Adulting 101: Business Casual
November 24, 2015 2:16 PM   Subscribe

I'm moving into a new position at work that requires me to do away with t-shirts and jeans, and become a little more business-y. I don't have to wear a suit and tie thankfully so it'll likely be collared shirts/slacks. Any tips for the transition?

Some things I'm wondering about:
  • Do I get an iron for shirts/pants? Or do I just throw money at it -- and dry clean?
  • Is my laundry gonna double? I typically wash my jeans every few days.
  • Any other things I should be aware of?
posted by aeighty to Society & Culture (24 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I have a lot of dress shirts, of various types, but for my day-to-day I swear by Brooks Brothers non-iron. Nordstrom has some good ones too. They come out of the laundry ready to wear. For the kind that need ironing, I do send them to the cleaners for professional laundering (not dry cleaning) and pressing. I hate ironing, and I'm happy to pay someone else to deal with it.

For slacks are you talking about full on wool trousers? In that case, I send those to the cleaners. I don't think they'd do well in home laundry, though I admit I haven't tried it. If just chinos/khakis, I'd again go with the non-iron ones. I don't wear those much these days (it's either jeans or wool trousers), but I have some from Brooks Brothers that I like.

My basic advice here is: 1. don't compromise on fit. If it doesn't fit right, don't buy it because you'll either look like crap or be miserable. And 2. if you can afford it, buy decent stuff. It looks better and lasts longer, and if it's going to be your primary work wardrobe, it's worth it. You don't have to go top of the line, but find a happy medium.
posted by primethyme at 2:30 PM on November 24, 2015

I got a fabric steamer for my business casual and I like it a LOT more than an iron. Way fewer weird iron lines (I'm probably just not a good ironer?) and fire hazard-ness, and kind of fun to do.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 2:50 PM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Our business casual is a bit more formal than the norm (khakis and polos.) Our guys typically wear twill slacks and colorful, patterned shirts. nthing getting the no iron kind. Lands End does a fabulous one. Looks great straight out of the dryer. Do find out your proper shirt size (collar/sleeve length.)

You can get slacks that don't need ironing too.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:57 PM on November 24, 2015

You should be able to find pants that you can wear multiple times without washing but that keep their form and look a step up from jeans. While I can't speak for the men's clothing there, I really love my pants from Uniqlo. Do you have a friend or colleague who's style you admire and feel is well-suited for your new job? (pun unintended!) Also asking them for some tips and specific suggestions where to shop could be super helpful.
posted by smorgasbord at 3:03 PM on November 24, 2015

I swear by Dryel to freshen up dry-clean-only stuff and extend the time between cleanings.
posted by mama casserole at 3:10 PM on November 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Non iron dress shirts. I like Charles tyrwhitt, and they regularly run deals. Wash them and dry, then immediately hang them up and you won't have to deal with wrinkles.

Once you find a shirt maker and fit you like, take all of your shirts to a tailor and have them tailor it specifically to you.
posted by Karaage at 4:21 PM on November 24, 2015

Shirts and pants have well covered by others so I'll mention shoes. I would avoid athletic shoes and sandals and buy neutral colored loafers (tan or black) that go with the outfits you're buying. My own preference with loafers are the ones with a faux lace up or buckle at the top so they are clearly not slippers. It's unlikely you'll need dress shoes so don't bother with those for your work staples.

If you can swing it financially, go to Nordstrom and set up an appointment with a personal shopper. My experience with them is that they are more about getting what you need instead of piling on expensive stuff you don't need. They'll want you to return for your next purchase so they are good at building relationships.
posted by toomanycurls at 4:35 PM on November 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

You'll want to poke around this site for a while:

Don't feel like you have to put together the super snappy looks they show on the site but they have a lot of good advice and it's easy to pick up on the elements of those looks to figure out toned down versions that won't make you look like you belong in an office instead on at a fashion shoot.

2nd'ing Brooks Brothers shirts. If you can manage it, head into a BB store to figure out which shirts will fit you (neck, sleeve length, and cut). Then keep an eye on e-bay and for the sales that Brooks Brothers have and order online.

I've seen Charles Tyrwhitt, Land's End, and Nordstroms recommended along with BB in a couple of different places but I don't have any of those myself.

