Impute. People DO judge a book by its cover. We may have the best product, the highest quality, the most useful software etc.; if we present them in a slipshod manner, they will be perceived as slipshod; if we present them in a creative, professional manner, we will impute the desired qualities.
— Mike Markkula
This is a crash course on fashion for men in engineering who are looking to upgrade their wardrobes. Its focus is on classic, more-or-less objectively good looks and the science behind colors and clothing. This won’t be particularly good for expressing your identity, but that’s something you can develop yourself as you improve.
This is very subjective, and is drawn mostly from my experience and readings. I’m not good at keeping costs low, as that wasn’t at all one of my objectives when I was learning this. Nor would I bestow the title of fashionista or similar upon myself. Still, I’ll do what I can.
My goals are below, but I also want to arm you with the knowledge and resources you need to extend yourself beyond what they will provide you, should you so desire. I’ve learned to just fashion for what it is, and I hope that you do too. I suppose that this happens with any skill that you work long enough at.
- Maximize the time*money*impressions multiplier.
- Keep total costs at $1500 USD or lower.
- All outfits should be wearable for a full work day.
- You’ll generally impress people.
- Get to a “steady-state” and then not require much time or monetary investment from then on.
- Weather ranges from 10-35ºC, with the average around 20-25ºC.
- Everything should ideally fit in one suitcase.
- For men only. I’d love to help women too, but I just don’t know anything about women’s fashion other than some stuff about purses. Sorry!
I started my foray into fashion as a way to express myself, but I quickly realized that it could also help me carry an air of professional maturity despite how young I was. “Dress for success,” as they would say. In engineering, this is generally less important than in other professions, but it still helps. I looked around me at some people who I wanted to look like – mostly successful people who others looked to for leadership and guidance. I also generally like the “professor” look. I found that mentally modeling the clothing choices of others whom I respect went a long way in helping me make decisions in lieu of my own well-developed fashion sense.
At the end of the day, people judge you by your appearance, and that judgment affects your dealings with them. Thus our appearance is a resource just like any other. It’s relatively easy to take one’s fashion sense from 0% to 60% with just a bit of money and knowledge, so it seems to me like a no brainer to do so.
It’s tempting to optimize for comfort and ease-of-use, which would mean wearing same-color t-shirts every day, a la Mark Zuckerberg. While this may work for him because of his circumstances, it’s not reasonable for anyone who isn’t in Silicon Valley. Even within Silicon Valley, this is really a counter-culture thing. In a way, they have their own fashion sense.
One of the greatest benefits of performing the process of updating your wardrobe like so is that, once it’s in place, it becomes a mostly passive benefit. If you choose clothes correctly, you won’t have to do a lot of replacements or updates once you hit “steady-state.” If nothing else, you’ll know what to buy when you need to in the future.
However, this is just a crash course. Nothing replaces the actual experience of going shopping on your own, failing at finding things that you like or that you’re confident in, and buying things that end up being a waste of money.
I think that developing a decent fashion sense is actually relatively easy overall. However, colors are one of the things that are not as straightforward as most people think. Deciding on colors is both a science and an art.
The colors that look good on you are decided something like 80% by your skin tone, 10% by your hair, and 10% by your eyes. There are some other factors involved like your hues (determined by how your blood vessels look), but those things can usually be inferred from the former.
There are a whole bunch of sites online that teach you what colors look best on you, and I found them to be generally pretty bad. I used this one a long time ago and then ended up just doing a bunch of trial and error anyways, which lead me to conclusions that were not supported by the online materials. You can look those up if you want, but in this article I’m going to just tell you about my colors.
I’m in the second-from-bottom category, despite my skin being significantly lighter than the model. I don’t really fit neatly into it, though. For example, I like to wear blacks and grays even though they aren’t perfect on me. You can go to the site (click on the image) if you want to understand my reasoning as you would need the background there to get it.
Since I can’t give the general reader very specific tips, I’ll instead provide you with some general rules:
- These colors work on almost any skin tone: bright red, pastel pink, deep purple, turquoise.
