Photo by Salt Water New England

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Starting a Business Wardrobe Today

Muffy Aldrich's Father, Washington D.C. 
A reader question:

I am six months away from getting my MBA, and I know I need some starter business clothes. Something tailored probably, or maybe bespoke or even off-the-rack, depending on suggestions.  I also expect I will be moving around for the next decade or so I want to be minimalistic and Zoom-optimized.  If I don't need a business wardrobe, I don't want to bother, but if I do need one, I want it to have presence and be timeless.

Thank you for your consideration and suggestions. 

 


26 comments:

  1. Jeans and a t shirt. Everyone else on Zoom wears these.

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  2. If you have a style with which you are most comfortable, stick with it. SWNE tends to be a group of people who enjoy the fit, comfort, and durability of traditional clothing, made in the USA for the most part (other than woolens from the UK). Your build, your location's climate, and the culture of your place of employment need to be taken into account. When I launched my career as a banking lawyer, long, long ago, I got a lot of use from a very plain dark grey chalk stripe suit and, in summer, oyster poplin. At the end of my career the casual culture had taken over, but I still had meetings where I needed to dress up. I found a blazer, an OCBD, a repp tie, and grey trousers more than adequate for dressy meetings, and day to day office wear was khakis, OCBDs, and leisure hand sewns from Alden. On colder days I would wear corduroys and a Shetland crewneck. I kept the blazer with a tie and a sweater around, perfect in our overly air conditioned world. I know that all of these articles of apparel come in stretch fabrics treated to require no ironing. I always preferred untreated fabrics and knowing how to iron shirts and khakis. I typically worked in offices that looked askance at guys who wore jeans, polos, athletic shoes, boating shoes, and, owhen dressed up, cheap suits and novelty ties. My khakis and OCBDs never made me feel overdressed or out of place. On Zoom a navy blazer adds gravitas, sometimes a useful thing.

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  3. Most business dress today is light on formality, but it depends on where you work. Also, if you can generally wear clothes in normal sizes with normal tailoring, bespoke is nice but more of a ‘want’ than a ‘need.’

    For suits, blazers, dress trousers (always good to have 1 suit and a few blazers and trousers, again depending on industry), the easiest approach is a store with a variety of brands and price points, actually try things on to see what you like. For shirts, i like made-to-measure because you can tailor the details, wide variety of fabrics, and i really dislike no-iron cotton. Mercer and Sons and Proper Cloth, for example.

    Shoes are low importance in a zoom world, but I’m picky about shoes. I want them to last and to be very comfortable. Recommend getting yourself at least one pair of tie shoes and one pair of loafers to wear with a suit/blazers. Alden is my favorite brand; if their shell cordovan shoes work on your feet, they’ll last a lot longer and look better in the process. If leather soles irk you, Alden has good options with cushy rubber soles instead.

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  4. Get thee to J Press.

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    1. Just what I was going to say. You cannot go wrong.

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  5. For the Cliff Notes Version read the Official Preppy Handbook by Birnbach. That should get you jump started. Otherwise, watch Tucker Carlson & his BB # 3 rep tie with blazer & pocket square which is a standing rebuke to moral & cultural relativism. Concur with J Press OCBD & Aldens. You have to be a wizard to get the right last that fits you. Never deviate from that last. Do not wear black shoes...makes you look like an Exxon executive or a funeral home director.

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  6. A plain navy and fully canvassed "sack" suit from O'Connell's Clothing or J Press. You will be able to use it for weddings and funerals too.

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  7. If you want to be minimalist in your approach, as you say, that means not having a lot of shoes, and if you are going to limit yourself there, stick with black shoes for wear with suits and blazers. Too many of the younger guys nowadays are wearing brown when it's not appropriate, often too light a shade of brown. Black is never wrong. Brown often can be. And do NOT buy shoes with squared-off toes.

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    1. Alden Cordovan Shell 8 - Oxblood by Horween Leather Company is a far better choice than black. Have used it for suits, blazers, & sport coats. It works for all contingent upon shoe selection. I wear tassel loafers, full straps, & monk straps with blazers/sport coats as well as Haspel Poplin & Seersucker Suits. No, I would not wear a straight tip blucher with a blazer/sport coat. It strikes me as too formal.

