A few weeks ago, I had to make a trip into the City of
London to hook up with former colleagues for some early evening drinks. While
I was traveling on the London Underground, a group of people
joint my carriage who were evidently going to an evening function,
either a ball or dinner party, for the ladies were dress in cocktail
dresses and the gentlemen were in dinner suits. One of the gentlemen sat
on an empty seat opposite me and since I was simply enjoying the music
playing from my MiniDisc Walkman, I took time some time to observe him.
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Ties are something that most people are familiar with. In most schools, the school tie is a required item of the uniform. In some schools, rewards ('colors') for sporting and other achievements are given out in the form of ties.
I'm not going to tell you which specific tie to buy or not. However, there are some general rules when you're buying business ties:
- No cartoon or movie characters! Tom and Jerry may have been your favorite cartoon when you were growing up, but this is the business world you're walking into, so please no cartoons. Darth Vader may be the coolest character ever appeared on the silver screens and it may be handy in a Star Wars fans convention but it's not going to looked upon kindly in the office environment.
- Unless the tie is single-color, try and pick one that has a color related to either your shirt or suit. I'm aware that the tie is used to add colors to the, what is generally considered, boring combination of a business suit and a work shirt. However, you can over-do this color thing. Contrasting colors are sometimes nice, but too much colors can distract people whose attention you want.
- Avoid completely matching colors of the shirt and tie. I've noticed that a recent trend that people pick shirts and ties that are not only the same color but the same tone of the color. The positive side of this trend is that you're not going to have a clash of colors. However, there's a longer-termed negative. We're not trying waste money here, but, instead, we're trying to sensibly invest in a wardrobe to get the 'right look'. I'm aware that modern fabric dying technologies can manufacture colored fabrics that do not lose their colors even after numerous wash cycles. However, a small amount of color will be lost in each wash. Eventually, the shirt color going to end up slightly faded, compared with that of the tie. After clashing colors, not-quite-matching colors is the next worst sin. The last time I see people with not-quite-matching colors with their shirts and ties are supermarket check out assistants. I'll allow you to draw your own conclusions.
Armed with the 'right tie' for the shirt and suit, you need to make a knot. For some people, tying a tie knot is stuff of nightmare. How else can they explain those poor quality knots they've managed around their necks. (Hangmen could have done better jobs than they do...) Having bought a good business tie, the last thing you want to do is to allow a poor knot to ruin the 'right look'. Many people tend to learn one tie knot and use it for every occasion. In my opinion, that is a poor approach. You'd be pleased to know that for each style of shirt collar, there is a knot best suited for it. I personally use two different knots - the 'Windsor' (also known as the 'double Windsor') for spread collar shirts and the 'half-Windsor' for all other shirts.
There are lots of helpful websites that provide tips on how to tie ties. However, the best I've seen to date is Tie-a-Tie.net.
Referring back to the top of this page, the gentlemen were going to a 'black tie' evening function, hence their dinner suits and bow ties. If you ever have the need to acquire a bow tie, please invest in a genuine article instead of a clip on. If you've already own a clip-on, I urge you to reconsider and buy a 'real McCoy'. The cost of a real bow tie is comparable to the clip-on alternative. It may be difficult to tie a real bow tie, but the 'cool factor' of having one around your neck, especially after dinner when you're allowed to untie when, instead of having an ungainly lump dangling on one end, you've a fully untied bow tie around your collar. Tying a bow tie is no more difficult than tying your shoe laces... If you need help, I find this page very useful.
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In a business/office environment, shoes are often seen as the most important clothing item. There's a lot of truth in the saying that when you first meet someone, you look from their shoes and move up from there. If the latest sneakers give you 'street cred', then the right pair of shoes in the office give people the impression that you mean business. Bearing in mind that you're wearing a suit, some styles of shoes are simply not suitable for the office environment.