- Popular wisdom is that your socks color should be matched with your shoes. This is wrong. They should actually be matched with your pants, or at least pretty close. The rule of thumb is that, when your pants are pulled up accidentally, you shouldn’t be struck by the color of the socks.
- For cost-effectiveness purposes, avoid really bright colors as they’re too striking and easily stain. If you’re in one of the categories that works well with them, then use them but sparingly.
- Dress shirts should generally be bright (but not neon) colors. Darker colors don’t layer well with outerwear. It’s ok to have a few darker ones, but just be cognizant of how much harder they are to layer.
- White and navy blue work well for dress shirts for almost all men.
- Outerwear should generally be darker than outwear. For example, your blazer should be darker than your dress shirt. This also applies to clothing in the middle, such as vests. This is a breakable rule, but I wouldn’t do it at our level of skill. There are no rules for ties that I know of.
- When in doubt, the classic business look is: charcoal grey blazer, navy blue tie, white dress shirt. You can’t go wrong with this.
- Dress pants and your blazer should either be the exact same color, or not even close. If they’re close, it looks weird and like you made a mistake.
Despite all this, colors are really still an art. Don’t be afraid to get something that doesn’t fall perfectly in the suggested palette if it looks good and you like it. One of the implicit goals (which is unfortunately not measurable) is to make you feel more confident, and wearing clothes that you actually like will help you with that. It’s also very well possible that many of the recommended colors are completely wrong. You’ll only find out by trial and error.
If you don’t know what you’re doing, you should generally stick to solid colored clothes. Since I still don’t consider myself good enough to make decisions on patterned clothes, I tend to avoid them. You’ll want them once in a while to spice up your life, but you should only be doing them some of the time.
If you’re ever waiting around and come across a GQ magazine and have time to read it, I recommend spending a few minutes doing so. I’ve found that about 20% of their outfits are actually really nice and doable (albeit with cheaper brands), while the other 80% are too trendy or unwieldy to be useful. Thus, it’s mostly a good reference for what trendy clothes look like, and how to avoid them.
- Dark jeans generally look better with less effort and also match more clothes to boot. Faded, light, and medium-toned jeans can work, but are harder to work with. If you generally look good in lighter clothes, then you can go ahead and stick with them.
- T-shirts are ok for traveling, bumming around, etc., but you should only wear polos/collared shirts or better for anything even remotely important like your office or an outing. If you do just wear a t-shirt, I suggest wearing solid black if you can, as it looks a bit more intentional. This will require experimentation.
- The only time to go into patterns without worry is when buying ties. However, you should avoid very complicated patterns such as tiled images. I have no hard and fast rules at all for ties, so you’ll have to just brute force them.
- Jackets with buttons look more classic and professional. That means you should be looking for sweater-ish jackets, or trench coats.
Layering (and, by extension, climate)
As a rule of thumb, clothing should look good on its own, but also when combined with other clothing. The only exception is polos, which are allowed to look good alone and not with anything else. This dynamic is one of the greatest sources of my indecision when buying clothes, as I still find it very difficult to simulate in my head whether or not clothing will synergize or not.
As a man, it’s hard to look good with very few layers of clothes. Generally, the more that you can layer, the better you can look. Thus we will strive to keep this in mind. However, the warmer the climate you’re in, the less you’ll be able to layer. In this situation, you’ll have to rely more heavily on branding, fit, and accessories.
Buy clothes that fit, and don’t try to preempt body weight fluctuations unless you know that they’re coming both relatively soon and with near-absolute certainty. This would be more of a problem if you were getting a tailored suit. If you do, the rules will change entirely. I’ll refrain from writing those out, but there are pretty good guides online.
A tie, when done up, should extend just to your belt buckle and no further.
Don’t get slim cut jeans. Just get the standard cut. Slim ones are uncomfortable and hard to take off. They also look too trendy right now.
Dress shirts are measured in two ways: 1) S, M, L, …, 2) two numbers. We’re going to ignore the former, because good dress shirts are generally measured in the latter.
