Q I’m graduating from business school and am hoping you can give me a suggestion on how to look professional and still feel like myself. I recognize that in most positions I will not be able to wear jeans, but black pants make me look like I’m in government, and I really feel uncomfortable in the gray or blue corporate look.
A I’m sure that they taught you in business school that what you wear sends strong signals. One of those messages should not be “Look at me, I’m not a conformist.” Part of making others feel comfortable when working with you is presenting yourself in a manner that they can relate to. In many jobs, a suit is the standard, but there are certainly a growing number where it is not a given. In such a setting, there are certainly other options.
Of all the clothes in a man’s wardrobe, nothing is more versatile and more widely accepted than that most ubiquitous item, khaki-colored trousers. They work well with almost anything else you have in your closet. They are classic enough to pair with a white dress shirt. Or, when outside of work, they can be combined in more casual, dressed-down looks, such as with a vest, a patterned shirt or a colorful polo.
Each type of khaki trousers has a multitude of separate uses in a man’s clothing rotation. Khaki trousers may be:
• Upscale, almost elegant light brown, wool dress trousers that are well-tailored and sell for a few hundred dollars.
• Mid-range tailored khakis that are worn nicely-pressed, and are considered to be a timeless staple in a man’s business-casual wardrobe.
• Or inexpensive, knock-around casual chinos, worn interchangeably with a pair of jeans.
Any, and all, of these are in the brown family and mix well with other, darker shades of brown, as in a belt and shoes, and also in a brown tweed jacket. Browns coordinate especially well with accessories in the yellow, orange and red color families. That’s why khaki pants look so good with a yellow-and-red tie (it looks orange from a distance). A yellow or an ivory button-down Oxford cloth shirt is an obvious accompaniment. If you insist upon going tieless, your khakis can mix just as well with a bright yellow or red crewneck sweater, either with or without a blazer. Just as handsome, and a bit less unusual, is the mix of khakis with a few shades of blue, starting with a navy blazer, adding a sky blue shirt, and perhaps a pastel blue, pink and tan striped tie.
None of these combinations needs to look old-fashioned, as long as your garments are not too big, that is, not cut too full and / or too wide. Today’s look is more about a clean-cut kind of fit (trim and slightly close-to-the-body), and not too long. Fabrics should be quality 100% natural materials, including wool, cashmere, cotton, silk and linen, without a hint of polyester.
The message a business man’s clothing should send is that the wearer is self-assured, knowledgeable, has good taste, and belongs comfortably in most any group.
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