Suit and tie
February 17, 2012 12:11 PM   Subscribe

What color suits, shirts, and ties compose a basic professional wardrobe? (On Tuesday I'm starting a new job in which I will wear a suit and tie every day. I need to buy some clothes -- help me out.)

I own one suit that I recently got tailored. It's a dark-gray pinstripe suit, and it now fits better (not perfectly but well enough). In terms of nice dress shirts that I think I can wear, I really only have two, a white and a light blue. My other shirts just aren't that nice. What do I need to buy?

I will be wearing a suit five days a week (well, possibly not Fridays). Obviously I don't need 5+ suits -- I gather that what one does (in order to change one's outfit) is merely rotate through various shirts and ties every day. Seems boring, but eh. However, I presumably really do need more than one suit. What color should I buy? Dark blue? lighter gray? Which color shirts go with which color suit?


1) Speaking as a not-very-sartorial 24-year-old who hated dressing up when a kid but is now down with wearing adult-people-clothes, what is the very basic professional wardrobe?

If anyone has advice along the lines of, "You should have suits of this color and this color, X shirts of this color, this color, and this color, X ties of this color, this color, and this color," that might be most helpful!

2) In the past I believe I've seen recommendations on Mefi for a particular kind of wrinkle-free no-iron dress shirt (possibly Brooks Brothers?) that fits well, but I can't find the exact recommendation in my search through the many similar AskMefi questions. Any ideas?

3) I often hear it said that the right shoes can very much make the suit. Any ideas of where to get them? (I'm in Los Angeles.)


(Keep in mind, when recommending clothes, that I have ~$1000 in the bank account and will be making <$600/week pre-taxes. However, building a wardrobe is an important investment for me right now, so spending a huge chunk my current change is fine.)
posted by lewedswiver to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (31 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Re: the shirt, you're almost definitely talking about this Brooks Bros. shirt.
posted by griphus at 12:17 PM on February 17, 2012

The suit and the shirts should be conservative colors, but
Your tie can be almost anything - along as it is tasteful and matches.
posted by Flood at 12:20 PM on February 17, 2012

For women, it's best to wait a week and see how people dress before buying a whole new wardrobe. This advice is less important for men, sice men's clothing varies less, but I'd still consider buying only one more suit, a couple shirts, and waiting to see what people actually wear at your job. After a week or two, go out and buy some more.
posted by insectosaurus at 12:26 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

1) Navy
2) Charcoal
3) Existing Pin Stripe
4) A litany of options depending on what you like and look good in and what you job is. The world is your oyster
Fabric weights should be a function of climate. Lightness of colors a function of industry.

Shirts - Start off aiming for ten shirts - 5 white 5 blue. Over time as you get more comfortable in what you like start adding patterns. I say ten shirts only because of laundry intervals - if you do laundry weekly and iron yourself adjust as needed

Tie - Neat patterns and textures in any color you like and are work appropriate.

Shoes - Aldens IMO best mix of quality and value. A-E also popular. Both can be a little lacking in style - especially in more formal shoes.
posted by JPD at 12:26 PM on February 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

A few notes--

You can't wear the same suit every day. It wears out the suit, the suit gets dirty, and you'll look like the guy who has only one suit. You could definitely do worse than just take a look at the Brooks Brothers basic line (Brooksease, I think) and check out the colors. Dark gray, light gray, black, pinstripes or not. Get a sense for the basics. To start your wardrobe off, just check out what Brooks has and then get separates elsewhere to save money. It will not look great (didn't read your old thread, are you a funny shape?), but you gotta start somewhere. I think I have some Kenneth Cole suit pants I like, but try things on and see what works.