The number measurements will be in the form of NxM, e.g. 15 1/2”x32”. The first number is your neck size, and the second is your sleeve length. You should not attempt to measure these yourself. Instead, go to a department store or tailor and ask them to do it for you. You should ask for a full body measurement, actually. Here are my numbers, which you should get all of when you can (it doesn’t take too long):
– Neck: 15.5″
– Arms: 32”
– Chest: 37”
– Shoulders: 42″
– Biceps: 11.5″
– Forearm: 10”
– Waist: 34”
– Thighs: 20.5”
– Calves: 14”
The only important ones for now are the arm and neck lengths, but you should have the others on hand anyways.
Note also that your neck length includes an extra 1” of padding when actually buying clothes, because you don’t want to be choking yourself. For example, my actual neck circumference is 14.5”. If you measure this number yourself, make sure to include that padding. If someone else is measuring you, they should always give you the padded number, but you can also ask them just to be safe.
You should already know how pant measurements are made, so I’ll refrain from writing out how to interpret them. The only real tip here is that the dress pants should fold either once near the shoes, or not at all. You should not see any of your socks when standing up. When trying on dress pants, you should wear dress shoes.
Your belt should comfortably fit on the 2nd hole from the tightest when buying it. It’s ok if you lose weight to need the 1st (tightest) one or gain weight to need the 3rd, but you should get new ones if you go outside that range. This means that you’ll typically have to buy a belt that is about 2” bigger than your waist length. For example, if your pants are waist size 32”, then you’ll need around belt size 34”. Don’t worry if the numbers don’t match this way, just make sure that the belt fits. The number is just a guide to help you start the bisection.
Nobody is paying or giving me anything for this post or anything on my website. My brand recommendations are my opinion only.
You can use branding to your advantage. It’s common among fashion gurus to recommend avoiding branding, but I believe that at low levels (including for myself) it’s actually incredibly advantageous. People notice when I’m wearing Ralph Lauren or Boss clothes. I get asked about them often, despite not considering myself particularly good at fashion.
Here are some brands that will be effective with the budget that we’re on. Ratings: higher is better.
- Calvin Klein
- Cost: 3/5 (~$70/dress shirt), Quality: 4/5, Appearance: 4/5, Branding: 4/5
- My staple. Very east coast, straightforward, sharp, and down to business. I actually think that you could buy nothing but CK and be in really good shape, though I wouldn’t recommend that. Their quality, while not amazing, has also served me very well. Note: their socks are awful and get holes in them easily, so you should never buy them.
- Ralph Lauren
- Cost: 2/5 ($80/polo), Quality: 4/5, Appearance: 3.5/5, Branding: 4/5
- Very colorful clothes. Be careful with selections here. If you choose correctly, it’s otherwise really good value-wise. Strongly recommend for dressed-down clothing (polos), not so much for other things.
- Banana Republic
- Cost: 3.5/5 ($60/dress pants), Quality: 3/5, Appearance: 3/5, Branding: 2.5/5
- I used to rely very heavily on BR, but lately I seem to have subconsciously phased them out, mostly in favor of CK. BR has a very professor/teacher vibe to it. They’re great for muted colors, but not so much for light/colorful ones. If you’re in the same color space as I am, they’re also particularly good. I find that their overall value generally doesn’t justify the cost, so I’m not as fond of them anymore.
- Cost: 3/5 ($80/jeans), Quality: 5/5, Appearance: 4/5, Branding: 3/5
- Really bread and butter. I used to buy from Lucky Jeans, but I’ve since phased them out in favor of Levi’s. Get one or two pairs of jeans from them. Don’t over-rely on them, though. You’ll want to wear some dress pants and khakis once in a while.
- Cost: 2/5 ($200/leather shoes), Quality: 4.5/5, Appearance: 4/5, Branding: 3.5/5
- Roots is great for accessories and shoes (ratings above are only for these). I wouldn’t recommend them for anything else.
- Hugo Boss
- Cost: all over the place, but generally 30-50% more than CK, Quality: 2.5/5, Appearance: 4.5/5, Branding: 5/5
- Boss is very very hit or miss. They sometimes have things on sale to bring them into the same price tier as CK. You should only buy them when they are. Otherwise, I don’t consider them to be worth the branding. I’ve found that their quality is pretty low, so I reserve their clothes as heavy hitters and don’t wear them often.