I'm becoming a big fan of blazers. I work from home most of the time and only occasionally have to go into the office. Since I don't have a lot of excuses to break out my fancy clothes very often. Not a lot of people are wearing blazers but it doesn't look totally out of place and a well fitting blazer makes me look really good (so says my wife) so screw it, I wear them. Invest in a really nice 100% wool navy blazer and have it tailored someday when you can afford it, but you can fill out the rest will whatever fits you well, looks good, is decent quality, and heavily discounted. Macy's usually has a rack hidden away filled with stuff at like 70% off. Also hit up thrift and consignment stores.

Good brown and black dress shoes go a long ways. Clarks work best for me but just make sure you don't skimp. Better shoes will look better, actually be comfortable, and last so much longer than cheap ones that they'll pay for themselves. It seems like everyone wears black or charcoal pants around my office. Tans and greys with brown shoes looks a lot better, I'm surprised at how often I end up wearing my brown shoes vs my black ones.
posted by VTX at 5:18 PM on November 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

You don't have to have your shirts "dry cleaned" - most drycleaners have a "laundering" service for men's shirts. Around here it's about $1.5 per shirt. Wear an undershirt and take your buttondown off and hang it up as soon as you get home for the day. You should be able to wear it 2-3 times unless you are a sweaty or sloppy person.

P.S. It sounds like we work in a similar kind of business culture. If my shirt is wrinkled and I don't have time to iron, I just throw on a v-neck sweater over it. Your profile indicates you're in a climate where this makes sense for much of the year.
posted by desjardins at 5:55 PM on November 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hate to burst any bubbles but I had a boss who believed that if he didn't have time to iron his shirt, he could just wear a sweater over it. He could and he did but he wasn't fooling anyone.
posted by kat518 at 6:23 PM on November 24, 2015

From a woman who loves men's clothing.

LL Bean has a no questions asked returns policy if things fray too quickly or don't fit right. Ralph Lauren and Brooks Brothers do have nice quality stuff, but don't go for logos. Try to find on sale.

Do know your shirt size (e.g. 16 1/2 32) by heart and then you can do quick searches for your size when nice stuff goes on clearance.

Generally speaking, a shirt looks better by itself (no suit or jacket) when it is not one solid color. Look for a subtle plaid or tattersall or windowpane check, or at least some subtle texture, like Oxford cloth.

Also an undershirt makes all shirts look and feel better and keeps sweat stains to a minimum.

Avoid red gingham shirts at all costs -- you'll look like a waiter at Bob Evans.

Red and yellow are generally tough colors to wear -- blues and greens are more flattering. ESPECIALLY if you already have something reddish on your face temporarily -- a shaving nick, a zit, a rash -- avoid wearing red in a shirt or tie. It will bring out the red like a stop sign.

Avoid Jos. Banks -- their stuff frays very quickly.

An alternative to a traditional iron is a portable steamer. That's what they use to get clothes so perfect looking in the store, and you can also use it on jackets and coats. Also hang your khakis and trousers on real pants hangers from the cuff.

As far as trousers go, stick with various shades of khaki, dark grey, or blue if you must. All black clothing sheds dye because it is chemically unstable, and all but the most expensive black clothing starts to fade and show wear and tear quickly. Brown pants look good on no one. Corduroy is flattering only to the very thin.

Buy long socks -- nothing looks more terrible than that chunk of flesh between sock top and pants leg when you sit to cross your legs.

Avoid monograms and logos.

If your shirt is tucked in, you need a belt, and ideally it will match your shoes to some degree (brown and brown, or black and black)

Please tuck your shirt in.

When washing your shirts, use warm water and a gentle cycle. If at all possible do not jam them in a dryer till they are bone dry -- let them get about 2/3 dry and then hang them on hangers ( not metal because it will rust.). This will make them dry more smoothly and keep them from wearing out so fast.

Finally "ring around the collar" is a real thing. Check the inside of your shirt collar to see if it is getting grungy; if so, use a spray stain remover like Shout as directed.

