ooking good makes you feel good. Studies show that dressing up can enhance cognitive processing, lead to higher levels of action, and increase categories of inclusiveness. Put simply, when you look the part, you get the part. There’s no setting where this is more important than in a professional environment.
Most people have some type of professional aspiration they are striving for—a promotion, higher responsibilities, better hours, etc. We tend to think that achieving these goals is mostly straightforward, but other factors can come into play, like how we dress. Looking good and, as a result, having more confidence, commands respect, which can make all the difference, especially if you’re not looking for a promotion but a job.
Compared to women’s fashion, people often think of men’s fashion as simple and bland, but this couldn’t be farther from the case. Yes, men’s professional attire usually consists of button down shirts, dress pants, and blazers, but there are still plenty of ways you can enhance style—and plenty of ways you can ruin style if you’re not careful.
Looking good in men’s professional attire means getting the details right. Depending on what your guiding fashion spirit told you as you entered into adulthood, you might be missing a few of the key essentials needed to look good. The devil is in the details, and we’ll tell you how to make sure you’ve got them right.
Here’s what we’ll be talking about:
- Remembering the nitty gritty
- Coordinating colors & patterns
- Getting the fit right
Remembering the nitty gritty
If you remember nothing else, make sure it’s these few details. People may not notice if you get them right, but getting them wrong will definitely make you stand out (and not in a good way).
When standing up, the end of your tie should hit your belt buckle or waistband. Some people say the tip of the tie should rest right above the belt buckle, others say the corner of the tie should hit the belt buckle. You don’t need worry about getting that specific with it, ultimately these are just preferences. The important thing to remember is that a tie extending past your belt buckle looks messy and unnecessary; leaving a gap between the tip of the tie and the belt buckle stands out and looks childish.
Belt length & location
We know...belts are adjustable, so economically it makes sense to go a size up, right? Yeah, no. Yes, belts give you some leeway if you gain or lose a few pounds, but the tail must be long enough to fit through the first loop of your pants but short enough so it doesn’t hang loose.
Generally speaking, a good rule of thumb is to buckle your belt in the middle hole.
Know when to tuck in your shirt
In the professional setting, the answer to “Should I tuck my shirt in?” is almost always yes. Granted, this can depend on your work environment’s dress code and what you are wearing. When you’re not sure, always play it safe by tucking your shirt in. But here is some more specific men’s fashion 101 to give you a clearer idea:
Shirt hem: If the hem of your shirt is even all the way around, then it’s usually safe to leave it untucked.
Length: If your shirt is too long, regardless of the type of hem, you’ll look messy if you leave it untucked. Generally speaking, your shirt can remain untucked if the hem ends in the middle of your back pants pocket or at your zipper. Any longer than that and you’re going to want to tuck it in.
Dress shirt + tie: Tuck in your shirt. Always.
Once your shirt is tucked, leave it tucked: Untucking your shirt after wearing it tucked all day will show wrinkles, which is definitely not the look you want to go for (unless you’re going to a frat party, that is).
Coordinating colors & patterns
Wear colors and patterns the right way and you’ll look like you have style. Do it the wrong way and you’ll be ready for the circus.
Socks & trousers
Choosing the color of your socks can be as simple or complicated as you want it to be. The general rule is that the color of your socks should match the color of your pants. Here’s a breakdown for you:
- Black socks➡️ Black pants
- Navy socks ➡️ Navy pants
- Charcoal socks ➡️ Charcoal pants
- White socks ➡️ ❌ (Please promise us you’ll never wear white socks. They don’t look good with anything)
If you find these rules too boring, feel free to spice things up a little by wearing socks with more interesting colors or patterns. In a professional setting, you have to be careful with how interesting you choose to go. You don’t want to look unprofessional, so extremely bright colors or wild patterns may not be the move here. But socks with stripes, checkers, or subtle designs that fit with your outfit’s color scheme can add a personal touch to a professional look.
Shoes & suit
Don’t be mistaken, just because your shoes touch the ground doesn’t mean people won’t notice if they don’t match your outfit. When deciding what shoes to wear, think about the color of your suit (or trousers, if you’re not wearing a full suit).
