulb moment and realise they need to ‘dress smarter’, ‘raise the bar’, ‘set a standard’.
Let’s embrace the change and the opportunities dressing for work now offers. Looking smart will instil confidence in others while adding a spring to your step, too.
These are key items in your wardrobe which should formulate the basis of what you wear. These are versatile and require little thought pairing colours together.
Ensure you have two or three pairs of smart chinos and trousers in your wardrobe. Navy, tan and dark green are a great start as they are incredibly versatile. Get them hemmed to the correct length and give them a press once they have had a wash.
A white and blue Oxford button-down collar shirt is a must. These can be worn with your chinos, with a tie if required and under a suit or sports coat. Even better, the collar will sit up and look smart for the day.
To round out the collection, a striped or check shirt offers some great variety as well as a navy or denim/chambray shirt.
A casual jacket or sports coat. A piece of clothing that can elevate your daywear is crucial. It doesn’t have to be overly formal, only offer up the opportunity to add a dimension to your chinos and shirt. Today these items have been deconstructed and made with soft shoulders and structure, so comfort is at the forefront.
A worker's coat or chore jacket can be a perfect alternative to a sports coat, with the ability to dress in a more understated but smart manner. Choosing a coat in a shade of blue, chocolate, charcoal or green will hold you in good stead.
Lastly, if you’re not sure, tuck your shirt in. Especially if you used to wear a suit to work. Make sure your footwear is tidy, whether you wear trainers or loafers. If you can wear t-shirts, ensure they aren’t over-worn or over-washed, and update these regularly.
Karl Clausen is the creative director at Working Style. You can see him at the Oxford Terrace store in Christchurch, or visit workingstyle.co.nz.