Ten Tips for Building a Base Business Wardrobe

Submitted by SharpMan Editorial Team on Monday 11th October 2010
In this article
  • Figuring out how to dress for your employer.
  • Mix and match to success
  • Take advantage of Internet shopping.
Ten Tips for Building a Base Business Wardrobe

Everybody's crazy about a SharpDressed man. So how can a recent college grad build a Sharp base wardrobe for his new job — without emptying his wallet? There are several buying strategies used among businessmen that keep them professionally stylish while holding costs to a minimum. Use the following SharpGrooming tips to make the switch from college casual to business boss:

SharpMan Tip: This article focuses on building a wardrobe for offices requiring standard professional dress. If your office is "business casual" every day, check out Redefining Business Casual.

Step One: Keep your eyes open.

First impressions mean everything. The first time you set foot in your new work environment – whether it's for an interview or orientation – is the best time to feel out your surroundings. How are the other employees dressed? Are they in slacks and blazers or full suits? Do you see any jeans? More importantly, what is your new boss wearing? Make a mental note of what co-workers and management consider appropriate business attire and mimic their style, erring on the more conservative side.

Step Two: Know the dress code.

Depending on your new employer's vision of a successful work environment, dress codes can vary from business to business. Many employers will simply explain their dress code in a few words, such as "business casual." Others, however, might have full dress code manuals that become the style bible of the organization. Regardless of how the dress code is enumerated, it’s always best to ask around in order to learn what coworkers and management actually wear during the work week, on Fridays, for client meetings and for coming in on weekends. This also is a good time to become aware of any office traditions like "Jeans Day" or undefined casual days. Remember, it is the rare office that follows dress code rules to the letter, so this will be a good way to become aware of both the dress code and the dress reality.

Step Three: Choose basic suit, blazer and trouser colors.

Once you've ascertained your company's wardrobe expectation, it's time to start shopping. One of the most pivotal facets of a SharpMan's business wardrobe is choosing the right colors. Suits, blazers and pants – the base of any business wardrobe – are best utilized when basic colors are chosen. Black, khaki, navy blue and gray – the four most popular neutral colors for men’s furnishings –can be easily matched with most ties and shirts. Why stick to the basics? (a) They’re classic, and classic looks are synonymous with "professional," (b) they aren’t trendy, which means you won’t be required to update expensive wardrobe basics when a fad fades within six months. After all, the pinstriped blazer that was hot two years ago is considered a fashion dinosaur today. Don't waste money on the look-of-the-minute. Spend your hard-earned cash on fashion classics that will always be considered stylish and professional. For more information on buying blazers and trousers, check out the buying tips in Redefining Business Casual.

Step Four: Wear the basic white shirt.

No single business wardrobe item has endured longer and better than the clean, classic, white collared shirt. Roll up the sleeves, tuck it in, pull it out, wear it with a tie, wear it without a tie, or turn up the collar — white collared shirts are always professional and always in style. No matter what the fashion of the day, the basic white shirt can add classic charm or modern-day chic to any business wardrobe. Best yet, it matches every tie in your closet. Buy three, as you’ll probably wear it more than once a week. Gotta have color? Add a "French Blue" shirt to your wardrobe — it compliments nearly every skin tone and every suit, blazer and pair of pants in basic business colors (see Step Three).

Step Five: Add color with ties.

Ties are a great way to incorporate color into your wardrobe without looking unprofessional. In fact, it is often said that ties are the working SharpMan’s one opportunity to express himself. Having said that, be aware that while red, blue, yellow and orange ties are perfectly acceptable, ties are not your opportunity to express your wild side. The more "fun" the color of your tie is, the more conservative the pattern or design should be. Under no circumstances should you wear ties that depict any discernable design, like cartoon characters or martini glasses. Those ties are strictly for unprofessional fashion novices. Think simple and geometric. If ties are called for in your office, begin your base business wardrobe with two ties you really like, and rotate them as needed. When you start making some money, add a tie or two as your budget allows.

Step 6: Buy comfortable black dress shoes.

A comfortable pair of shoes can make all the difference in an eight-hour workday, so choose carefully. Spend more time picking out the right shoes than any other part of your wardrobe. As a starting point, it's best to buy a pair of black shoes. You can add a brown pair when your budget allows for them.

Try on several pairs. Walk around the store several times before you make a decision. Make sure this pair of shoes is comfortable enough to wear on your feet every day of the week — because that’s what you’ll be doing until you start rolling in dough. And, most importantly, be prepared to shell out more money if a more comfortable product warrants it. After all, good shoes are expensive, and great shoes may be even more expensive. So skip a weekend out with the guys in order to invest in a better pair — your feet will thank you every day. And you know what they say: The SharpShoes make the SharpMan. For more information on shopping for a comfortable pair of shoes, see How To Buy a Great Pair of Shoes.

Step Seven: Learn to mix and match.

If your starting salary only permits a base wardrobe of one suit, one blazer, two pairs of pants, four shirts, two ties and one pair of shoes, don't fret. That's all you need! Mixing and matching clothes is the key to making a base business wardrobe work for you five days a week. After all, you’re not a woman — no one cares if you wear the same suit, blazer or pair of pants every day. Just make a point of putting on a fresh shirt, and alternate your ties. Trust us, no one will notice!

On the other hand, be aware of the "clash victim" phenomenon. Mixing and matching is great, but spend a few minutes looking at a new tie-shirt-blazer/suit combination to ensure they look OK together. Assuming you stick with white shirts and basic business colored suits, blazers and pants, there’s very little chance of messing up. Otherwise, heed the following caveats:

  • Don’t combine black with navy blue or brown.
  • Make sure at least one color in your tie matches your pants, jacket or shirt – unless it's a solid color, like red, which can be worn with any basic business color combination.

So long as you give as much thought to your work wardrobe combinations as those for your dates, you'll probably be fine.

Step Eight: Don't shop alone.

Shopping alone is a great way to end up spending money on a bunch of useless stuff. Savvy salespeople are trained to swoop right in on solo male shoppers and compliment them on every outfit they try on — especially the ones that look the most ridiculous. When you go out to spend cash on clothing, make a point of bringing your wife, your girlfriend, or anyone else willing to come along. It doesn't matter – as long as your shopping companion is willing to give you an honest opinion about what you're trying on. After all, two eyes are better than one — particularly when money and your professional image is at stake.

Step Nine: Hit the sales racks!

Hidden treasures for business wardrobes can be found everywhere, and the sales rack is no exception. We suggest you hit the sales racks first — before even looking at what’s featured on the mannequins. Chances are you'll find an item or two that you were looking for — and will be thankful for the extra bills in your wallet.

Step Ten: Take advantage of the Internet.

It's true … the Internet does have everything, including great sites with great prices on basic business wardrobe items. The key is to understand exactly what you’re looking for (i.e., style, color, your size) and then find a better deal for it on the Web.

Almost every retail store website, including J. Crew (www.jcrew.com) and The Gap (www.gap.com), has a clearance section. For other designer bargains, check out www.bluefly.com. Dubbed "The outlet store in your home," the site offers up to 75 percent discounts (and sometimes even more!) on designer clothes, such as Christian Dior, Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren.

This article last updated on Monday 18th October 2010
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