Rule #1 is: "No Sneakers!!" I'm aware that there are a number of dark colored sneakers out in the market that are extremely comfortable and they're dark enough to pass as formal shoes at a distance. I'm not so sure about that. In fact, they look horrible! There are plenty of styles of shoes that look great with suits: brogues (heavily patterned), Oxfords (toe capped, with or without patterns), monk shoes (plain shoes, laced up or buckled), loafers (with or without tassels), etc.
There is one feature that is common in all of them -
they are all cut in such a way that allow the ends of trousers sit nicely
on top of the shoes.
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Handkerchiefs... That sounds terribly old fashion, doesn't it? Well, since there's no proof that things that are old fashion are no good, I don't see any reason why we, as modern men, can't use things that are considered old fashion.
'Why handkerchiefs, though?' You may ask... In this day and age, we can pick up a pack of tissues from just about any convenient store, supermarket, news agent, news stand, kiosk, whatever. Why carry handkerchiefs? There are a multitude of reasons, but I'll only list a few here:
- It is personal. It is yours and your only. If you want to lend it to someone, that's because you care, because after all, you'll be sticking it back in your pocket after it is used.
- It is reusable and very simple to look after. You go home, you simply dump it with the rest of your laundry. If you're the type that iron your own shirts, it is a few additional moves with the iron and you've a nice clean, crisp handkerchief for the day.
- It offers superior strength compared with any tissue paper. I hope you're the type that cover your mouth when you sneeze. With practice, you should be able reach into your pocket and pull out the handkerchief in time to dampen the sneeze. You can also blow your nose as hard as you want to and it won't break.
- It makes a statement: You care about your appearance and you care about your image.
There are negatives with handkerchiefs also. The most obvious is that if you've a bad cold you'd ended up carrying a very moist handkerchief for most of the day. I agree, but by the time you find yourself with a heavy cold, I'd hope you would've equipped yourself with a box of tissues. The second 'drawback' is the cost of buying them and cleaning and ironing them. Big deal! We're trying to create 'the look' here. You can pick up a pack of three handkerchiefs from most clothing retailers and they're very reasonably priced. Also, what's the big deal of washing a few extra pieces of cloth? And as I said previously, ironing one (or a few) when you're ironing your shirt(s) is not going to cost you hours of your precious time.
Once you've accepted that you are going to carry handkerchiefs, the next question is: Which pocket? There're two places you'd normally carry your handkerchief - the trouser pocket or the top pocket of your jacket. As far as I can tell, that is entirely a personal preference. In my case, I like to have mine in the trouser pocket. Since all of my handkerchiefs are white and I don't often wear plain white shirts, I just feel that, to carry my handkerchiefs in the top pocket, there're just too many colors for the 'first impression'. You, of course, may beg to differ. As I said, it's entirely up to you.
Finally, there's the question of 'Where does that dirty handkerchief goes?' At one stage or another, you would soil your handkerchief and you'd be forced to make a snap decision - in the pocket or in the trash can... I'm sure that this is a question as old as the handkerchief itself. For me, few soiling on your handkerchiefs are any more than a couple of imaginative folding away from being put back in the pocket. You may disagree on this and it is entirely up to you. If you show a bit of care, your handkerchief investment should last you for years.
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In this day and age, unless you actually go out there and buy shirts that requires them, you'd be hard press to actually need cufflinks. Whether you choose to make that investment is entirely up to you. You may decide that, on the balance of things, you don't want to invest in a bunch of new work shirts just to wear cufflinks (and shirts with French cuffs tend to be made by higher quality labels and hence more expensive), that's fine. However, whatever you do, don't wear a shirt with normal single button fastening cuffs, which happen to have button holes on both sides of the cuff, with a pair of cufflinks. The result is guaranteed to be a 'cheap and nasty' look. The reason is simple - the shirt hasn't been built with cufflinks in mind.
