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Hang out with a group of computer programmers for long enough, and your sense of “business attire” will start to warp. At a number of Silicon Valley start-ups, the young founders decided that they and their employees were more comfortable in shorts, t-shirts, and sandals, so they made casual dress the norm.

Are you dying to bring this trend to your own workplace? Sorry, we wouldn’t recommend it. If you want to show that you’re a professional who’s committed to his work, err on the side of overdressing, even if you’d much rather be wearing a baseball cap and a hoodie. Here are a few basic tips for men on how to dress professionally.

1. Suits and Pants

If you’re on a budget but need to wear a suit to work, invest your money on a black suit. Black is easy to match, and you can wear your suit multiple days in a row if you rotate the shirt underneath. Make sure that the shoulders of your suit jacket fit you correctly, the jacket is long enough, and your cuffs peek out slightly from the jacket sleeves. This helpful fitting guide from Marks & Spencer provides a visual aid.

Buy pants in neutral colors: black or gray for slacks, and khaki for business casual pants. Resist the temptation to buy pants in flashy colors, no matter what you see in Esquire magazine. Your suit pants should fall straight without bagginess, and the hems should touch the tops of your shoes. Refer to the guide above.

2. Dress Shirts

Button-down shirts are relatively inexpensive, so buy a variety of them. For building your professional presence, long-sleeved shirts are much preferred to short-sleeved shirts. If you’ll be wearing your shirt with a suit, avoid collars with little buttons on the ends.

White or light blue, in solid colors or a checked pattern (not plaid or other patterns), are the most professional choices. You can wear more vivid colors, such as pale yellow or even pink, at social gatherings or business casual events. Same goes for polo shirts. If you have a slight build, look for slim or trim fit so you don’t look like you’re dressing up in your dad’s clothing. Always wear an undershirt, because many fabrics are somewhat transparent, and you don’t need to be distracting your coworkers by showing too much skin!

3. Accessories

Keep accessories to a minimum, especially jewelry. One ring (particularly a wedding band) is fine; remove any piercings for the workplace, and hide necklaces inside your shirt. A watch is fine if it has a metal or leather band. Avoid Velcro in general if you want to project a professional presence.

We recommend that you buy two sets of dress shoes and belts, one brown and one black. Long, dark socks blend in best. Keep your ties classy, in solid colors or stripes. The wide end of your tie should hang about twice as long as the skinny end. Never wear clip-on ties! If you need to learn how to tie a tie, there are plenty tutorials on the web to help you.

For more tips, refer to GQ’s slideshow on “The New Business Casual,” and our own course, Professional Presence in a Casual World.

What are your best tips for men on how to dress professionally?

Professionalism Tips


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