The Working Man: A Response to the Basic Business Wardrobe

by Rachel Yeomans | July 20th, 2011   

We are extremely excited to have our men’s fashion contributor, Alan Neff, detailing his thoughts on the man’s business wardrobe. His first series of posts highlighted the man’s basic business wardrobe. And how fabulous it was to receive an amazing comment to the first article as well! It was a lengthy piece of feedback, so Alan ingeniously suggested to write the comment (and his responses to said comment) as a whole separate blog post! That way, if you care to contribute to the conversation, you can feel free to do so in the comments! And here we go:

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After taking the time to read through this article and having written for this site before I felt the need to chime in.  It’s great that this article is encouraging young men to dress properly for themselves and their workplace. However, there are several areas I beg to differ with and I believe can be improved upon.

Response: Thanks for taking the time to read and offer suggestions. I like what you have to say.  My responses follow your comments.

Picture 83 The Working Man: A Response to the Basic Business Wardrobe

While it’s good advice to go for a gray and navy suit first I wouldn’t recommend glen plaid for beginners. Patterns can be difficult for experts to work with much less a novice. I would recommend a sold gray a solid navy, then a pinstripe as a third option. The first two suits are solid and can be dressed up or down. Pinstripes mean business and should only be worn as such. Plaids and checks should be left for later

Response: Your alternative to glen plaid – solid navy – is a good suggestion.  I recommended glen plaid for the third suit to give the wearer a change of pace, and something both a bit more casual.  Also, I don’t think it’s difficult for a beginner to dress with a glen plaid.  The simple complements to the suit are a white shirt and a solid tie – either black or a dark solid color that matches, more or less (preferably more), the colored thread in the plaid (red with a red thread, blue with a blue thread).

While it’s correct that pants take the brunt of wear typically only custom suits will come with two pairs of trousers and unless you’re paying top dollar you’ll have still have to ask. Beginners most likely won’t have this option. I suggest proper care and maintenance of the one suit trouser they do have until they can afford a separate pair.

Picture 111 The Working Man: A Response to the Basic Business Wardrobe

Response: You’re right about the extra cost of two pairs of pants.  I checked pricing, and basic tailored suits can be purchased with two pair of pants from Brooks Brothers, for example, for ~ 550 plus tailoring and tax.  This means probably about $650 total per suit.  So, one can go with two suits with two pairs of pants for ~ 1300 or three suits each with one pair of pants for the same amount.

You mention that pants MUST be cuffed and then state that they serve no purpose. This is a bit of an oxymoron. I have to disagree that pants must be cuffed. Pants should be cuffed with pleats and should be uncuffed with a flat front. Only those fashion forward and brave enough are allowed to wear cuffs with flat front trousers. Cuffs serve a purpose indeed. They add weight to the trousers in order to help them drape better over the shoe. Pleated and cuffed trousers NOT plain cuff and flat front trousers are considered traditional.

Response: You caught the oxymoron about purposeless cuffs, but isn’t “men’s fashion” a more basic oxymoron? (Kidding.)   Anyway, you and I must have grown up in different eras, because most of the men I know came late to pleated pants, and first as an element only of casual slacks.  Here, we’ll have to agree to disagree.  I stick by my original comment: I still recommend un-pleated suit-pants with cuffs. (I confess to purchasing pleated suit-pants, but I’ve always regretted it.)

A black sport coat should never be the first purchase for a beginner. Always go with navy. Navy is more professional, is more transitional, and blends well with most men’s skin tones. I would not recommend a black blazer in the first three purchases. I would also stay away from herringbone and other patterns. The first two or three blazers should be solid in gray, navy and a shade of brown.

Response: You’re probably right that navy is more traditional in blazer.  I recommend black because it’s easier to match with more items one is likely to have in a basic black/gray-centered business wardrobe.  Your preference for blue is a sound alternative.  I don’t think I’d recommend brown in a blazer, except for very casual occasions.

Picture 9 The Working Man: A Response to the Basic Business Wardrobe

I agree with the coat suggestions except for black again. Go with navy, gray and a camel brown to stand out from every other guy wearing black. Yes it is a good idea to stay away from extra trappings on the coat but I’ve never lost something that was attached to my coat and rarely ever ripped something off of it. If this happens they should buy a better quality coat.

