The first step to success.
Most regular guys are goal driven, we want to be successful in our work and personal lives. Knowing how to dress and comport ourselves is akin to receiving a master key that unlocks a lot of life's barriers. Humans are hard wired to make snap judgements based upon what we see. First impressions are critical because they last. Howeever, nobody wants to spend too much time on clothes selection. Below, you will find a straightforward guide to mens' dress and social technique. It takes inspiration from Steve McQueen, a regular guy with timeless style.
The golden rule is to keep things simple and masculine. Fit and quality provide confidence. Select solid colors and avoid patterned clothing with the subtle exceptions of sport coats and neckties. Tie bars, chains, bracelets, badges and pins contribute unwanted distraction. Loose neckties with open shirt collars either look contrived or convey intoxication. Sweaters, sweater vests or cardigans worn over shirts tend to age most of us.
The following principles are not absolute but will let you assemble outfits and be certain that clothing won't clash. Select your shirt and build your outfit from one option only. That includes socks, shoes, pants, belts, neckties, jackets, overcoats, scarfs, gloves and leather watch bands. Shirts and pocket squares are restricted to white and blue. Outfit option A is restricted to gray, charcoal, navy and black. Outfit option B is restricted to green, navy and shades of brown like, khaki, golden brown, tan, chocolate and burgundy. Stainless steel cuff links and eye wear are compatible with both outfit options. Color for men will guide your palette expansion with respect to polo shirts, casual shirts, neckties, pocket squares, jerseys and sweaters.
The second principle is contrast. Building an outfit comprised a white shirt and one other color may appear to be the simplest solution but you can't live in a funeral suit. Color tones rarely match unless purchased as a unit. Select contrasting jacket and pant separates. One item's color should be significantly different from the other. Matching a navy jacket to black pants is an example of poor contrast. Reserving pattern for your sport coat eliminates the risk of a clash between pant and jacket. Clothing etiquette is almost boundless, extending to fabric contrast and beyond. Currently, solid wool dress pants and cotton khakis are the typical pairings of casual jackets, sport coats and blazers.
1: Vacation & Summer
Vacation wear is the most casual element of a man's wardrobe and can be a sartorial minefield. However, this classic ensemble, will have you blending with the jet set. It pulls double duty as stylish lounge and summer wear too. Black water shoes and a few pairs of boardshorts cover any marine activity. Hurleys look great in solid black, red and orange. Cotton bush shirts, linen pants and leather slingback sandals comprises a good general purpose vacation outfit. It can be smartened up with leather loafers, silk camp shirts or cashmere v-neck sweaters.
An unbuttoned and untucked solid rugby jersey, blue jeans and canvas loafers are perfect for exploring around the town. Smart golf attire may comprise of a black Ivy hat, wayfarers, black collared merino top, light gray khakis and white golf shoes. Black masks any damp patches, merino wool has excellent moisture and odour management. Cotton underwear is very durable but retains moisture, generating odour. Synthetic trunks, boxers, and no show socks are better suited to warmer weather.
Casual clothing may be surmised as jackets and mid layers that are compatible with jeans. Leather jackets are ideal for situations like coffee shops, burger joints, ball games and going to the movies. They can be paired with almost anything but an unbuttoned shirt offers the greatest impact. All leather is not the same. It comes in light, medium and heavy weights. These grades take precedence over hide type when gauging durability. Horsehide is the strongest followed by bison, cow and goat. Lambskin and sheepskin are considerably less durable. I recommend medium weight cowhide as a minimum for everyday use. Horsehide is ideal for motorcycle jackets, being tough and naturally waterproof. It's worth spending extra for quality leather as it will see you out, if oiled periodically. Don't store your jacket in plastic as it needs to breathe.
Casual leathers can be broken down into three categories, motorcycle jackets, flight jackets and everything else. Belstaff's Panther motorcycle touring jacket is versatile but prohibitively priced. Schott's 689H represents the holy grail of classic motorcycle racing jackets. The quality is second to none and the styling suitable for everyday causal wear. The layout is similar to the Aero highwayman but has a more tailored fit. The horsehide leather will be stiff initially but gives the jacket robust appeal. Wear it with blue jeans, black cotton web belt, and black Caterpillar boots. Cheaper glued construction footwear can fall apart without warning. The Cats are made in the U.S.A. and employ a Goodyear welt. This method connects the upper and outsole with additional stitching to standard cement, preventing the embarrassment of catastrophic outsole separation. All of the footwear in this guide, have their outsoles sewn to their uppers, vacation footwear being the only exception.