      Burnished Tan by Alden is the only way you can pull off that move & look slick doing it. Rather an informal look. Alden NST, Longwings, & Straight Tip Bluchers have suited me well . Key is khaki or olive somewhere to succeed. Yep, I have seen those brown shoes with a high water suit. Guess their old man never taught the boy.

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    2. Anonymous Texan...Yes!!! #8 is the fait tout of shoes.

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    3. Cordovan does not work with black tie. Highly polished black oxfords do.

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  8. Your business attire depends on the industry and company in which you are employed. Obviously some have a more formal culture than others and it will drive your choices of employment. One truism that the President of a company I worked for told me as a young management trainee is to dress like the people in positions you aspire to be at one day not those where you currently reside. What he emphasized was to pay attention to style and presence as clothes communicate...whether we like it or not. It may be impractical for a 26 year old freshly minted MBA to spend $600 on dress shoes, but purchase what you can reasonably afford and always keep them polished. If you look put together, those above you in those aspirational positions, feel more comfortable placing you in front of clients and their coworkers at that level. It's the beginning of the process for executives in becoming more comfortable in seeing you as one of their own some day.

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  9. I think you would want as a first suit a two button model in navy. If you are serious about a custom suit and live near NYC I would suggest going to Mr. Ned or LS Clothing. They can outfit in you in the $1000 to $1500 range. Otherwise try to find a decent men's store that offers made in the USA suits. Or maybe Nordstrom. Hickey Freeman, H. Freeman and Hart, Schaffner and Marx are still in business as are some similar companies in Canada.
    The three button sack suit is around.but it's a bit of an old fogey look. That may not be what you want.
    Depending on the industry a blue blazer may be as formal as it gets and can be worn with anything from a dress shirt to a tee shirt.and jeans. Good luck!

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  10. Unlike decades ago, I don’t think there is a standard business style you can count on, outside of a few industries / locales. It’s really going to depend on where you are and what you’re trying to do. I think you should stick with some absolute basics at first, and then adjust. Basics: at least one non-button-down white collar shirt, a pair of gray wool trousers, a couple pairs of chinos (can be navy or gray), a pair of brown shoes, some kind of navy sports coat and a couple ties. You can other elements around that as you get to work. You may find that even that is too formal, if you go to work at a technology company, for instance.

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  11. Interesting that everyone assumes this is a young man.

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    1. Vocabulary choice seems to be that of a man, not a woman.

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  12. I work in a tech company in the U.K, most of us still wear suits, I prefer a little formality, I find it keeps me focused. I,d like to put forward Cordings or Ede & Ravenscroft before bespoke.

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  13. See "Dressing The Man: Mastering the Art of Permanent Fashion" by Allan Flusser: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0060191449/?tag=gentsgaze-20&geniuslink=true

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  14. The primary idea is to stand-out while blending-in. To that point, if you are employed at a tech company wear the standard casual dress. But make sure that your casual clothes are very good casual clothes. Nordstrom would work for activeware. The above suggestions for OCBD and khakis are key. Good luck.

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  15. You really can't go wrong with JPress. Don't wear button down collar to work; the regular, standard fare, pointed collar is best. And use collar stays - no fly-away!

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    1. By all means wear button down collars if that is your personal preference.

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    2. A buttondown is not appropriate after six p.m. or for the dressier daytime occasions; I can wear one while working in a government office but would not wear one to meet with the governor, for example. If you want to take a minimalist approach, better to avoid buttondowns because of their lack of versatility.

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    3. Interesting discussion. I too was advised that at some point one should graduate from button-down to point collars. However, that was in the early '80s (and no one whose style I admired seemed to follow the practice anyway). I would be fascinated to know what business today is so formal that a button-down shirt would be considered too casual. I am a management consultant, work across industries, and in the past ten years have not even encountered a suit and tie outside of a board meeting -- which I doubt the original poster, an MBA student, will be attending anytime soon.

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  16. When you land your first job, notice what your boss is wearing. I worked for an MBA for 17 years and he wore a dark blue suit every day. But he was also an engineer and allowances have to be made. To be honest, I rarely wore a suit myself but I was the only other one there who usually wore a necktie.

    When you get to be the boss, you can wear whatever pleases you.

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