I’m excited to share with you a topic that was requested (and thus inspired) by a comment from a Dapperdeux reader all the way in Ireland! Anne asks,
“…I was wondering would you consider doing further pieces on being dapper in the workplace?”
When it comes to our jobs, there are a variety of environments a person could find themselves in depending on their industry or job role. However, I don’t believe personal style needs to be sacrificed for a bland office wardrobe and template emails. Everyone can bring subtle refinement to their workplace with what they wear and how they conduct themselves in their place of business.
Below I’ll cover a few different options for tweaking your wardrobe depending on the expectations of your workplace, a few suggestions everyone can employ, and lastly, I’ll address what to do if you want to change but are worried about the reaction of your coworkers.
Nothing will do more for your wardrobe than making sure all your pieces fit you properly. Tailoring, tailoring, tailoring! For more hints and tips, check out my previous post When to Visit the Tailor. For the rest of the article, we’re going to assume that each piece you own is tailored to fit your body.
The Conservative Office
There are some environments (Washington DC and banks come to mind) that require their employees to wear a black or dark blue suit- no exceptions. What is a dapper gentleman or lady to do then? You can still bring a touch of personal taste and refinement to your presentation with details, materials and a signature accessory or two.
While your workplace might be strict regarding the color of your clothing, you can always look to finer elements such as notched lapels or flapped pockets to keep you from being a perfect clone. And even more subtle you can express your discerning taste with the composition and weave of the material you wear. For instance, you can spruce up a dark blue jacket in the winter by going for a tweed or wool herringbone. In the summer, you could select a linen blend which has a unique, light texture not found in wool or polyester. The same applies to your trousers or skirt.
You have options with our shoes as well. For gentlemen, you can explore cap toes, Norwegian split toes and if you’re adventurous, austerity brogues. Boots (like the Edward Green’s Galways) are also a fashionable option. Ladies have an abundance of choices! We only need to look at the simple “black pump” to get an idea of all the opportunities for personal preference in the details: heel height, heel width, finish, pointed toe or rounded, etc. However, whatever you decide, the color should suit the outfit (please no mixing black and blue).
If permitted, a simple accessory such as a sophisticated pair of cufflinks or elegant brooch can add a point of interest without breaking the strict industry guidelines.
The Relaxed Environment
If your environment is more relaxed than the suit and tie office, one way to avoid slipping into a casual slump is to create a work uniform with modern variations on a classic silhouette.
For the gentleman, a button up shirt, pair of trousers, and oxfords, and for the ladies, a skirt (or pair of trousers), button up or silk blouse, and low heels can be a perfectly professional outfit.
Despite the approach of a uniform and classic pieces, it does not have to be drab! You can spruce up this formula with color and patterns. Instead of classic navy pant or skirt, go for a subtle green and blue plaid and complimentary top. I love classic pieces with fresh colors and fun patterns. Matching patterns can be tricky work. For beginners, I would recommend picking 1 pattern and 1 solid (top or bottom) and for that solid color to be a neutral or pulled directly from the pattern. It’s a fail-safe way to create a cohesive ensemble. As you get more comfortable, you can start experimenting: mixing patterns together or dressing in colors that compliment but are not identical.
Lastly, for cold weather or the office whose air conditioning unit seems to perpetually be set to subarctic temperatures, turn to the trusty blazer. My husband’s office suffers from the latter and he leaves a neutral, tailored sport coat in his office at all times.
I have been in offices (and even worked in a few) where the dress code was simply: wear clothes. Half the employees would show up in what I call the silicon valley uniform: cargo shorts (or jeans), flip flops and the latest free t-shirt they scavenged from a conference. Do not let these folks bring you down!
In such a situation, a few adjustments to the “Relaxed” formula can let you mingle in this casual environment without succumbing to the jeans and t-shirt protocol or completely alienating yourself.
Alternatively, you can keep the color and patterns but substitute some of the pieces with a more relaxed version:
Swap oxfords for boat shoes or low heels for flats.
Switch out the button down for a well-fit polo.
Trade pencil skirts for an A-line or circle skirt.
For the chilly, cardigans can be a more casual alternative to a blazer.
For Every Place You Ever Work…
Regardless of your workplace environment, there are a few things everyone can do to be their most dapper selves.
Keep your hairstyles modest. I mean clean, healthy hair that’s not over done. Unless you’re a fashion model, helmet-hard hairspray updos probably don’t need to make an appearance at the office.
Stick to a few choice pieces of jewelry. The workplace is not the environment to don every piece of jewelry you own. Keep it limited to one or two key pieces and keep them understated. For instance, a lovely watch, quality (but not ostentatious) cufflinks, or a pair of simple earrings can support your outfit without overpowering them– it’s all in the details. Unless you are a creative type (artist, photographer, writer), I would recommend leaving the large statement pieces for a night out or weekend date.
Keep your hands ready. Your hands are highly visible if you work with other people from the handshake to a presentation to pointing at something on a screen or handing off a print out– your nails and the state of your cuticles can scream volumes if not cared for properly. Whether you choose to do it yourself or take a trip to a nearby spa: take care to ensure you’re putting your best hand forward. Furthermore, women should aim for neutral colors for their polish or keep their nails buffed to a shine– leave the trendy colors for the artists and vacations (or your toes!).
Leave the denim at home. I know that these days you can spend hundreds of dollars on designer jeans, but in my opinion, this never looks particularly polished. Additionally, combining jeans with a blazer conjures up the same feelings of socks and sandals. It just isn’t working. If you do don the jeans (men and women), stick it with a nice polo and own your totally casual mentality for the day.
The Subtle Swap
If you’re currently going with the flow in your workplace environment, craving a change and yet, are worried about the reaction from your coworkers should you suddenly show up in a wardrobe upgrade, I recommend the gradual introduction of your new style. Mix your new pieces with your old until you can phase out the old and no one is the wiser: shoes, tops, and then bottoms would probably be the most covert. Give each phase it a week or two to settle in; at the end of a month’s time (or maybe two), you can toss those old clothes and say hello to your new style.
Being dapper isn’t just about the clothes you wear. In part two of Dapper in the Workplace (coming soon), we’ll explore how we can refine our conduct to match our perfect dress.