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The 25 New Rules of Office Style

Learn the new ABC's for consistently impressive professional dress. As Alec Baldwin might say, Always Be Clothing.

You know that the days of the man in the gray flannel suit are pretty much over, and that a casual workplace isn't an excuse to look like the contents of the dryer. You know the difference between a style drone and the man who commands respect just by walking in the room without saying a word. You probably also know that getting there can be tricky and a bit overwhelming. Follow these style rules provided by menswear experts, and you'll go along way toward setting the pace instead of lagging with the pack. Start by making sure you own these 15 Items Every Man Should Have in His Closet!

First things first

Man in a windowpane sportcoat adjusting watch

The most important piece in your closet is a well-made, well-fitted sportcoat. "The right jacket can absolutely transform your personal appearance," says Mike Kuhle, the founder of menswear brand Epaulet. "Suits are becoming less and less necessary in a work setting, but a jacket matched to complementary trousers, chinos, or jeans always looks on point."

Spend more on a haircut than you think is practical

man working at home on a tablet

And go every month. To ensure you're groomed from head to toe, check out these 10 High-Tech Grooming Gadgets You Need Now!

Don't "dress for the job you want" anymore

Man posing in a sportcoat

As work clothing has gotten more casual, there's less of a difference between the CEO and the new guy. So you don't need necessarily need to don executive-suite cufflinks and a three-piece suit — it's more important to develop a polished statement of your personal brand. "The new cardinal rule is, dress for the impression that you want to make," says Kuhle. "Wearing well-fitted, quality clothing and matching colors and textures in a sophisticated way will give you the look of someone who's always put together."

Make the right investments

Churchs shoes

The most important are shoes and well-made dress shirts and sportcoats in good fabrics, says Kuhle. You're at an age now when you shouldn't skimp. "When a deal seems to good to be true, then it probably is," he says.

Avoid the #1 style mistake

Man in suit tying shoes

You knew it was coming: Cheap shoes. "Even if the rest of your clothes are similar in formality to your peers, you can still outshine others by wearing quality shoes, properly cared for," says Jason Yeats, founder and designer of suiting brand Beckett & Robb. If your workplace is strictly casual, you'll stand out with a high-quality loafer from Alden or Allen Edmonds, or a minimalist sneaker from Common Projects. Get (or do) a weekly shine or cleaning; make it a Sunday night routine.

Own a few blue suits

suit rack

Blue is the new black. It's your go-to suit, good for all seasons, good for all situations. Have one in four-season fabric. From there, branch out from there into flannel for cold weather and a linen-cotton blend for warm. After blue, go with a good gray suit or two and a slim double-breasted suit.

Know your collar

Man adjusting tie

A spread collar is the current match for a tie. A point collar goes under a jacket without a tie, or can be worn by itself or as a layering piece. A button-down collar works the same as a point collar — but never, ever, never with a tie.

Mix things up

man with braclets and suit

Experiment with variations beyond the solid shirt-solid tie thing. Need ideas? Look to #9.

Lurk on Reddit

Man working on laptop

If you're feeling less-than-confident about what's happening sartorially, how to mix and match for maximum effect or proper fits, go online for ideas. Instagram, Reddit and Styleforum are packed with inspiring, sharp-dressed guys who are making the rules on this list and then some.

Invest in a good watch

Breitling watch

And wear it to all important meetings. People notice watches even before shoes. "If you have the budget, a fine watch is a great place to invest," says Yates. "A $10,000 Rolex, Breitling, or Panerai will likely still be worth about that in 10 years. That's not so true with watches that cost $2,500 or less."

Develop a relationship with a tailor

tailor measuring suit

They'll save your ass (or hide it, or accentuate it). Having a regular tailor is like having a regular sex partner: They know what works for you and the quickest way to get there, and how to make you feel reliably good for a good while after.

Go for color

tom ford shirt and tie combo

Make yourself stand out with a tie, sweater or socks that pack a visual punch.

