Dressing For Success

After discussing the fashion issues surrounding running for president of the United States, I thought it might be a little more useful to address sartorial issues on the plate of the rest of us. How best to dress for moving up in your career.

While there are many kinds of offices, shops and other workplace venues, the general office environment is one that has universal resonance. So many of us head off to a traditional office day after day and finding something interesting yet appropriate to wear can at times be a frustrating exercise.

Cleaning out the Underperformers

I just went through an end-of-year purge and was able to dislodge a lot of clothes that had been busy taking up space in my closet. It turns out that I had been holding on to a whole bunch of shirts and sweaters – for years in some cases – hoping that someday I would rotate them back into service. Once I bothered to try them on and make an honest assessment, it was clear that they either no longer fit or were simply out of style. They had to go, and so they did.

Whatever your position, when you want to move your career forward it is important to do just that: look at your wardrobe with a new and very critical eye. Don’t be sentimental; be practical and honest with yourself.

Setting a New Tone

The Wall Street Journal ran an article recently about dressing to be CEO. It has a number of practical observations that can help most men get with the program and start looking like someone who at least deserves the opportunity to prove himself. Make a point to skim through it when you have a chance.

In fact, that right there is a good starting point. You first need to decide that you are in the market to be promoted, to move on, or to strike out on your won. However you want to look at it, this is the act of deciding that you want to be, and be seen as, a leader.

Before we go any further, and I can’t stress this enough, get over the “my clothes shouldn’t matter” argument. They do and people will pass judgment on you based on what you wear. Just accept it and move on to crafting your professional image.

Defining Your Message

Generally speaking, the executive look is fairly universal. It is polished, clean, well-fitting, color coordinated, simple and of a high quality. Its overall effect conveys an impression of authority. And this is true across any industry.

Sir Richard Branson, for example, may be a maverick billionaire who plays by his own rules, but his apparently casual style is well thought out and by no means slapdash. He has cultivated a trademark look – breezy and laid back – but it is executed in a very particular way.  It is in fact his CEO uniform, and no one would call him sloppy.

For most of us, the kinds of sartorial changes needed to develop a profession and polished look are not monumental. You don’t need to run out and buy a bunch of custom suits to start getting noticed. Many offices today are at least partially business casual, which means the focus should be a notch or two down from regular business dress.

Making it Work

In place of a suit, coordinating separates provide both flexibility and polish. Wear dress trousers with an ironed open collar shirt and sport coat or blazer. This combination can yield many variations in style, pattern and color yet you are really only dealing with three pieces.

When choosing a dress shirt that you plan to wear without a tie, make sure to avoid longer collar points. They tend to look as though you forgot a tie. English spread collars are a good fit with this look.  Also, you’ll want to choose shirts with a high second button stance. This will give it a fitted and finished appearance, again avoiding the “you forgot your tie” comments.

Presidential candidate Barak Obama made style news with his ability to carry off this casual yet professional no-tie look.

In place of a sport coat, you can also layer a sweater over the shirt. Polo collared sweaters are particularly nice with this look. Stick with more neutral colors like grey, blue, brown and taupe; let the shirt underneath provide the color or pattern.

For casual days, avoid the temptation of letting everything go to pot and acting like you’re back in college. It is in situations like these that your true sense of style and professionalism show through.

CEOs and senior executives, at least the good ones, know that how you dress is only part of the overall package.

Polishing you image is just the first step to success, however you choose to define it. You also should make an investment in yourself: study up on business and social etiquette, current affairs, politics and issues that affect your industry.

Because when it comes down to brass tacks, if you look good but have nothing to say, you might as well have stayed home.

Socks: Choose And Coordinate

Generally as much of an afterthought as shoes, socks are the unsung hero of the creatively dressed man. Given next to no coverage by magazines and generally assigned to the back walls of stores, or featured like celebrity mags near the registers, socks can and should be a quick way to spruce up an outfit.

On first glance the offerings can be disheartening – pair after pair of grey and black dress socks with an equal number of athletic socks. This lack of selection has clearly driven some men mad as they then take the drastic step of pairing their oxfords and wingtips with white cotton ankle socks. A man’s socks should accurately reflect his taste in clothes, and while, like t-shirts, they should never be more interesting than you or the rest of what you’re wearing, they should compliment your attire more than just blend in.

Don’t Beige Your Feet

The major chain retailers make fairly interesting socks, but experience has taught me that a five dollar sock will last about five dollars long. That said, few of us have the money to buy $100 Corgi cashmere socks, or take up the company’s offer to have them custom made. For the last year I’ve been buying most of my socks at the GAP and Banana Republic, and find that an understated stripe works well in almost any situation. Of course, you can’t really go wrong with argyle either.

Because Our Time and Our Clothes Got to Coordinate

A majority of men–and women–seem to think that coordinate means matching. This helps to explain the head-to-toe pink abominations Juicy Couture has foisted on us, and the black suit, black shirt, black tie ensemble that was everywhere a few years ago. Terrified of not coordinating, or simply too tired to care, most men reach for the automatic black or grey socks and wash their hands of the entire affair. But as anyone who has ever taken an introductory art class will tell you, coordinating colours is a simple matter of tone (and the all helpful colour wheel). Even without this basic knowledge a man can only really go wrong with his socks if he’s wearing blue shoes with orange socks and grey pants, and even that could look good depending on the person and the rest of the outfit.

That arbiter of style The Sartorialist sets off a near riot every time he posts a man in a blue suit with red socks. While many commenters will praise the “bold” choice, at least as many will question it – with some decrying it to the point of non-existence, as if to say “this cannot be.” If your curious about it yourself, here’s a simple solution – buy a pair of red socks and try it. Maybe you will discover, to your surprise, that red socks were the missing component from your wardrobe, and will then make the leap to radial red and white stripes. It could happen.

Buying Socks Online – Not As Crazy As It Seems

You buy groceries, books, DVDs, and cars – why not socks? As with almost every other consumer product, the internet now has a better selection of socks than any brick and mortar location and shouldn’t be casually dismissed as a source for livening up your feet.

Paul Smith’s online store is currently having a sale on some of its stock.

The Joy of Socks offers a huge selection (but avoid at all costs the “novelty” socks).

You knew Zappos.com was a great source for shoes, but did you know they sell socks? Great selection.

In a Perfect World

Speaking of Paul Smith, if money were no object I would only wear his socks. Immaculately manufactured and showcasing the man’s deft eye for colour, Paul Smith socks are the Christmas gift you won’t be returning.

Dolce and Gabbana Fall/Winter 2008: Trend Barometer

While some fashion shows are often more a display of pure fantasy and artistic creativity than realistic wear, Dolce and Gabbana’s collections are often as much an indicator of current fashion trends as they are an influence on future ones.

This collection displayed a marked departure from last year’s, where the emphasis was on slim fitting, structured pieces set in futuristic metallics that created a polished, avant-garde look. If Fall 2007 was about an urban cosmonaut, then 2008 seemed almost otherworldly with the strangest pairings of hugely oversized sweaters and baggy sweat pants, punctuated by some imposing shearling pieces that looked like they were stolen from Daniel Boone’s log cabin.

Though there seemed to be in total less realistically marketable pieces than past shows, it is still possible to distill the wearable elements that will likely be present both in runway knock-off retailers and on the street.

Gucci introduced bulky, over-sized sweaters this season but the trend has seemingly pervaded many designers’ collections and the swinging pendulum of fashion has decided that what was once simply sloppy is now a fashion statement. The way to make an over-sized sweater work without looking like a homeless person is to wear it as part of a layered outfit. Wearing a cropped jacket will provide needed structure over top of a longer sweater and can create a high fashion look.

In keeping with the super-sizing trend, trousers also have moved away from slim fitting to a looser, more classic cut. Also back on the rise are single pleated pants after a long dominance of flat front pants. Dolce and Gabbana does an interesting job with this look by contrasting a fitted suit jacket over the relaxed-fit pants. This may be a style to emulate come next fall, as it offers a good halfway point between the two ends of the spectrum.

Toward the end of the show, Dolce and Gabbana showed their more ‘bread and butter’ designs: high design, modern suits that reflected the currents trends in fashion. Peak lapels, besides being highly lauded by men’s fashion gurus, have been an increasingly present feature on European suits. Shawl collars as have recently become stylish once again on tuxedos and are now slowly become a fashionable option for suits. The double-breasted suit seemed to have enjoyed a ‘come-back,’ only to be quickly forgotten after the popularity of the three-piece suit. Whereas the problem with double-breasted suits is that they can sometimes appear stodgy, the high-sheen fabric used here gives it an interesting update.

An Exercise in Etro

Following the last post on Italian house Etro, here is some pictorial analysis of my fascination.

As much as Etro’s originality and quality can inspire, it is often the catwalk combinations that galvanise me. Take the first image above – a pale grey suit with purple waistcoat and coordinating tie, shirt, handkerchief. Now, as a whole this is too much. Some people might be able to get away with it – perhaps Italian eccentrics who happen to be heir to an automobile fortune. I can’t.

But like much that is thrown down the runway, it is not supposed to be copied. It is supposed to inspire. I have a sweater in a dark purple from Reiss. Up till now I have only worn it with navy suits or jackets. Perhaps I will try it with a pale grey – even brown, which this suit seems to tend towards.

