What the heck do I wear to work?
December 29, 2010 3:39 PM   Subscribe

How to best build a man's wardrobe for a relatively short internship?

I'll be starting a (nearly unpaid) 3-month internship in January for a (relatively) small publishing company. I'm excited, but I'm also a bit worried about what I should wear. I've never worked anywhere but food service(fast food and coffee), so my understanding in this area is lacking, so too my clothing choices. There are a few additional difficulties:

1.) I'm not sure exactly how I'm expected to dress.

The company is overwhelmingly female(90% at least) and its been difficult to get a bead on what exactly is expected of the men who work there. It is not a suit and tie sort of place(that I'm sure of) but it isn't exactly come-as-you-are either. My best guess is the high end of casual/the low-end of business: jacket optional, dress shirt and slacks/khakis.

2.) Cost.

Since this is a full-time gig with next to no remittance, I'm going to have to fall back on savings. This means I will have to be careful about how I spend my money. Inexpensive is the watchword here, I think.

What I already have:

2 pair khakis(charcoal and, er, khaki). Two blazers(khaki and very dark grey), a few suitable-seeming button-ups.

What I think I need:

Shoes - I have boots and I have sneakers, nothing in-between. I'm not sure where to begin in this area.

More shirts? - I have, at most, three that I can pair with what I already have.

More pants, maybe?

And on top of all that, I'm not really sure where to start looking once I've decided what I need. In sum: I'm not sure what clothes I should wear to my new job. I think it's dressy-casual, but I'm not sure. Even if I were sure, I'm not positive where I should go to buy what I want.

What and how much do I buy, and where do I start looking?

Relevant physical info: I'm living in Toronto, I'm in my mid-twenties, short(5'7") and rail thin(28" waist).
posted by Gin and Comics to Shopping (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you can get away with it, I'd hold off buying new clothes until you actually start. Observe the other guys at your workplace for a few days, and then on the next weekend, buy whatever they're wearing. It might turn out that you don't need much at all.
posted by Xany at 4:00 PM on December 29, 2010

First of all, don't go buying too much just yet, except a pair of non-sneaker leather shoes. That doesn't mean they need to be patent wingtips. There is a spectrum in men's shoes, too. These Cole Haans are what I'm thinking of, and even though they're out of your price range most likely, they have the right idea; not shiny, more like a loafer which makes them slightly more casual.

Work there a few days, observe the staff to gather more data on the unwritten dress code, then make some more purchases if you have to. For now, make sure your clothes you do have are absolutely clean and IRONED. Nothing says unprofessional like a guy with a shirt collar that looks like it was slept in or stepped on. You should be fine for the first week that way.

If you find some more good quality shirts or pants on sale somewhere really cheap (there are great sales after Christmas at least here in the US) get them even if they don't fit perfect, then spend $20 to take them to a tailor. Fit separates the men from the boys, in my opinion.
posted by slow graffiti at 4:05 PM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

You definitely need a pair of Shoes. I'm not sure where to get inexpensive-but-nice shoes in Canada so hopefully others will be able to help out. On preview, I slightly disagree with slow graffiti about the loafers -- I think oxfords are more versatile -- but, honestly, just get something that doesn't look like a sneaker. I know a lot of dudes try to go with the shoe-that-looks-almost-like-a-sneaker thing based on comfort (mental, not physical) and just avoid, avoid, avoid that impulse.

(You'll need shirts eventually, if not now, so the following may not apply yet.) Considering your size -- especially that you are slim -- don't buy unfitted shirts. Right now you're better off spending longer to find a fitted shirt that works than getting a shirt you like and getting it fitted to you. What want to avoid is all that extra shirt fabric between your armpit and your waist. On skinny dudes it just looks like you're swimming in your clothes and that looks ill-put-together. I'm the same size you are and, yeah, unless you plan on gaining a whole lot of wait any time soon, it's a pain. If you wear sized shirts, I am 95% sure that any shirts you wear now should be a 14 1/2 collar and 32/33, no larger. I don't know if there's a Canadian conversion.

Remember: Always ask the people at the store for help. That is what they are there for. To help you. If they seem like they're not being attentive, go to a different store.
posted by griphus at 4:18 PM on December 29, 2010

Oh, and if you don't know how to iron, go to your local dry cleaner. They should have a "wash and press" service that costs about two bucks a shirt and a little more for pants.
posted by griphus at 4:19 PM on December 29, 2010

Nthing the notion that you wait until you start work to worry too much about purchasing anything. I made the mistake of buying a lot of new clothing when I started a new job 5 years ago based on what I was told by a secretary (erm, "administrative assistant"). My supervisor made it very clear, however, that unless we were doing something in the public eye (rare for my position) that t-shirts and jeans were just fine. Lesson learned.

