Anyone who’s had a job knows that, more often than not, workplaces require their employees to adhere to a dress code. If you’re curious about other dress codes for men, see our home page for dress codes.
There are varying levels of strictness and formality, with some offices requiring a suit and tie, others being okay with khakis and a polo shirt, and others still who couldn’t care less if you show up wearing flip-flops.
What follows is a discussion of the strictest of professional dress codes: business professional.
What Is Business Professional?
“Business professional” was the standard dress code of any office worker up through the 1980s, at which point the 1990s stepped in with the widespread adoption of business casual.
However, it’s far from gone and some may even argue that it’s making a comeback! Although workplaces may continue to relax their dress codes, employees are beginning to gain a renewed interest in more formal outfitting.
The business professional dress code is simple, at least on the surface. You essentially wear a suit and tie. If you work in law, government, or are at the C-level of most organizations, it is likely that you dress in a business professional dress code at least four days a week.
The biggest takeaway you need to know about business professional is that the name of the game is conservatism. That said, there are strategic ways to still make it fun as well as certain places that allow for some wiggle room.
Breakdown Of The Business Professional Dress Code
As mentioned above, the key here is wearing a suit and tie. Yet, there are some specifics to keep in mind when preparing your wardrobe. We’ll break down each of the garments separately to then bring it all together at the end:
Simply use the links above to jump ahead or scroll down to read it all!
Business Professional Suits
Your suit should be a two-piece number, either charcoal grey or navy blue. Thankfully, both of these colours comprise the backbone of the capsule wardrobe. You may also wear navy or grey suits with subtle pinstripes.
Somewhat lighter greys and blues (think medium grey and cadet blue) can be worn in the warmer months, but it’s best to avoid very light suit colours if you’re in a particularly conservative environment. These are fine for weddings and other fun events, but won’t work in a sartorially conservative office environment.
If you’re currently shopping for a business professional suit, we currently highly recommend custom brands like Indochino.
While having a made-to-measure suit sounds expensive, their fully-custom suits can retail for as little as $300! You can also benefit from an additional 10% discount with our exclusive code “BESPOKEUNIT” when you spend more than $399.
Meanwhile, Black Lapel is another brand that we love and you can enjoy $50 on us with “FTOBESPOKEUNIT“!
Yet, custom suits take a little while to produce. If you’re in a hurry, jump down to the best brand recommendations for business professional attire.
Business Professional Shirts
Solid white and light-to-medium blues are best, both of which are covered by your existing capsule wardrobe. While we are huge fans of pink or lilac dress shirts, they tend to be more widely accepted in England than they are in The United States.
In terms of pattern, you can get away with subtle stripes, with blue and white being the best combination. Similarly, Bengal stripes may be a little strong but can work well to add some colour to an outfit while remaining conservative.
Should I Wear Barrel Or Double “French” Cuffs?
It’s entirely your choice whether you wish to wear barrel or double “French” cuffs. We generally prefer double cuffs as they tend to be more robust and also open opportunities with cufflinks.
Needless to say, your choice of cufflink is both an expression of your personality and your professionalism. Therefore, aim to choose something that’s appropriate for your working environment.
Some may argue that junior employees shouldn’t wear double cuffs because they haven’t earned “that right” yet. However, we wholeheartedly disagree! By making such a sartorial commitment, you have already earned it.
Nevertheless, if you prefer barrel cuff shirts, we have found that Eton Shirts produces some of the best specimens currently on the market. They offer a certain subtle elegance thanks to their Scandinavian minimalism, which is rare with this style of cuff.
Meanwhile, there are lots of excellent Jermyn Street shirtmakers that specialise in double cuffs such as Hawes & Curtis. Once again, we will show you the best brands for business professional wear at the end of this guide.
Business Professional Ties
There are many ties from which you can choose. However, the real challenge is finding the right balance between style and keeping it understated. Solids are obviously a perfect starting point (again, these are in your capsule wardrobe), but stripes and other conservative, classic patterns will work too.
Generally, a reliable approach is to keep the colours somewhat muted. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to be boring! On the contrary, there are plenty of ways to integrate visual interest in your attire without it being too much for an office environment.
Avoiding bright, loud, and electric hues will ensure that you don’t go overboard. To learn more about colour, check out our comprehensive colour guides.
As for where to find the ties, there are plenty of retailers out there. The Tie Bar is an excellent first stop as it stocks a plethora of business professional menswear accessories. Similarly, plenty of shirtmakers and other gentleman outfitters will offer their own ranges.
Business Professional Shoes
While anything casual is pretty much off-limits, the range of dress shoes available to men is pretty extensive, and you can have some fun here.
You can wear either black, brown, or burgundy shoes. We suggest oxfords, cap-toes, quarter-brogues, whole cuts, and dressy Venetian loafers. If you see other men wearing monkstraps around the office, you may do so as well.
We haven’t actually featured any shoe brands at the end of this guide. That’s simply because we cover shoes so extensively elsewhere on the site! For instance, our dress shoe guides give plenty of recommendations and there are lots of more style-specific guides that link off from there.
