Reader Spotlight: I moved from a formal to casual work environment and am not sure how to transition my dress.


I am a 32 year old male who has recently transitioned from a really conservative office (where suits and ties were mandatory) to a work environment that is much more relaxed with its dress-code.  I really enjoy this new environment because it’s filled with hard-working, fun-loving people and I love the challenge of figuring out new things but I’m a bit stumped in figuring out what to do with my daily attire in this new office.  A suit and tie is just too much for this office but I’m not sure how to appropriately tone it down.  Any suggestions?



Hey Dan,
I can completely understand not wanting to stick out in this new office. Now, you didn’t mention just how dressed down this new office is but I’m assuming it’s somewhere under corporate formal and above wearing your jammies to the office.  Does that sound about right?

Here are a few quick recommendations:

  • I’d suggest that you think about your career progression with this organization.  Where are you looking to go with your career (in this organization) in the next 2 years? 5 years? 10 years?  The point of asking this question is to define how your style will support this career progression in the short, medium and long term.
  • Take cues from leaders in your organization.  If leadship/executive status is where you’d like to be headed someday soon, you should always look to those above you for style cues.  This doesn’t mean you need to look exactly like them but rather look at what they are doing and try to incorporate that into your own style.  Remember that ol’ saying: dress for the job you want, not the job you have (an oldie but a goodie)!
  • Look at your colleagues in the office.  What are they doing?  Although you may not like their style, you can definitely take a few pointers from what they are doing.  For example, if it’s ok to wear jeans, maybe you should consider investing in a great pair of jeans that not only flatter your shape but are also appropriate for the office (see my specific tips below).

Here are some specific tips:

  • If jeans are acceptable in your office, a great pair of medium to dark wash jeans can be worn with a blazer (you can recycle a blazer or suit jacket from yoru previous formal work attire), a collared dress shirt and crewneck sweater.
  • If you were used to wearing a very formal dress shoe to work, try something a bit more casual.  Shoes are something that, in a relaxed work environment, can really play up parts of your personality that you may not have been able to show before.  I’d opt for something that is a good transition between work-appropriate and casual.  This will then take you from working at your desk to the spontaneous client meeting.  I’d suggest a loafer or a suede oxford shoe (maybe in camel or something interesting like that).
  • Depending on how comfortable you are, I’d suggest you experiment with different colours and patterns.  While you probably still want to stay away from shirts with slogans or phrases on it (most offices discourage this), you can most certainly try adding colours to your wardrobe that you previously didn’t wear.  If you’re not sure what colour looks great on you, hold the coloured shirt up near your face and see what colour enhances your features (if you’re not sure how to do this, I’d probably ask your partner or a lady friend for help).
  • You too can accessorize!  I’m not sure if accessories are your thing but a cool statement watch or a thick leather (or fake leather) cuff could give you a bit of edge while still maintaining a business casual look in the office.

Good luck with figuring out your new sense of style at the office!

If you have other questions, feel free to ask away.