- G2000 (if you’re in Asia)
- Cost: 4/5, Quality: 4.5/5, Appearance: 4/5, Branding: 2.5/5 (unknown outside Asia)
- Their clothes feel amazing and fit really well on slimmer figures. If you can get your hands on them, I strongly recommend them. I have a couple of dress shirts and a jacket from them. Just be careful if you’re either bigger or very muscular.
- Anything with a non-fashion company logo on it that I didn’t list in here (e.g. your company, some free shirt given to you years ago, etc.).
- Anything very bright.
To pick up
These are just my recommendations. Prices on these sites are generally 10-20% higher than you can get just by walking into a store, and 50% higher than you could get on a really good sale. Don’t rush to get these clothes at these prices unless you really need them.
You’ll probably have a hard time getting all of these if you actually set out for them. Thus I’d recommend looking for similar clothes, rather than hunting for them directly. You can also cut costs by finding cheaper brands for some items.
This shirt is a staple that any guy can wear, as you can see. It’s more of a dressed-down look, though. I wouldn’t wear this to anything formal. You can put a ton of stuff on top of it.
$125 USD — http://www.ralphlauren.com/product/index.jsp?productId=89234906
Get one of these polos. As I said before about RL, you have to be really careful with the colors you pick, because it’s so striking and you’re never going to be wearing anything on top of it other than maybe a jacket. I wouldn’t be surprised if you went to get this and then found out that neither of these colors was actually good alone on you like this. Note that I recommend getting the big logo instead of the little one like I have — you want the brand prominently displayed.
$90 USD — http://www.ralphlauren.com/product/index.jsp?productId=2994541
Get a few CK dress shirts. These are the colors I would try to start, but don’t be surprised if these don’t work, and don’t be afraid to try others too.
~$60 USD/each — http://www.thebay.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/en/thebay/mens/mens-dress-shirts/solid-dress-shirt-0039-18k2413-651–24
A sweater like this one matches very well with other clothes. You could also put it on top of a dress shirt (as pictured) and many different color ties. A jacket would work well on top of it, too.
$50 USD — http://bananarepublic.gapcanada.ca/browse/product.do?cid=1049742&vid=1&pid=183722053
Many insist that cardigans only work in the fall, but I wear them all-year round. They’re great for a slightly dressed-down look while still maintaining that air of sophistication. They also layer extremely well, as you can see here.
$120 USD (don’t buy this, just use it as a reference) — http://www.thebay.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/en/thebay/linen-v-neck-cardigan-0032-710571716001–24
You probably don’t need t-shirt recommendations, especially finding just solid black ones (if you so decide to), but these ones have served me really well. I’ve gone through a lot of t-shirts and these are, by far, the best I’ve ever had. They’re expensive, though.
$25 USD — http://bananarepublic.gapcanada.ca/browse/product.do?cid=5436&vid=1&pid=186499023
Good old Levi’s dark straight fit. They’re the bread and butter of pants. These are more expensive than I remember, so I can almost guarantee you that you can get them at a better price or on sale.
$70 USD — http://www.thebay.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/en/thebay/brands/mens-jeans/504-regular-straight-fit-jeans-0005-2999004790–24
I find khakis really uncomfortable, so I rarely wear mine anymore. You can relatively safely get away with wearing nothing but jeans and dress pants, but these are available to you as well if you want. Note that this is also a casual look, and you shouldn’t be wearing it to anything formal like business meetings.
$90 USD (you can do better) — http://www.thebay.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/en/thebay/mens/MENS-Clothing-CasualPants/classic-fit-pleated-chino-pant-0032-86490791–24
I don’t have strong opinions on dress pants, but you’ll probably want ones something like these. You should probably avoid slim cut (though you can try them on and see), and you might want to find ones with moisture wicking, stretchiness, or some other added-comfort property.
$50 USD — http://www.thebay.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/en/thebay/mens/mens-pants/straight-fit-pants-0002-81zb664–24
There’s no reason to get anything other than silk ties unless you’re on a shoe-string budget and still want a tie. Make sure that any ties you get are 100% silk and that you never drop anything that stains on them.