ASK your direct supervisor what attire he/she expects of you. While I am not suggesting that you might be lucky enough to wear tees and jeans to work, as an intern you may actually only be expected to wear khakis and polos. If you will not have any way to ask your supervisor before the first day of work dress up that day and inquire about wardrobe expectations. Good luck!
posted by labwench at 4:36 PM on December 29, 2010

I posted a similar question a few months back.
posted by schmod at 5:09 PM on December 29, 2010

My husband is a para-professional for the federal government in a similar-sounding workplace (heavily female, business casual) in Toronto. He gets a lot of button-downs from Winners, pants from Winners/Gap/Brooks Brothers, and some clothing (blazers, light v-neck sweaters to wear over button-downs, sometimes shirts) from H&M.

Nthing the need for non-runner leather shoes - maybe try The Shoe Company?

Good luck!
posted by purlgurly at 5:39 PM on December 29, 2010

It's always appropriate to dress simply and utilize a few high-quality, well-fitting items. Variety does not, in and of itself, make successful wardrobe. In your situation, I would focus on the "accessories" by which I mean the things that are not pants, shirt or the thing over your shirt. These things will last forever and are not specific to any one job or environment.

A pair of excellent shoes is a must. Really. Start here.

A nice watch is another way to enhance an otherwise simple wardrobe. Think of it this way...it takes more skill and craft to build a single, truly comfortable chair than it does to build an entire house. A nice watch is like that chair.

Most importantly, far more important than variety or "style", is the idea that your clothes should fit your body. Better to have a couple of things tailored to fit you specifically than a closet full of stuff made to almost fit just about everybody else.

Truth is...once you get to know the people around you, nobody really cares what you wear. As long as you look clean, well-kept and job-appropriate, nobody cares. Your personality will always trump your outfit. For better or worse. Keep it simple. Buy well-crafted things you will have for years. You can never go wrong with this strategy.
posted by nickjadlowe at 5:46 PM on December 29, 2010

Nice sweaters, if you have them, might also be acceptable and would also provide additional sources of wardrobe variation.
posted by carmicha at 6:36 PM on December 29, 2010

I once brought a lot of nice clothes to another city for an unpaid internship. Turns out everyone there wore jeans and tshirts to work. So I'd second the advice to wait and see what everyone else wears.

I always find a lot of Oxford shirts and nice pants at thrift stores.
posted by sugarbomb at 7:07 PM on December 29, 2010

Just get a pair of casual brown oxfords. Go to the Winners in Toronto and you'll probably be able to find something acceptable for cheap. I can personally recommend Dr. Scholls slip-resistant oxfords. They're a good all-purpose work shoe. Casual. Comfortable. Versatile (jeans, khakis etc.). Cheap. Slip-resistant. Sturdy enough to walk to work in the snow. They certainly won't turn any heads, but they're not embarrassing. Did I mention they're really comfortable.

Other than that I'd add a nice, thin, solid-colored sweater or two if you don't already have one. Then you're golden.
posted by smokingmonkey at 7:47 PM on December 29, 2010

Visit with Lee at Off the Cuff - he's having lots of sales lately (and has stuff in ranges other than what he promotes on his site. He has good taste - stylish, yet classic - and will help you learn what works on you and what works for you. Then you can take that to places like Winners and go with it.

And while I'd say something like Blundstones, "nicer" jeans and a few nice sweaters and button-up shirts will get you through the whole thing more than decently - if they're ill-fitting or dated, you'll be doing yourself more harm than good. There's a world of difference between baggy, limp, pleated khakis in the wrong length and crisp, fitting ones that look professional.

Your given size means that you may have more luck than others in finding clothes at places like Winners, where the larger sizes seem to turn over faster and the mark-down racks are full of odd sizes. l also see that certain Value Villages get some really good quality clothing in - I like the one at Bloor/Landsdowne best, and have found lots of good things at Queen and Logan, and Danforth and Woodbine.

For the record, mrgood works in an office with a similar dress code, and has for years - but has built up a wardrobe of things like non-denim "jeans" from the Gap, and flat-front wool trousers (made at an old tailor on Bathurst - they've lasted years) and only very dark jeans; sweaters from everywhere, ranging from polo-collared Munsingwear ones to merino v-necks and cardigans from the Gap over t-shirts; vintage sport jackets in subtle plaids and checks and flecks); vintage men's gabardine shirts in plaids and solids; and his shoes are either old Fluevogs, Blundstones, old Hush Puppies Oxfords, or vintage brogues and such. He can wear sneakers, but only if they're the brand of the agency's client - and thankfully (and somewhat sadly) Chucks fall under that category. A vintage Navy peacoat in winter (though he has some vintage wool overcoats) and a lightweight Dickies twill jacket in spring/fall work with all that. So, he still feels like himself - retro guy with tattoos and a pompadour and such - he just doesn't look like he's about to go and work on a hot rod.
posted by peagood at 8:24 PM on December 29, 2010

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