Dressing for a business or formal setting often becomes a regular part of a guy’s life, and doing it right can improve your long-term job performance, your co-worker’s perception of you, and the chance that you get a promotion or hired for a job that you interview for. Dressing appropriately and doing it well is one of the little details that many people often overlook and view it as unimportant, but psychological research suggests otherwise. You also get treated better when you dress better.
I recall an instance where I was low on money in my chequing account because I had preset my savings account to withdraw money on that day of the month every month from my chequing account. I was in traveling back from an interview and was wearing a suit and tie.
I went to pay for my bus ticket, but to my horror, I had no money in my account! Three people at the bus terminal witnessed my situation and immediately offered to cover the $5 that I was short for my ticket. As I’m sure everyone has been short for money at least once in their life, it pays to at least look successful, even though at that moment your bank account might suggest otherwise.
With this in mind, these are the mistakes that I see a lot of guys young and old making when it comes to looking their best. If you aren’t currently following these tips, this won’t make or break your career. That being said, improving the way you dress can only help you give off a better impression, which can only help you in the long run, so you might as well try and look your best and show you care. There’s a reason that large client-facing corporations invest a portion of their training budget into image consultants: how you look does reflect on your appeal as a professional.
I understand that fashion is a subjective beast and that many “rules” are made to be broken, but there’s a reason that certain ways of dressing are more widely accepted than others; they just look better. This is not an exhaustive list, but these are the most prominent ones I see most often.
1) Wearing clunky slip-on shoes with a suit.
Your shoes are the single most important part of your wardrobe. They are the first contact with the ground and take the most abuse throughout the day. No one item in your wardrobe can elevate your outfit quite like the way a good pair of shoes can. Unfortunately, due to the prevalence of stores like Aldo and Spring at the mall, most guys default to a pair of clunky, slip-on, square-toed shoes from these places to wear with their suit.
The first problem with doing this is that these shoes look cheap. I understand that many guys just starting out don’t have the most cash to spend on a nice pair of shoes, but if you’re going to invest in one thing, it’s a nice pair of shoes. A company like Allen Edmonds or Johnston & Murphy are good places to start. Many other places exist aside from the mall that allow you to purchase a nice pair of shoes on the cheap. Try discount stores, eBay, thrift stores, etc…A cheap suit with good shoes will always look infinitely better than a nice suit with cheap shoes. One of the main reasons for this is that humans can see the quality of leather much easier than suiting material like wool.
If you’re wearing loafers with a suit, make sure it’s in a more casual setting. It’s just an accepted practice that your shoes should have laces in a business or formal setting.
2) Wearing a tie that is a lighter colour than their dress shirt.
The rule of thumb is that your tie should always be a darker colour than your dress shirt in a business or formal setting. What you wear out to the club falls under totally different criteria.
Your shirt should also never be the same shade of colour that your tie is, even it has stripes. While you might think that your shirt and tie “match”, the reason that you wear a tie is to create a visual interesting strip to break up the blocks of colour that your jacket and shirt create, ideally in a colour that compliments them to form a balanced colour palette.
By picking a tie that is lighter than your shirt, you ruin that balance. The last thing you want to do is make your tie lighter than your shirt because it ruins the visual effect. Same goes for matching your tie too closely to your dress shirt. The reason this is seen so often is that employees at a lot of low-end menswear stores in such as Moore’s or Tip Top Tailors often dress this way, which gives the false impression that it is correct.
Dress shirts and ties that are sold in a combined package (as per the examples in the picture) are also guilty of this, so it makes sense that many guys would wear the shirt/tie combo just as it came in the package. A good place to start is by wearing a white dress shirt and a blue tie, like this one from Original Penguin.
3) Wearing a plate buckled belt with their suit.
If you are dressing formally, a metal plate buckle looks tacky and unprofessional. A classic buckle is the way to go here. I’d argue that metal plate buckles just look tacky in general and that you should wear a proper buckle with everything from your suit to your jeans, but that’s your preference.