I was tempted to just not recommend any ties because I think that they’re one of the hardest things to visualize without actually seeing them on someone, but I’m trying anyways just to give you a sense for what to look for. This one is about as bread and butter as it gets.
$60 USD (you can find cheaper for sure) — http://www.thebay.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/en/thebay/mens/ties-bowties/solid-slim-tie-0029-k1b9-3202–24
This is as crazy as I would get, pattern-wise. It’s still relatively safe, and will work with many different outfits. Note that the pattern is symmetric along the horizontal and vertical axes. This is advantageous because, if you ever buy a patterned dress shirt, it’ll still match (sometimes the patterns can clash).
$50 USD — http://www.thebay.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/en/thebay/mens/ties-bowties/slim-graduated-dot-silk-blend-tie-0029-k1c6-b392–24
This is as crazy as I would get, color-wise. Note that this wouldn’t work on everyone.
$50 USD — http://www.thebay.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/en/thebay/mens/ties-bowties/silk-satin-tie-0017-120321–24 (not one of my usual brands, so this is just for the sake of demonstration)
I would normally recommend a leather jacket, but with our budget, we’ll avoid that. I don’t think it’s essential for what we’re going for, anyways. A jacket like this one really rounds out the professional look, and looks great on top of a sweater and/or dress shirt.
$130 USD http://www.thebay.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/en/thebay/mens/mens-coats-jackets/dresden-peacoat-0006-of5dres-nvy–24
Scarfs are a timeless and classic piece of clothing that adds class to any professional to semi-professional outfit. They’re the one piece of clothing that you probably want to get patterned, but you can do without that if you’d like. You just have to be careful not to have too much grayscale in an outfit if your scarf is also a solid color. I like this one because it’s very versatile, but doesn’t look strange when combined with a grayscale jacket or sweater.
$100 USD (you can do way better than this) — http://www.thebay.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/en/thebay/brands/MENS-Accessories-ScarvesEarwarmers/fine-stripe-cotton-silk-scarf-0070-scw4181–24
It’s best not to wear backpacks around because they look less professional. They’re fine when going to the gym, traveling, etc., but outside of those situations, a nice messenger bag or duffle bag will really round out your look.
The “Tribe” set by Roots works in any situation and for any man. It’s really unfair and needs to be nerfed by the powers that be. The only drawback is that it’s pretty expensive. In my opinion, it’s well-worth the investment. There are many items besides the ones that I’ve listed below, but I don’t recommend buying them because doing so wouldn’t comply with the 80/20 rule.
One of the nice things about this set is that it’s probably here to stay for quite a while, so you can gradually accumulate the items in it. I started with just the boots several years ago, and now I have almost every item in it.
$300 USD — http://www.roots.com/ca/en/modern-satchel-tribe-18050252.html?cgid=leatherIsleeves&start=10&selectedColor=024#start=10
I like to carry around my messenger bag whenever possible. It’s not just for the convenience, but it also just looks good. If I’m not in a suit, it lifts up the rest of my outfit, because it’s leather. I strongly recommend getting a leather messenger bag, even if not this one.
$50 USD — http://www.roots.com/ca/en/mens-slimfold-top-flap-tribe-14180036.html?cgid=leatherMensWallets&start=4&selectedColor=022#start=4
This isn’t a strong recommendation at all as it’s something that people won’t see often, but I recommend getting a wallet that matches your messenger bag, should you get the bag. In a client meeting or dinner, it will actually go some distance. This could wait a while, though.
Watches are nice because most people can’t tell whether they’re actually valuable or not. I wear a $1000 Birks watch, and outside North America, nobody thinks that it’s valuable at all. This is the one piece of clothing where I suggest that you use this to your advantage — if you do it properly, you can cheap out here, and very few people will know better.
For starters, I suggest dropping digital and smart watches at the bare minimum (exception being the Apple Watch). It’s pretty surprising how much of an impact a nice watch can have on an outfit. It will lift up a dressed down look, and round out a more dressed up look. I suggest getting just one watch. We want it to go with everything, so we’re going to make it really bland. I suggest getting one that: is understated, or isn’t too big; has a brown leather strap; is entirely analog.