Generally speaking, there are five main suit colors. Here are the shoe colors you can wear with each:
- Black suit ➡️ Black shoes
- Navy suit ➡️ Black shoes, brown shoes, red/burgundy shoes
- Brown suit ➡️ Brown shoes (if there’s a contrast), red/burgundy shoes
- Light/medium grey suit ➡️ Black shoes, brown shoes, red/burgundy shoes
- Charcoal grey suit ➡️ Black shoes, burgundy shoes
Shoes & belt
Now that you have your shoes picked out, you want to make sure that you have a belt to match them. Avoid wearing black shoes with a brown belt or vice versa—it will make your whole outfit look off balance. Yes, it can be bothersome to find a belt that closely matches the color of your shoes, but after putting in the necessary hard work to look sharp, you don’t want to ruin your whole appearance because of something simple like the color of your belt.
Getting the fit right
Making sure your pants, shirt, and jacket fit just right will mean investing a significant amount of time and money, but trust us, it’s all you need to do to take any outfit from looking decent to chic.
Working from top to bottom, here’s how to tell if your dress shirt fits you properly:
❌ Too tight: collar pinches skin underneath, impossible to place a finger between your neck and the collar without tugging or stretching the fabric
❌ Too loose: collar doesn’t touch the neck or leaves a large gap, can fit about four fingers between neck and collar
✅ Just right: collar touches skin all around your neck but doesn’t feel too snug, can comfortably place two fingers between neck and collar
❌ Too tight: shoulder seams rest beyond shoulder and toward neck, looks restrictive
❌ Too loose: shoulder seams rest past shoulder and toward elbow, looks baggy
✅ Just right: shoulder seams rest at shoulder, allows you to move arms freely and comfortably
❌ Too tight: difficult to close buttons, creates wrinkles around buttonholes
❌ Too loose: fabric billows at waist or chest, creates a muffin-top look
✅ Just right: easy to button shirt, can be easily tucked in without a lot of excess fabric hanging out
❌ Too tight: sleeve cuffs leave wrist bones exposed, hidden under jacket sleeves
❌ Too long: sleeve cuffs end at the heel of the hand, covers watch
✅ Just right: sleeve cuffs end at the wrist bone, leave about ½ inch of fabric extending beyond jacket sleeves, touches or sometimes covers watch
Working from top to bottom, here’s how to tell if your trousers fit you properly:
❌ Too tight: trousers feel like they’re going to split when you sit down, creates wrinkles around your bottom
❌ Too loose: trousers feel loose and baggy, fabric sags around your thighs
✅ Just right: trousers drape smoothly over your bottom, feels comfortable when sitting but doesn’t appear to have any excess fabric
❌ Too tight: no indent at the bottom of trousers, cuff doesn’t touch the shoe at all
❌ Too loose: excess fabric bunches around or above your ankles, cuff extends beyond the heel of your shoe
✅ Just right: one subtle wrinkle or dent in trousers right above the shoe, cuff touches the top of your shoe
Working from top to bottom, here’s how to tell if your suit jacket fits you properly:
❌ Too tight: creates a divot on the arm toward the back of the sleeve head
❌ Too loose: shoulder pads sag over your arm
✅ Just right: jacket falls clean right off your shoulder, slight amount of shoulder extends beyond armhole
❌ Too tight: difficult to button jacket when standing up, creates wrinkles around buttonhole
❌ Too loose: jacket doesn’t fit snugly around torso when closed, creates a gap between torso and jacket
✅ Just right: can easily button jacket, fabric fits snugly against chest when buttoned but doesn’t create wrinkles
❌ Too short: doesn’t cover the majority of your bottom when standing, sleeves end before the large bone in your wrist and shows more than ½ inch of your dress shirt
❌ Too long: extends past your bottom when standing, sleeves end past the large bone in your wrist and cover your dress shirt
✅ Just right: covers about 80% of your bottom when standing, sleeves end around the large bone in your wrist and show about ½ inch of your dress shirt
There you have it—our most essential tips so you can walk into any professional setting looking sharp and feeling confident. Now that you know your men’s fashion 101, it’s time to take a look through your closet and put these tips into play.