Creating a Successful Professional Style: A Male Perspective (Part 2 of 3)

In last week’s post, we met Art Magnaye, a stylish sales professional who definitely understands the power of a well-thought out look… trust me, he’s the real deal!  He joins us again for part 2 of his 3 part series.  Enjoy!

In my last post I introduced the concept of fit.  I’d like to back up a bit and explain why I went straight for suits.  I will be talking about a “professional style” and for most men that involves the wearing of a suit.  When you choose to don a suit, (like it or not) you are participating in a world-wide custom that arose when the British ruled the mercantile world.  Almost every man in the business world puts a suit on at some time.

To be successful in this custom requires you to have a wardrobe that is “suitable” (pun intended) to your personal requirements.  Some men wear suits every day of their professional lives; others may only need the basics.  And some wear suits so often they may need an extensive wardrobe to offer choices depending on the occasion.  Am I scaring you yet?

I will cover the basics here and after that you are free to have fun entering the wonderful world of suits.  Again, notice I said suit.  Not blazer or sportcoat and trousers (that is the last time I will use trousers.  When I refer to dress pants I will just say pants – it’s easier).  I think if you buy the correct suit it will be more versatile than any jacket/pants combo.  And you’ll look better to boot!

Now, most men dread shopping; and most would rather face a rabid raccoon (or twenty) than go shopping for a suit.  This probably comes from the memory of going shopping to the local “Fit-Right” buying a dove grey suit, a size too big, in some unspeakably synthetic, scratchy material, looking into the mirror and thinking – “NEVER AGAIN!”

Shopping for a suit does not have to be that bad (ever).  Once you see how good you can look in the finished product you may actually start to enjoy the experience.  Honestly, keep reading (please!); follow the guidelines (it’s not rocket science) and try to have fun with it.

The first thing to think of is color.  No matter what the sales person says about the dove grey or light blue, or the funky pink pinstripes do not stray from this advice (especially for your first suit).  There are only 2 correct choices for a man’s first suit – navy blue or charcoal grey.  Solid please.  I suggest solid because it is easiest to match with shirts and ties.  Pattern matching is better left to the advanced class.  I suggest those colors because they flatter more mens’ colorings than anything other colors (I really can’t think of a complexion they would not flatter).  Both colors are business appropriate and with the right accessories both are dark enough to wear to any formal event short of white tie.  I didn’t include black as a choice because in daylight the contrast is too severe, and under artificial light black suits can take a greenish hue that is not flattering to most men (besides do you really want to look like a hit man or undertaker?).

The next thing to think about is really a no brainer – single breasted only.  As an initial suit, you’re looking for versatility and a single breasted suit allows you to dress it up for work, dress it down for brunch, or glam it up for going out.  A double breasted suit can’t do that.

Now, how many buttons to have.  Unless you play professional basketball, no more than three.  Come to think of it, even if you play professional basketball – no more than three.  Too many buttons leads to too high a stance (the V formed at the top button).  This inevitably covers up too much of the shirt and tie combination you have “perfectly” matched.  Also when you stand up and have to do up the buttons (you do button them when standing – right?) you end up fumbling for too long and lose the elegance factor. The number of buttons tends to fluctuate with the whims of fashion but you can never go wrong with a 2 buttoned jacket.

The style of suit is where most objectivity will go out the window.  You will like one kind or the other.  Here I am referring to the cut of the jacket.  In the broadest of terms there are 2 styles you will encounter.  A traditional American style suit has the jacket hanging almost straight down (or with a slight nip at the waist) from the shoulders – think Barak Obama or JFK.  Because of the hang it has been given the unflattering moniker of a “Sack Suit”.  This has been the tradition uniform of the American Businessman and is likely still the backbone of Brooks Brothers, J.Press, and Hickey Freeman.  The other style is identified more with the British Banker and Savile Row – think Thomas Crowne or James Bond.  The jacket is “nipped” more at the waist to accentuate the shoulders.  It is modeled after the military uniform. The choice is up to you (better yet take your significant other along and let the choice be theirs).  I have both styles and love both.

I am going to again harp on fit.  Regardless of which style of suit you spend your hard earned money on IT NEEDS TO FIT.  You owe it to yourself to discover the power of a perfectly fitted suit.  In the broadest sense there should be no bagging or bulging (anywhere).  There should be no overhang at the shoulder or bulging above the sleeve.  The sleeves should show one half an inch of shirt sleeve and the bottom hem of the jacket should be level with your knuckles (or cover your butt).  The collar should lay flat, again showing about a half inch of shirt.  It should not buckle, pucker or stand away from your neck.  Read my last post for tips of fitting pants.

Thanks for reading.  Next we’ll examine shoes.