Here are some suggestions (click for more):
$100 USD — $150 USD — $150 USD
You’ll need to try them out yourself to see what works. I’d definitely bring a friend along who understands fashion well. You could go cheaper than my suggestions and probably be fine. I wouldn’t go below $100 if you’re looking to maximize long-term value, but if you want to cheap out on something, then this is where you should do it.
This is a weak recommendation, but I suggest getting some cologne. For a while, I would only shower with unscented bath soap, shampoo, and use unscented deodorant. Then every day I’d put on the same cologne. My theory was that this would make me more memorable as I’d always smell significant and consistent. I believe that this was absolutely a worthwhile investment when I was working at a big company. These days, what with traveling and all, it’s too hard to make guarantees on my deodorant, body wash, and shampoo all being unscented, so I’ve relaxed this restriction. Contrary to popular belief about your sense of smell being the one tied most to memory, I don’t believe that cologne helps you much, if at all on initial impressions.
Cologne is so personalized that I can’t hope to offer suggestions here. All I can tell you is to stay with one of the well-known brands that you can get a department store. The reasons are twofold: 1) the department store colognes are designed to be well-rounded, work on almost anyone, and not be offensive to others, sort of like pop music. 2) our sense of smell and understanding of how they mix together is not nuanced enough to be able to accurately tell whether or not an esoteric scent works well on us.
I got Burberry initially when I didn’t know what I was doing. Since then, I’ve come across Trussardi, which I love and I don’t think I’m ever going to replace. I’m not including a price or link to either because they’re almost certainly the wrong scents for you. My only recommendation is to not get an “aqua”. They’re generally light blue, but you can ask the salesperson if the bottle doesn’t say. They also smell distinctly like a beach with perfume sprayed everywhere.
You’ll want to start with a small bottle. They’re not as cost-effective by volume, but it’ll take you a stupidly long amount of time to go through it anyways. You shouldn’t have to spend more than $100 for a bottle, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you found one for $50 that actually suits you well and smells nice.
Here are the mechanics of buying cologne. For starters, I’d recommend biting the bullet and buying this at a department store. The people in malls there are just going to be able to do a better job helping you. It’s not worth trying to optimize for costs here in general. If you want to go cheaper, you’d might as well just follow my poor-man’s guide at the end of this section.
Bring along a sealed jar of coffee beans and a friend who knows a lot about fashion and/or perfume/cologne. You might not need the coffee beans, but we’re going to play it safe because even some reputable stores don’t have any themselves. Ask the salesperson to help you pick some fragrances out with the criteria that I gave you.
Do not, I repeat, do not, put them on you. The salesperson should spray them on little paper slips for you when you ask. If they either don’t help you, or don’t have paper slips, then you should probably go to another store. If they don’t have paper slips, then just use your own paper about 7”x2” torn from bigger sheets. Make sure you spray it at a distance away from you, as you don’t want any to get on you. Once sprayed, shake it out for about 10 seconds, or just leave it on the counter. We’re doing this because the smell of alcohol is very strong at first, and we want it to disperse a little bit.
When ready, smell it and ask your friend to do the same. Sniff it for only 2-3 seconds. Any longer and you’ll just be overwhelming your senses. Try to focus on the first thing that comes to your mind, as that’s generally right. Don’t let the salesperson affect your thinking, but still be nice as they’re really trying to help you. When you’re ready to move onto the next cologne, first sniff the coffee beans. You might want to sniff yours, even if they have a jar themselves, since yours will probably be stronger. Doing this resets your palette and makes it easier to differentiate colognes. If you don’t do this, your sense of smell will be completely hosed after about 5 different colognes, making each one almost indistinguishable from the others.
Even with the coffee beans, in total you only have a window of about 20-30 minutes to do your sampling. I’d suggest staying on the lower end of that at first. You can extend this by about 5-10 minutes by leaving the store for 15-20 minutes and coming back after that, but I don’t recommend doing that. Either way, after that, you’re going to be ineffective for a few hours or possibly even the rest of the day. Don’t be afraid to walk away and come back another day if you’re not satisfied.
When transporting cologne, make sure you put it in your luggage, and wrap it in a blanket, clothes, or some other kind of cloth. You might also want to wrap it in an elastic band. You should put it in the middle of your luggage. If you get glass, it will break easily.
