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Dress for success

|Written By Lindsay Hollett
Dress for success

As signs of spring begin to show themselves, students begin to turn their attention to their summer jobs. To help with a seamless transition from school to the working world, make sure you have your work wardrobe lined up before your start date.

Now’s the time to start shopping!

Depending on where you’re working, the dress code will vary slightly, so it helps to look at what other men in the office are wearing. If you’re still not sure, an e-mail to your student co-ordinator or human resources person will clear up your questions quickly.

The dress code will most likely be either business formal, which means you should be wearing a suit and tie every day, or business casual, which does not require you to wear a suit.

The suit

The suit is one of the easiest outfits to put on in the morning, but that’s not to say that you can just throw on any ensemble and look good.

First, your suit should fit you. Tailoring is advisable to ensure you look professional — you don’t want to look like you’re wearing your dad’s old rags. Most retailers that sell suits will also tailor it for you; if they don’t, you can ask them to recommend a tailor.

A well-fitting suit will have jacket sleeves that end halfway down the palm of your hand. The pants should fall over your shoes but not touch the ground.

The first suit you buy should always be black. The more unusual the colour, the more people are likely to notice if you wear it frequently. So if you’re on a tight budget, buy black. After you have a black suit, consider charcoal grey or something dark with a pinstripe, then turn to a lighter grey, or beige.

Shirts and ties

The next consideration is your shirt and tie combination. You should co-ordinate the colour of your suit, shirt, and tie. This will be easy with a black suit, as nearly every colour goes well with black.

 If you are wearing a brown or beige suit, stick to “earthy” colours like green or burgundy. If your suit is grey or navy, try blues, reds or any pastel colour, pink, for example. A white shirt works with any suit — just watch an episode of Mad Men.

If you are concerned about matching shirts with ties, ask the sales associate where you are shopping for help. That’s what they’re there for. To get the most versatility out of your wardrobe, buy a few shirts and ties that can all be worn interchangeably. For example, a white shirt, grey shirt, and black shirt, with three solid or patterned ties in the same colour scheme.

Accessorizing a suit

If you work in a very formal firm, be sure to wear a dressy belt that matches the colour of your shoes. If you have two pairs of shoes, one black and one brown, and two matching belts, this will be enough to get you through the summer.

Your suit doesn’t need to be accessorized any further than this. Cufflinks and pocket squares, while a nice touch, should be saved for more formal events, such as a reception or dinner. If you feel the need to stand out in your suit, try spicing things up with a skinny tie and a tie clip, bold fashionable shoes, or even a knit tie.

Business casual

Your firm may not require you to wear a suit every day, or perhaps you have a casual dress day on Fridays. Business casual dress can be tricky because there aren’t clear guidelines, and there can be huge variation within the category.

To slightly relax business formal, try wearing a suit without a tie, and your top button undone. More casual than this would be dress pants, a collared shirt, and a V-neck sweater. Another idea would be to try khakis, a collared shirt, and a sport coat.

The lowest level of casual you should go is to khakis and a polo shirt.

Jeans should be avoided unless your firm explicitly has a “jeans day,” even then, stick to dark, solid-coloured denim, and dress up your top half with a blazer and collared shirt to balance the look.

Don’t forget to wear a nice belt and shoes on casual days, and you should always iron your clothes for a neat, crisp look.

Things to remember

Even though you might not think what you wear is important, people do notice, especially when you are new at a workplace.

If you don’t have a stylish friend to ask for advice, there is no harm in doing some research on the issue. There are many web sites that offer information on how to match colours and tones, including and a “how to” section on that can offer lots of useful insight into your work wardrobe.

Lindsay Hollett is a third-year student in a combined LLB/MBA program at Dalhousie University in Halifax. Click here for Lindsay's wardrobe advice for female law students.

  • ANon.
    To me, navy suits are for business men, not for lawyers. Nobody wants to look like a pilot at work
  • Guest
    This article proves that Lindsay made the correct career choice! Black first? Wrong, navy. Jacket sleve half way down the plam? What?!? Skinny ties? Oh my.
  • Don\'t be mistaken for an accountant!

    Business casual is an abomination!

    Cufflinks and pocket squares add style and can and should be worn as much as possible. God forbid you be mistaken as an accountant!

    I agree with mister style with respect to black suits.
  • fuzzyone
    I agree wholeheartedly with g-man. The article fails to mention that the "uniform" so tp speak was and still is a navy blue suit which ought to be the first choice in colour.
  • Black suit should not be a priority!

    mister style
    Good advice overall, but any articling student to be should know that a black suit should be AT BEST the third suit you buy after charcoal gray and navy. The latter are the two essential business suit colours (and any style guide worth its salt will tell you this).

    Black suits are much more appropriate for social situations than they are for everyday work, at least for men.
  • Quibbles

    I agree with much of the good advice offered here. I disagree on two points. First, jacket sleeves that end halfway down the palm are way too long; you will definitely look like you're wearing your older brother's suit! Aim for the wrist bone instead, or just long enough to let a little of your shirt cuff show when you move. Second, for your first suit navy blue or charcoal (solid colour or *subtle* pinstripes) is much more versatile than black. A black suit pops, stands out, which you can use to great effect. But regardless of how you mix up the shirt/tie/shoes, people will note that you wore the same black suit two days in a row. Just my 2 cents.