If you want to be taken seriously in the business/professional world, lose the plate buckle. Get a black or brown belt to start, but once you get a more diverse wardrobe you can add more colours as you see fit. A good option is to get a reversible belt. This one from Calvin Klein is a nice fit for the job.
4) Wearing inappropriately coloured socks
White socks with anything business/formal related is the sign of someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing, and that can send a message to your potential employer that you might not know what you’re doing at your job if you can’t get the basics right. Wearing the right pair of socks is a lot more important than you think.
Socks can provide a flash of personality in an otherwise boring outfit, which stimulates visual interest and can tell people who you have an interesting personality if you’re willing to risk drawing attention to yourself. Colourful socks are a great way to jazz up an otherwise conservative outfit without going over the top.
That being said, don’t do this in an interview setting; you’ve already got their attention, no need to distract them. When dressing more professionally, like during an interview, make sure your socks are a similar shade of colour that your pants are. Grab a 3 pack with versatile colours like navy and grey such as this set from Polo Ralph Lauren to get started.
5) Tying a tie knot that isn’t the right size.
Unless you’re Merril Hoge, you probably can’t pull off a tie knot that is the wrong size for the collar style of your shirt (and even then, Merril gets constantly lambasted for his ridiculously oversized tie knot).
Make sure that you tie a four in hand knot for smaller collars, and a half or full-windsor for point and spread collar shirts. Balance the size of your tie knot with the width of your collar as well as the width of your suit lapels. A knot that is too large or too small will make your neck area look abnormal, affecting the balance and contrast of your suit and overall look.
6) Not removing the inventory tag from their suit jacket.
I see a lot of younger guys making this mistake, mostly because they want to advertise the brand of their suit. You will find this tag sewn on to the left sleeve of most suiting jackets. The tag is meant to be removed upon purchase of the jacket, and is used for inventory purposes only. Leaving it on there makes you look like a jackass.
7) Using a tie made of synthetic material like polyester
This one is simple. Polyester just isn’t like silk or wool in the sense that it doesn’t fold and tie that well. Forming a dimple with your tie is 10x easier with a silk or wool tie, not to mention that they just look better. Yes, they are a tad bit more expensive, but if that’s a factor, eBay or a thrift store are your friends. Places like Banana Republic, Ross, TJ Maxx, or Winner’s also have cheap silk ties in fairly classic colour choices. You can also look online to find silk ties, like this lot of 6 silk ties from WeiShang.
8) Believing everything they read in GQ, Esquire, Details, or Men’s Health and taking it as gospel
These magazines all have an agenda: to sell the clothing that companies who have ads in their magazines make. The effect that a magazine like GQ can have on recommending a certain brand or product can have is akin to the Oprah effect with books. Ever wonder why Canada Goose jackets just popped up overnight? GQ ran a feature on them in a 2008 issue – the next year stores everywhere had them stocked. Raw denim from companies like Nudie and A.P.C. had almost no sales before GQ started recommending them; now they’re commonplace. “Classics” such as Sperry TopSiders and Clark’s Desert Boots also had their heyday in recent years thanks in large part to GQ and similar magazines.
While their in-your-face style of writing comes off as non-argumentative, most people who are experts in the fashion industry largely consider magazines like GQ to be a bit of a joke.
They do offer some solid advice for basics, but a lot of the trendy stuff they push on their readers can be quite absurd sometimes. The whole #menswear movement is a little bit of a cult anyhow. Stick to what you’re comfortable in, and don’t go changing everything about yourself just because a magazine with “authority” told you to do it. There is a wealth of information online that far surpasses what these magazines can provide. These magazines are a great starting point, but just dip your toe in the pool, don’t dive all the way in.
Also, never expect your clothes to fit like they do in a GQ photoshoot. Photoshop works wonders, as does pinning clothing from behind to make it fit more snug on the models. Visit your tailor and know your measurements.
You don’t have go out and spend a ton of money to look your best; it’s the little details that make the difference.
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