Having decided that you want to invest in shirts with French cuffs, it is time to get the right pairs of cufflinks. For me, cufflink styles can be classified in to four categories: antiques, classic, modern and humor/fancy. The construction materials for cufflinks are either fabric (springy fabric tied into two knots) or metallic (the 'normal' cufflinks). The decorations on them can also be broken down to: fabric (like old fashion coat buttons), metallic (engraving on the metal surface), ceramic (porcelain and glazed or unglazed ceramics), rocks (colorful stones, semi-precious and precious stones), pearls and plastic. Finally, for cufflinks constructed in metal, the style of the actual link: pin (two-piece construction, like a lapel badge), fixed (a simple axle under the decoration with a round knob at the other end), chain (two pieces of metal with a small chain as link), flip-lock (a simple spring-loaded mechanism that allow a piece to flip 90° after going through) and loop (a spring-loaded mechanism that loops round the cuff holes and the ends of the cuff).
With all the possible combinations, there's a huge potential for making the wrong investment. All you have to bear in mind is: 'This is business.' While there are times in business situation where humor can be an ice-breaker, having a pair of 'humor' (or 'fancy') cufflinks (like those in the shapes of Victorian taps with 'Hot' and 'Cold' written on them) on are just plain unprofessional. Cufflinks are worn to be seen and you can't effectively hide them. I would recommend sticking with the basics. Once you become more comfortable with what cufflinks best suit you and your dress style, you can invest in something that reflects your personality.
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Having a time piece around your wrist is probably one of the least appropriate thing to do in modern office environment. You've a clock display on your computer screen. You may have a desktop clock sitting right next to you. If you're on the move, your cell phone bound to have a clock displayed at one of its screen corners. Why on earth would you or anyone need a watch around the wrist? The answer is more subtle than you'd care to imagine: your watch in effect tells people who you are or are not.
What is in a watch that allow others to find out so much about you? A watch pretty much tell people where you're in your life. A good watch from usually cost a little more than your average Casio G-Shock or Timex Ironman, which means that you'd have to plan your purchase. To wear time pieces from a selected watch makers tells people that you appreciate the finer things in life. In acquiring an unusual (but not necessarily expensive) watch, it reflects your individuality. In combining all three of the abovementioned, the watch tells people who you are, where you're in your life and a little about your personality. For those who spend time looking at watches (and there're more of them around than you'd imagine), they can usually make an educated guess at how much you've spent on your watch, whether you actually like the watch for its image or whether you acquire it because of what you like about it.
However, we're not talking about watches that will cost multiples of your monthly salary, but watches that look good and don't cost you your rent, food and social life. For all intents and purposes, when you're considering watches, you shouldn't bother yourself with anything that's not Swiss made. The overwhelming majority of good quality watches in the world are made by Swiss makers/manufacturers. Prices of watches in this market range from a few hundred dollars (pounds or Euros) to several ten or hundred thousands of whatever currency you're thinking of. A good quality watch need not be expensive. We're not even going to bother with the Rolexes, Zeniths, IWCs, Breitlings, Breguets, Audemars Piguets, Corums, etc... We're looking at the likes of Swatch, Omega, Oris, TAG Heuer, Longines, Raymond Weil, etc, even Rotary and Tissot. These are all very good watch manufacturers and their product ranges cater for most mortals souls like you and I.
In trying to achieve 'the look', we need to find something that you feel comfortable with. Additionally, it needs to be something that will not look out of place when worn with a suit. Finally, we want something that will last, both in terms of looks as well as the watch itself. Buying a watch is not something that you should do on impulse. It's a bit like buying a car. You need to research - talk to other people who may have watches of the similar brands and what they think about them; visit the websites and forums find out about the histories, technologies and little specialties; and talk to your watch dealer about their experience with the brands (reputation, reliability, services, etc). It is a learning process and you need to know what you're getting to first before committing yourself to it.
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Here is another item that, on the surface, has right to exist in modern office environment - the fountain pen. With keyboard dominating your hands for the majority of your working day and products originated from the Bic brothers occupying the rest, there's no reason why there is the need of a more expensive form of writing instruments. And why was very special fountain pen considered 'The Best Gift for a Man' in a popular men lifestyle magazine in 2002?
