To stand out sartorially in the office is to walk a line finer than a Pilot V5 rollerball. While naked self-advancement might be top of your action-item list, it’s not as simple as the cliché of dressing for the job you want: your clothing needs to fit your role and the organisation you’re in. Stand out too much and you’ll tread on career snakes rather than ladders.
To make matters harder, any advice for doing so typically suggests bedecking yourself in tie bars, pocket squares and watches that hang on chains. But that’s a slippery slope towards peacockery, and besides, that whole Mad Men thing is as dated as the skinny suit.
The aim is to dress for the job you have. Just, you know, better. So instead, follow these nine ways to appear less dull at your place of employment, all of which shouldn’t earn your colleagues’ ridicule or your P45. (Legal, please check.)
Rub Up Nice
There’s a scene in Revolutionary Road – the relentlessly downbeat film of Richard Yates’ devastatingly brilliant book – where Leonardo DiCaprio’s character gets off the commuter train in New York and is lost in a sea of indistinguishable grey flannel suits.
At the time, this look was considered a symbol of soul-crushing conformity. Nowadays, however, with 99 per cent of salarymen clad in tailoring made from shiny worsted wool (which only gets shinier the more you wear it, particularly around the seat), a fabric with some texture has become a way to stand out from the crowd.
Flannel will fly in formal workplaces, but even refined tweed or corduroy shouldn’t cause any friction providing you take steps to modernise the look (don’t show up in full hunting gear, basically).
Do Double Time
Double-breasted suits were a fixture of offices in the eighties; today, despite a resurgence on the runway, they see about as much use as fax machines. Time to dial things back, and up.
A plain DB is less of a statement than a patterned suit but still a cut above your average two-piece. If sharply tailored, it will flatter your physique rather than fatten it, simultaneously widening your torso and narrowing your waist faster than any kettlebell workout.
It’s a look that can skew classic or contemporary, corporate or creative. Sure, it requires a bit of know-how and gumption to pull off, which is why most men swerve it. By not, you’re telegraphing that you’re not most men.
Take Positive Steps
There are some workplaces where only strictly formal black shoes will cut it. In which case, you don’t have much scope beyond Oxfords. Maybe a monk-strap or a brogue, as long as their profile is suitably streamlined for sleek tailoring.
Generally, though, brown is acceptable in town, gives you more scope for variation and is way less boring.
Providing they match your suit, navy, burgundy, oxblood and even dark green are also surprisingly versatile, and will put you in higher standing than your less imaginative co-workers. And depending on how soft the rules are, suede can be a nice touch.
For most men, the only types of shirt they are familiar with are white or blue. Maybe pink if they’re feeling brave. However, expanding your horizons with colours and patterns such as checks or stripes can give your look the promotion it deserves.
Of course, it’s important to remember that what you add in interest, you lose in versatility. Get a little too ‘interesting’ and you verge on game show host territory.
Instead of straying into ‘party shirt’ ground, swap bog standard cotton poplin for chambray: denim’s more formal cousin. It’s your same go-to blue shirt, only more, well, interesting. And it won’t frighten most dress code horses. Just avoid any cowboy-style detailing, unless you’re actually a cattle rancher.
Have The Write Stuff
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who settle for what’s in the office stationery cupboard, and those who set their sights a little higher.
You don’t have to drop a month’s wages on a gold-barreled fountain pen. A few handsome jotters and pens will set you back less than the price of a good steak, and pay for themselves every time you use them.
Yes, the biro brigade may think you insufferably pretentious, and even call you out on it. But a few people will quietly take note. And even if they don’t, joy-sparking stationery will make that meeting at least slightly more bearable.
Tie The Knot
The yoke of corporate oppression has been thrown off in recent years by men desperate to assert their tieless independence. Congratulations: you now have the freedom to look exactly the same as every other guy in a navy or grey suit and an open-necked white or blue shirt.
Instead, you should see a tie as an opportunity to express your individuality – especially if you stick your neck out slightly further than generic glossy silk.
A knitted tie will instantly make you more noteworthy, as will seasonal materials: wool in winter, linen in summer. There’s also something understatedly classy about their matte finish.
Maybe you’re just not a tie guy. Maybe ‘fancy’ neckwear is too stiff for your workplace. Either way, your options are more open than an open-necked OCBD (that’s Oxford collar button-down, by the way).
A grandad or band collar shirt (also sometimes called ‘collarless’, confusingly) will make you look like you’ve got your finger on the pulse of style, and not like you forgot your tie.
In colder months, you can sub in a fine-gauge roll-neck jumper. Or, though slightly less formal, a polo shirt can still look reasonably smart, especially if it’s long-sleeved (and so more shirt-like) or knitted from a more upmarket fabric than cotton like merino wool or cashmere.
Bag A Promotion
Crappy, overfilled backpacks drag down many a work rig. Especially those that come free with gym memberships.
You could upgrade to a luxe backpack, but even that might be too kiddy for grown-up jobs; and without thorough thought, hard briefcases can be a tad stuffy, not to mention difficult to dress down. Document holders can look slick; they can also look affected and aren’t much use for carrying much else.
Get hold of a more modern, soft briefcase that’s just wide enough for your workout gear without giving the impression that you’re staying overnight (although you could). And upgrade to a gym that provides towels to save schlepping a wet one around.
Presenteeism (a fancy word for staying at work longer than is required) is not a good look. Nobody is impressed by your readiness to live in the office 24/7; they think that you’re bad at your job, or that you don’t have a life.
Besides, your productivity flatlines after a certain point, which defeats the object. Go hard for your contracted hours, then go home. Do stuff. Slip into some loungewear and binge-watch something. You’ll have something to talk about when you come in the next day, fully recharged.
If you really have too much work to handle, that’s down to your manager to rectify. And if you feel pressure to stay late from your peers or superiors, then you might want to consider dedicating some of that unpaid overtime to brushing up your LinkedIn profile.