Monday, February 22, 2010

Dress for success??

One of my pet peeves are guides on how to dress at the office. As someone interested in clothes, I have a conceptual problem with the premise of that sort of guide. My issue with these how-to-dress guides is that they view clothing entirely as a means to an end (i.e., professional “success”) and imply that it is necessary to stifle any form of sartorial expression in order to achieve professional success. I consider that attitude to be patronising.

Anyone who cares about clothing sees his or manner of dress, at least in part, as a form of self expression. In dressing for the office, professionalism is certainly one, but not the only message that a person should convey. Given that many of us spend most of our lives at our workplace, should we dress with only one purpose in mind? What a boring world that would be.

Consider this: It may very well be professionally advantageous to be a sycophant to your boss and even to adopt his political positions, however I doubt that most “experts” would publicly espouse that you do so. Presumably, the experts would recognize that they would be advising people to compromise their integrity—even though it may lead to professional advancement. I view dressing guides in much the same way.

I recently stumbled across one such guide for lawyers:

Aside from my philosophical problems with the whole concept, right off the bat, I knew I was in for a rough ride. The author, who I’m sure is a perfectly nice and intelligent young woman, is a third year female law/MBA student in Halifax. I’m not sure how those credentials add up to the ability to write about menswear.  Here is a summary of my points of contention with the article:

1. “The first suit you buy should always be black.”

While I don't quite believe in rules myself, given that the author is presenting them, the rules actually state that a black suit is not appropriate business attire (and we all know that lawyers are sticklers for rules). Classically speaking, solid black should only be worn at formal events. Even if rules are made to be broken, it is poor advice to for a law student to buy a black suit as his first suit.

Black is especially inappropriate and downright uncomfortable in the summer. If anything, navy is the most versatile suit colour.

I find it surprising that the author would sooner suggest black, charcoal grey, "something dark with a pinstripe", lighter grey, or beige-- without ever mentioning navy.

2. A"well-fitting suit will have jacket sleeves that end halfway down the palm of your hand"

Wtf?? Where did she get that bizarre chestnut? How would you shake a hand? Heck, how would you hold a pen or open a door?

In case you’re wondering: a suit jacket should more or less reach the base of the thumb and reveal about 1/4" of the dress shirt.

3. "If you are wearing a brown or beige suit, stick to “earthy” colours like green or burgundy".

I'm not sure I'd consider green and burgundy to be “earthy colours”. In any event, the statement is otherwise arbitrary. Lots of colours look good with brown or beige, especially pink and black. Also, though I myself have several suits in brown and beige tones, the colours are less common for business suits. Let’s crawl before we walk.

4. "Cufflinks and pocket squares, while a nice touch, should be saved for more formal events, such as a reception or dinner"

No cufflinks? I guess men can’t wear French cuffs at work? Or do we simply let them dangle un-fastened?

5. "If you feel the need to stand out in your suit, try spicing things up with a skinny tie and a tie clip"

Nice of the author to allow me to satisfy my irrational need to “stand out”. Too bad, however, that she suggested a skinny tie cuz if you don’t have a skinny suit and skinny collar, a skinny tie will look mighty silly.

6. "To slightly relax business formal, try wearing a suit without a tie, and your top button undone"

Good thing the author tells us to unbutton the top button, because I was either about to adopt the Forrest Gump look

or undo all buttons

-The Scandal


  1. isn't halfway down your palm and base of your thumb the same place??

  2. No, the BASE of the thumb not the TIP of the thumb