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Business - formal
If you told me 25 years ago that I’d become an authority on style, then I would have laughed loudly and had you locked away. However there is some good that comes from spending a lifetime in menswear and that is the knowledge that you gain through the wonderful process of osmosis - the gradual, often unconscious, absorption of knowledge through continual exposure rather than deliberate learning.
Dressing formally on a regular basis requires a number of menswear staples, including a good quality wool suit in navy or charcoal, a selection of cotton shirts, seven to ten silk ties and a couple of pairs of good leather shoes. Read on for my list of dos and don’ts when it comes to formal business dressing.
DO choose the correct style. A one-button jacket suits short men, a double-breasted suit is ideal for slim men, broad gents look good in a two-button jacket and tall, heavy built men look best in a three-button suit.
DON’T wear your suit with a button-down shirt. This shirt is a casual style and therefore works against the neatness of the suit.
DO add interest (and warmth) with a waistcoat. It lengthens the body and therefore works particularly well on larger men or those with short legs. Always leave the lowest button undone.
DON’T ignore button etiquette. If you’re wearing a one-button jacket fasten the button, if you’re wearing a two-button jacket fasten the top button and if you’re wearing a three-button jacket fasten the middle button.
DO think about your trousers. Flat-fronted trousers are more contemporary but trousers with pleats can be more forgiving on expanding waistlines.
DON’T overdo the dry cleaning. A good suit is made of wool, a natural fibre, and too much dry cleaning can play havoc with the material. Most of the time a simple brush and press is all that is required.See all suits >
DO know your collar size. The collar fits well when you can comfortably fit your index and middle finger side by side between your neck and collar.
DON’T choose the wrong collar for your face shape. Classic collars narrow wide faces and cutaway collars counterbalance slim faces.
DO know your shirt fabrics. Sea Island cotton is light and silky so it’s ideal for formal occasions. Poplin is a classic cotton weave that is crisp and fine for everyday wear. A twill weave is textured, more casual and best worn with a chunky woven tie.
DON’T wear an ill fitting shirt. Tall and lean men look best in slim fit shirts with cutaway collars, more rotund builds suit classic fit shirts and athletic builds look good in slim fit shirts.
DO tuck your shirt in. The exception to the rule is when it’s a casual shirt with a straight cut bottom hem that hangs above the hip bone.
DON’T clash your patterns. A general rule of thumb is to keep your shirt and tie patterns different scales. The pattern on your tie should never be more noticeable than the one on your shirt.See all shirts >
DO know your shoe styles. The classic business fail-safes are brogues or Oxfords. The Derby and the monk shoe are smart-casual. The loafer and boot are the most casual.
DON’T place wet shoes near a radiator or fire to dry. This will dry out the leather and distort their shape. Instead, fill them with newspaper to absorb the water as soon as possible.
DO invest in quality. Choose calf leather because it’s soft, flexible and durable. With periodic maintenance (resoling and reheeling) a good pair of shoes will be a companion for life.
DON’T underestimate brown shoes. Black may be de rigueur for formal occasions but brown shoes are a stylish and more contemporary choice for the office. Wear with navy or charcoal suits.
DO polish shoes regularly but briefly. Use shoe polish or wax if you have it. If you run out, find a clean cloth and make do with a quick spit and polish.
DON’T wear the same pair of shoes for two days running; allow time for them to rest for a day. Place wooden shoe trees inside to absorb moisture and help them keep their shape.See all shoes >
DO learn to tie your tie properly. A fat or messy knot does not a good impression make. Wear a half Windsor knot for a classic collar and four-in-hand knot for a cutaway collar.
DON’T wear belts with suits. They’ll cut you in half and ruin the line of your suit. Contrary to popular belief, belts are designed to be a decorative detail and shouldn’t be holding your trousers up. If your trousers are too large, replace them.
DO perfect folding your pocket handkerchief. For the classic pocket square, fold your handkerchief in half to make a rectangle and fold the bottom up so it’s a few centimetres away from the top. Tuck into your jacket pocket.
DON’T tuck your tie into your trousers. It should hang just above your waistband.
DO wear suitable cufflinks. Coloured cufflinks should match a colour in your tie or shirt. Cufflinks with semi-precious stones are more formal. If in doubt, opt for a classic pair in sterling silver.
DON’T accept a scruffy collar. Use brass or sterling silver collar stiffeners (also known as collar stays). They’ll smarten up your formal shirt and stop any dreaded sagging towards the end of the day.See all accessories >