Successful, Yet Simple Business Attire

I recently had someone ask me to write a post about basic business attire for both men and women.  While this topic is not necessarily my specialty, I can certainly offer my own opinion on what I’ve seen and experienced over the years.  Please note:  This is simply my opinion.  Take it with a grain of salt.  I haven’t been asked by Clinton Kelly and Stacy London to serve as a consultant to their show, What Not to Wear, on TLC.  I do recommend checking it out – it couldn’t hurt!  🙂

Before you go out shopping or make up your mind on what you should wear during the interview, on your first day of the job or beyond, I would suggest doing a little research.  Observe what the other employees are wearing day to day.  Keep in mind that just because they’re wearing polo shirts and khakis daily doesn’t mean that’s what you should wear to the interview!  But, it could certainly help you make your decisions on business attire going forward.  I’ll be splitting this topic into two sections: men and women.  I don’t want to shortchange either as the goal is to get you hired, help you become more successful and more confident in your job search and career!

Since I have personal experience with men’s attire, I’ll start there.  Here are some basics every guy should have in his closet:

Nice dress pants. Black or brown dress pants that fit nicely (pleated or flat – your preference) are a must have in any guy’s closet.  If you’re prone to spilling things in your lap at meals, go for the stain resistant, wrinkle-free options.  You’ll be glad you did.

A sport coat or blazer. Think versatility.  A sport coat or blazer can dress up a nice pair of jeans when going “snappy-casual” or add the finishing touches to a nice pair of slacks and a dress shirt when you need to dress up a little more.  Black is always in style, but there are many choices.  Pay attention to what others are wearing in the business world.  That will give you an idea as to what’s in style, what looks good, etc.

Solid colored dress shirt.  Most people would opt for a white dress shirt, but I’ve seen lots of colors emerge over the years.  Just remember to keep this simple.  A solid white, blue, or light pink are my recommendations.

Polished shoes. This is a must. I’ve seen a pair of $25 shoes shined up nicely that made a better impression than $200 scuffed ones.  Buy a can of shoe polish, or better yet, one of those nifty cloths that are pre-treated.  If you’re feeling indulgent, have it done by a professional in the airport, on the sidewalk or at the mall for a couple of bucks.  The key is polished shoes.  If you take the time to do this, the impression it makes is that you care about your professional appearance.

Ties. I’d recommend a solid color or something with subtle stripes.  I wouldn’t suggest decorations such as smiley-faces, Snoopy or cartoon-themes, your favorite sports team, etc.  Keep it simple and professional.  Save the “cool” ties for parties, Halloween, and Tacky Tie Day.

Belt. – A nice dress belt with a simple buckle is best.  Some are even reversible these days, doubling as both a black and brown belt.  Choose a belt that blends in well.  This is not a time to make a statement by wearing your Superman buckle.  Save that for another time. Depending on your style, you may opt to not wear a belt.  It’s a personal (or fundamental) choice.

A tailored dark suit (black or navy). A tailored suit is something that everyone should own.  This goes for women as well.  Even if it’s just one, you’ll find yourself needing to wear it more than you think.  Keep it simple.  Some of the department stores and outlets will even tailor it for free when you purchase (additional charges may apply for future alterations).

Headed to the mall?  Check out JC Penney for some good deals on nice suits.  Hate the mall or on a tighter budget?  You’d be surprised at the quality of Walmart’s George line for men.  I buy all my dress slacks and most of my shirts (even have purchased a suit) there.  It’s not about name-brand – it’s about what fits, looks professional, and is affordable.  If you can afford Banana Republic, Ralph Lauren, or Express, then go for it.  I’m not saying you have to go cheap.  I’m just saying there’s no sense in running up the credit card bill before your first paycheck can cover it!

For those of you that have a limited budget that does not include buying a new suit, find a nice pair of dress slacks (these are easily found at most stores from $20), a dress shirt (could start at $10), tie (ask a friend or family member for one to borrow if you don’t want to buy), and polish up those old dress shoes.

The key to all of this, whether you buy new clothes from a designer and tailor or simply “off the rack”, is IRONING!  Nothing looks worse than a wrinkled up mess in the interview.  If you don’t know how to properly iron, ask someone.  If you’re a college student and no one knows how, take your clothes to the dry cleaner.  Most will press your clothes for a couple of bucks per item.

What do you think?  Anything to add?  Feel free to leave a comment below.  I would love to hear your thoughts!  As always, thanks for reading.


11 thoughts on “Successful, Yet Simple Business Attire

  1. Kirk, you did a great job with the clothing, but accessories play an important role as well.

    Don’t overdue on the jewelry or handbags and use a simple briefcase or folder. Personal hygiene including a professional haircut/style, facial hair trimmed and fingernails manicured/clean complete the properly dressed definition.


    1. Dee,

      Thanks for your comment. I didn’t go into too much detail on accessories because…well, let’s face it. Guys just don’t have many accessories. 🙂 I forgot the briefcase/folder though. You hit the nail on the head with hygiene!

      Next week, I’ll be covering business attire for women. I’m going to need a little help with that one, so I’ve reached out to a few experts on the subject. Look for more great stuff soon!


    1. Jose,

      Glad you enjoyed the article. Business attire for females professionals will be covered next week. I have a special guest expert that will be authoring that article. Stay tuned!


  2. Good advice. I think the overarching lesson here is to know your environment. If you’ve got body piercings and tatoos and you’re going to work at a bank, then you probably need to leave the jewelry at home and cover the tats. I don’t care if this is a free country and you have a right to express yourself. Employers don’t want their customers distracted by anything the employee is doing or wearing. That goes for the wrong style of dress, haircut, etc.

    Now, if you’re applying for a position at my favorite restaurant, then tats and body piercings are fine, I suspect they may help you get hired based on the high percentage of employees who have them.

    Bottom line, Know the environment you’re going to be working in and dress accordingly.


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