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Corporate Dressing Down
There was a very upsetting article in the Times about Wall Streeters returning to work. Gone are suits. In are pressed chinos, zipped vests, and worse, sneakers. Corporate boardrooms were hardly a hotbed of sartorial splendor, but American financial types are particularly ill-equipped to dress down. We have to brace ourselves for casual Fridays becoming a weeklong scourge.
Looking relaxed is harder than it seems. Americans are bad at relaxing; Italians are good at it. When Americans try to take it easy you usually just see the trying without the sense of ease. This is why Hawaiian shirts rarely work, why sneakers in the city rarely work, and why corporate chinos never work.
A suit is such an easy solution for anybody in a position of authority. I may have lost this battle, but I’ll be interested to see how people feel about being represented in court by a lawyer in athleisure. Many who shed the suit look like they just ditched their jacket and unbuttoned their shirt at the end of the day—that’s the Sports Bar Look™ and it’s not good. You want to look of a piece. But you can’t wear distressed RRL chinos and work boots like a British military officer hanging around the mess hall.
Here are some principles about dressing down with dignity.
-Ditch the dress shirt. But wait, you say, Coggins, aren’t you endlessly advocating for formality? Yes, but not this way. A dress shirt is meant to be buttoned up and worn with a tie. Its structured collar can’t be supported when the shirt is unbuttoned (it sags and looks unhappy). When the tie goes so goes the dress shirt.
-Embrace the sport shirt. What you do want is a shirt with a soft collar, like an old Brooks Brothers Oxford. These were designed so the collar stands up even when the top button is undone. You can get a stack of these these at Drake’s, at J. Press, at Sid Mashburn. Or have them made at Hamilton or Ascot Change. In Oxford cloth, poplin, in reassuring colors or stripes. Nothing too demanding. Oh, and the collar shouldn’t be too small, it makes your head look big.
-No pressed khakis. Are you attending a medical devices convention? Do you want to accent your ensemble with a lanyard? Then by all means wear pressed khakis, you can iron your jeans while you’re at it. But you decided not to wear tailored trousers, (like dark grey flannels), when you went down this road, so now you’re going to live with it. Sid Mashburn makes great “sport trousers” and Drake’s does corduroy very well. Nice neutral colors, toss in a suede belt while you’re at it.
-Donate your sneakers to charity. You work at the extreme end of capitalism, so wearing sneakers does not make you look relaxed, it makes you look like you’re trying to stay relevant. I don’t want to hear that they’re comfortable. A good pair of Alden suede loafers is very comfortable indeed, and will not be embarrass you when you see a photo of yourself five years from now.
-No vests. You like to hit Alta on the fresh powder? Great, go for it. Black Diamond for life. But you’re in the city and we do not need to know about your extracurricular activities. So no zipper vests, no polo shirts from elite golf courses, and, ideally, no fleece at all.
-An unstructured coat. Even if you’ve sworn off tailoring you can still get away with an unstructured sport coat. It’s just a coat with lapels, don’t overthink it. Something soft you can wear everyday. The Campania jacket from J. Mueser is ideal, but if you’re really committed to the casual approach their work jacket is also great. There are a lot of good chore jackets out there now, so it’s not hard to find one in a relatively sober color.
We’ve come a long way from Gordon Gekko and his suspenders and pinstriped suits. I wonder where old Gordon is now? Oh right, he was arrested for insider trading. Hopefully it’s a matter of time before bankers realize the power of being well dressed. The next chapter of ambition may include the power suit.