Previous generations had it easy when it came to dressing for work. If you picked a suit that fitted and kept your shirt and tie sober, you’d be unlikely to put a brogue-clad foot wrong. Yes, it was restrictive. But at least everyone knew where they stood.
The revolution against the dress code has unyoked us from style servitude but, with right and wrong now less clearly distinguished, it’s easier to take a sartorial stumble. Can you wear trainers but still look like you mean business? Is there any way to wear jeans at your desk without looking like an off-duty dad? Yes, and indeed yes. Just follow our map through the minefield.
1. The Mistake: Gym Bags & Suits
You’ve rightly binned the briefcase for a backpack as a more practical way to cart your kit to work, but know your limits. If what’s slung over your shoulder is riddled with velcro and pockets, save it for hiking.
Your backpack is office-ready if it passes a few tests: premium fabrics, muted colours, and a contemporary shape. Ideally, that means leather in black, brown or blue, with high quality hardware and enough space for your laptop and a spare layer.
Still in doubt? Check out our complete guide.
Image: Burton SS15
2. The Mistake: Misunderstanding Athleisure
Gone are the days when black lace-ups were your only option, but that doesn’t mean you can wear your gym trainers to work. If they’re neon, or you’ve actually used them to run in, they’re out.
It’s all about the materials. Look for classic canvas and high-end leather or suede, which you can even wear with a suit to give it a creative flourish.
Work-worthy trainers are unfussy and, above all else, as clean as the high-shine Oxfords they’re replacing. Box-fresh Stan Smiths work. The beer-stained ones you wore to last night’s gig do not.
Image: Reiss AW15
3. The Mistake: Disrespecting Your Suit
What to do with that suit you no longer need to wear every day? Dress it down by splitting the jacket from the trousers, of course.
Fine, until your laissez-faire approach to your tailoring renders it unwearable when you do actually have to dress up.
Deploying your suit singly means trousers and jacket wear out at different paces. Instead, invest in some tailored wool trousers and an unstructured blazer, which is softer at the shoulder and more relaxed in fit.
It also shrugs off wrinkles, so you needn’t stress slinging it on the back of your desk chair.
Image: Suitsupply AW15
4. The Mistake: Dressing Too Far Down
Trendy tracksuit bottoms may have the designers’ seal of approval, but your boss isn’t refreshing the LC:M runway reports. At work, being on-trend matters less than being appropriate – even on dress-down Fridays.
Balance is one of the fundamental rules of menswear. If you’re going to dress-down your lower half – and we’d suggest a cuffed slimline chino over the full jogger – then find balance with a smart shirt and jumper.
Similarly, a polo shirt is fair game at work, but you’ll swerve any awkward glances by pairing it with tailored trousers and brogues.
Image: THOM SWEENEY SS15
5. The Mistake: Visible Undershirt
It’s only when you lose your office noose that you realise what it hid. Tie abandoned, the top button of your shirt often follows suit. The peek-a-boo sight of your undershirt’s crew neck is an unsightly replacement.
Don’t ditch the undershirt – sweat stains are an even worse sin – but swap for a V-neck to ensure it stays hidden. Heather grey beats white, as it’s less visible through lighter shirts.
6. The Mistake: Dad Denim
By now your denim game should be on-point, but the urge not to be too out-there can steer you into Clarkson territory. Be wary of anything shapeless, or that looks like it’s been washed in an acid bath.
Treat your work jeans like formal trousers by sticking to something rich in colour, without distressing, in a tailored fit. Pair indigo jeans with a piece of smart knitwear, blazer and suede Chelsea boots to make them safe for work.
Image: AVVA AW14