(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