I do love men's clothing so much more than women's -- it's a sonnet rather than free verse; a menu rather than a potluck; a script rather than improv. Good luck.
posted by jfwlucy at 6:38 PM on November 24, 2015 [8 favorites]

My husband dresses pretty well at work (button down shirts and slacks every day). He doesn't wash most of this stuff much--it just doesn't get that much wear. Everything is non-iron but if there are wrinkles, he can just throw it into our dryer, which may not be the case for you if you use a laundromat. He gets his clothes mainly from Banana Republic and Lands End.
posted by chaiminda at 2:55 AM on November 25, 2015

Strongly seconding getting a steamer.
posted by Room 641-A at 5:07 AM on November 25, 2015

How you launder your stuff makes a difference in how long clothes last and how they look. Your non-iron shirts and pants will fade less if you wash them in cool water, with gentle agitation. Your clothes probably don't get very dirty, but if there's a spot, spray with Zout or some other pre-treatment. See if the delicate cycle gets them clean. Then dry them on low, which will lessen shrinkage and also help prevent them from looking rumpled. My husband's shirts take 45 minutes to dry; I set the dial to 40 minutes, then another 5 minutes when I'm ready to take them out of the dryer, to get the rest of the moisture out and to remove wrinkles. If you leave dry clothes in the dryer, even no-iron things will wrinkle. If that happens, you can dampen a cloth, toss it in with the clothes, and run the dryer for 5 minutes.
posted by wryly at 9:05 AM on November 25, 2015

Desjardins has the crucial point here...wear an undershirt. I wear a fitted v-neck t-shirt under mine. You can get away with a few wears before washing, for sure. Roll your sleeves before you put it on, if they're wrinkled for the 2nd/3rd wears.
I'd just learn to iron, if I wear you, but I'm cheap. If you can pay someone to iron your shirts, or get a steamer thing, go for it.
When you wash them, use delicate bags, in cold water.
If you're in the habit of leaning your elbows on your desk,'ll wind up wearing through the elbows in a way that can't really be fixed, which means buying new shirts, which adds up.
Do you wear a backpack to work? If you do, depending on how high you wear it, you might wind up wearing through the belt loops on your pants at the back. When you get them hemmed, get the tailor to give you the scrap fabric. They'll be more than happy to make you new belt loops if you need them.
posted by Kreiger at 9:40 AM on November 25, 2015

My husband wears button-downs and he brings them to the cleaners for wash-and-press. Easier, and they last longer. Like desjardins said, they last him usually two wearings.
posted by radioamy at 9:46 AM on November 25, 2015

Since about 2000 or so no-iron has gotten so much better that "business casual" levels can be done entirely without an iron. This isn't true for suits, but for button-down collar shirts (never, ever with a tie) and slacks, you can go forever without ironing them. You don't get pressed lines or sharp pleats, but for everyday slacks in a non-customer environment they work fine. Single wear, wash, hang dry, no iron. Shirts and slacks will both last for years.

If you keep a blazer in your office, you can step up the formality if you need to but don't make the mistake of a tie with a button-down.

My suggestion is to make certain you get a set of colours that both suit you and work well together in any combination. That means much less planning in the morning, worrying that this shirt doesn't go with this pants. They all work acceptably well together.

As mentioned above, wear a decent belt and a pair of leather loafers. Doc Martins or similar are fine too. Even nice hiking wear, like Keens or decent boots can work. You only need one belt and one pair of work shoes at any time, if you colour-match your clothing too.

That said, a proper shirt (non-button down, to be worn with a tie) and pressed slacks, suitable for a blazer should be in every guy's wardrobe, or at least in those who work in an office who ever have to meet the higher ups, the investors, the customers, go to a trade show. A suit is even better of course, but pressed slacks and shirt with blazer is a minimum. For these, you send them to the drycleaner. And of course, now you need a good-quality leather belt and a pair of Oxfords to match too.
posted by bonehead at 9:56 AM on November 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Bonehead mentions this but I want to make it more clear because it bugs me.

Traditionally, a shirt with a button down collar is a "sport shirt" to be worn with a sport coat and never a tie. It's what an English gentleman would wear to go sporting (fox hunting, grouse hunting, riding, etc. Basically the stuff they do for fun on Downton Abbey).

Likewise a shirt without a button down collar is intended to be worn with a tie. There aren't many people who actually know that these days and fewer still who actually pay any attention to it.