I’ll preempt this by saying that it’s not a panacea. I’d recommend avoiding this altogether as I suspect that it’ll just be a waste of time. But I’m telling you about the option in case you do decide to take it.
If you want to dabble in cologne but don’t want to do the above, there’s a poor man’s path you can take. I never did this, but I was considering it. Many aftershaves actually smell really good, and you can pick them up for $10-20. Here are a few brands you can try:
- Old Spice
One tiny optimization you can do is using a good set of drier sheets for your laundry. I found Bounce for Men pretty good. It smells very earthy. Though if you’re wearing cologne, this is pretty unimportant. (Note: I am getting no affiliate commission, nor am I being paid by anyone to recommend this.)
I’ve found that women I’ve encountered are more likely to notice my shoes, regardless of how fashionable or not they are. Whether this is generalizable or not is up to others to decide, but I have no opinion either way.
Generally speaking, I’d suggest having three pairs of shoes.
$160 USD — http://www.roots.com/ca/en/mens-tuffer-boots-tribe-15020134.html?cgid=shoesMensBoots&start=7&selectedColor=024
Everyday tough but good looking boots. These are the ones I wear. They look a bit like working boots in this picture, but if you remove the laces and replace them with leather ones, they look great. They’re really tough and have served me well. They’re also comfortable and very versatile. In a pinch, I could take them to a semi-formal event and be fine. Strongly recommend.
$120 USD — http://www.thebay.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/en/thebay/brands/mens-dress-shoes/tabor-premium-calfskin-plain-toe-oxfords-0110-20-3360–24
If you have wide feet like I do, I recommend Johnston and Murphy shoes. I have ones just like this, if not the same model. They’re nothing to write home about, but they fit me well, and their overall value is pretty good. These aren’t bad, but I didn’t spend too much time looking for them. I recommend simple designs like these as it’s harder to make mistakes matching them with other clothing. Elaborate patterns don’t blend well with many dress pants and jeans. I also personally have a slight preference for black, but many people can make brown work too. If you don’t want to think about it, just get black. I wouldn’t go lower than $150 on dress shoes ($100 if you’re really stingy and don’t mind changing them when you get to an event) as you don’t want to be in pain in the middle of a networking event. That $20-50 can go a long way if it’s keeping you comfortable while talking with someone important.
The last are running shoes. These don’t matter in the slightest for professional settings as you should generally not be wearing them there. No recommendations other than Asics if your feet are wide like mine.
Okay, you’re ready to go. What now? You’re going to make mistakes, so it’s best to do this in phases.
If you don’t have confidence in your fashion, design, and color sense, consider bringing a fashion-conscious friend along with you when you actually go shopping. Though if you think that you have a good eye and have some idea of what you want, don’t be afraid to go alone. I’ve never shopped for clothes seriously with anyone else, as I find it distracting to be with others. There’s no harm in trying shopping both ways. If you do bring someone along though, be sure to tell them what kind of style and image you’re going for, so that they’re less likely to push their ideals onto you.
Don’t be afraid to browse websites or go to stores and try things on. Also don’t be afraid to walk away if you’re not feeling something. When I first started doing this, I beat myself up when I left empty-handed, because I thought I was an idiot for not knowing exactly what I wanted when I went to stores. Now I know that it’s just part of the process, and I can comfortably tell you the same.
You don’t have to buy everything in one go. I’d suggest picking up one of each type of clothing first and figuring out how they layer before buying more. You’ll also want to observe what you like and don’t like about what you bought.
You’ll want to consciously cull your wardrobe every once in a while as you add new things to it. You might end up culling things that you bought recently, and that’s ok. You’ll also want to think about the quality of what you got.
Unfortunately, you’ll have to perform some maintenance to keep your wardrobe up to its max potential.
You’ll want to apply leather protector to any leather that you get every few months and as soon as you get them. This prevents them from being damaged by acidic rain or anything else. You can get a separate shoe shine for your shoes.
