A male friend asked me the other day for some fashion advise from the female’s perspective. I have to say, that as a woman, there are things we like to see on a man, things that make them more attractive to us, and we like knowing we helped in a man’s success. But in my attempt to answer his question, I felt the need to investigate the general consensus as to what is essential for men’s wear.
Starting with Work attire, here are the top 5 Essentials for every Working Man’s closet.
Almost all fashion experts will say a man should own a two or three piece suit. For many, suits are what separate the men from the boys. With a well-made suit, a man will always be prepared for a wedding or a funeral, a job interview, a dinner party, ‘black-tie’ events, awards ceremonies, or any other fancy kind of event.
But you don’t just want any store bought suit; you want a suit that fits you like a glove, and makes you look more than well put-together.
It was not until my husband went to have his first suit made for our wedding that I noticed the difference a well-made suit looks on a man.
You can buy your first suit in a store, but it is recommended that you have your tailor look at the suit and make the required adjustments, as the suit may not fit you perfectly at first.
Whether you choose to buy it or get it made, for your first suit, get it in a solid navy blue or grey, never black. Black sends the wrong message if worn for any business or daytime event; black suits are only appropriate for ‘Black-Tie’ events. But if you want a dark suit, go for charcoal grey.
Locally, you can check out Spokes Apparel for your first tailor-made suit. A great tailor-made suit will be a bit costly at first, but it will be well worth it in the end.
For more tips on how to wear your first suit, click here.
Trousers (or dress pants) are essential for any working man; trousers are what we call the basics of any outfit. There are two basic types of trousers: the pleated trouser and the flat-front trouser. The pleated trouser has pleats running down the leg of the trouser from the waist band on either side of the fly and tends to sit at the waist. The pleated trouser is traditional and has been associated with business-wear. The flat-front trouser, although it was considered an old style, has been updated as modern business wear and have been adopted by young professionals. The flat-front trouser gives a sleek, stream-line look but tends to sit below the waist. For bigger men, opting for a pleated trouser will provide you with more leg room and the freedom to move, however, the pleated look will also add a couple extra visual pounds around the mid-section (and we don’t want that).
The general rule of thumb is to try both a pleated trouser and a flat-front trouser to decide which one looks better and feels better. As much as we all want to look great, we also want to feel comfortable in what we wear.
In terms of buying the right size trouser, get a measuring tape and measure your waist (by your belly button or 2 inches below). This magical number will determine where you start looking for trousers that fit. So if your waist is 34″, start looking at trousers in that size. However, based on the trousers style, you may need to try a trouser one size up if you are thinking about slim-fitted trousers. But to be honest, the slim-fitted trousers may not work for every man; there are other styles you can try. There are straight legged trousers as seen in the photo above which will work for almost everybody. Again, try on the different styles and note how they look and feel.
Look for trousers in neutral colours so that they can be worn with anything, anywhere, and at any time. Typically you should own a black pair (yes black trousers are more accepted than a black suit), but I would go further and add a grey, navy blue, and a khaki pair as well, but those are not necessary.
As a guide, trousers should rest at your waist or 1-2 inches below your belly button, and the hem of the legs should sweep (not crumple) the floor when you’re barefooted.
“A pristine white long-sleeve dress shirt is like the ‘little black dress’ for men.”
My husband is so adamant about this often overlooked essential that he has two white dress shirts: one for work and important meetings, the other for events. I have to say, he may be onto something. A decent white shirt and black or grey trousers immediately screams power suit (even without the jacket and tie), “this man means business” and that is the message you want to send, right?!
When shopping for dress shirts for work, it is good to know the size of your neck. Even though most shirts are arranged in the traditional small, medium and large sizes, there are some shirts that are arranged by the collar size. So take a measuring tape your neck as well, and keep that second magical number in mind. When you’ve tried on a shirt, ensure that the buttoned up collar fits snugly around your neck ensuring you can fit one finger between the collar and your neck. If two fingers can fit, it’s too big.
Look for long sleeve dress shirts as well. I know, I know, we live in the tropics and it can get hot as heck more time, but a long sleeve shirt is more professional looking than short sleeves. Short sleeve dress shirts give men a childish look and that’s the opposite of the look you want to portray as a professional. They also cannot be worn with a tie, so if you’re into ties, you should go for long sleeve dress shirts. If it gets too hot, roll the sleeves up to your elbows. This is a much better look that women tend to prefer . . . what can I say, we like the revealing forearm under the rolled up sleeve of a nice dress shirt.
Also consider looking for slim-fitting dress shirts regardless of your size. As you’ve probably guessed by now, the slim-fitting look is in; it’s been in for a while now, and it’ll be around for a while, so join the group. The slim-fitting shirts are tapered for the male’s body and helps diminish the ‘boxy’ look of regular shirts. Whether you are tall and lanky or short and stout, try a slim-fitted dress shirt in your size and notice how it looks and fits on you.
As for colour, you can go wild with that. Have fun, play around with patterns – plaids, stripes, floral, artistic, and solid. I doubt there is a polka-dot dress shirt out there, but if you find one, run in the opposite direction!
Whether you plan to get that tailor-made suit or just the white shirt and black trousers, a man’s ensemble is not complete without a good pair of dress shoes. According to GQ.com, “you can tell a lot about a man by his shoes”. Imagine if you will, a man who is coming in for an interview. He’s wearing a nicely made suit, he’s neatly trimmed and looks well put-together, but his shoes are chunky and old-fashioned or scuffed and unpolished. What would be your impression of the man?
There are quite a number of dress shoes one can invest in, and these will be looked at. But it is important to note that a man should own a good pair of dress shoes first and foremost.
“The white shirt, black trousers, and black dress shoes are essential for every man, and they are universal.”
