A colleague wanted my opinion about wearing open neck dress shirts and t-shirts in a business casual work environment. Rather than just sharing my thoughts privately, I decided to publish them publicly. To support my comments, I have photos of wardrobe items I selected only last week for a client that illustrate the subtle nuances of dressing successfully in today’s modern business environment.
There’s a time and a place for shirts and ties in business. The client whose wardrobe I’ve been developing this past week needs to dress this way for public appearances and client appointments. But this is the technology world in Silicon Valley, not the financial world on Wall Street. So the need for this level of dressing is not as frequent. But when the occasion calls for it, he’s got the look.
One of the items I sourced for his wardrobe is a beautiful ‘non-solid-solid’ tonal white and very light cappuccino striped French cuffed shirt with spread collar. Now typically this shirt would be relegated to a suit and tie. Without the tie, the look suggests that something is missing. But without the formality of a lapelled garment, I envision the shirt would look great with a pair of dark denim jeans and either statement cufflinks or colorful silk knots. This extends the life of the shirt, and if my client is on a business trip, he can now wear that shirt from day to evening, from dressy business to something more relaxed.
Blue dress shirts have always given me the sense of a dressier version of a chambray shirt. It’s very important to find the right intensity of blue to compliment your complexion. Sometimes, blue is not the ideal color as much as greens, aqua, or teal may be far better. Think out of the box when it comes to color so you stand out as an individual rather than being part of the pack of blue shirts. Besides, those days of every guy wearing the ubiquitous blue shirt goes back to the 1990’s. Times have changed since then. I have told my client to wear this shirt with ties as a way to be dressed for business but to relax his look at the same time.
Sport shirts that take on qualities of dress shirts are a modern and wonderful addition to the wardrobe. Selections must be based on your personal style imperative. The right kind of sport shirts stand on their own, with collars left unbuttoned, and ties unnecessary. These kinds of shirts look great with lightweight wool slacks, denim jeans, and premium level khaki style pants for a relaxed professional appearance.
In all cases, I am not a fan of an exposed white T-shirt under an unbuttoned dress or sport shirt. The undershirt cheapens the look of the shirt’s fineness and adds unnecessary contrast. Do you want an onlooker’s eye to go directly to your undershirt? If your answer is no, avoid the undershirt. If you must wear an undershirt because either you perspire quite a bit or because you have quite a bit of body hair, there are two solutions. One solution is to wear a v-neck t-shirt that is not visible when your shirt is properly buttoned. The second option is to trim enough chest hair from the top of the chest to eliminate the distraction. Overall, my direction to all clients is to avoid wearing t-shirts underneath shirts if the contrast may show under the shirt. Commonly this happens when a white t-shirt is worn under a white dress shirt. Just because many people dress this way does not mean that it looks good.
Sometimes I might suggest wearing a t-shirt of a coordinating color under a sport shirt. However, this should never be done with a dress shirt. In any event, doing this creates an even more laid-back appearance, and I would reserve this kind of look for a Friday, and revert back to cleaner looks the rest of the week in the event your workplace is “business casual” every day.
Remember my mantra: there’s nothing casual about business. Casual suggests leaving something to chance. Why dress as if you are? Put intention into how you dress and experience the results you desire.
Joseph Rosenfeld helps high-profile individuals revitalize, manage, and be secure in their personal visual brand. Visit JosephRosenfeld.com for details.