You need a shirt a day, obviously. If you don't want to put any thought into this at all, just get white and light blue. Brooks Brothers does make a great non-iron shirt; I wear them every day. You can get them cheap (new) either from their outlet, or, in fact, on eBay. I have not worn a solid blue or white shirt in 10 years; I hate them. I tend to wear shirts with a windowpane pattern or with stripes. Keep in mind that you have to pair a tie to the shirt. If the shirt is too adventurous, it's hard to find a tie that works. In general, I'd stick to well made ties with simple patterns (stripes, dots, etc.) or solids. Don't get ties with animals or people or anything cutesy on them. I'd get a tie with blue, a tie with red, a tie with yellow, a tie with green, and maybe an orange. Don't get the same tie in different colors.

The right shoes are very important. You don't have a big budget, though--I'd get a basic pair from Johnston & Murphy, but then start haunting DSW, or Century 21 or whatever places you have that sell discount shoes. I've gotten Gucci brogues (which are green and just fun) there--but I'd be on the lookout for Allen Edmonds--they're great (sort of bottom of the line of the top of the line). I've gotten a $350 pair of those Allen Edmonds at DSW for like $70 (and then trashed them biking to work).

Don't shop there on your budget necessarily--but check out Barneys. Great makers, great styles.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:29 PM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

You eventually need at least two pairs of dress shoes, because they will last longer if you alternate.
posted by Jahaza at 12:48 PM on February 17, 2012

insectosaurus's advice is good.
posted by Jahaza at 12:49 PM on February 17, 2012

I would check out high-end consignment shops if I were on your budget. Invest the money you save in tailoring.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:50 PM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

You need at least 1 additional suit (navy, since you already have charcoal pinstripes), 5 shirts and 3 ties. You will quickly want to add one more pair of shoes, a men's overcoat, another suit, more shirts and more ties. Your 3rd suit you will desperately want to be a summer weight suit by the time June rolls around.

If budget and coordination is an issue, Jos. A. Bank is a good bet.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:51 PM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

For basics, go conservative:

Navy, black, or charcoal grey for suits. Lighter grey tones can work well for summer suits. Greens and browns might work, if you can wear the colours well and your workplace isn't too conservative, but they tend to be trendy for a few years and then go out of style (and look dated as a result).

For shirts, stick to white or blue.

Your tie can be pretty much water you want, but reds and blues seem to be conservative choices.

Depending on the workplace, you can be more creative and wear shirts of all colours and patterns; the same goes for ties. And don't underestimate the power of a pair of funky socks (though, if you're in a conservative workplace, I'd stick to socks that are similar to colour to either your shoes or your pants).
posted by asnider at 12:52 PM on February 17, 2012

I vote twice for navy. A navy suit with a crisp white shirt = fantastic look for a young professional.
posted by prefpara at 12:53 PM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

A navy suit and a charcoal suit would be the standard options. A substituting a black suit for the navy one would be a bit more of a fashion-forward move. I'm not a navy fan, so take my advice with a grain of salt.

Do not buy shirts with button-down collars that you intend to wear with your suits at work. Back when I had to do shirts-and-ties at work, I had 10 shirts: wear 5 M-F, on Saturday drop the shirts off at the cleaner's, wear the next 5, then do the exchange at the cleaner's next following Saturday. It was an efficient system. White shirts can get awfully boring, so feel free to be a little more ambitious. A shirt with a windowpane check pattern like this one is a good choice. Grays and pinks are good, too if you can manage to match a tie with it competently.
posted by deanc at 1:01 PM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

The most important thing to remember when you're picking out clothes for the office is that your goal is to not stand out. Don't look expensive, don't look cheap, don't look like anything. You want people to not pay attention to what you're wearing.

Jos A Bank is your best bet for suits. Sure, they are the Jared Jewelers of clothing stores but it's probably the best value you're going to find. I dress up less than once a week but I have had three suits rotating for more than five years without incident.

