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The 8 Building Blocks of a Good Business Wardrobe


Last month I discussed interview attire. Because you followed my advice and dressed properly for the interview, you got the job.  


Now it’s time to build a business wardrobe. The biggest and best bit of advice I can give is this-


Don’t dress for the job you have; dress for the job you want. Use your wardrobe as a tool as you move along your chosen path and the corporate ladder.


For the purposes of simplicity I will assume you work in a “business professional” environment. You need to wear a coat and tie, perhaps even a suit, to work every day


First, consider your work environment and company culture. What do you see you new colleagues wearing? Do most wear button down shirts and two button suits? Or do you see more 3 button suits and point collar shirts? Whatever is worn most at your office is what you need to purchase. You want to fit in, not stand out. At least not yet.


You already have the following items based on the advice I gave you in the interview article:


  1. A solid navy or charcoal gray suit
  2. A good quality white shirt
  3. A good pair of shoes and matching belt
  4. A quality pair of socks- solid color or with a subdued pattern


I recommend the following additional items:


  1. A second suit- either navy or charcoal, whichever one you didn’t purchase for your interview. NO pinstripes- solid colors. This may seem a bit bland, but it is best when you’re the newbie and lowest on the totem pole. If you must have some variety, purchase a textured fabric. Buy both suits in the fabric you will use most and depending on when you get the job. For example, if you live in New York and start June 1st, buy 1 tropical weight, and 1 medium weight. If you live in Texas, buy both in tropical weights.
  2. A navy blazer and 2 pairs of trousers- 1 khaki/tan and one charcoal gray. Navy blazers are perfectly acceptable attire in most offices, and add versatility to your wardrobe as well. They work well for evening dinner parties and get-togethers at the boss’s club.
  3. 4 shirts- 2 medium “corporate” blue, 1 white and 1 conservative stripe. Match collars to your work environment. If everyone wears button downs buy button downs. If everyone wears point collars but the same. Stick with medium spread collars, and a point length suited to your face. The conservative stripe adds a little variety and also can be used in the less formal environments mentioned above, as can any button-down shirt.
  4. 1 pair of shoes- either dark brown or cordovan. If your business environment REQUIRES black, then buy a pair. But bear in mind that this color has fallen out of favor with the sartorial cognoscenti. You will not see an Italian man wear black shoes before 6 PM and rarely thereafter.
  5. 1 matching belt. Your belts need to match your shoes. Otherwise you look like a dork.
  6. 4 more pairs of similar socks. Match these closely to your trousers. Socks matched with shoes lend a “bootie” effect, and it’s been a long time since you were three years old.
  7. 4 additional ties. If you bought a small pattern or “neat” for your interview, purchase a couple of stripes and a couple more neats. Woven ties are considered higher quality and more conservative.
  8. A good quality trench coat to cover your clothes and protect your investment in the rain. Buy a coat with a zip-out liner that may also be used during the winter months. Obviously, it pays to have a good quality umbrella as well.



Clothing Care


The items recommended above give you a full week of business wear. You will need to wash your shirts and socks on the weekend. I personally have my trousers steamed or cleaned every three wearings, and my suit and sport coats cleaned at least once a season. I tend to sweat a lot, and often have them done more often. Many contend that dry cleaning solvents have a bad effect on the fiber of clothes, but my personal experience with good quality clothes has not borne this theory out.