By Alan Neff
There’s a lot of black and gray in the Basic Business Wardrobe set out below. That shouldn’t surprise you. Men’s dress-clothes for entry-level positions ought to support first impressions and continuing perceptions of your modesty, reliability, and productivity. Those are highly-valued traits in most workplaces. And, black goes with nearly everything and makes you look slimmer.
(1) Three two-piece 100%-wool suits (two-buttoned, soft-shouldered): (a) at least one charcoal gray; and (b) with these options for the other two – (i) navy-blue with/without a nearly imperceptible white pin-strip (approximately one inch between the stripes); and (ii) “glen plaid,”(shown below) preferably with a red sub-text or none at all.
Expect to have them altered where you purchase them, and expect to pay for alterations. If you can get two pairs of pants with each suit, do it. Pay the price. Pants take the brunt of your wear. They get shiny at the knees and in the seat. They suffer spills and stains more frequently than jackets. (Think about it: how often do you wear your jacket when you’re eating at work? Not always, but you always wear your pants, unless you work in a really interesting office.)
Pants must be cuffed. Cuffs serve no purpose, except to catch crumbs and spare change, but that’s the classic look, in every period but the late 1960s and 1970s. Pleated or flat-front is your choice, but the more traditional look is flat-front. Pleated’s a bit more comfortable.
With alterations, expect to pay around $400 per suit, plus a bit for tailoring and taxes. You can pay somewhat less or way more, but that’s where you’re likely to get a decent entry-level suit.
(2) One sport coat, also 100%-wool (two-buttoned, soft-shouldered): either (a) black, with bone or plastic black buttons (not faux gold or silver); or (b) black and white “herringbone,” which looks like this [insert pattern]. For a change of pace, or on business-casual days, you can wear your sport coat with the charcoal-gray suit pants.
(3) One knee-length-or-longer overcoat: either (a) dark wool (black, black-and-white herringbone, or navy); or (b) cotton-waterproof with a zip-in lining for extra warmth (black, navy, or tan). For the coats, forgo cuff-buckles, belts, and epaulets- you can lose them, and they get caught on things and rip associated parts of the coat.
(4) Seven 100%-cotton Oxford dress-shirts, with button-down collars. At least four of these should be white. Three may be plaid or pin-striped, but the plaids or stripes should be subtle rather than loud.
You’ll need seven shirts to get through a week while two or more are at the cleaners, unless you’re planning to wash and press your shirts yourself, a practice I do not recommend. Leave cleaning and pressing your business clothing to the professionals. If they ruin or lose your clothes, cleaners will generally replace them at their cost, unless they want to lose your business and suffer a lashing on the internet.
As to these shirts – you may elect button cuffs or “french cuffs” – the kind that require cufflinks. If you go with the latter, you have to be able to afford tasteful unobtrusive cufflinks, you have to learn how to choose them, and you have to learn how to not lose them. At this starter level, I recommend against cufflinks, because they’re one less expense and time-and-life-management challenge.
(5) Five silk ties in darker primary colors, including one in solid red, one in solid navy-blue, and one in solid black. Patterns are acceptable, but they should be very quiet. Generally, you will want to wear the patterned ties only with a charcoal or solid-navy suit and the all-white shirts, so you project that you know (a) how to dress and (b) what effect your clothing is having on people who look at you. Generally, wear patterned ties with solid-color shirts, and solid-color ties with patterned shirts. Keep in mind that colors of ties and shirts should be complementary, per the color wheel.
(6) Five pairs of mid-calf black blended dress socks – the kind that don’t fall down around your ankles.
(7) Two pairs of lace-up black dress shoes – not patent leather, not loafers, and not low boots. One pair may be wing-tips.
(8) One umbrella.
(9) One lint brush, especially if you own a pet or date someone who does.
(10) All-cotton boxer briefs – because wool suits can be a bit rough on the upper thighs. You can and should have fun with these, but remember others might see them, and they might not share your sense of humor.
(11) Two black leather belts, approximately one inch in width, with an unobtrusive buckle. If you also want suspenders for occasional alternate use, get black, dark-red, or navy to start. Don’t use suspenders to make editorial or humorous statements. You will doubtless offend or confuse someone.
(12) V-neck or crew-neck all-cotton white tees. You’ll want tee-shirts under your dress shirts so you don’t stain the shirts with perspiration where you inevitably will perspire.