Shed the Business Casual Uniform.

Posted on September 23, 2009 in Dress, How To Dress For Work, Office Wear, Outfit Ideas, Style Theory, Tips.

I recently drove through downtown during lunch time and it was like a rally for Office Max workers on the streets. I saw so many pleated khaki pants, blue button downs, and white undershirts that I wanted to stop and ask if somebody could help me with my printer cartridge.

When it comes to business casual, I really don’t get the drabness, because it’s so easy to make it look cool. Say it with me: just because others dress like poop doesn’t mean that you have to follow suit.

I know PG has highlighted weekend/night wear more frequently, because looking cool when you go out is important. But, you’re in your office clothes 40+ hrs/week. It’s your life. You should look good while you’re banking it.

Here are 10 steps to help you shed the business casual uniform. I’ll just highlight the basics, reminiscent of the Fit Rules of yore, and save the specific examples of work-wear outfits for later posts, similar to what I’ve done with going out outfits the past couple of weeks.

Step 1: Update your work chinos.
Opt for a modern fit to your trousers. This means no pleats. The pants should hit just below your waist, not ride up high, and there shouldn’t be an excess of fabric either in the crotch or at the bottom of the pant leg. The pants should fit you precisely.

For more in-depth rules, review the previous pant fit post.

Step 2: Treat khaki (the color) as a suggestion, not the rule.
Try a different color. Navy blues look especially good, especially when paired with a richly colored brown pair of shoe. But be cautious with color chinos, they lose their hue fairly rapidly. Once they begin to fade, it’s time to retire them to weekend duty.

Step 3: Give your ace a break.
It’s good to rest your starter and let the others in your rotation pick up some slack. So occasionally ditch the chinos, and opt for some tropical wool or cotton trousers. The different texture and finish of the fabric will help to liven things up and (if you execute properly) will instantly set you aside from your Dockers loving coworkers.

Step 4: Colors that don’t rhyme with “igloo” for a thousand.
I know guys like blue, and all the variants of the shade. But, branch out! Try the whole color spectrum, just as long as you keep it season-appropriate. No pastels when it’s cold out.

Step 5: Beware thy undershirt.
I’ve written about this previously, but an undershirt is an undershirt. We don’t need to see it, unless you want us to. And in that case give us something cool to look at. Not a plain white, Hanes tshirt. Opt for a V-neck, or a colored crew neck (if your office environment allows for it) with a nice firm elastic band. Or, go with a ‘beater, so that nothing shows.

Step 6: Embrace a pattern.
Solid shirts are good, but can get boring. Nothing livens up an outfit like a quality patterned shirt. You need not go overboard, you are after all supposed to dress more conservatively, but there’s still some room for style. Try either a subtle stripe, or a nice check. You can’t go wrong.

Step 7: Throw on a tie.
Sure, it’s business casual, but a tie doesn’t inherently mean it’s formal (as noted by the recent jeans w/ tie post). A modern outfit, with a modern tie, is refreshing to see in the great fluorescent jungle. Keep it slim (but not pencil thin), with a very subtle pattern and pair it with Step 6 and you’ll be golden.

Step 8: Put something good on your feet.
Casual sneakers, or larger rubbery-soled shoes are not acceptable. However, you don’t have to go with wafer-thin, leather soles of formal dress shoes. Instead, opt for something in between, yet still stylish and modern. Go ahead and splurge, and get 2-3 shoes that you can rotate in and out. Then gradually phase in some newer ones as you go to ensure consistently stylish kicks.

Step 9: Bluetooth headset?

Step 10: A visible Blackberry holster is unacceptable.
Go ahead and suffer the uncomfortableness that is a bulky cellphone in your pocket, so we don’t have to suffer by looking at your brick of a cellphone strapped to your belt loop. You have 4 large pockets, if need be put it in your non-wallet back pocket.

6 Responses to “Shed the Business Casual Uniform.”

  1. Alan says:

    Got a good laugh out of Step 9 🙂

  2. Anonymous says:

    no bluetooth headset even if it glows? Or blinks, that is better.

  3. jc says:

    i counted 12 blue dress shirts on one downtown block last week. note: there were only 16 men total. booooring.

  4. Ward says:

    Cell phone in the back pocket is a good way to sit on it and break it. But yes. No cell phone holsters, no bluetooth headset unless you’re using it *at that very moment*.

  5. slp says:

    After reading this post, someone would think that you had actually worked sometime during the past six years, but I know better…

  6. CYH says:

    Alan – I’m glad #9 resonated with you, now spread the word.

    Ward – yeah, I could see that. I carried my iPhone in my back pocket for some time and didn’t manage to crack the glass. But I weigh all of 105 lbs.

    Anony – Oh so wrong…

    jc – See..the problem isn’t local! It’s nationwide!

    slp – Thanks for the comment. Always a builder.

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