Break apart your suit

Man in casual attire

Try a polo, a premium-fabric henley, a light cashmere sweater, a band-collar shirt, or a vest underneath your jacket. Look at the jacket and pants as a pair of items to be worn separately. One thing not to try: An everyday T-shirt. Miami Vice ain't coming back anytime soon.

Get some suitworthy sneakers

Common projects sneakers

It's a quick way to look of-the-moment. Just make sure they're as minimal as possible.

Always dress one step above your peers

man in suit working on laptop outside

Even if your office is casual as can be. "Always try to stand out, without looking like you're trying too hard," says Yeats. "Instead of jeans, try chinos. Instead of polo shirts, wear a long-sleeve button-down. If everyone wears dress shirts, add the occasional tie or sport coat, but not both at the same time. If everyone wears sport coats, wear a suit. If everyone wears suits, try a three-piece suit, or even an occasional bow tie."

Keep a style file

Man in windowpane suit using cellphone

There's a reason Pinterest's fastest-growing user group is men. Says Yeats: "I often meet guys that say 'I want help developing my personal brand,' because they understand the advantages that can create. If you are at step one on that journey, start with tools that are free online. There are so many blogs and forums, photo sites, and more. Start looking around. Save pictures you like into a folder on your computer. Once you have 30 to 40 pictures, look at them all, and you'll probably start to see some recurring trends. These are things that you naturally like, and that's a good start."

Avoid trends

man signing a paper at work desk

"Stick with classic style," says Yeats. "Build a wardrobe first, with staple items, in colors that create versatility."

The staples Yeats recommends:

— Navy blazer in a textured cloth with some casual details
— Slim dark denim jeans (no distressing)
— White and blue oxford button-down dress shirts
— Navy or grey topcoat
— Brown wingtips
— Brown suede shoe (derby, chukka or monk)
— Medium-grey suit
— A grey or navy cashmere sweater

Upgrade your classics

White shirt

Again, buy quality over quantity.It's better to have one item of really great quality than a bunch of middling stuff.

Make a significant investment in a briefcase or portfolio

Closeup of man holding a briefcase

Even if you work in a creative-casual environment. Don't walk into a meeting with a canvas or cloth bag. For some ideas, check out these 15 Briefcases That Mean Business.

Replace your suits every three to five years

Man in suit adjusting sleeve

To ensure you're up-to-date on lapel width and jacket length, for starters.

Replace your bag or briefcase every five years

Lotuff leather briefcase

Or sooner.

Have a couple of overcoats

Man posing with overcoat

Just like one or two suits aren't enough, no overcoat will work for every situation. We're in the beyond-black era: Double-breasted, houndstooth and camel styles will stand out and leave your style competitors in the dust.

Go custom-made now

Tailor making a suit

By the time you're 40, you really should have at least one custom-made suit. If you need to dip your toes in, Indochino offers an excellent, affordable service. There are inevitably custom tailors in cities near you; some have a huge array of fabrics so you can really personalize your look. More and more suit stores are focusing on made-to-measure, and many offer online consultations.

Stay trimmed

man checking skin in mirror

You know to keep your beard or mustache more Joe Manganiello than Grizzly Adams. But every few weeks, take a minute to go through a checklist of the hairier new realities of being in your 40s and beyond. We're talking ears, nostrils and eyebrows. If you're not confident taking care of these yourself — going overboard on the brows is worse than leaving them George Whipple bushy after all — just say the word to your barber.

Be strategic, and reap the rewards

man looking out of office window

All of this is the opposite of frivolous — it's an investment in yourself and your earning power. "My philosophy about clothing is that a man that cares about crafting a great life for himself should give significant thought to how his wardrobe can help him achieve his goals," says Yates. "Men underestimate this constantly, but it's an incredibly powerful tool. Even if your workplace is casual, be deliberate in your approach: Slightly nicer jeans, shirts with collars, a clean shoe you don't mow the lawn with. Take this stuff seriously, and it'll help you."

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a seasoned writer and editor with a passion for helping people make life-improving decisions. Read more
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