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 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 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.
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 kicks from the likes of Adidas, Common Projects or Axel Arigato work. The beer-stained ones you wore to last night’s gig do not.
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. 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.
The Mistake: Dressing Too Far Down
Trendy tracksuit bottoms 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.
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 or trouser over the full jogger – then find balance up top 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.
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 denim with an Oxford shirt, blazer and a loafer or Derby to make them safe for work.
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 work 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.
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, chances are it will also ruin the rest of your look.
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.
The Mistake: Poor Shoes
There’s an old saying that women judge a man by his shoes 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, second-rate shoes just won’t do.
We’re not saying every pair you own needs to have a you-could-shave-in-that level of shine, but 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.