Get a dark charcoal in addition to your pinstriped suit. I'm not a huge fan of the navy but I'm a pudgy lawyer so YMMV.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 1:02 PM on February 17, 2012

Make sure you actually go to the store and touch those wrinkle free shirts. They feel wierd to me because of the hi-tec treatment.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:02 PM on February 17, 2012

Oh, and for shirts: When you're wearing a suit, you need a pinpoint collar (i.e. one with no buttons.) White and light blue are great; I would not get more crazy than that unless you want something for casual Fridays.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 1:04 PM on February 17, 2012

You might also try doing a sports coat paired with one or more of your suit pants. Mix and match.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 1:10 PM on February 17, 2012

Every time someone asks about mens fashion i leap in and yell "Quick! To the Put This On website!" but seriously here they have a list of good things to have and over here they have spiffy shoes in LA everything you could ever want. PLUS they talk about WHY you should dress this way and the history behind that trend.
posted by FatRabbit at 1:15 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

You need one navy suit at least.

Here is a previous thread about good shoes. You can either pay now or pay later for your shoes, and they really do make a difference. I have a hard time picking out a great suit from a good suit, but I can immediately look at a guy's shoes and tell if they are good or not. Wearing crappy shoes, especially square-toed shoes, with a suit makes you look horrible.

Anyway, cheap shoes (~$100 new), wear out very fast. As they wear out they look worse and worse. If you do some research you can shop on eBay and get two pairs of very good shoes (<$150 used) for under $300 that will last, with care, for the next 10 years at least. I definitely think it's worth it.
posted by OmieWise at 1:45 PM on February 17, 2012

I am about to return to a suit-wearing London finance job after a stint in publishing (jeans, blazers), and have recently updated my wardrobe. Here is what I did, with qualifiers as to my personal preference, and offer it as a template. Note my budget was a little more than yours, so scale back.

5 suits: 3 navy, 1 black, 1 grey (I don't like pinstripes)
8 shirts: 5 white, 3 blue or stripe
Ties: greys, blues, blacks, in solid or subtle patterns. Couple of diagonal stripes.

So you should get a navy suit at the least. Prefpara upthread mentioned how classic and awesome this looks with a white shirt, tie or no tie.

I am very conservative as to ties, but I think OmieWise's point is germaine here: don't stand out. If everyone in the office is wearing lairy ties, then go nuts. If everyone's ties are as sober as a funeral, then go plain and cold and dark.

No button-down collars.

TL;DR: Get a navy suit (and a black suit if the budget stretches), some white shirts, and some conservative ties to start.
posted by bright cold day at 2:23 PM on February 17, 2012

Navy suit will definitely be your best bet to start. If you can wear a blazer and tie instead of a full suit every day, then find a navy suit with a jacket that you can wear as a separate. It will wear the jacket out faster, but the pants tend to go first so it'll even out.

Second suit should be charcoal. You can get another pinstripe suit if you like. Avoid black, it's a color that's really only for funeral directors and chauffeurs.

As for the style of the suit, I would steer towards American or British cuts and probably avoid Italian cuts for a business setting. Two or three buttons (not one or four!), notch lapels, single breasted. Ties can be pretty much whatever you like - I tend to go for paisleys, but diagonal stripes are classic. DO NOT DO NOT DO NOT match your tie to your shirt or buy any shirt/tie bundles from the department store.

Shirts - go blue. White shirts are fine, but they're a pain in the ass to take care of and will show every spot of ketchup you've ever spilled on yourself. Also, if you are pasty white they will make you look like you just rose from the grave. If you need "white", try cream shirts. Stripes are fine if you're not wearing them with your pinstriped suits. The Jos. A. Bank "traveler" shirts aren't horrendous and they're cut fairly slim so they won't look like a balloon on you. If you have more coin to drop on shirts, Brooks Brothers makes very good ones but you'll probably need to take the waist in because they cut them very generously. A lot of style people are really down on the no-iron shirts but BB don't seem to have that ugly sheen that they all mention.

