How to dress for a business setting

(from someone who has learned the hard way).

I’ve dressed up and dressed down more than I care to remember. In an earlier part of my life, I was in an academic environment. I was pretty much a blue-collar scientist: my collars would literally have been blue from the Coomassie Brilliant Blue stain I used to stain proteins (had I worn collared shirts, that is).

Maybe you’ve seen TV or print ads with sharp scientists in spotless white-coats in high-tech labs pipetting blue samples into gels ? My lab coat would probably make a National Register of Antiquities. Most days, the t-shirts with mad scientist witticisms picked up at scientific meetings smelled of organic compounds such as phenol and chloroform. The jeans I wore had distinctive holes from acid-washing glassware. My well-worn sneakers reeked from all the chemicals we worked on and spilled on the lab-floors. In my lab-life. If I ever wore a collared shirt and tucked it in for work, I would get greeted with snide comments like:  “why are you dressed up today? Are you getting married?”

You can imagine how like a fish-out-water I felt once I was expected to actually dress like a presentable human.

For the benefit of those thinking about making a transition to a corporate environment, I’d like to provide some pointers (primarily geared towards men).

The suit: You will soon be able to judge an office-goer by the quality of the suit he (or she) wears as well as the rest of us do, but until then, go with someone who actually wears suits for your first suit purchase so that you don’t buy something which looks a tent from The Sword of Tipu Sultan. Some of the Jordanian suits are well-crafted, but remember that a Giorgio Amman isn’t the same as a Giorgio Armani. As a guideline, if the trousers and the jacket are of the same color, you’re fine. If they’re different colors you’re also fine since you can call the jacket a “sport-coat.” Don’t make the mistake of wearing a jacket and trousers which are close but not the same exact color.

The dress-shirt: Hair-shirts are inappropriate for most corporate environments. Invest wisely in a couple of nicely-fitting dress shirts. Do not wear an intricate ‘check shirt’ which is as visually appealing as a line graph created in MS Excel. Wear a conservative shirt without logos or words unless you are interviewing to be a bouncer.

A word about collars: collars are usually sufficient to keep dogs and office-goers subjugated. I personally prefer the spread collar since it is a known fact that it exudes corporate confidence. You may not know what you’re talking about, but everyone will acknowledge that you are a pundit if you wear a French-collar shirt. Finally, unless you have a personal valet or extra fingers on the back of your hand, make sure you’ve got the cuff-links assembled before you show up for work.

The tie: Don’t wear ties with distracting designs such as Escher motifs, animals, or anatomical parts. Make sure your tie goes well with your shirt and your suit. Also don’t wrap it around your neck like a scarf from a Mithun Chakraborty dance-routine – actually tie it into a knot.  I like the fat Windsor knot, which goes especially well with the spread collar.

Shoes and accessories: As a rule, if the shoes are uncomfortable and sound like falling pots and pans when you walk, they are suitable for work. They should also be made of the hide of an animal and be of the Italian made-in-China variety. Make sure your shoes go well with the rest of your ensemble especially your belt (which shouldn’t wrap around your torso multiple times like a snake). Don’t carry a purse if you’re a man.

General appearance: Ladies, don’t dress like you’re going to a wedding or to the beach. The color of your face should match that of your neck. Make sure your eyebrows are visible unless you’ve recently undergone chemotherapy. Avoid using fragrances which attract honeybees.

Gentleman, don’t dress like you’re going to a kabbadi akhara or to pick up a random stranger from a disco. No lungis. Hair should not be protruding from visible body orifices. If you can’t shave, dress one pay scale above what you normally do. Use deodorant.

Final thoughts: Copy those who you admire shamelessly.

© Text, 2010-2012, Anirban

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16 thoughts on “How to dress for a business setting

  1. Good corporate advice. Thank God I don’t work in one!! But I totally agree with what you said about the overpowering perfumes. We had a colleague who wore cloying sweet perfume and it hung in the air ages after she had left the room!

    On the question of ties, I simply must share this anecdote. Once, many years ago, a sales guy from Modi Xerox had come to our office in an effort to sell us a photocopy machine. He was dressed in formal shirt and tie. It was the tie that caught my attention. It had condom motifs on it!!

    I’m known to be a ‘moo-phat’ in the office. So it took great will power for me to refrain from telling him that the condoms were adorning the wrong part of his anatomy!! :)

  2. What Deepa said: Thank god I don’t have to dress up for my job. The downside, of course, is that then one only knows how to dress like a slob.
    Great tips. Even though I’m not a man, there were some important takeaways for when I get that job with Lehmann Brothers (they’re still around, right?)

    • Like both of you, I don’t have to dress up everyday for my job either.

      However, it is important to look professional (whatever that means) when interviewing for Lehman Brothers. :)

  3. I like dressing up for my job. It changes the way you feel. And think (sometimes). Although the place where I work is not so much about suits and ties (unless it’s an important presentation) as much as it is about the fit of your shirts and trousers.

    • I actually recommend that candidates for phone interviews dress up somewhat. And hear me out…
      ;)

      It is psychological but even this minor modification might make someone use a more professional vocabulary especially if he or she isn’t used to it.

  4. I was laughing the entire time while going through this piece. Ties with anatomical parts as prints? such ties do exist? *amazement*
    Not only do fragrances attract honeybees but excessive use of one can send a person in the vicinity into coma.

  5. Some dress sense indeed.hahaha! i loved what you said about collars and all that brief advice to the ladies.
    Descriptions are hilarious but good that you observed some ridiculous ones to share them with us.
    Thank God you remained level-headed not to talk like those effeminate designers who can’t dress up Indian bodies and instead are designing something else promoting Bulimia…anoxeria and God knows what all.
    About the Lungi…Mr Chidambaram and all belonging to his clan will shut you up.Hahaha!!

  6. Fantastic advice! I was LOL-ing at this post.
    I particularly liked:

    “Hair-shirts are inappropriate for most corporate environments.”

    “If you can’t shave, dress one pay scale above what you normally do.”

    “remember that a Giorgio Amman isn’t the same as a Giorgio Armani.” 

    “As a rule, if the shoes are uncomfortable and sound like falling pots and pans when you walk, they are suitable for work.”

    Just today at work a woman came in, dressed smartly in a navy, slim fitting to the point of nearly tight, wool skirt, and nice pumps a tad too high for work, and pulling a rolling suitcase/briefcase. Her outfit gave her away as an outsider, nearly looked like a flight attendant, but heals too high. I work as a high school teacher, so what could she be? My immediate assumption was that she was in curriculum or text book sales. If she sold pharmaceuticals she’d have been dressed a bit sexier, and not been in a school building. Next time you’re at a doctor appointment, and there are a couple of overly attractive people, dressed in a hybrid professional/nightclub style, they just may be in pharmaceutical sales.

    • Thank you so much, Sitaji. :)

      Definitely saleslady. And intuitively, I agree with you that she was probably a representative in pharma. Thanks for sharing your experience.
      :D

  7. tell me about it…..being a merchandiser in a fashion house, we are so much into clothing….that we ourselves have stopped dressing up..
    but yes, definitely….we have to follow a lot of dress codes, rules and regulations during the promotions and fashion weeks..

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