The A2 flight jacket will be many guys first choice but there are number issues you should be aware of. The waist is bloused like an MA-1. This will flatter a stout build but looks sloppy on an athletic frame. The knitted cuffs and waistband get tatty. Most examples come in goatskin, cheaper jackets will be lambskin. The suppleness of goatskin effects jacket drape. WWII A2's were manufactured from horsehide, Aero still make like they used to. Bomber jackets are a generic variant of flight jackets. They are bloused but some designs forgo knitted cuffs and waistband.
Pictured above, US wings offer their alternative Indy jacket. Based on the Indiana Jones model, it has a similar layout to military G1 and A2 flight jackets but offers a straight fit. The leather cuffs and waist are more durable. Side adjustment straps maintain a smart fitted look. Distressed or virgin cowhide is the way to go. I prefer distressed but virgin will give that presidential style when teamed with a crisp white, open necked shirt, cream khakis and oxfords. The distressed jacket looks best with bush shirts, or navy 'wooly pullys' Complete the rugged effect with tan Caterpillar boots, cotton web belt, navy jeans, sand jeans, gray khakis or olive khakis. Danner Acadia field boots are cooler in hot weather.
Alpha Industries' MA-1 and M-65 jackets are timeless casual icons. The MA-1 looks best unzipped in olive and navy and the M-65 in khaki, olive and black. Named after Ryan O'Neil's character in Peyton Place, worn by James Dean, Elvis and Steve McQueen, the Harrington jacket is wonderfully versatile. It looks preppy with khakis and oxford shoes and super cool with jeans and ankle boots. Black, navy and cream are the colors to own. Merc make the most authentic style with metal zip, tartan lining and a short body that barely extends to the waist. Style gurus own multiple examples of a classic garment, in several different colors. These fabric jackets represent a perfect opportunity to adopt the strategy. Tan desert boots and chukka boots are the most appropriate casual footwear.
Two button leather blazers aren't appropriate for the office but enable a graceful wardrobe adjustment if hitting the town after work, just lose the necktie. Optionally, wear a thick wool turtleneck underneath, to deliver stylish warmth. Brown and cognac are the most versatile but black blazers look terrific with gray and burgundy shirts. Wool dress pants strike a more refined image when matched with leather blazers but khakis and dark navy jeans are satisfactory. Goatskin or cowhide are preferred if available. The Barbour Beaufort is the only fully waterproof fabric jacket in this guide. The navy model is quite versatile, functioning as executive top coat and casual weekend rain wear. Wear it with khakis, jeans, rugby jerseys and sweaters.
Dress jeans should be worn in classic dark navy or sand. Novelty colors of black, green or brown will fade too quickly and appear shabby. A modest rise will flatter the gut and promotes a good fit on the rear, which is critical to the look. Denim jeans are undeniably casual, never wear them with suit jackets, neckties or pocket squares. If you are uncertain, upgrade to a pair of khakis or corduroy pants. Denim on denim and corduroy on corduroy should be avoided.
It is acceptable to wear a sport coat with jeans but it remains a distinctly casual affair. Jackets should remain unbuttoned at all times. Navy jeans work with 2 button, single breasted, wool, tweed, camel hair, cotton, linen, silk and corduroy coats. Wear them with crisp, long sleeved shirts. Orson boots, dress chukkas and Dr Martin's cherry brown oxfords, keep your jeans looking smart about town and at the office. Doc's air-ware soles were designed for factory workers and are extremely comfortable.
3: Business Casual
Business casual may be surmised as "no jeans, sneakers or athletic wear". It may be worn in casual surroundings but is perfectly acceptable for an office, posh restaurant or family celebration. Appropriate mid layers consist of untucked short sleeved polo shirts, untucked short sleeved work shirts, turtleneck sweaters, tucked open necked dress shirts and dress shirts with neckties. Cotton work pants offer a more professional appearance than jeans. Most guys wear them with instructor belts. Corduroy pants are a versatile medium formality. Cotton khakis and wool dress pants constitute the formal of end the range.
Dockers offer their khakis in four styles, D1 slim, D2 straight, D3 classic and D4 relaxed. Khaki, tan and olive look terrific when matched with a royal blue shirt and navy blazer but avoid darker colored khakis. Light wool pants come in trim or classic fit. Classic has more room in the seat and thighs. Solid colors of gray, navy and black work best.
