While business casual is complex and can therefore be difficult to grasp, business formal is just the opposite: simple, straight-forward, and therefore a lot easier to manage. This is exactly the purpose of a business formal dress: while you should look professional and serious, your attire should not distract from your personality, your competence, and your performance. While you definitely want to present yourself through your attire, you want to impress through the person, not the clothes.
Your business attire should therefore be plain and simple. Especially for young professional, this can be a great advantage, because you can cover all the necessities with two or three simple suits. Of course, the biggest question is which suit should be bought first: the traditional black one? Pinstripes? Or a dark navy blue?
There is no right answer and a smart move would be to equip yourself with a small variety right away. However, there is no question: suits in straight black or dark charcoal offer the best options for true beginners. They are simply the two options with the greatest versatility and can be worn to the most occasions. If you would have to choose a single suit, make it black or charcoal!
When you start to expand your wardrobe, you may gradually venture into more daring pattern, like three-pieces and pinstripes. However, even with a larger selection of suits, it is important to follow a couple of simple rules:
1. Patterns and color: if you decide to go with a pattern, keep it simple. There are certain patterns that stand for something, like the famous Duke of Windsor. However, you might want to consider less noisy outfits and while it is totally fine to have four black suits, it is not ok to have even one suit that makes you look like a clown. In summer, it is absolutely ok to wear lighter suits. However, the workplace calls for more traditional colors like black, grey, or navy blue.
2. Fit: Honestly, there is nothing worse than a bad fitting suit. Be it too small or too big – it looks horrible. Of course, there is always the option of having a suit tailor-made. While this used to be expensive, more reasonable priced options are available thanks to globalization. A lot of companies offer the measurement and fabric services of a bespoke tailor and have the actual suit manufactured in Thailand or China, significantly reducing costs. And the second benefit: you might want to order a second pair of pants, because pants usually wear out a lot faster than jackets.
3. Differentiate yourself through details. Every suit has unique attributes. The lapel can be broader or finer, the button or pocket count can differ from suit to suit. Find your own style, but own it. Less is often more, as we elaborated earlier. Differentiate yourself through actions, not clothes.
Now that we have the right suit in our closet, we can put together our business formal attire. Again, we follow the mantra of simplicity. How many white shirts does a man need? Always one more… Preferably, this shirt is well tailored (not necessarily made-to-measure, but slim, regular, or wider fit…), has nice cufflinks and a collar without those little buttons to hold it down. Unfortunately, those button-down collars have gotten a hold of America’s corporate landscape and it is about time to end this reign. A true dress shirt has neither breast pouch nor buttons under the collar, and while we tolerate the pouch, we DO NOT TOLERATE the buttons. And if you decide to wear a pen in your breast pouch, you will immediately lose all privileges to wear a suit in the first place! Just don’t do it…
With a simple shirt, white, or even a light color like blue or yellow, we choose our tie. Again, don’t go all bananas on a tie. Especially useful is the five color rule: no tie should have more than five colors, over all. And of course, little reindeers are amazing for your Christmas party, but you wouldn’t wear that ugly sweater to work, either. Right?
Your pocket square, even folded neatly into a square (as Americans do) or more puffy (European style), should round up the overall impression of shirt, tie, and cufflinks. With a white shirt, a yellow tie, matching pocket square, and nice silver cufflinks you could almost take over the world.
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