Dressing the Part: A Guide for Men


September 3rd

Written by Philip Cornell

Let’s play would you rather. Would you rather show up to a company retreat at a park where everybody around you is in T-shirts and you are in a tux? Or, would you rather show up to a company board meeting wearing jeans and a polo and everybody else is in a suit? In a recent Blog post by my colleague Tess, she noted the importance of dress in making a first impression. She gave the great advice to research what to wear before you show up in the wrong attire. Well now there is no need to look no further to find where this research can be done, because in this article I will give explanations of dress code terms as well as suggestions in what to wear. What is nice is that like Tess noted, if any bit ambiguous on what is acceptable, the event will clarify dress code with terms such as “casual,” “business casual,” “western Business Attire” etc[1]. But still, you should know what these mean and entail so that you can be looking appropriate and your best.


In a work setting this is going to be the least utilized, and probably only good for if you are just hanging out with colleagues outside of work, or maybe for the park picnic that I had talked about early. For casual, it is better to err on the side of sharp instead of too casual. For men I would recommend sticking to a polo over a t-shirt, but probably keeping it untucked into a pair of shorts or pants (jeans or khakis). A nice pair of sneakers would be best, but if you don’t have that, a pair of loafers will do. This recommendation allows you to look good but also be mobile enough for a game of corn hole, volleyball, or tossing of a Frisbee that may occur sporadically.

Business/Smart Casual

This is usually in a company that doesn’t meet with clients, or at conferences that are focused on training or team development. At this stage guys need to forget about the jeans and sneakers. Slacks equivalent to khakis are good. Dress pants might be a little much, but as long as they aren’t black, they should be fine. For your shirt, a button up or a crisp polo is good. The shirt should be tucked in and you should be wearing a belt that is leather. Belt color should always match shoes, so no black with brown here. Also, a tie in this situation is often a little overkill, so keep the top button unbuttoned, but no more than that.

Business Professional

              This is often a weird in between step and you should only wear this if the event specifically calls for it. What is nice about this level is that if you wear business formal, which is the last stage that we will cover, it would not put you way out of place, so if you are unsure err towards business formal. But business professional is often worn for day to day in an office that meets with clients. For men this is a blazer and a tie with dress slacks. No more boat shoes at this stage. Shoes should be dress shoes and again match your blazer. At this stage, the blazer and the pants do not have to be the same color, but they should match obviously. Stick to basic colors for the blazer, you are trying to be professional, not be in an all-male acapella group.

Western Business Attire/Business Formal

Luckily this is pretty simple. This would be for presentations, or when you are representing your company in a formal fashion. Or if your job is on wall street or a political office, this is your go to. Simply it is a suit. The shoes must match the pants and the jacket. Pants and jacket are same color. Black shoes with black suit. Brown shoes with gray suit, brown, or navy suit. These should be the only color of suit that you wear. You are trying to be professional, so stick to professional colors. You should try to wear a pocket square and only wear a bowtie if it is a dinner party, but I would stick to regular tie to be the most professional.

              Now that you know what to wear for each level of attire, you should fill your closet with the appropriate outfits, at least 2 for each occasion. Also remember for every outfit with pants, always wear long socks, either navy or black are your safest bet for sock color. And last, remember that the key to pulling off every outfit is confidence. Not only do you feel good when you are confident, but you look your best as well.




[1] http://smallbusiness.chron.com/four-different-types-business-attire-23396.html