The smooth leather outsoles of traditional dress shoes can be treacherous on wet surfaces like grass, leaves and marble. Loose gravel can catch you out too. Dr Martin's oxford shoes are extremely versatile, suitable for bad weather, the job site and the office. Black and cherry brown would cover most men's wardrobe. Avoid colors that feature yellow thread. Alden's premium oxfords compliment business casual attire and business suits. Bargain hunters pick them up at the Nordstrom clearance sales. Wolverine's black Chelsea boots and russet Krause boots are extremely versatile complimenting everything from suits to the most casual leather jackets and jeans. Replacing the Krause's laces with brown shoe laces will make them look even smarter.
Cotton socks retain moisture enabling bacteria to feed on your feet and make them stink. Wool socks will keep your feet dry and sweet smelling. Moisture is wicked away and evaporated, keeping you warm in winter and cool in summer. Wigwam wool and silk hiker socks are favored for their durability and luxurious comfort. The nylon mix supports machine wash but make sure it's set on cold. Check out the woolly pully page if you want to lanolize your socks. Matching black socks to black shoes and navy socks to brown shoes keeps the logistics pretty simple.
Sport coats are fundamental to business casual style and may be worn in several levels of formality. Single breasted two button designs are the most versatile. The design originated from the country pursuits of the aristocracy. Today, many sport coats retain rustic undertones, their material will often sport a weave of herringbone, houndstooth or check. Pure wool sport coats will be restricted to cool weather. Blends of silk and wool support year round wear. A keen eye is necessary to wear plaid sport coats without appearing dated or gaudy.
Pairing a sport coat with a thick wool turtleneck sweater, corduroy pants and suede desert boots gives a relaxed look with enough warmth for fall and winter. Black, navy, royal blue, burgundy and gray are preferred sweater colors. Avoid cable knit, pastels and shades of white, brown or green. Sport coat, sweater and trouser color should contrast. Substituting khakis and an open collared, long sleeved shirt takes formality up one level. Add a silk tie and pocket square when in the company of suits. Though less formal, this ensemble will often make more of an impression than competing suits. Coats featuring structured shoulders are most appropriate, if wearing neckties and pocket squares.
Favored by European royalty for their flexibility, blazers blend the formality of a suit jacket with the relaxed fit of a sport coat. Casual use may incorporate lightweight turtleneck sweaters or open necked shirts. However, the blazer trumps the sport coat when necktie and pocket square are incorporated, conveying significantly more gravitas. Solid navy, single breasted, two button designs are the most versatile. Brass buttons add traditional flair. If absent, ask your tailor to add them during alterations. Deep blue shirts and vibrant solid or striped neckties deliver the greatest impact. Gray wool trousers, olive khakis and tan khakis are classic companions. Avoid blazers in polyester blends or colors of gray and green. They're intended for security staff and professional golfers. Unlike sport coats and suit jackets, blazers may have their lowest button fastened.
Sport coats and blazers have several advantages over generic suits. Purchasing a good basic fit is less difficult, as trouser and coat can be purchased separately. Most suits are sold in fixed sets with a standard drop of 6". This means if we buy a 40" suit, we are forced into 34" suit pants, which may not be desirable. Secondly, the ability to compose different outfits by mixing sport coats, blazers and pants, creates the illusion of a broader wardrobe. Considering we receive more value from sport coats and blazers, it makes sense to invest in high quality examples with the luxury of natural materials. Made in the U.S.A., Joseph Abboud's coats represent the median price point between re-branded Asian product and premium Italian brands such as Zegna and Brioni.
High quality dress shirts should take priority in our clothing budget as the coat is removed for the majority of office hours. Shirts frame the face and torso, which is what others will focus on. Select your dress shirts by the following sequence, fit, collar type, cuff type, color, pattern and size. A classic fit flatters stout builds but billows on trim waists. Trim fit compliments an athletic build. Pictured above, spread collars flatter long faces. Forward point collars suit all other facial profiles and may be worn unbuttoned under sport coats, blazers and suits. Barrel cuffs have integral buttons and work equally well in casual or formal context. French cuffs are only obligatory for black tie but make us look and feel special. A selection of solid white, blue, French blue and royal blue shirts is perfectly adequate. Solid white shirts are the most formal. Nordstrom are a proven source of premium pure cotton shirts.