I used to iron my shirts, but I found that it was giving me pretty minuscule benefit for a pretty large time sink. It took me almost a full hour to iron all of my laundry. You can still do this, but if you don’t want to, you can shortcut it by doing any or all of the following:
- You can get wrinkle-resistant clothes, but they generally come at the cost of sacrifices in other areas. Calvin Klein dress shirts are generally very good at avoiding wrinkling.
- Take your clothes out of the drier as soon as they’re done drying.
- Use a drier sheet, which will reduce wrinkling slightly.
- Put a sweater or cardigan on top of your shirt when you wear it, which will hide wrinkles.
- Spray it with a spray-bottle of water from a foot or two away before you put it on.
- Have just one dress shirt on hand which you iron and wear if you need it for an important event.
You can tie up your ties and leave them in your closet ready to go. That way, you don’t really have to remember how to tie them. This is really bad for them – and especially silk ties – but it’s acceptable if you’re really time-conscious and don’t want to memorize how to tie them.
I don’t know much about hair beyond the general laws, and anything specific to mine. I can spitball a bit though. For starters, if your hair is dry, you might consider using conditioner in the shower for a week or so to see if there are any benefits. My hair gets shinier when I use conditioner consistently. Just note that, if you choose to, you should perform your shower in the following order:
- Face wash
- Body wash
The reason is that the conditioner will get into the pores of your face and clog them if you don’t wash your face immediately afterwards.
Also, I suggest using some kind of hair product (unless you’re bald, obviously, in which case you can use oil). It varies what’s best from person to person, but you can find out by going to a proper barber shop for your next haircut and asking there. If you’re not sure or want to try immediately, you can go to a drug store and read the descriptions of the hair products to find the closest approximation to your hair.
Unless you really know what you’re doing or you’re really handsome, hair generally looks more professional when shorter. When in doubt, cut it shorter. Also try to keep it symmetric.
Finally, when you go to the barber, ask them to trim your eyebrows. It’s something that few people do, but which can go a long way to keeping you looking good and clean-cut.
Face cleansing and moisturizer
If you don’t already do this, washing your face every day goes a long way as well. You don’t have to do anything elaborate to see massive gains. There are just two things you need: 1) a cleanser, 2) a moisturizer. You can get fancier than this, but I noticed very little in the way of benefit when I did. It’s hard to make recommendations for either of these as everyone is very different, but Aveeno works well for me.
$10 USD — http://www.walmart.ca/en/ip/aveeno-clear-complexion-cream-cleanser-for-acne-prone-skin-141-g/666612?cmpid=PPC_Google_Google-Shopping_PLA_EN_666612_1000521022324896000195330290_433&gclid=CISv1fTXy8wCFQqKaQodKFAE5Q
$20 USD — http://www.walmart.ca/en/ip/aveeno-active-naturals-clear-complexion-daily-moisturizer/6000076893081?cmpid=PPC_Google_Google-Shopping_PLA_EN_6000076893081_100056000195305341600019530954741351_433&gclid=CKCo0I7Yy8wCFQuPaQod0CIJcg
I usually cleanse my face in the shower after I’ve applied hair conditioner, and then apply the moisturizer when I get out. See the order above in the “hair” section for more details.
Yes, I’m serious about this. Sometimes I have a nasty pimple or something and I don’t want others to see it. I invested in some concealer that matches my skin tone and use it sporadically in these situations. If you pick the right concealer, you shouldn’t need any more than just that to cover up the problem areas. I used this mostly for dates, but I also recommend it for networking events and business meetings. You can also get concealers with acne treatment, so that they’re not just covering up the pimple, but also treating it. Don’t be afraid to ask the staff at cosmetics stores for help with this.
Most guys have figured out shaving already, so I’ll just drop some assorted tips here. I use Gillette Fusion and I think it’s great. The advantage of investing in a better razor is that it’ll shave closer and with less razor burn and other problems.
As an aside, if you’re in a pinch, you can use conditioner as shaving cream. It’s not great, and you have to wash your face with cleanser afterwards, but it works.
I tried straight razor shaving for a while, but I think that it’s mostly a waste of time. It’s slightly cheaper in the long run, and it cuts closer, but it takes way longer each time and is much more dangerous.
Conclusion and Resources
I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any questions. Here are some resources you can follow for more tips: