A lot of men are confused when it comes to picking work clothes nowadays, simply because the lines between business formal, business professional and business casual are slowly starting to overlap, leaving a lot of new employees baffled with what they should wear to that work interview they have the next week, or on their first day at the new job, without looking like they’re trying too hard. And while I always say that it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed, you don’t really want to show up with a suit on your first day at work, while everyone else is wearing a plain shirt and jeans.
That being said, buying the ideal men’s work clothes can take a fair amount of careful consideration besides the dress code that your company enforces. Although fewer and fewer companies actually enforce dress codes nowadays, they are still a thing in about half the businesses in the country. If they haven’t given you a new employee orientation, consider contacting HR to ask about the company’s dress code policy. However, if your orientation manual gives you some guidelines, like “dress business casual”, you still might not understand what exactly business casual entails.
With that said, let’s talk about all the different dress codes today. There are usually 4 types of dress codes – business formal, business casual, business professional, and casual. So if you’re wondering “What to wear to work?”, start by getting an understanding of these dress codes, and you’ll have a pretty clear idea of which direction you should take.
If you regularly meet with executives, hold a high-level position or work in law, then you should probably be dressing business formal, also known as boardroom attire. This is by far the highest level of professional dress. Business formal men’s work clothes include a tailored three-, two- or one-button suit in a solid and neutral colour such as grey, black or navy. The tie and other accessories should also be modest in style and colour. Brighter, solid colours like red or patterned muted neutral colours like navy are acceptable and on the higher end of the quality chain. Wear a white, collared button-up shirt below the suit, and comfortable work boots for men that are closed-toe, and preferably made of leather.
Although business professional work clothes for men are a step down from business formal, they’re still neat, traditional and conservative, except they leave a little more wiggle room for patterns and colours. Also referred to as business traditional, this type of dress code is for people who want to present a professional appearance every day, while injecting your personality into the outfit with your colour and accessory choices. This dress code allows for two- or one-button suits that have conservative colours, but allow for more leeway with the pattern – a conservative check or stripe, for example. Alternatively, you can wear light-coloured, pressed dress pants with a sports jacket. Shirts with a collared button-up that can be coloured, as long as the colour is somewhat conservative, such as blue, grey or burgundy. You can wear high-end accessories like a watch and cuff links if needed, and polished loafers in brown or black, or conservatively coloured oxfords.
Business casual is the newest trend in the dress code world, which allows employees to add a bit of personality and flair to the workwear without looking unprofessional. Many companies have casual Fridays, so if you’re wondering what to wear to work on casual Friday – this is it. Business casual generally gives you more leeway for colours and accessories. However, keep in mind that this term may mean different things for different companies, which is why you should always check for guidelines instead of making assumptions. Generally, business casual allows you to wear coloured, collared button-ups of most colours that have conservative patterns like stripes or checks, and you can wear them with or without a tie (typically without). If you do decide to wear a tie, it should be a tie with a conservative pattern such as dots, checks or stripes. Alternatively, you can go with a sweater or pullover over a collared shirt. Again, the usual patterns are solid or striped, and primary colours work best. You can combine these tops with dressy slacks or pressed khakis if it’s warm, and complete the outfit with a sports jacket. The shoes of choice can be loafers, oxfords or any other dressy shoe. The general consensus is that sneakers should be avoided.
If you’re fortunate enough to work in an office that encourages casual workwear, the trick is to avoid going too far with your casualness. As much as we all hate to admit it – we do judge people based on their appearance. That being said, you want casual men work clothes that are still appropriate, neat and pressed for the type of work you do. Luckily, for us men, we already have a fair amount of casual clothes, including pants and slacks, and sometimes jeans (if allowed by HR). Pullovers, crew-neck sweaters and collar polos can be worn in most colours and patterns, as long as they aren’t sports team logos or other novelty patterns. Combine this with clean shoes or sneakers, as well as casual accessories like brightly coloured watches, and you’re good to go.