Dress to Impress – Men



The Professional Man’s Capsule Wardrobe Collection

“Clothes make the man,” said Mark Twain. That saying has never been truer today, with a competitive job market and the importance of looking professional. It cannot be stated too often that your wardrobe is essential to your professional appearance and career success. However, your professional wardrobe can be daunting to put together. Thus, a “capsule” wardrobe, a set of clothing items and accessories that work together and can be mixed and matched, is the way to go for men, as well, and will provide variety and sophistication. When your paychecks start rolling in, you should add pieces to complete or expand your collection.

Your closet is a good place to start to determine which items you already own that are appropriate for your new or prospective job. Then, shop for additional items to construct your capsule; be sure to stick to your plan, choose quality over quantity, and avoid impulse buys.

Begin by assembling your interview apparel:

  • The Classic Suit – This will be the foundation and most important piece of your capsule wardrobe. The classic single-breasted, two- or three-button style is the most professional-looking choice; remember to leave the bottom button unfastened. Navy is the most elegant — and conservative — suit color for a man.  Dark gray is also a good choice. The fabric should be wool gabardine or a wool blend; the weight will depend on the season. A proper fit is extremely important to ensure that your suit fits perfectly and feels comfortable; so don’t skimp on alterations.   
  • Shirt – Select an all-cotton long-sleeved button-down collared shirt — straight, tab or button down — in solid white or with a subtle pinstripe.
  • Tie – While your suit will serve as the background of your professional attire, your tie will be the focal point; it should be silk and coordinate with the color of your suit. For example, a pale yellow tie would go well with a gray suit and a burgundy or blue tie would compliment navy blue.  Select either the very safe solid tie or one with a small, conservative pattern, such as geometric or stripe. A very elegant choice would be a muted color with a woven pattern in the same color.  Save the bolder and trendier tie colors and patterns for after you land the job. The final touch is tying the perfect knot! 
  • Briefcase – A black or tan briefcase in excellent condition and buffed to a shine should be a staple of your capsule wardrobe. Depending on the industry you are in, you might carry another style, such as a sample or portfolio case.
  • Shoes – Select a classic plain black leather oxford for your basic dress shoe.  Your shoes should fit well, be comfortable and be polished to a high shine.
  • Belt – Your belt should match the color of your shoes.
  • Socks – Your socks should match your pants rather than your shoes. The idea is to create a smooth, unbroken line down to your shoes, but not to look like you’re wearing boots. There are, however, some exceptions that you should check out to ensure you maintain a savvy look. The devil, remember, is in the details.
  • Watch A good-looking, reliable watch is essential. Make sure your leather watchband is not frayed and, if possible, matches the leather color of your belt, and that your metal watchband is clean and shiny.
  • Jewelry – There has been a trend for a few decades for men to wear a pierced  earring in one ear; this is pretty common, and consequently no longer a stigma. However, consider where you will be interviewing and what kind of firm for which you will be working before deciding on this accessory. Other than a ring, skip any other jewelry.

To complete your capsule wardrobe, following are suggestions regarding additional items that are suitable for most office jobs:

  1. Suit – A second suit in a different color will expand your beginning capsule collection significantly by mixing and matching accessories – within reason. You’ll wear suits to high-level meetings, networking events, client calls and to other important occasions.
  2. Dress Down Ensemble (suggested)
    • Select a basic two-button navy blazer (remember that the bottom button remains unbuttoned) to wear on business casual days.
    • Two cotton button-down collared shirts, one in light blue and one in ecru.
    • Two pair of chinos, one in dark khaki and one in a light color, such as the color, “stone.”
  3. Shoes– A leather loafer in oxblood or brown is a great choice for a casual shoe.
  4. Socks – Here’s where you can have some fun with your socks by choosing Argyles or a solid in a color that does not match your pants, but compliments both your pants and your shoes.
  5. Accessories – Here, too, is where you can express your individuality, with a silk square that matches or coordinates with your tie, an earring, a bracelet, cuff links, etc.  As always, however, observe how middle management and the officers of your company dress, and don’t go overboard with your accessories – or your socks!

Once you begin collecting a steady paycheck, you can expand your wardrobe with additional suits, shirts, ties, shocks, shoes and casual pieces that are business appropriate, in line with your company’s dress code, and also reflective of your particular style. Remember to choose high quality over quantity.

As I recommended to women in last week’s entry, because the way you dress is a key element to your job search and career success, rather than requesting a new iPad for a graduation gift, you might consider asking for wardrobe pieces that will help to build your capsule collection.  Once you’ve landed that first job, you can buy an iPad on your own!

Until next time,


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