How to Dress Professionally in the Casual Workplace

By: John Talley, Director of Merchandising
October 23, 2019


It was like being on the set of Mad Men.

For years, the workplace dress code called for a dark suit, white shirt, and a dark tie. Executives and lower-level managers alike sported that uniform, which stayed the norm until the tech boom of the late 90s.

Enter the black t-shirt and jeans.

And, with the increase in entrepreneurship over the past two decades, the casual trend has only increased. Now, some employees show up to work in worn-out t-shirts and tired-looking sneakers.

What would Don Draper say? 


Do You Have to Choose Between Comfortable and Professional Clothes?

While studies prove your performance improves when dressed better, they’re seemingly ignored in the name of comfort. Lately, it’s as if management takes wardrobe cues from the bottom, rather than setting the tone.

At Tom James, we acknowledge this change in workplace attire. Yet we also need to address the misconception that professional clothing is not comfortable. When your clothes fit perfectly and are intentionally chosen to coordinate, they are comfortable and a joy to wear.

Additionally, your clothes impact your confidence and performance. Even with a more casual dress code, you should still seek clothes that enhance your image of leadership, professionalism, and competence.

After all, you only have six seconds to make a first impression. We insist that it should be a good one, even in a more casual workplace environment!


When Did Dressing for Work Become Such a Coordinated Effort?

The Difficulty of the Casual Workplace

When dark suits and white shirts were the norm, it was easy to put together a coordinated wardrobe. It was almost a uniform.

Casual outfits, on the other hand, require more thought and effort. They demand consciously chosen garments that reflect your personality, present you as a leader, and reveal your attention to detail.

This starts with elements that fit perfectly. Often casual garb looks, well…casual. If you select garments that fit well in colors that compliment your complexion, you can add accessories that enhance the image you want to portray, resulting in a pulled together look that tells everyone you’re still in charge.


Impact of a Coordinated Wardrobe

Create a Positive First Impression

Subconsciously, the people in your life, whether employees, clients, or colleagues, judge you on how you present yourself. Think about meeting with a potential new hire who hasn’t brushed their hair and shows up to the interview wearing wrinkled clothing. Or, what if your accountant’s office is cluttered and unorganized and at every meeting they’re scrambling to find your documents?

We make impressions by how we present ourselves. The clothes you choose are a reflection of your personality and the image you want to portray.

When you take the time to put together a great casual outfit with the perfect accessories, it conveys a level of leadership, competence, and professionalism. You prove you are someone who cares about the details. And if you care about the small things, you can also be trusted with big things, such as leadership, client service, and delivering high-quality work.

Avoid Casual Wardrobe Mistakes

More than likely, your closet is filled with clothes, yet you only wear a few items regularly. Those are the comfortable options that fit you well. The rest of your closet is filled with gifts from family members, special ‘deals’ and single items you have purchased that don’t go well with anything else.

In a more casual workplace environment, coordinating outfits now requires an understanding of what goes well together. You probably don’t purchase your items in ‘outfits.’ Then, you end up wearing elements that don’t truly complement your personality or enhance your professional image.

Wear Clothes That Actually Fit

Your posture and confidence improve when you wear clothes that are made specifically for your build. Custom clothing in the manner of tailor-made shirts, trousers and sport coats add a level of professionalism and competence, even when wearing a casual outfit, because of the fit. That custom fit and attention to detail are things a ready-to-wear outfit simply cannot deliver.

Clothes that fit you well are also more comfortable. If all professionals wore clothing that fit well, would they have moved away from more professional dress? Perhaps not as the enhanced comfort, the frequency of compliments, and the increased confidence would make other options seem irrelevant.


Why Custom Clothing Makes Sense

At the end of the day, there are too many other things that require your attention, such as your family, your career, and your community. You don’t have time to browse through limited selections at department stores, searching for clothes that fit well, enhance your image, and coordinate with the other clothes in your closet.

That’s why professional advice on how to make sense of your wardrobe is essential to dressing well in today’s casual environment.


How a Sport Coat Bridges Casual to Professional

The easiest way to bridge the gap between Casual and Professional attire is with a sport coat. 

Offers Versatility

Often, business professionals just ‘dial it in’ when selecting their casual work attire.

How often have your worn khaki trousers and a solid blue shirt? If you’re guilty of recycling a few favorites from your professional wardrobe, you end up looking like everyone else. Fortunately, sport coats are an easy solution that perfectly bridges the too-formal suit and the too-casual outfit.

Elevates Your Look

Have you ever been invited to an event or meeting where you know a suit will be too formal, yet casual clothes won’t be formal enough? Of course. We all have.

The sport coat is the essential, perfect balance for these situations because it finishes an outfit, adding a level of professionalism that leaves you confident and looking your best without being over-dressed. Even if you're wearing a pair of jeans and a crisp white shirt, a simple-patterned sport coat with a pocket square can elevate your entire look.

Wearing a sport coat over more casual attire is also effective when visiting prospects and clients in firms where the dress code is particularly casual. For example, if you show up at a tech startup wearing a sport coat, then take it off immediately, you’ll make a gesture of respect and professionalism that your audience notices.

We recommend that you keep the perfect sport coat hanging on the back of your office door for times like these. Then, no matter the event, your clothes can help distinguish you from the crowd.


6 Sport Coats You Need in Your Wardrobe

There are six sport coats that are considered essential for any wardrobe:

  1. Solid Navy or Black (blazer or sport coat)
  2. Blue Tone Pattern
  3. Gray Tone Pattern
  4. Earth Tone Pattern (tan, taupe, olive or brown): today’s popular patterns consist of plaids, windowpanes and checks in various combinations. 
  5. Specialty Blazer: current popular colors include aubergine, slate blue, or graphite.
  6. Seasonal Sport Coat: include cashmere, camel hair and tweeds in the fall or winter and then linen, cotton and wool/silk/linen blends in the spring or summer.

These six sport coats will prevent you from looking like a creature of habit to your clients and colleagues because you will have a full wardrobe. Regardless of which shirt and trousers you choose to wear, you’ll have the perfect sport coat for the occasion, whether it be work or social.


What You Wear Matters

The clothes we wear matter. Ask an attorney what the accused should wear in court. Ask parents if it matters what potential nannies wear when interviewing for the role of caring for their 3-month old baby.

Every day, you’re making an impression on those around you. When choosing your clothes, ask yourself if you are seeking comfort or if you’re looking to make an impact. The clothes you wear will either improve your image or they’ll hurt.

We notice our clients truly care about making their lives better. They want to do work they enjoy and that adds meaning to the lives of their family, clients, and community. At this level, success has nothing to do with comfort and there is nothing casual about it.

When your clothes fit and your outfits are coordinated to match your style and personality, you feel more confident and less self-conscious. You're no longer worried if your outfit enhances your image or if it's appropriate.

In today’s casual business environment, when coordinated outfits are more difficult to build but more important to show your professionalism, a properly fitting sport coat can help you portray a level of leadership and competence to your clients, prospects, and employees. Connect with a Tom James clothier to help you find the right sport coat for you.

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"I shop with Tom James for my dress clothes for several reasons. First and foremost, I appreciate the personal service you provide in helping me with my wardrobe. I appreciate the tailoring and fit of the high quality fabrics. Certainly the convenience of coming directly to me around my busy travel schedule is a huge benefit to my time management."

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Tom James of East Texas
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