But I don't think sport shirts look good with a tie and the collars on my non-sport shirts seem to fly all over the place if I don't wear them with one so I still only wear sport shirts with no tie and almost never wear a non-sport shirt without one.

If you rarely need to wear a tie, buy mostly sport shirts is the point I'm trying to make.
posted by VTX at 11:02 AM on November 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

A note from someone who wears non-iron shirts daily, don't just fold them, hang them immediately after they come out of the dryer. In fact, if possible, pull them out first and hang them, then fold everything else. Also, hang things up when you take them off unless you want to wash them/fold your pants if you want to wear them again. Or you can throw them onto a chair and make sure that they aren't pooling anywhere. That's the lazy option that I use too often.

Also business casual can vary. At the last place I was at (I was in IT at the time, so that helped relax things), as long as it had a collar, I felt out wearing it. At my current job, I wear dress shirts. Start with dress shirts, but see how everyone else dresses. If they're all wearing Polo shirts, feel free to join in.

I have (and am in fact wearing today) a pair of wool slacks that can be washed on gentle and then hung to dry. They're great. If you want to get something other than khakis/chinos, check the washing instructions. I dried another pair of wool slacks on medium once and had to give them away afterwards.
posted by Hactar at 11:04 AM on November 25, 2015

My husband wears what sounds like a similar business casual. He buys the non-iron/wrinkle free button down shirts and we just wash them in our regular laundry (hanging them up right away reduces wrinkles). He does khaki and khaki-style pants (i.e. of a similar style but different colors like black or grey), which similarly don't need dry cleaning. Then he'll keep a few nicer dry-clean-only type shirts + a couple of ties + a nice suit for days when there's a big client meeting or another reason why dressing up is necessary.
posted by rainbowbrite at 11:10 AM on November 25, 2015

You can save a TON of cash by buying button-down shirts secondhand (like $7/shirt instead of $50), and washing them at home.

Hang dry your shirts instead of using the dryer- first flap the wet shirt around a bit so the wrinkles start to relax, place them on hangers, and use your fingers to smooth out the sleeves, collar, and button area (called the placket). I hang mine on the shower curtain rod overnight and by the next evening they're perfectly dry.

Steamed clothing won't ever look as crisp as ironed clothing- an iron is better, in my opinion.

Invest in an iron (about $30) and ironing board ($7 at a secondhand shop). Iron on the wrong side of the fabric when you can, as that helps keep the fabric from scorching and getting shiny. Once you're good at ironing, it only takes about 3 minutes per shirt. I iron in batches while on the phone or watching TV, and it's actually kind of pleasurable.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:21 PM on November 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

I started out buying my "business casual" clothing from Old Navy. Because it was cheap.

But I've learned over the past several years that "cheap" and "low-quality" go hand-in-hand. Since I've started buying slightly-more expensive clothing, it has looked better longer and made me look less like a slacker.

Spend a bit more for better quality.
posted by tacodave at 12:39 PM on November 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

eBay is your friend for this. Find one or two shirts/trousers that fit you well and then order duplicates (in various colors) on eBay. I am no fashion plate, but I did this with Brooks Brothers and Talbot's (I'm a woman), and now I can pass for appropriately dressed. A fortiori, a man can certainly get it done this way.

pseudostrabismus' advice for air-drying is good, and I like a steamer myself, but at $15 per dress shirt, it really doesn't matter if you occasionally get lazy and machine dry them. Keep up with the stain remover, as others mention, and turn everything inside out before putting it in the wash to minimize wear and tear.
posted by 8603 at 1:20 PM on November 25, 2015

I'm in a lower-end of business casual - basically collared shirts. Preferably not polos as a habit, but it doesn't look out-of-place terribly unless you have a meeting with the people in ties. (It's not a company thing, it's a job-level stratified thing) On the other hand, a blazer would be too much for me not to feel awkward around my T-shirt and jeans crews.

You can get started for less money by buying five or six no-iron button down shirts, a couple of pairs of pants, and a light sweater or two at Target. They look ok but don't last long. Replace them with shirts from nicer stores one by one as you can afford it/feel like it. The better shirts feel nicer to wear and last longer.

I prefer to buy a bunch of solid-colored T-shirts from Gap or Target instead of the white "underwear" T-shirts.
posted by ctmf at 3:33 PM on November 25, 2015

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