Consider the necktie the last bastion of masculinity rather than a corporate leash. It serves to unify the disparate elements of a man's outfit. Picking up another outfit color is desirable but avoiding clash should take priority. The tie permits us to adjust tone by selecting subdued solids to suite somber occasions and vibrant solids or stripes, if self expression is appropriate. Patterns other than diagonal stripes are acceptable but less flattering. Woven silk delivers an evident touch of luxury. Slim ties work best in subdued solid colors. Their width of 2.25" compliments narrow jacket lapels, which flatter a very slender build. Tie widths of 3.25" flatter standard lapels, which accentuate the natural 'V' of a developed male torso. The four-in-hand knot is our default. The wider Windsor knot consumes the expanse of a spread collar. The necktie should terminate at the belt line.
4: The suit
The last fifty years have witnessed a significant shift toward casual apparel. In fact, neckties are effectively banned in many technology companies. Currently, the occasions that mandate a suit and tie are quite scarce, weddings, funerals, job interviews or legal proceedings would just about cover it. However, there are several ways to adapt the suit for less formal circumstances and express a bit of character too. Purists claim that suits demand neckties irrespective of the occasion. In reality, it's perfectly acceptable to wear an unbuttoned French cuff shirt underneath a suit jacket. Applying starch and collar stays to a forward point shirt collar, ensures rigidity, which is critical to the effect. Brosnan and Clooney own the look, which compliments their relaxed grace and charm.
Releasing more than two shirt buttons will put you squarely in lounge lizard territory. It's a look that's only suitable for nightclubs or rock stages, as typified by musician Nick Cave. Another contemporary style favored by mature rock stars, is to wear a dark suit with a dark shirt and ascent it with a brightly colored silk necktie. Suits are usually black, charcoal or navy. Silver and gold neckties compliment black and gray shirts. Powder blue and hot pink compliment navy shirts. Popularized by Armani, the final contemporary style of matching a colored tie to a solid colored shirt is more suited to weddings than the workplace. If you haven't purchased both components as a set, select a slightly darker tie of the same hue. A slightly lighter tie looks amateurish.
Single breasted, two button, notch lapel suits are timeless. Side vents are typical and make waist alterations simple. A center vent may gape if taken in at the waist. Tropical weaves and lower wool 'S' ratings are cooler. It's better to be shivering at a winter funeral than hiding sweat patches at a summer wedding. Linen suits are even cooler and well suited to beach weddings but crease too easily for other occasions. Linen blends are more practical. Silk blends are suited to sport coats but lack durability in a full suit. They look great in movies and music videos.
Shoulder fit is the most important attribute in suit sizing. Other alterations are relatively straightforward. The jacket shoulders must terminate where our shoulders end. Move your arms to check for binding, bunching or slop in the jacket shoulders. The seat takes priority in pant sizing. A trim fit has a tighter seat and less rise, encouraging wear on the hips. A classic fit is worn on the waist with more slack in the seat. Don't be alarmed by extra long sleeves and pant legs. They enable alteration to custom fit. It's easier to remove material than add it. Jacket sleeves should be altered to expose half an inch of shirt cuff when standing straight. Trouser legs should be altered to half break and no cuff. Trouser waist may be altered for comfort and jacket waist cinched to promote an hour glass figure. The bottom jacket button should remain undone to attain proper drape and freedom of movement.
Over coats protect our suits from snags, dirt and liquids while out and about. Three quarter length coats are the most practical. Full length coats present a dated, stuffy image. Double breasted mackintosh and trench coats, single breasted wool top coats and waxed cotton rain coats are the traditional styles. Developed for officers in WW I, trench coats appear scruffy in colors other than black or cream. Cream will look very dapper when worn over dark colored suits but black coats have greater longevity. Contemporary trench coats will withstand light showers but they aren't rain coats. Wear a navy Beaufort when the rain is pelting down.
Wool coats provide warmth but are a pretty standard affair. Camel is a lively traditional wool color that compliments navy suits. Black leather great coats coats are a debonair alternative to nylon offerings. Tying the leather belt in a knot is traditional but may be construed as effeminate. Leather will block wind and rain but doesn't have much insulation. Make extended cold weather periods comfortable by adding a 300 weight fleece underneath. Request black hardware instead of silver.
