Once upon a time, dressing for work was simple.
There were blue collar workers and white collar workers. Every blue collar worker dreamed of the day his son could go to college and become a white collar worker. The white collar signified someone with a college degree, managerial authority and a higher rank in society's pecking order.
And the white collar meant suit and tie, leather shoes, an overcoat and a hat. The shirt was clean, the suit pressed and the shoes shined.
Now, in the jargon of today, there is a new paradigm as illustrated below:
You can no longer judge a book by its cover. Our Casual man above would have been considered "a bum" years ago. Now he just might be may be a billionaire tech entrepreneur! I think we can all agree that the Business Formal guy still looks successful and the Smart Casual fellow looks pretty sharp. The Business guy is really the same look as the formal guy, just without a suit coat. It all makes sense so far.
Left out in the cold is the Business Casual guy. What is he? A copier salesman? A business school student? A clerk in a store? In my opinion, he looks lost. And yet it's the way most men work today in an office environment.
He looks lost because he doesn't have the nerve to say, "Screw you," which is what the Casual guy is really saying to the world. Nor does he have enough of the white collar elements that communicate success. Our Smart Casual guy, on the other hand, has on a nice jacket, a tie, and a pocket square. The jeans make a statement of creativity. But, the jacket, tie and pocket square give him credibility. Our Business guy has on a good dress shirt, a silk tie and good wool trousers. They also give him credibility.
So what's the lesson? The full blown suit and tie are still the benchmark of male authority and credibility. Consider what every sportscaster, talk show host and politician wears. There's a good reason it's still a suit and tie.
However, if you feel it's too much for your workplace culture, pare it down, but don't lose the essence of it. Make sure you have a good number of the elements of the Business Formal look to convey your appreciation for quality and style.
Never skimp on your shoes, shirts and trousers. If you like to wear jeans, buy a quality sport coat to go with it. If you're not going to wear a tie, add a pocket square to your coat. Consider a knit tie, or a tie that's not silk-- a wool or cotton tie.
Bottom line: If you don't put some effort into the way you dress you may just end up looking like you're neither white collar or blue collar, just a cog in the wheel. And, no one wants that for himself or his son.