Learn the new ABC's for consistently impressive professional dress. As Alec Baldwin might say, Always Be Clothing. —By Michael Martin
You know that the days of the man in the gray flannel suit are pretty much over, and that a casual workplace isn't an excuse to look like the contents of the dryer. You know the difference between a style drone and the man who commands respect just by walking in the room without saying a word. You probably also know that getting there can be tricky and a bit overwhelming. Follow these style rules provided by menswear experts, and you'll go along way toward setting the pace instead of lagging with the pack. Start by making sure you own these 15 Items Every Man Should Have in His Closet!
1First things first
The most important piece in your closet is a well-made, well-fitted sportcoat. "The right jacket can absolutely transform your personal appearance," says Mike Kuhle, the founder of menswear brand Epaulet. "Suits are becoming less and less necessary in a work setting, but a jacket matched to complementary trousers, chinos, or jeans always looks on point."
2Spend more on a haircut than you think is practical
And go every month. To ensure you're groomed from head to toe, check out these 10 High-Tech Grooming Gadgets You Need Now!
3Don't "dress for the job you want" anymore
As work clothing has gotten more casual, there's less of a difference between the CEO and the new guy. So you don't need necessarily need to don executive-suite cufflinks and a three-piece suit — it's more important to develop a polished statement of your personal brand. "The new cardinal rule is, dress for the impression that you want to make," says Kuhle. "Wearing well-fitted, quality clothing and matching colors and textures in a sophisticated way will give you the look of someone who's always put together."
4Make the right investments
The most important are shoes and well-made dress shirts and sportcoats in good fabrics, says Kuhle. You're at an age now when you shouldn't skimp. "When a deal seems to good to be true, then it probably is," he says.
5Avoid the #1 style mistake
You knew it was coming: Cheap shoes. "Even if the rest of your clothes are similar in formality to your peers, you can still outshine others by wearing quality shoes, properly cared for," says Jason Yeats, founder and designer of suiting brand Beckett & Robb. If your workplace is strictly casual, you'll stand out with a high-quality loafer from Alden or Allen Edmonds, or a minimalist sneaker from Common Projects. Get (or do) a weekly shine or cleaning; make it a Sunday night routine.
6Own a few blue suits
Blue is the new black. It's your go-to suit, good for all seasons, good for all situations. Have one in four-season fabric. From there, branch out from there into flannel for cold weather and a linen-cotton blend for warm. After blue, go with a good gray suit or two and a slim double-breasted suit.
7Know your collar
A spread collar is the current match for a tie. A point collar goes under a jacket without a tie, or can be worn by itself or as a layering piece. A button-down collar works the same as a point collar — but never, ever, never with a tie.
8Mix things up
Experiment with variations beyond the solid shirt-solid tie thing. Need ideas? Look to #9.
9Lurk on Reddit
If you're feeling less-than-confident about what's happening sartorially, how to mix and match for maximum effect or proper fits, go online for ideas. Instagram, Reddit and Styleforum are packed with inspiring, sharp-dressed guys who are making the rules on this list and then some.
10Invest in a good watch
And wear it to all important meetings. People notice watches even before shoes. "If you have the budget, a fine watch is a great place to invest," says Yates. "A $10,000 Rolex, Breitling, or Panerai will likely still be worth about that in 10 years. That’s not so true with watches that cost $2,500 or less."
11Develop a relationship with a tailor
They'll save your ass (or hide it, or accentuate it). Having a regular tailor is like having a regular sex partner: They know what works for you and the quickest way to get there, and how to make you feel reliably good for a good while after.
12Go for color
Make yourself stand out with a tie, sweater or socks that pack a visual punch.
13Break apart your suit
Try a polo, a premium-fabric henley, a light cashmere sweater, a band-collar shirt, or a vest underneath your jacket. Look at the jacket and pants as a pair of items to be worn separately. One thing not to try: An everyday T-shirt. Miami Vice ain't coming back anytime soon.
14Get some suitworthy sneakers
It's a quick way to look of-the-moment. Just make sure they're as minimal as possible.
15Always dress one step above your peers
Even if your office is casual as can be. "Always try to stand out, without looking like you’re trying too hard," says Yeats. "Instead of jeans, try chinos. Instead of polo shirts, wear a long-sleeve button-down. If everyone wears dress shirts, add the occasional tie or sport coat, but not both at the same time. If everyone wears sport coats, wear a suit. If everyone wears suits, try a three-piece suit, or even an occasional bow tie."
16Keep a style file
There's a reason Pinterest's fastest-growing user group is men. Says Yeats: "I often meet guys that say 'I want help developing my personal brand,' because they understand the advantages that can create. If you are at step one on that journey, start with tools that are free online. There are so many blogs and forums, photo sites, and more. Start looking around. Save pictures you like into a folder on your computer. Once you have 30 to 40 pictures, look at them all, and you’ll probably start to see some recurring trends. These are things that you naturally like, and that’s a good start."
"Stick with classic style," says Yeats. "Build a wardrobe first, with staple items, in colors that create versatility."
The staples Yeats recommends:
— Navy blazer in a textured cloth with some casual details
— Slim dark denim jeans (no distressing)
— White and blue oxford button-down dress shirts
— Navy or grey topcoat
— Brown wingtips
— Brown suede shoe (derby, chukka or monk)
— Medium-grey suit
— A grey or navy cashmere sweater
18Upgrade your classics
Again, buy quality over quantity.It's better to have one item of really great quality than a bunch of middling stuff.
19Make a significant investment in a briefcase or portfolio
Even if you work in a creative-casual environment. Don't walk into a meeting with a canvas or cloth bag. For some ideas, check out these 15 Briefcases That Mean Business.
20Replace your suits every three to five years
To ensure you're up-to-date on lapel width and jacket length, for starters.
21Replace your bag or briefcase every five years
22Have a couple of overcoats
Just like one or two suits aren't enough, no overcoat will work for every situation. We're in the beyond-black era: Double-breasted, houndstooth and camel styles will stand out and leave your style competitors in the dust.
23Go custom-made now
By the time you're 40, you really should have at least one custom-made suit. If you need to dip your toes in, Indochino offers an excellent, affordable service. There are inevitably custom tailors in cities near you; some have a huge array of fabrics so you can really personalize your look. More and more suit stores are focusing on made-to-measure, and many offer online consultations.
You know to keep your beard or mustache more Joe Manganiello than Grizzly Adams. But every few weeks, take a minute to go through a checklist of the hairier new realities of being in your 40s and beyond. We’re talking ears, nostrils and eyebrows. If you’re not confident taking care of these yourself — going overboard on the brows is worse than leaving them George Whipple bushy after all — just say the word to your barber.
25Be strategic, and reap the rewards
All of this is the opposite of frivolous — it's an investment in yourself and your earning power. "My philosophy about clothing is that a man that cares about crafting a great life for himself should give significant thought to how his wardrobe can help him achieve his goals," says Yates. "Men underestimate this constantly, but it’s an incredibly powerful tool. Even if your workplace is casual, be deliberate in your approach: Slightly nicer jeans, shirts with collars, a clean shoe you don’t mow the lawn with. Take this stuff seriously, and it’ll help you."
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