A good fountain pen speaks volumes of who you are. Think of your immediate circle of friends: between them, they probably have the latest mobile phone technologies, have the latest computer or console gaming hardware, drive the latest range of cool cars and most probably wearing cloths of the latest popular trend. But then again, who has a nice fountain pen? I can guess the answer is probably be few, if any. If you in an client-facing role, it is even more important for you to have a good quality pen. Can you imagine your lawyer or your doctor scribble something down for you in a chewed up biro?
Fountain pens can be broken down to three categories: run-of-the-mill, high-end and 'exotic'. Most pen makers have a range that spans all three categories. It is all very well that you have invest in a high-end or an exotic pen, but there is a cost consideration and for our purpose of achieving 'the look', you need not bother yourself with these (unless you want to). The run-of-the-mill categories also have some sub-categories and these are distinguished by the makers. Some makers do not offer the products below a certain price point and there's logical enough, for they have an image to keep up also. In my opinion, you should consider a budget that will include pretty much all the relatively low end models for all the major pen makers - that's around the total cost of couple of weekends out drinking, clubbing and/or partying - an easily achievable target.
When it comes to actually making your investment, the most important thing to do is to try out the pens. Go to a good quality pen shop and try out all the ones that take your fancy. Every one has a preference to how they want his/her pens - weight, center of gravity, length, width, broadness of the nip, etc. There is no harm in spending time and trying every pen available to find the right one for you, and the good shopkeeper will understand just that. After acquiring your new pen, you should also invest in some good quality ink. Many major pen makers have their own inks to compliment their pens and they usually available in both bottle forms as well as cartilages. I'd recommend sticking to the likes of Waterman, Sheaffer, Parker (not Quink), Mont Blanc, Pelikan, etc.
Having acquired your pen, you may consider a penholder, which may or may not be necessary, and it is entirely dependent on how you want to carry your pen(s). One advantage of a penholder is that it will, in all likelihood, partially protect your pen(s) from the daily wear-and-tear and the occasional scratches. In terms of looking after your pen, there's lots of online resources and forums as to how to look after your investment.
In terms of how to carry your pen, I personally think pens should not be carried on the outside breast pocket - it looks like your desperately trying to tell the whole world that you own a pen. Also, having a pen on the outside breast pocket means that you got be really careful when you pull out your handkerchief, should you choose to keep it there also. I personal preference is to carry it in one of the inside breast pocket of my suit jacket. Additional benefits are that the jacket will protect your pen clip from scratches and it is less like to be stolen when you're walking around.
Should you feel that it is impossible for you to work with a fountain pen, you can invest in a good quality Rolla-ball. The majority of the good pen makers have Rolla-ball in their range and they are often offered in the same style as the fountain pens. All the care and consideration mentioned above in looking for and caring for you fountain pen apply to a Rolla-ball also.
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The credit card commercials keep asking you: "What's in your wallet?"... I have to agree that it is important to know what's in your wallet, but personally, what's more important question is: "What is your wallet?" Your wallet is the window into your soul, your personality and your habits. For complete strangers who see you pulling your wallet out to pay for your purchase, a look at your wallet can tell a lot about you as a person. I'm not going to tell you what you should or should not keep in your wallet, that's entirely up to you. However, I'm going to give you some advice on how to pick the right wallet for yourself and what you should look out for when you pick one.
The "canvas and Velcro strips" may have served you very well in your student days, but you're not a student any more. It's time to move on, and it is the present and the future you should have in mind when you invest in a wallet. You're in the business world and you need to have the right wallet to project the right image to your peers and colleagues. When it comes to choosing the right wallet, the first thing you should consider is where you keep your wallet. Inside breast pocket of your jacket? Back pocket of your trousers? Or front trousers pocket? Each location will have slightly different requirements and each will need or allow certain features so that your appearance is 'just right'.