5: Dinner Suit
Black tie is traditional for diplomatic engagements and industry ceremonies. This dress code emphasizes conformity and understatement. If you are representing your employer at a black tie dinner, being conspicuous is most undesirable. Events such as opening night at the theatre or evening dinner on a cruise are less critical. Contemporary Tuxedo styling is little more than a black wool business suit with satin detail on the notch lapel and breast pocket. This is more flattering than a peak or shawl lapel. Satisfy convention by wearing a French cuff shirt with lay down collar, black silk bow tie, black formal cufflinks, and plain toe black patent oxfords. Waistcoats and cummerbunds are optional but dated. Outerwear consists of an unbuttoned black wool top coat and ivory evening scarf.
6: Tips for success.
The advice for a successful self employed career is pretty basic, keep your customers happy, minimise costs, maintain your cash flow and of course, get the word out. However, for employees, things are not so straightforward. Once the fundamental duties of attendance, punctuality and execution are discharged, your immediate priority should be to minimise the development of enemies. It's actually very easy to develop enemies by careless trivial behaviour but the consequences may be catastrophic for your career. To quote Warren Buffett, "It takes twenty years to build a reputation but five minutes to destroy it."
It's impossible to completely eliminate the issue, I've witnessed the character assassination of completely innocent people because they were perceived as threats to career advancement. However, the application of certain skills and strategies should keep you off the black sheep list. Clothing is your first line of defense. If you look like a professional, people will perceive you to be one. The goal of business etiquette is to prevent offense or embarrassment. Sometimes, we don't know, what we don't know. I guarantee Jacqueline Whitmore's guide will highlight some faux pas that blissfully escaped you. Most of the protocol is common sense but nothing is esoteric, unlike some other etiquette manuals. Knowing these secret handshakes breeds confidence, which can be channeled into our next skill set.
It's time to switch on the charm. Social awkwardness and limp, cold, sweaty handshakes are the kiss of death to a career and personal life. If you can't command the attention of a room or effortlessly engage on a one to one level, you are going nowhere. Charisma also keeps your enemies to a minimum by getting your way without being dogmatic. If you can relax in tense situations and put others at ease, achieving your objective suddenly becomes a lot easier. Most success manuals waffle about communication but the 'Charisma Myth' is an actual communication manual based on scientific principles with improvement exercises and self assessment.
Most would consider empathy the trait of a softy. In actuality, it makes you a controlled and insightful professional. Emotional people are weak and easily manipulated. We operate in a competitive society, which naturally results in friction at home and in the workplace. This originates from the inability to identify and understand where our counterparts are coming from. Understanding other's perspective diffuses their annoying behaviour, giving you the ability to convey poise and dignity, when any other reasonable person would see the red mist and blurt out a career ending insult. Maintaining this Zen state works wonders for your own motivation and drive, which can be eroded by the daily grind.
'The Power of Empathy' is essentially a distillation of life experience that will help you identify and understand your emotions and those of others. 'Verbal Judo' is the next stage of the skill set. It enables you to interrupt emotional people, calm them and effect compliance through, questions, empathy and respect. It's a proven de-escalation tactic in use with many police departments but equally useful in the workplace and domestic life. Tone is critical to Verbal Judo, as illustrated by the late George Thomson's video lecture.
Front line Military, Police, Firefighter and medical staff share a unique brotherhood. However, those in other occupations are well advised to maintain professional detachment with co-workers. The quickest way to make an enemy is to become their friend first. We inevitably develop certain expectations of loyalty, support and reciprocation from people we consider friends. We feel betrayed by action that would otherwise be dismissed as 'just business'. In short, there is no such thing as a work buddy. Be polite and helpful but don't invest too much time in your colleagues and don't expect any reciprocity. One third of married couples meet in the workplace. However, avoid short term flings with colleagues, damaging lies and false complaints are the typical blowback.
These strategies and skills will protect you from the drama of work politics and are vital once you advance from an operational position to managerial level. They will also enable you to retain productive staff and motivate the delinquent ones. Managing people isn't that difficult. Don't use lies, tricks or bullying to achieve short term expediency. Be humble, fair and respectful. Lead by example; care about doing a good job and having a good team. Show appreciation for any extra effort. Take an active interest is supporting your team's career development. Act as a mentor, grooming the next generation of management. If people truly feel valued, they show great loyalty.
Questions & Feedback.
Well, that's about it guys. I hope you found this guide useful. If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to contact me through the welcome page. Before you leave, check the navigation bar for other gear that may be of interest.
Ian ST John.
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