You can also learn about the best Italian, English, and even American shoe brands on the market.
If we had to boil it down to just a few brands, we’re currently fans of both Beckett Simonon and Ace Marks.
Beckett Simonon’s value for money is hard to beat given that you get a Blake stitch shoe in calfskin leather for less than $200. You can get an additional 20% off when you use our discount code “BU20“. The only downside is that they’re made to order so you’ll have to wait a few months for them to arrive.
Meanwhile, Ace Marks is a little bit more expensive at around $300. Yet, while the quality is quite similar to Beckett Simonon, the shoes are made in Italy and are shipped almost immediately.
Business Professional Accessories
There are a number accessories that you may want or have to wear with your business professional suits.
Firstly, if you will be wearing a belt, opt for one that matches your shoes. Meanwhile, its buckle should ideally be the same colour as other metallic objects your wearing.
We realise that this isn’t all that simple but cufflinks and any other metallic accessories, including your watch, should match in metal colour. In case you can’t decide between gold or silver, know that silver is the most conservative metal. In fact, gold can occasionally appear as somewhat flashy in some circles.
With regards to pocket squares aim for white cotton, linen or silk. You can occasionally opt for some very conservative patterns but it’s easy to go too far with these so start with white first. Alternatively, white squares with different coloured trims are great choices here.
We also suggest a TV fold (1/4″ showing above the breast pocket in a straight horizontal line) or something equally understated.
What Socks To Wear With A Suit
Try to find socks that match your trousers. Colourful, crazy socks -while fun- don’t have a place in a business professional environment. Furthermore, “no-show” socks aren’t recommend as bare ankles don’t tend to reflect professionalism.
Similarly, socks shouldn’t be falling down or rumpled. For this, we recommend over-the-calf socks that tend to stay in place and are much more convenient than sock garters.
A brand that we love who specialise in this is Boardroom socks. A family-owned business, all their socks are produced in their North Carolina mill in the USA. They offer excellent value for money and perform brilliantly for both business and formal occasions.
Finally, just a quick note on braces or suspenders. Some might argue that they’re similar to French cuffs in the business professional office. While they’re perfectly appropriate to wear, some circles may feel you need to be more on the senior end to do so.
However, this is rarely the case these days. In fact, they’re often well-regarded among your peers.
Top Three Business Professional Mistakes To Avoid
In addition to what’s mentioned above, these are the three biggest pitfalls to avoid in a business professional office:
A Suit That Doesn’t Fit
Skimping on tailoring will undermine the act of wearing a suit and tie. This is particularly true if you’re frequently meeting clients and want to project a positive image.
There are several ways to deal with this. Firstly, you can get your existing suits professionally altered. Depending on the work that needs doing, it can be quite cheap with a local tailor. We have some tailoring guides, which walk you through how easy it is to get each job done.
Alternatively, you can opt for new made-to-measure suits. Earlier, we talked about custom suitmakers like Indochino and Black Lapel. Once, made-to-measure tailoring was very experience. However, thanks to brands like these, the prices are just as competitive as off-the-racks suits!
Remember that we have the following discount codes if you wish to pay them a visit:
- 10% off your Indochino suit with “BESPOKEUNIT” when you spend more than $399
- $50 off your Black Lapel suit with “FTOBESPOKEUNIT“
Too Much Fashion
Fashionable details like peak lapels, ticket pockets, and loud patterns might be best avoided in the most conservative environments. Don’t get us wrong, we absolutely love the little details that make a suit really sing. However, they might give off the wrong vibe on your suit.
However, we won’t say that they’re banned altogether! On the contrary, it really depends on the office environment that you work in. In fact, some workplaces may relish this extra attention to detail. Just keep in mind your audience and your entourage when selecting your attire.
Another thing that can ruin an entire look is scuffed, old shoes that have seen better years. We see this a lot and often on people who have made an effort in every other department. This is a shame as it ends up being what stands out the most!
There’s nothing wrong with well-worn shoes as long as they’re well looked after. Resoling when necessary and regular shining are some simple steps that can take care of this and make a phenomenal difference.
Finally, when the time comes, it’s worth investing in quality shoes. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld guard, Sam Vines, said it best:
“A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.”
We’re not sure about the Ankh-Morpork exchange rate but the message stays the same. However, the theory of socioeconomic unfairness isn’t quite as literal these days.
Cheap shoes will probably cost you around $50 to $100 these days. Meanwhile, if you’re willing to spend at least $150 to $300, you can find yourself with some very reliable footwear. In the shoes section above, we suggested a few brands and shoe guides to help you find them.
Top 10 Best Retailers For Business Professional Garments
Now that you have learn everything that you need to know about business professional attire, we’ll present you with some of our favourite brands for the dress code. We already mentioned a few of these brands above but we think it’s worth covering them again here in detail.
Currently, we recommend the following outfitters in no particular order of preference:
- Black Lapel
- Boardroom Socks
- Charles Tyrwhitt
- Eton Shirts
- Hawes & Curtis
- Turnbull & Asser
- The Tie Bar
Feel free to use the links above to jump ahead or scroll down to discover them all!