Equally, I would have thought the colour too dark to be worn with brown shoes; yet it works well here. And the twist of the yellow belt: perhaps too much, but it does remind me of the contrasting colours (one primary colour’s contrast is the mix of the other two – so, yellow’s is purple).

The handkerchief is too showy and I don’t like the pattern. I don’t particularly like the tie or shirt either, certainly not together. But a similar suit tone with a purple sweater, perhaps over a blue-and-white striped shirt? That could work. And yellow would be good as an accent, in a handkerchief or even a belt as here.

The image and its colours inspire in a way that is rare in menswear.

The second image above points out how well rusty reds work with brown, though I’d never go for that tie or shirt.

The third is all about combinations of pattern. The suit, sweater, shirt, tie and handkerchief all have different patterns. But they work because the wide stripes of the sweater (and its strong outline) separate the suit and shirt/tie. Equally, the tie and shirt are a similar enough density of pattern to fit well together and to slip into the background. The colours (except for that yellow belt again) are not that extraordinary, but the patterns take it to another level. I wouldn’t wear it all, but it inspires.

The next image shows how well bright colours can go together if they are balanced (either the tie or the trousers on their own would stand out too much).

The penultimate combination demonstrates balancing the strong pattern of a suit with plain, background colours elsewhere.

And the yellow sweater just seems to work here. Perhaps it’s the implied yellow in the green-tinge trousers and vest, I’m not sure.

During this same season, Fall 2007, Calvin Klein was displaying grey tonic suits, with the occasional bright yellow. Armani had quilted vests and collarless shirts, but was basically black and blue. Both seem not only dull but unsophisticated compared to the density of colour at an Etro show.

Have a flick through the previous few years’ Fall collections at Etro. Try and ignore 2007’s floppy yellow hat. The rest might just inspire you.

Favourite Looks from the Spring 2008 Collections

Though the joys of spring are still a long way away, the fever is already in the air. Chunky knits lie unwanted in the bargain bins of the High Street; despite the continuing cold, overcoats are steadily being replaced with raincoats; gentlemen brave the mid-January streets without scarves or hats: now that 2008 has started it seems half of us can’t wait until the first quarter of it is bally well over. And there is an awful lot to look forward to. In November and December, the barren trees in St James and The Green Parks merely offered ghostly reminders of that forgotten summer; a summer that seemed to be from another lifetime, but with the ringing in of the New Year, and the squeaking of a fresh calendar, once more we look to the ‘universal favourite’ of seasons.

The shiny new collections are now flowing into shops, feeding our spring appetites and it’s a refreshing change from the overcoats and scarves that have been bulging from the shelves since October. It’s always rather nice to have something to look forward to so here are my four favourite outfits from the spring 2008 collections.


The subtle elegance of this outfit is what draws me to it. While there are certainly more fantastical creations around for the coming season, there is a healthy, appealing crispness to this combination. Firstly, the trousers, cut at a perfect length, are of a lovely Bordeaux vintage red. Bright red trousers will be everywhere this spring, doubtless worn with navy blazers, and while such a look is of perennial appeal, this calmer and more patrician tone offers individuality. The patent loafers, looking rather Stemar, are one of the most versatile designs available; suits, chinos and denim are all suitable. The icing-on-the-cake of this ensemble is what covers the torso; the subtle Seychelles-sand roll neck and the off-white two-button jacket look simple enough at first glance, but it’s the lovely contrast of texture: while the jumper is a soft item, rippling like brandy cream, the jacket is clearly of a stiff but fine cotton with a good shape. The proverbial cherry is the cherry coloured pocket square, breaking the monotony of the white jacket.


Unconventional colours are a rather large hit with designers this season. This is a perfect example; the jacket material has an interesting 1970s-motel-room-lampshade quality, which is lifted by the detail around the lapels, and the complementary Dijon mustard striped shirt sets a smart background for the playful bow-tie and corsage. The lower half is sober enough; café latte straight leg tailored trousers, but the really delightful touch is the dual toned egg yolk and chocolate shoes.

Ralph Lauren

This particular outfit is rather traditional in silhouette and delivery but it manages to avoid the staidness normally associated with these aristocratic concoctions. The beautifully cut lime coloured trousers are a strong feature and serve to freshen the traditionalistic blazer, shirt and cravat. The blazer itself works a returning trend; double-breasted clothing and the cravat is more Missoni than Turnbull & Asser which helps to modernise the ensemble.


One of the things I admire about the erratic DSquared is the ability to team casual pieces with more formal and luxe items. These black trousers, with their stiff, matt sheen are normally seen with sharp two button jackets, but the Italian designers have matched them with a casual short sleeved zipped polo shirt with black detailing. Underneath, a white shirt with a black tie keeps the overall look a sharp one.