Previous generations had it easy when it came to dressing for work. If you picked a suit that fits and kept your shirt and tie sober, you’d be unlikely to put a 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.

The Mistake: Gym Bags & Suits

You’ve binned the briefcase for a backpack as a more modern 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.

The Fix

A 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.

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The Mistake: Misunderstanding Athleisure

Gone are the days when black Oxfords were the only option, but that doesn’t mean you can wear your running shoes to work. If they’re neon, or have seen the inside of a gym, they’re out.

The Fix

Work-worthy trainers are unfussy and, above all else, as clean as the formal kicks they’re replacing. Box-fresh canvas, leather or suede styles from the likes of Adidas, Common Projects or Axel Arigato work. The beer-stained ones you wore to last night’s gig do not.

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The Mistake: Disrespecting Your Suit

What to do with that lounge suit you no longer need to wear every day? Dress it down by splitting the jacket from the trousers, of course. Fine, until a laissez-faire approach to tailoring renders it unwearable when you do actually have to dress up.

The Fix

Deploying a suit singly means the trousers and jacket wear out at different paces. Invest in some tailored wool trousers and a sprezzatura-inspired unstructured blazer, which is softer at the shoulder and more relaxed in fit. It also shrugs off wrinkles, so you needn’t stress about slinging it on the back of your desk chair.

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The Mistake: Dressing Too Far Down

Luxury loungewear may have the designers’ seal of approval, but your boss isn’t refreshing this season’s runway reports. At work, being on-trend matters less than being appropriate; even in business-casual offices.

The Fix

Balance is one of the fundamental rules of menswear. If you’re going to dress-down your lower half, then find balance up top with a smart shirt and knit. Similarly, a polo shirt is fair game at work, but you’ll swerve any awkward glances by pairing it with tailored trousers.

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The Mistake: Dad Denim

By now your DILF-dressing 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.

The Fix

Treat your work jeans like formal trousers by sticking to something rich in colour, without distressing, in a tailored fit. Pair indigo denim with an Oxford shirt, blazer and Derby shoe to make them safe for work.

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The Mistake: Visible Undershirt

It’s only when you lose the office noose that you realise what it hid. Tie abandoned, the top button of your work shirt often follows suit. The peek-a-boo sight of your undershirt’s crew neck is an unsightly replacement.

The Fix

Don’t ditch the undershirt altogether — sweat stains are an even worse sin — but swap it for a V-neck to ensure it stays hidden. Heather grey also beats white, as it’s less visible through lighter shirts.


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The Mistake: Creased Shirts

There is no business pressing enough (pun very much intended) to warrant leaving the house in the morning with a wrinkled shirt. Not only will doing so see your style stock de-crease, but chances are it will also ruin the rest of your look.

The Fix

In short: invest in a good iron, and use it. If unsure how, learn. If that’s too much effort, buy a steamer. If you can’t deal with any of that, get a new job as something topless like a swimmer or stripper.


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The Mistake: Poor Shoes

There’s an old saying that women judge a man by what’s on his feet before anything else. Which isn’t exactly true, men do it too. Whether they’re scuffed, in dire need of a polish, or just square-toed monstrosities, lax lace-ups just won’t do.

The Fix

Not every type of shoe needs to have a you-could-shave-in-that level of shine. However, taking time at least once a fortnight to remove loose dirt, buff out any marks and apply some shoe protector will pay dividends when it comes to salary negotiations.


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The Mistake: Wearing Beachwear In A Heatwave

Sadly, temperatures that reduce a besuited man to a sweaty mess are no excuse to turn up for the 9am meeting in board shorts and a pair of flip-flops. But with many offices relaxing their dress codes, there is a way to stay cool and collected without being called to see HR.

The Fix

Tailored shorts, or at least slim-fitting chino styles, are your only option. Restrict them to a neutral palette of black, navy, sand and khaki and dress them up with crisp shirts and polos. We can’t condone bare feet in the office but if you really must, ditch the ‘thongs’ for a pair of smart, minimalist sandals and for the love of Sandra on reception, get a pedicure.

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