If you like keep your wallet in the inside breast pocket of your jacket, the choice is probably the easiest. For a very simple reason: there's less pressure from the fabrics in your breast pockets than in your trousers pockets. In general, it is possible to have 'taller' wallets for the breast pockets, which means that it can hold more cards without resulting to the need of having additional compartments. Due to the shape of breast pockets and the lower pressure subjected to the wallet, it is possible to keep wallets with right angled corners in there without worry the corners being 'dog-eared'. On the other hand, I'd strongly advise against having a wallet with a coin compartment if you want to keep it in your jacket pocket, as a collection of coins weigh significantly heavier than notes and cards, it will weigh down the side of your jacket where you keep your wallet and make the jacket look ill fitted.
For those who like to keep their wallets in the back trouser pockets, the choice of wallets are relatively limited - for a very simple reason: having a wallet that too big for the back pocket or bulging back pocket in a pair of suit trousers looks ridiculous! All these mean that you need to find a wallet that only holds bank notes and a few credit cards. There are some wallets that are specifically designed to be carried in the back pockets of trousers. Tell-tale design points are the rounded corners. As mentioned before, right-angled corners will eventually 'dog-eared' as a result of the pressure of the fabric, the shape of the pocket and your weight when sitting down. For those with large number of credit cards, you may need to decide either not to carry all your cards with you or have another wallet for the infrequently used cards.
At the same time, wallets for front trousers pockets are not limitless either. Again, the shape of pockets dictates what can be used and what cannot. Front trousers pockets are more robust and can handle the bulk of most wallets, which also means that you can deploy those with coin compartments. However, I'd recommend against wallets with right-angled corners, as, again, the shape of the pocket will dog-ear them. In general, trousers pockets can pretty much handle anything you can put into your jacket breast pockets, except those of the 'taller' design.
The other question which will arise is what to do with the coins, since unless you choose a wallet to be carried on the front trousers pocket, the remaining choices leave your coins out of the wallet. Coins can be a nuisance, as they have the tendency to make lots of noise when you walk around and tend to wear holes in your pockets after a while. Since I carry my notes and cards wallet in the inside breast pocket of my jacket, I personally prefer to have carry my coins in a coin wallet. That is entirely up to you, but in my opinion giggling coins do not present a 'neat' image. One point for those who want like to carry a big wallet in their breast pockets of their jackets (like myself), you may wish to consider a second wallet for it is not always possible to wear a jacket (even the UK has summers once in a while...) Pick yourself a nice small wallet just to keep your bank notes and a few cards.
A final point about choosing a wallet: For those who have the opportunity to go on overseas business trips, it is very tempting to pick up a wallet in Duty Free shops in airports (or in between business meetings). Make sure that the wallet you pick up are suitable for the bank notes of your origin - wallets designed for American bank notes will not fit British or European notes.
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After reading the above, you'd think that I want you to go through a complete image change. That is not the case. What I'm trying to do is provide you with some tips as to how to make you 'look the part' by getting a few details right. I would imagine that you spend good money to get the right suits and right shirts, why allow the minor details let you down? I am fully aware that by putting on a suit and a shirt, you've pretty much achieve the 'uniform' look of a typical office worker. However, the small details is just as important as the suit and the shirt. Moreover, since the suit is pretty much a 'uniform' and it acts as a 'ground leveller', it is the details that get you noticed. Getting the details right will put you above the rest.
The above points are by no means the only ones to look out for, I can only write from my own experience. I would recommend occasionally picking up a quality men life-style magazine (e.g. GQ or Esquire), which have frequent columns/articles about these things. Additional, several online sites have coverage on style and grooming for men and are usually full of tips. Take note of them, absorb them and use them as guidelines to express yourself.
One final point: The office is a highly competitive environment, you and your colleagues may be equally qualified and equally competent in your jobs, but in order to get that promotion you need to be noticed. Getting the details right and achieving the 'right look' is as much an investment in your career as going on training courses - you need to get it right.
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