Shoes. At least two pairs, rotate them every day. If you can avoid cheaping out here, definitely do so. Brown shoes are fine for everything except charcoal and black suits (even light charcoal can go with a brown shoe, really), but it depends on how formal your office is. Round toes, not square. Something simple will work best. Get the best you can afford, because if you take care of them they'll last forever.

If you sweat, wear undershirts.
posted by backseatpilot at 2:40 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Everyone else has great advice on colors, quantity, and quality. To find all of this stuff and not break the bank, try Nordstrom Rack; it is my go-to place for dress shirts. You can find Calvin Klein and Kenneth Cole dress shirts there for $25, and they usually have the Brooks Bros. shirts there at a discount as well (around $60-70 each). They sometimes have decent suits as well, and TONS of ties. If you stick to basic shirt colors (blue, white, light grey) you can get creative with your tie color choices. In L.A., you can also go to Marshall's and Ross for clothes at a discount, and sign up for Barneys email list so you get notified of their Warehouse Sale every year, because sometimes you can get amazing high-end suits, shirts, and ties there at a huge markdown. For shoes, go to DSW.
posted by bedhead at 3:18 PM on February 17, 2012

I am in no position to give advice about clothing, and I don't think most people care about what men wear beyond whether they are suited or not, but this is pretty much what I do/did:

You have a grey suit so the next one should be navy. After that you could pick black, a different grey or a different navy depending on which colour suits you better. Stripes/No stripes is a way to differentiate between two suits of the same colour. Make sure the suit fits you well. If you are planning on upgrading your wardrobe as you go along then you can get by with suits that don't fit great but once you start getting ones that do, be they off the rack, made to measure or bespoke, you will not want to wear the suits that don't fit as well.

If you aren't wearing suits on Fridays then you could get away with 3 suits. Even then you will start to feel like you're always wearing the same suits but three is enough to rotate, especially if you have variation in your shirts and shoes. No one will notice or care that you wear the same 3 suits so any additional ones are solely for your own benefit.

For shirts, white and blue are the obvious choices and will go with any of the three suits in your wardrobe. 5 shirts total will do you fine as long as you are doing your laundry every week. It may be best to hold off on the shirts until you spend some time in the office and see what other people are wearing. My office is fairly casual so I wear a plain white shirt maybe once a week, the rest are either coloured or patterned/striped. As far as I'm concerned a blue, yellow or pink shirt that is not too strong/intense is going to work on a navy or grey suit.

Make your first pair of shoes black. If you have the budget you can get something really nice but a pair of Ecco's will do you for the short term. Your next pair can be brown and then you can get a nice pair of black shoes after that (in a better world the first pair of black shoes would be the nice ones but sometimes it is more important to have something, anything, on your feet than a pair of good shoes). Both black and brown will work with grey or navy suits and can give them quite different looks, which will go a long way to your 3 suit rotation. These two pairs are the only work shoes you need. Additional pairs, or shoes for casual Friday are totally optional.

Older relatives are a great source of ties. You can buy them as well. Most of my ties are hand-me-downs, however the ones I wear most often are the ones I bought myself. I've never met anyone who cares about other people's ties, although such people may be out there, so I don't put too much thought into which one I wear on any given day - I'll just put on the first one that doesn't scream "NO".
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 3:20 PM on February 17, 2012

I am sort of opposed to black suits as daytime office wear - charcoal and navy are where it's at.
posted by naoko at 3:39 PM on February 17, 2012

I've noticed as I go to events where men are wearing suits that they all pretty much look alike. My part of the world, it's 90%grey and navy. I have to wear dress clothes maybe once a week. I would buy 2-3 suits now if you have to wear them a lot (seconding Jos A. Banks), and add them on in this order (YMMV):

Charcoal grey
pinstripe and subtle stripe variations on the above two colors
light grey if your office/commute doesn't get you dirty
brown if your skin tone works with it and you have brown shoes and belt
dark green if your skin tone works with it (this is actually a favorite dress clothes color of mine, but I put it down the list because when you're having to wear the same suits often, you need the baseline colors first)
nthing - black is strictly for funerals, or a sort of dressy/party-ish/pseudo-tux look in most circles.