There is the traditional Oxford and Derby Dress Shoe. These use laces although the Derby type has outer laces with flaps whereas the Oxford has built in laces. Both are perfectly formal attire though there are some Oxfords and Derbys that are more casual in style.
Then there is the Cap Toe Shoe which refers to the extra layer of leather at the front of the shoe. These Cap Toes can be plain or patterned. One such patterned Cap Toe style of shoe is called the Wingtip as the shape of the cap toe on the shoe looks like wings.
Most men tend to prefer the dressier version of the Loafers. Loafers are lace-less shoes that easily slip on and off, are comfortable and versatile. They can be worn with jeans, dress pants, and a suit sans the tie.
Monk straps are dress shoes with a buckle strap in lieu of shoe-laces. Just ensure the buckle matches your belt.
The less common dress shoe is the Dress Boot. They are a minimalistic boot style that can be worn with jeans, odd trousers, and suits.
When buying shoes generally, it is recommended that you shop in the evening. At this time, there will be less customers so the sales reps can provide their undivided attention. In addition to that, our feet tend to swell during the day. To get the best fit in any shoe, go shoe-shopping in the evenings.
It is also recommended that you wear or carry the type of socks you plan to wear with the shoe. Dress shoes are worn with thin dress socks, made of silk, cashmere or other variations of wool or cotton. Sneakers on the other hand are generally worn with athletic socks which are thicker and mainly made of cotton. Wearing the appropriate type of socks aids in helping you find the perfect fit.
When trying on shoes, try on both feet and walk around the store. Askmen.com provides a simple analogy:
“No one jumps in the driver’s seat of the car, adjusts the mirrors and then decides to buy the car. They test-drive the car first.”
Test-walk your shoes to be sure there are no pinches or discomfort.
To know if your shoes fit, stick your index finger between the heel of the shoe and your heel. If your finger passes easily it is too big. If you can barely fit your finger, then it is too small.
When shopping for dress shoes, always think quality over quantity. It is better to buy one good pair of shoes than to buy two or more average shoes as they will degrade faster. Buy dress shoes in 100% leather, no man-made materials.
In terms of style, there are a couple things to remember.
- Square toe is out. Pointed toe is out. And the extremes of each is a definite No-No. Opt for a rounded toe shoe.
- The sleeker the shoe, the more formal it looks.
- Your dress shoe should be as contoured as your suit.
Now that we’ve covered Suits, Trousers, Dress Shirts and Dress Shoes, let’s take a look at men’s Accessories in relation to formal or office wear.
Watches are one of the main accessories for men. Some would even say a man isn’t fully dressed without his watch. But just like they have different kinds of shoes for different types of events, watches come in a variety to suit the different areas of your life. Get the classic stainless-steel or leather bands for formal or office wear.
“And just to clarify, if your watch has a night-vision feature, measures distances, calculates altitude, has a compass, has a rubber strap, and/or has a digital display, it is the wrong thing to wear to a more formal occasion be it the office, a more formal party, etc.”
D. Billett of mensfashion.about.com
The universal rule when it comes to your belt is that you should match your belt to your shoe. So if you plan to wear your brown wingtips, your belt should also be brown. You should also always wear a belt (unless you’re wearing suspenders which is another topic for discussion). Also remember, the bigger the buckle, the less formal it is, and the formal kinds of belts usually have a gold or silver finish on the buckle.
In this day and age, most men tend to nix the tie for office wear. There are some however, who love the completed look of a tie with their ensemble. Regardless of whether you like wearing ties or not, a tie is essential for any formal occasion for which you have to wear a suit. So to be on the safe side, buy your ties when you’re buying your dress shirts; that way, you can mix and match your ties to the dress shirts you intend to buy instead of guessing a colour that could match. You can play around with colour, texture, and patterns but for the less fashion-saavy among us, try not to mix two patterns together (that is, a plaid shirt and a striped tie – no!). Keep it simple. The wide, fat ties are out, the more slim, streamline ties are in. And you can learn how to tie your Tie here.
As mentioned before, there are different kinds of socks for the different shoes and occasions for men. The thin dress socks are for dress shoes while the thick chunky athletic socks are for sneakers. In the past, the general rule of thumb for wearing socks is that you should match your socks to your pants, but in recent time, men’s socks have evolved from the simple navy, black and grey options to include stripes, plaid, polka-dots, etc. So by all means have fun with your sock colours and patterns, but remember: thin socks are for dress shoes. Also remember it is considered a faux pas if any part of your leg shows under your pants when seated. Under no circumstances should you wear socks with sandals.
Outer wear refers to anything that is worn over your ensemble, for example sweaters, cardigans, blazers, hoodies, etc. In the office, and at certain times of the year when the temperature drops, outer wear is essential even for men. One universal staple in the outer wear arena is the Blazer. A man cannot go wrong with a blazer. A blazer is the jacket portion of a suit without being a part of a suit. They are versatile and can be worn with dress pants, jeans, a dress shirt, polo shirt, or graphic tees, and can be worn to the office, to the club, or to the supermarket. They are masculine while providing an attractive silhouette for most men. As with any store bought suit, you can buy a blazer in store, but ensure you have a tailor adjust it to fit your body perfectly. You can opt for a black, navy or grey blazer, and keep it available at work or in the office. Wearing a blazer in the office is more professional looking than if you wore a hoodie. Don’t get me wrong, I love hoodies, but a blazer on a man is much more presentable and you will always be prepared for those last-minute executive meetings. Wear your blazer to those, and suddenly everyone addresses you by the Mister title.
There you have it, the 5 Essentials for Men’s Wear – The Formal/Office Wear Edition.
Is there anything I might have missed? Please let me know in the comments below.
And you can look out for the next article: 5 Essentials for Men’s Wear – The Casual Edition . . . coming soon!