Business Professional: A Definitive Guide to Attire and Accessories
The mark of a sophisticated man is first and foremost his attire. From across the room, before he even says a word, a man’s choice of clothing and accessories paints a clear picture of his attitude towards the people he’s about to spend time with. And business professional attire leaves little room for making the wrong first impression.
So when you step into that boardroom or sit down with an important client, how should you dress? While some of your choices depend on the situation, dressing up too much is always better than dressing down too much. Business professional is the best standard for such occasions, hands down.
What Is Business Professional?
For most of the 20th century, business professional was the only dress code for the office. With a focus on formality and simplicity, there were few rules to remember. The modern take on business professional leaves a little more margin for interpretation, but it still keeps a very consistent look across the board:
- Dark, solid-colored suit
- White or light blue dress shirt with barrel or French cuffs
- Coordinating ties with little to no pattern
- Black or brown leather shoes, preferably Oxfords, derbys, or loafers
- Matching belt
- Subtle accessories
The simplest iteration is the classic black suit and tie with a white dress shirt. This look carries sophistication even today, and there is no way you can go wrong with it.
But dark gray or navy suits, along with optional subtle pinstripes, are now acceptable options as well. Still, the central premise is to be understated, simple, and sleek.
What Isn’t Business Professional?
Our fashion-forward culture has plenty of options to offer, but few meet the central tenet of business professional attire. In all situations, a business professional look should avoid bold choices, highly personalized items, and attention-stealing accessories.
Along with that, the informal look that has become so common should be completely excluded from a workplace that requires business formal or professional dress codes:
- Short-sleeve and long-sleeve tees
- Denim of any sort
- Casual jackets
- Sneakers or boots
While smart casual settings can utilize all these, and even pair them with more formal elements, the business professional workplace should only see suits, ties, and dress shoes to make the strongest impression of confidence and sophistication possible.
Business Professional Do’s
Now that we have the big-picture definition of this dress code, let’s get into some intricacies. Although the standards are simple and straightforward, getting the look down properly takes an eye for specific details. Keep these concepts in mind when you start building your business professional wardrobe to invest in the right places.
Get the Fit Right
A great suit is neither baggy nor tight. It’s that “Goldilocks” zone of just right: the shoulder seams sit properly, there’s no fit-related wrinkling on the arms or waist, and pant and sleeve lengths are appropriate.
Your shirt should not poof out anywhere, including the shoulders and the waistline. Pants should be hemmed at a medium (half) break so that they aren’t too short when you sit. Remember: your goal is to look sleek, stylish, and clean.
Keep It Simple
We said it before, but it’s worth repeating: business professional maintains simplicity at its very core. Avoid flashy or overstated cuts, lapels, and patterns. The cleaner and simpler your look, the more professional you’ll be.
While a subtle pinstripe is acceptable, most of your suit choices should leave out bold patterns or textures. And it’s best to remain dark in color choices (black, navy, dark gray).
Match Colors and Metals
When choosing shoes, belts, and ties for your suits, match colors and patterns. A black leather belt should match black leather shoes, with a coordinating watch band. Metals, likewise, should always match.
Get a Tailor
The most valuable investment beyond your attire is a skilled tailor. The proper length for sleeves and pant legs doesn’t come from the shop floor. For that clean, confident look, a tailored suit is the only option.
But tailoring services go beyond cuffs: a well-tailored suit will fit better at the waist, across the chest, and through the shoulders. Next to a fully custom suit, a tailored suit is the best way to look professional in any business setting.
This same focus on simplicity must extend to your accessory choices. In more celebratory or casual settings, highly personalized watches, cufflinks, jewelry, and neckwear are the perfect way to express your interests. But for business professional requirements, leave those at home and go with classic looks that don’t grab attention.
Watches should be analog, and most of the time a simple face with a leather band that matches your shoes is all that you need. A quality diving watch with a silver link band is also perfectly acceptable, although slightly less understated. Avoid digital watches altogether.
For men’s jewelry and accessories, leave off jewels or rhinestones on the cufflinks. Focus on monochrome pieces with few embellishments. Silver knots for cufflinks are a bit more eye-catching, but not overly flashy. A lapel pin or tie bar is acceptable, but again, always err on the side of conservative.
Business Professional Don’ts
On the other side, there are a few things you should almost never do when it comes to your professional wardrobe. While there is a little room for personalization, business professional attire is not the place to break the rules.
Neglect Your Attire
Keep your suits, shirts, and shoes clean and free of wear. Your suits need dry cleaning according to the label for a reason; it’s not worth trying to save a few dollars by washing them yourself. At best, you could break down the structural elements of your suit. At worst, you could ruin the fabric completely.
Shirts should always be pressed, ironed, or steamed to look clean and tidy. Stains always look immature, as do scuffed and worn shoes. Your appearance reflects your attitude toward everything you do, whether or not you are aware of it.
Keeping your wardrobe in tip-top condition shows that you care about the details in every area of your life.
Choose Bold Colors and Patterns
There are occasions when a bold color or striking pattern is appropriate. Business professional situations are not those occasions. Matching your tie to your suit is ideal, but a complementary color choice is acceptable.
Shirts should be muted, not vibrant. And while a pocket square in white or muted tone is a stylish addition to a dark suit, it should never be more than a subtle addition to your look.
Wear It Off The Rack
No matter how tempting it may be, no matter how short a timeframe you have, do everything in your power to get your suit to a tailor before wearing it. An off-the-rack suit should have sleeves and pant legs that are too long for you. And it’s by design.
A suit should fit perfectly, and suits straight from the shop are not going to do justice to you or your look.
Spend the money. Take the time. Find a good tailor.
Include Flashy Accessories
The goal of business professional attire is not to show off wealth or style. It’s to show your clients and your colleagues that you are serious and well-prepared. An extremely expensive watch, tie bar, or set of cufflinks will pull eyes from the business at hand, which defeats the purpose of your meeting.
As you develop your wardrobe, approach your business professional look with wisdom and discernment. Keep the focus on your goals, not your wardrobe. Look clean and sophisticated, not garish or fashion-forward.
And choose pieces that speak of your character on your behalf. Confidence isn’t all about looking good, but it certainly makes a difference.