I'm personally a fan of white dress shirts because they can be bleached, but as you build wardrobe, light blues and greys work too. The problem with colored shirts is you find yourself getting boxed in on what suit and tie works with them. As quick as you can, buy LOTS of ties. Ties are the only place a man in a suit can really show individuality in a conservative environment.
posted by randomkeystrike at 3:40 PM on February 17, 2012

p.s. one upside to dress clothes is they last a hella long time if you have a deep enough wardrobe. You don't have to buy expensive to get fairly durable. I go for fabrics with a lot of wool content.
posted by randomkeystrike at 3:41 PM on February 17, 2012

I just came in to suggest the exact link that FatRabbit posted above. That list from Put This On dead on what you need. Start with a wool Charcoal suit and branch out from there. One thing you might want to invest in is a clothes brush. Brush your suit down every evening and you'll extend the life (and smell) of the suit.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 4:29 PM on February 17, 2012

Here is an excellent thread on oxford shirts from two weeks ago. Someone else asked it, but I've also been looking, and this week I purchased a few of the recommended shirts as a test. Some were remarkably cheap, so give them a go!
posted by intermod at 7:40 PM on February 17, 2012

Some stuff on color: as everyone says, white is good to start for shirts, and there are many shades of blue for both navy and especially grey suits. Small stripes or checks seems fine down the line as long as you have several of the basic colors.

Some stuff on fabrics: Go with the heaviest weight 100% cotton on the shirts, which will wear well, and a lighter gabardine wool on the suits, which is best for your climate. If you feel like it, get some poplin or linen later on for the "summer" (though LA doesn't really have seasons, I guess it's good to respect the time of year the rest of us have them).

Some stuff on fit: Get the most "slim" fit possible given your physique. Men's shirts are way too often cut like a damn muumuu these days. Make sure they don't billow out under your arms. Get suits fitted as closely as possible, you should have plenty of room anyway. Your shirt cuff should end a little higher than the "end" of your thumb, your suit cuff a quarter inch above that, so a hint of the shirt is visible, no more or less.

Some stuff on shoes: Get the best possible, you can often find Cole-Haan on discount and I have a great time with them. Captoe or wingtip, leather sole, get them shined regularly.

You can get fast, cheap, good: pick two. For now you'll have to fudge a bit on good, I suspect, but long term you have a great opportunity to maximize the other two. And you're built like a coat hanger, so you should look great!

PS Handkerchiefs are fun, as are socks.
posted by lackutrol at 6:44 AM on February 18, 2012

Lands End's tailored fit Year 'Rounder suits are a solid start on a budget, and if you wait for their regular 30/40% off sales you can get a very nice deal. They also allow you to get very specific on inseam length, which saves on tailoring. Their dress shirts and the Hyde Park oxford are fine too.

For shoes, again with budget in mind, try Florsheim. But if you save money on the suits, you might upgrade the shoes as suggested above.
posted by schoolgirl report at 7:26 AM on February 18, 2012

You might also try doing a sports coat paired with one or more of your suit pants. Mix and match.

I disagree. Suits are not to be worn as separates. If you're going to wear sport coats, buy trousers separately. Don't break your suits up.
posted by asnider at 1:09 PM on February 18, 2012

At the end of the month i'm also starting a job that requires suit wearing. I'm reading great advice on this page! While reviewing suits/shirts etc. I found (among others) which offers tailor made shirts at pretty good prices along with free shipping and free returns. The level of customisation is nothing short of incredible. I have broader shoulders, but shorter arms so buying straight from the store is difficult - but tailor made should fit *perfectly* and i'm looking forward to receiving them.
posted by alchemist at 12:47 AM on February 19, 2012

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