By Mark McKee
When was the last time you sat on a stool? Either at the bar or in the breakfast nook, there are always four legs that keep you from breaking your tailbone on the floor. And, making a fool of yourself. Sure, with enough balance, an amount of which I will never possess, you could sit on three . . .or maybe even two legs.
Menswear is the same way. You can make it five days a week on two suits, but adding a few more items to your wardrobe will go a long way in keeping your bank account from breaking it’s tailbone on the zero balance.
There is a lot of pressure when you are transitioning into a career that requires business professional dress. Wearing a suit and tie every day carries with it a level of stature, a stigma that you are successful and talented. Unfortunately, it also carries with it, a heavy price.
Consider this, to wear a suit every day, you need five suits, if you wear each one day a week (In the interest of not wearing them out quickly, you actually should have double that, I will explain that in a later article). Five suits can be hard on the wallet, so you have to start simple, with items that can be versatile and long lasting. You need to be careful on what you select. Therefore, this is the Four Legged Stool of menswear.
1: The Charcoal Suit
This is a bit of contention with some of the more conservative people in the industry. It used to be that the first suit you would get, regardless of age or profession, was a black suit. It is what you wore to weddings, funerals, bar mitzvahs, or your sister’s dance recital. Today, however, the black suit is a little too formal for the workplace.
The alternative? A charcoal suit. It is dark enough that is still brings a level of formality to the occasion, but it is also light enough to be appropriate at the end of the table when in full view of the boss.
Keep it simple- The place that a lot of guys get in trouble is when they try too hard. One of the hardest things to do is to reign in the compulsion to buy something trendy. You want to look good, therefore, what looks good at the time is the first thing one goes to. However, what is trendy today, is not trendy tomorrow. Keep the lapels at a medium width, too narrow and you look like you are channeling your inner Justin Timberlake, and too wide looks like you want to be Ross Gellar (token FRIENDS reference). There is an entire conversation on the style and details surrounding the suit, which I will get into next time. Just remember, people remember the suit if you get too flashy, which means it limits how often you can wear it. So, basic charcoal.
Flash it up- Now, for the times that you want to stand out. There will, inevitably, be a time that you want to be the center of attention, you want to show off your ability to elevate your look. The best way to do that, with any basic suit, will be the shirt and tie. Brighter colors and patterns are a great way to grab the eye. Also, consider wearing tan dress shoes to brighten the whole suit up.
2: The Blue Suit
This is “The Banker Suit.” Worn traditionally as the business professional suit, the blue suit is a must for your wardrobe. This was traditionally navy, the darker the better, however, going a bit brighter gives a little more contrast to the charcoal that you already have. Best worn with tan or burgundy shoes.
Keep It Simple- One again, this is about versatility. This suit should also be a basic color, without a pattern. Patterns are remembered too easily to wear often. Keep this a solid, and keep it open to a lot of shirt and tie combinations.
Flash It Up- Breaking the rules is a dangerous proposition with menswear. You either look like a revolutionary, or a schmuck, or a fossil. When it comes to the blue suit, black shoes are a source of contention. Used to be, our fathers and grandfathers would only wear black shoes. Then, sometime in the mid 2000’s, that became a no-no. Now, as long as the shade of your blue is light enough, black shoes are a great way to make the look pop.
3: The Grey Suit
The third leg is the light grey. This is what I call the “dummy-proof suit.” It is light enough that it works well in both daytime weddings and at the office, and dark enough to be worn year round. It is versatile enough to go with brown shoes, black shoes, burgundy shoes, green shoes, Chuck Taylors, or Jordan’s. Now . . .if you wear the last two, we will have a different conversation about being an adult. The point, is that it goes with nearly everything.
Keep It Simple- This is the suit in your wardrobe that is the most likely to be worn to weddings, and reunions, and office parties. It goes with any color that your significant other can wear, so it makes it useful if it is a basic solid. However, if you have the other two basics, this one could have a basic pattern like a sharkskin or check.
Flare It Up- Since this has very few color restrictions, this suit can best accompany your bright dress shirts. If there is a crazy colored shirt and tie that your girl loves and thinks it matches your eyes perfectly, this is the suit to wear it with.
4: The Navy Sport Coat
No wardrobe is complete without the fourth and final leg to the stool, the navy sport coat. There is always going to be the confusion between the Blazer, the Sport coat, and the suit jacket. Again, a later discussion. What you need to know, is that the sport coat has buttons that typically do not contrast with the jacket, while blazers have metal buttons that pop. The idea behind the sport coat is to keep it a little more casual, and dress up jeans, or dress down the shirt and tie.
Keep It Simple- When in a casual situation, the sport coat speaks for itself. You are dressing UP a pair of jeans or chinos, so you don’t need to get too flashy with the shirt and tie underneath. Keep this in mind, if you elect to go with a blazer (gold or silver buttons), chinos and a white shirt will look like you are right off of the Harvard Rowing Team.
Flash It Up- If you want to stand out with a shirt and tie, a pocket square will add a dash of color. Make sure it compliments the shirt or tie (complementing the shirt is more formal, complementing the tie is more business), not matches. If they look like they were made out of the same material, it looks like you got it out of a boxed set at Khols.