Response: We’ll have to agree to disagree here.  I think navy’s a good alternative, though.

I agree with the number of shirts but disagree with all of them being button down collars. Button downs are the dead giveaway sign of the middle manager in America. They are also inherently casual. In most instances a button down collar shirt should not be worn with a suit. They can and should be worn with blazers and sport coats. I recommend only 3 of the 7 shirts be button downs and the rest be some type of point or semi-spread collar. Also, all men should know how to wash and press their own shirts. I’ve never taken my shirts to the cleaner and don’t plan to for some of the same reasons you stated. Your stuff can get lost and you’ll have the hassle of proving your case to the cleaner who may or may not be kind enough to correct the situation. Also, most dry cleaners will destroy the life of your shirt with harsh chemicals and starches. Its best to wash your own shirts, hang dry them, and iron them with light starch. This way your shirt will last much longer, you’ll save money and hassle, and you’ll be domesticated enough to take care of your own wardrobe, which every man should be.

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Response: Can button-downs be both “the dead giveaway of the middle manager” and “inherently casual”?  That seems a bit oxymoronic.  Also, in my professional world (lawyering, a bastion of very traditional style), I see many men who take a lot of pride in their clothing and opt for button-downs in court, in negotiations, and in meetings with clients.

Anyway, my point here is to keep shirt-selection and maintenance simple.  I think button-downs accomplish that, but I can see adding alternatives, though they will complicate home-cleaning and -ironing for the beginner.

On that last point, I admire your willingness to care for your shirts and applaud your self-sufficiency and economy.  If readers want to go that route, I recommend learning on shirts one can afford to ruin. I still recommend cleaners, for starters, to avoid one more complication, but I can iron, too.  I’ve used cleaners for a long time, and my shirts generally have been handled with adequate care.

All of your socks should not be black. There should be an equal mix of black, navy, gray and brown to match your trousers.

Response: The alternatives you suggest are fine, but I view them to be optional.

Yes, at least two pairs of lace up shoes but one should be brown. Man cannot live on black alone. Brown is more forgiving in the summer heat, more approachable, and just plain looks better under most trousers.

Response: Here I have to disagree/clarify somewhat.  I wouldn’t wear brown shoes with black, charcoal, or navy suits or blazer/slacks combinations.  I think it looks, well, ugly.  I would wear brown shoes with brown (obvious, but true), khaki, or a dark-green herringbone, for example. On the other hand – a lawyerly semantic device – I’m not positing rules of fashion law here.

Yes, at least to belts, but again one should be brown to match your brown shoes.

Response: If you don’t have brown belts, you don’t need brown shoes, but see above.

T-shirts should all be v-neck. V-necks keep you cooler, make you look taller and thinner, and look cleaner under an open collared shirt.

Response: Oddly enough, I have only white v-necks, for the very reasons you mention (though I’ve given up hope that anything will ever make me look taller), but I can see folks preferring crew-neck.  From some trips to the UK, it appears that a common after-work look is suit and dress shirt, without tie, and I recall seeing a fair number of men with crew-necks visible, which looked fine.  Then again, I could be hallucinating in a self-serving way.


I love this honest debate! As a writer and men's style expert for Hendricks Park, I share our own opinions, recognizing they are opinions (which I stand behind). But I love the hot topics this article touches on in good nature.

As for blazer colors, I also agree: "Go with navy, gray and a camel brown to stand out from every other guy wearing black..."

Huge thumbs up to: "Button downs are the dead giveaway sign of the middle manager in America."

However on the topic of shoes and pleats, I'll add my own two cents:

- Brown, camel and mahogany shoes are in fact far more elegant and versatile than black. Having a black pair is required, however it can look overly formal and even "boring" with formal and business wear.

- Cuffed and pleated pants: If I never saw a pair again, I would cry hallelujah. Flat front trousers are far more sleek, stylish and flattering on every physique; and no, pleats do not make a larger man look slender. They make him look pleated. And puffy.

Great article, and thanks! I'm happy to have found it, and curious to hear more opinions!


Aydika James

Writer & Men's Style Expert, Hendricks Park

@aydika @hendrickspark @wasabinights


Wow, quite the debate going on here! I really like it. Us women always grouse that men have it easier getting dressed in the morning, but this may start to change my mind. Well done, gentlemen!