If you want to get ahead in your career, you’ve got to look the part. Many men are blissfully ignorant that certain aspects of their wardrobe are weak links in what could be an otherwise powerful statement. With this in mind, a few tweaks here and there might put you ahead when it comes time to land that big job.
The person that said “you can never be overdressed” was half right. Generally, a suit and tie will suffice at almost any meeting. You must, however, keep your audience in mind. While a French cuff looks good in the corporate office, an auto mechanic or a pipe fitter might want to stick with a more conventional look. On the other hand, a stock broker wouldn’t show up to work in a tuxedo.
Traditionally, careers start with the black or navy blue pinstriped suit. It’s a tried and true, classic look that most interviewers are comfortable with. And your interview is your introduction, the getting to know you phase. The black suit is a dependable look, and that’s the image your future boss wants, dependability. They want to know that you’ll conform to the standard from the start. A lighter color suit could indicate that you’re a maverick, a potential risk.
Keeping your audience in mind, sometimes that’s a good thing. While it may be a bad idea for an interview with the CEO of a powerful Wall Street firm, wearing a non-traditional suit might pay off for that interview with Rolling Stone magazine. The legal system works that way, too. A lawyer in New York would think twice about representing a client in anything other than a black suit, while a lawyer in Alabama would have no problem getting away with a white suit.
Unless you suffer from allergies, wool is the only way to go with a suit. You can never go wrong with worsted wool. It breathes, it can be either heavy or light, allowing you to wear it in any climate, and it’s exceptionally durable.
Jackets come in different varieties, but two or three buttons is the standard. If you go with three button jacket, leave the last button open.
Gentlemen, please, if you only follow one thing I say, wear an undershirt. You’re going to sweat under your suit, and the best way to make a bad impression is when you reach out to shake someone’s hand, and you’ve got obvious pit-stains. And don’t wear a t-shirt with a pattern on it, or a clashing color, for example, black t-shirt under a white collared shirt, it only makes you look unprofessional.
Some will tell you that you can’t go wrong with a white or a light blue plain shirt. And they would be right. You can’t go wrong with a classic look. But the right shirt will help your suit stand out. A vibrant blue or red can help your personality stand out. What about stripes? Striped shirts have been a mainstay in men’s fashion, but the vertical stripe has really emerged as a popular alternative. The benefit of a more exciting color or pattern not only allows your look to stand out in the office, it also works when you’re going out for cocktails after hours.
Demystifying the Cufflink
The old look is back, but in many ways, it never really left. The cufflink fell out of favor among all but the most professional or most conservative members of society a few decades ago, but this is one of the few parts of your wardrobe where you can customize your fashion statement. Do you surf? Get those surfboard links. You’re a professional by day but a biker by night? You can pick up Harley Davidson links. The important aspect is that they stand out, but not enough to call attention to themselves, except as a conversation piece. You don’t have to go crazy, however. A standard pair of cat-eye cufflinks looks good, and gets the job done just as effectively.
The cufflink adds a glimmer, an exclamation point to any well assembled look. Make sure, however, that the cuff matches the color of the other metal you’re wearing. Don’t wear those silver links with the gold watch or belt buckle.
Silk. The tie is the other part of the suit that you can customize, but unlike the cuff, the tie stands out and should be kept more conservative. When you’re not wearing your jacket, it’s the first thing that anybody will see. So if you want to profess your love for the Mets, feel free, but opt for the tie that has the logo running along like a line, and not the one with Mr. Met’s head plastered on the bottom. Otherwise, stick with a look works – solid tie on a striped shirt, or a striped tie on a solid shirt. And please, no stains.
Invariably, men seem to always overlook the importance of a quality shoe. You could be wearing the nicest suit, but if your shoes are scuffed or unprofessional looking, the whole look will be ruined.
As a friend once conveyed to me regarding his first job interview out of college – he had a good relationship with some of the managers of the firm, his qualifications were more than adequate, and he felt he aced the interview. When he didn’t get the job, he was told it was because he came off as a little immature and not quite ready for the professional world. It didn’t help that he wore his Chuck Taylor All Stars on the interview.
The latest enduring trend in shoe fashion is the hybrid. This is the shoe that wears like a sneaker but kind of looks like a shoe. These are good for hanging out, but by no means should you ever wear them with a suit.
Your shoe should be leather. If it’s a dark suit, wear a black shoe. A light colored suit demands a brown shoe. It’s become trendy to wear brown shoes with dark navy suits, but when in doubt, stick to black. Keep your shoes polished, and if they’re supposed to shine, keep them shiny. Don’t worry about spending a lot for a good pair of shoes. If they’re made right, they’ll last, and good shoes can always be repaired.
Don’t forget to floss…
The most important part of your look isn’t what you wear, but how you wear it. I can guarantee that if you do everything I’ve said up to this point and show up at work with a mullet (unless you work in the country music industry), you’ll draw quite a few funny looks. Likewise, that punk rock, bleached blue and red spiked hair looked cool at the Rancid show, but misses its mark in the courthouse.
In many ways, you still have to be true to yourself. We see plenty of people that do have the wild cuts, and that suits them in their profession.
But there’s more to the man than just the haircut. Shaving can do wonders for your appearance, as can keeping your fingernails out of your mouth, wearing that undershirt, and above all else, wearing deodorant. Cologne can add a nice touch, but if you’re wearing enough that the people on the subway smell like you when they get to work, you’ve overdone it. The only time people should smell you is when they shake your hand.
Your look can go a long way to helping your career, and not surprisingly, the biggest effect it will have won’t be on your appearance, but on your confidence. Maybe the clothes don’t make the man, but style will go a long way to shaping who