Navigating the Office Runway In Style

By Tan France
10 February 2019
Illustration: Michael Hoeweler

Ditch the dreaded office suit for a new era of nine-to-five style

What’s your calling card?

It’s a great question to ask about your style, and doubly as important when you consider it in the context of what you wear to work. Things are always changing in the world of nine-to-five style.

Not so long ago, wearing a standard-issue dark suit, light shirt and dark tie to the office wasn’t just normal – it was expected; a sort of anonymous uniform that men would exist in during their working hours. Now, the style concerns of employees look totally different to what they might have a few years back.

You’ve heard it over and over again, but let me be clear: What you choose to wear to the office can really affect how people view you. Looking great at work isn’t a bonus, it’s a necessity. People meet friends and partners at work. You spend the majority of your time at work. You never know when you’re going to meet someone – whether professionally or personally. You need to be able to go from work to a client meeting, work to an event, work to a date.

Having the right look for work that helps you feel your best makes you perform differently, and treat people differently. When I’m dressed well, I feel more confident, a lot more commanding and a lot more demanding. I have an air of confidence, a feeling that, you know, this is what I want, because I feel powerful.

And then there’s the other end of the spectrum: when I don’t feel confident in what I’m wearing, I’m less inclined to want to speak to people. I’ll want to avoid important or difficult work situations. I’ll wait until tomorrow.

What you wear to work has a drastic impact on how people treat you, and how they see you. Thirty years ago, you might have made a beeline for the man in the most luxurious or well-cut suit. Today, I’d seek out the person who’s dressed the most relevant – someone who, visually, shows that he gets where the world is going. And I’m not saying that this applies exclusively to people in a creative field – in fact, even in the most conservative fields, dressing with a sense of modernity shows a willingness to change and adapt.

In 2019, wearing a full suit (in pretty much any office but the doctor’s) will make you look stuffy and unapproachable. The trend is more casual, more accessible. You want to go for authoritative but relatable – that’s the sweet spot.

A boxy suit, gingham shirt and clash-y tie will make you look out of touch. When it comes to dress code, you have to seem like you understand what’s happening with the time – what the mood of the moment is. You shouldn’t need to look like your dad.

So, let’s talk practicalities.

For most industries, I don’t think a suit is necessary anymore. But hold up: please, kindly, put away the pitchforks. I do think that all the elements of a suit are still absolutely necessary.

Gone are the days where you are only seen as management if you are in a full suit. However, the suit pant? Now that’s a versatile style piece every man ought to have. If you were to wear a suit pant with a t-shirt (preferably tucked-in), and a slick pair of sneakers, you’d look just as sophisticated as any man at the office.

The key to building a more flexible, dynamic and modern working wardrobe is still in the suit. But you should reach for a suit that is, for lack of better term, break-up-able. You want the trousers to work on their own, and the jacket to act as a blazer.

Certain suits aren’t designed to be worn as separates – boxier, heavier suits are a no-no. If it’s something that has some personality, if it’s got a really faint plaid or stripe or texture, that’s the kind of suit that could work. If you’re not sure, take a peek at the jacket length: if it’s cut a little shorter, you’re usually good to go.

(By the way, let’s all make a commitment for the year: Stop buying bad corporate suits. They may be cheaper, but it’s a false economy. Instead of buying six mediocre suits, buy two perfect suits instead, and break them up.)

Once you nail the do-it-all suit, your options open up. Suddenly, your entire wardrobe can come into play at the office.

You could wear your suit jacket with a beautiful tee, jeans and boots. You could pair the trousers with a knit polo and a pair of sneakers. There are so many ways of breaking up a suit – and so long as you’ve had it tailored to your body shape, it’ll easily look smart enough for nearly any professional situation.

From there, diversifying your look is as simple as playing with colour, and there’s a perfect way to start. My favourite thing is a tonal look: a look that’s all one colour, but different shades of it. It works really well with muted tones like beiges, browns, greys, blues, greens. Dusty tones can look really sophisticated in the office.

Try a deep forest green trouser and a light khaki knit polo with a pair of brown boots or white sneakers: you’re gonna look chic as anything. If you don’t want to do a colour, try for grey. Dark charcoal pants, a grey marle t-shirt and a dark grey boot is something I go for often.

Once you have momentum in this new, mix-and-match office style era, there’ll be no turning back. Find what you like, what feels great, and get as many versions of that outfit as possible – because why not feel that way every time you step into work?

It’s 2019, after all: you can wear a power outfit, every day of the week.