If you’re the governor of Illinois, you don’t have to worry about your wardrobe.
JB Pritzker’s calendar tells him where to be, when to get there, and what to wear. “Business: suit and tie.” Khakis, “button-down and pullover,” or “polo with Columbia jacket.”
The Associated Press used the Freedom of Information Act to get a peek at Pritzker’s wardrobe advice. Staff told him to skip the tie when he hosted dinner for union leaders. On the other hand, “Bring extra tie options” was the note on the day of his official portrait.
The rest of us have to figure it out for ourselves.
Turns out you can find plenty of guidance from business schools, retailers and employment agencies. (And maybe from your wife—that’s where Frank gets all his directions for dressing.)
It can be complicated when you consider Business Formal, Business Professional, Business Casual…there’s even a category called Small Business Casual, also known as Start-up Chic.
Here are some of the top tips for men.
- A suit (navy, gray or black). Some experts let you get away with a sport coat. They all suggest conservative colors and patterns.
- Long-sleeved shirt with a button-down collar, in a solid color—you can’t go wrong with white or blue.
- A quality tie in a conservative color with a subtle pattern. Nothing flashy or bold.
- Black or brown oxfords or loafers, well-shined, that coordinate with your suit.
- Dress pants or crisp, pressed khakis.
- Collared shirt, maybe in an actual color or even a pattern. You could go for a polo shirt if you’re feeling adventuresome.
- Add a blazer or sweater to dress it up some; the third piece adds polish.
- Loafers or oxfords. “Casual” doesn’t mean sneakers or sandals.
Here are some of the top tips for women.
- A suit (skirt or pants) in navy, black or brown. Some experts say a blazer’s okay instead.
- Collared shirt in white or a pastel. Or a sleeveless shell under your jacket.
- Closed-toe pumps (or dressy flats, if you must) in a color to match your suit.
- A small purse in a matching color, conservative jewelry—no dangling or jangling.
- Business separates—pants or skirt with a blazer or cardigan. I tell my clients who want a more powerful presence to go with the jacket instead of a sweater. The shoulder seams provide some definition, creating a stronger look than the softer, rounder appearance you get with a sweater.
- You could choose a dress that covers everything you’d want covered. Not too short, no plunging necklines. And in many offices, sleeves are a good idea.
- Closed-toe shoes or maybe dressy sandals that don’t flap noisily when you walk.
- Your bag and jewelry can have a little more pizzazz.
Straight-out Casual or Start-up Chic—for Everyone
- In terms of tops, most colors and patterns are okay. Stay away from T-shirts with sports logos or other messages on them.
- Dark-wash jeans or other casual, long pants.
- Boots, sneakers and sandals are fine. (If we’re seeing your toes, get a pedicure.)
- If your office is casual, you can express yourself with accessories and jewelry—but keep the clubbing clothes in the closet.
Is your heart sinking?
These guidelines seem pretty restrictive to me. A suit? Really? I’ve owned one suit in my entire professional life. (When I was working at a bank, I actually bought a pin-stripe suit.) And what’s with all the “conservative color” stuff?
I say there has to be room for individuality. Your age and shape make a difference in how you dress, along with your personal taste. Do you love bright colors, or do you go for soft and muted? Heels or flats? Boxers or briefs? (Okay, I’m kidding about the last one.)
It matters what kind of work you do too. If you’re a banker or an attorney, chances are your wardrobe is on the more formal side, and it should be. In advertising or entertainment, you have more freedom; creative clothing and accessories may even be expected.
I’m not sure any of the style mavens would recommend my own business “uniform.” Black pants, black shell or tank (picture a “column” of black) and a jacket with lots of color and not much structure. Oh, and jewelry that’s, well, not inconspicuous.
Not the standard work wardrobe, perhaps, but it works well for me. And that’s really the key, don’t you think? Wearing clothes that work for you, even if they’re not exactly what you’d see in a fashion magazine.
My suggestions for you, whatever your style.
- Dress the body you have now, not the body you had at 27 or the one you’re going to have after a month of Keto.
- Clothes fit if you can stand up from a chair and start talking, without tugging at your jacket or fussing with your belt. Those nervous movements betray anxiety; wear clothing that needs no adjustment.
- Buy the best quality you can afford—well-made clothes hang smoother, look better, and last longer. Forget Fast Fashion when it comes to your work wardrobe.
- Age-appropriate is a wonderful thing. No need to dress like an old fuddy-duddy, but Baby Boomers shouldn’t be dolled up like Millennials either.
- Ask a good friend to look at you from behind and say yay or nay. My buddy Bobbi could always be counted on to steer me away from a “butt-hugger” outfit.
- If you need help, spend some time with a professional stylist. Ask friends for a recommendation or check out the Association of Image Consultants International.
And, by all means, post a comment below about your own style and work wardrobe lessons you’ve learned.