In most offices today, business casual is a firmly rooted dress code. As far as dressing for the office goes, a lot depends on the culture but over the years, things have changed dramatically and today, we go through the decades and we will give you a specific rundown of what items to wear, what not to wear, and particularly, what shoes you can focus on.
This post is brought to you in collaboration with Ace Marks.
In the last thirty years, the formality scale has dropped dramatically and today, probably just 1/10 office workers wear a full suit. As with many trends in menswear, the World Wars set a huge impact on style and dress codes for the office and it usually meant that it was more casual or at least, more utilitarian.
Office Wear Through The Years
In the 1950’s, there was a post-war boom, materials were again plentiful at least in the US, and so people wore suits, white dress shirts, ties, and proper oxfords. The classic black cap toe oxford was definitely a staple shoe at the time.
Of course, characters like James Dean popularized a much more casual and youthful look with undershirts, however, that did not catch on in the office. If you wanted to work at a proper office, you could not show up dressed like James Dean.
During the 1960s, the mod style had a heavy influence. Nevertheless, people still wore suits. In terms of style, you could see that lapels got narrower and so did the ties. Trousers usually had huge cuffs or turn-ups, or sometimes an excess of two inches. The big casualty during this decade is the hat. Also worn by older gentlemen who consider the hat to be an essential part of their business wardrobe, younger men simply went without it.
Of course, the 60’s were great for fantastic menswear fabrics that were heavier and not as soft as they are today. At the same time, they drape really well. At the same time, man-made materials were becoming a lot more popular so you would see nylon, polyester, and all kinds of other things blended into classic menswear which eventually would fade again but at that time, it was a bit tight and was very popular to have artificial fibers in your business wardrobe. The style influencers at the time, just like the Beatles, still wore suits, dress shirts, and ties.
In the 1970’s, the disco and hippie style dominated men’s fashion and that even had an influx on the office. People still wore suits but they had a lot bolder patterns, lapels had gotten wider, colors were a lot bolder, and everything was different. Lanvin, Pierre Cardin, or Yves Saint Laurent were really popular designers and would oftentimes license their name to have suits produced even for the American market.
In the early 70’s, you’d still see flare pants but by the end, they became more European and slimmed down. The ties were longer and much wider and the rise of pants was much lower. In terms of shoes, the derby shoe became more popular now but in very traditional white-collar environments, you would still see the black cap toe oxford as the dominant business shoe.
In the 80’s, things changed a bit again. Designers like Giorgio Armani created a more unstructured suit that was quite wide, the gorge of the lapel was low, and eventually, the power suit became really popular. Just think of Wall Street, in the US, Ralph Lauren also became really popular and he always had a taste for wider ties and wider lapels. Shirts were oftentimes Winchester shirts that had bold stripes, colored combinations that resembled the typical power style.
The classic office shoe was still the black cap toe oxford, sometimes you would see black derbys, or things like Gucci loafers in black. Even though you had power suits on the one hand, on the other hand, combinations became much more acceptable for office wear. Also, TV shows like Miami Vice popularized the style of wearing a t-shirt with a jacket on top. Obviously, this was not worn to the office but it showed the desire to casualize a formal wardrobe.
The 1990’s were definitely the heyday of office wear and men’s fashion. Vogue declared the end of the era of the power suit and things became a lot more casual. In the US, casual Friday became a lot more popular and people who quit the traditional jobs and started working on tech startups in Silicon Valley really changed the way people dressed to the office.
Everything became more casual and not wearing a suit was a traditional F.U. to the classic establishment and the way they dress. In terms of shoes, you could still see anything from the classic black cap toe oxford in a law firm, for example, all the way to New Balance sneakers with tech startups.
In the 2000’s, the influence of the Silicon Valley further increased. New generations were not interested in wearing business suits, they were not used to wearing suits, and they certainly don’t want to wear it to the office. Fast fashion started to dominate the retail world and so quick turnover of many different seasons and trends with very low quality and very little substance became mainstream.
Also, jeans or denim have become universally acceptable no matter whether you go to church or at a fine restaurant. In the early 2000’s, jackets became a lot shorter and suits became a lot slimmer. A very popular shoe in the US for business was the tassel loafer and even today, you can find men who are about to retire wearing the same 90’s suits that are quite wide in cut with their sometimes brown or oxblood or black tassel loafers.
In terms of shoes, the tassel loafer from the 90’s became less and less popular and you found a lot more shoe companies that used the internet to bring shoes from the manufacturer directly to the consumer, thus cutting off the middleman, and saving the consumer quite a bit of money. One of those companies is Ace Marks.
Today in most office environments, business casual and casual Friday is the most prevalent dress code. At the same time, a lot of people don’t really understand what it means, specifically. The boundaries between work and office have been blurred; we find a lot more working from home now and working outside the office. At the same time, surveys indicate that 1/2 of senior level management thinks that their employees dress too casually. So some men are really into dressing up and they love it when they can wear suits to the office while others would rather wear sweatpants.
Overall, I think there are more men interested in classic men’s clothing and dressing up today than they were 10-15 years ago.
What To Wear To The Office
The Plus & Minus Rule
A lot of it depends on your workplace and the culture there. That being said, we are big supporters of the plus and minus rule. So, don’t just look at what the employee handbook says but actually observe what people are wearing.
Ideally, you want to stay within one step above what people wear. You don’t want to step below because it definitely has an impact, people see it, and they will judge you maybe just subconsciously.
You’ve probably heard of the old saying “Don’t dress for the job you have but for the job you want.”. That as a caveat, many CEOs today dress very casually because they are already at the top of the company and they don’t have to impress anyone. At the same time, if you have client contact and you want others to respect you at the office, dressing well and dressing a step up is important.
Now that being said, sometimes your manager or superior can feel threatened if you outdress them so that is one aspect to keep in mind. You do not want to offend people and hurt your chances of climbing the ladders simply because they feel threatened by the way you dress. Honestly, if that happens at your workplace, it’s probably time to change jobs anyway because that is not the kind of culture that you will likely thrive in, especially not if you like to dress up.
5 Office Wardrobe Staples
1. Navy Blazer
Even though you never have to wear suits at work, having a blazer is ideal because it makes your otherwise very informal outfit rather formal without being over the top.
2. Cotton Chinos
Ideally, you get them in some khaki color, you can also go lighter with stone, or darker with navy, it’s a classic staple slacks that sit in between jeans and dress slacks in terms of formality. You can also wash them at home so you don’t have to worry about dry cleaning costs and they are just a wonderful business staple. You can also wear them just with dress shirts, or with sport coats, or a blazer, and they always look good.
3. Dress Shirts
If you don’t work in a super formal office, you can be a little bit more relaxed with your shirts, you can have stripes, you can add some colors, maybe checks, and you can decide if you want to have button cuffs or French cuff for cufflinks. Cufflinks are certainly a bit more formal; I personally like them because it gives me a chance to wear all the different cufflinks in my collection.
If you don’t wear neckwear to the office, I suggest you go mostly with checked shirts; you can incorporate different colors such blue, green, or red, and I would opt for a button-down collar because it stands up more nicely, the tips always stay down. Because if you wear a jacket, the tips should always stay underneath. I’d also go with button cuffs rather than French cuffs, otherwise, not having a neckwear but the French cuffs is kind of a clash of formality. Of course, if you love cufflinks overall, you can still wear them.
On the other hand, in a lot of offices today, neckwear is not required anymore and it is simply something that you can wear to express yourself. If you don’t want to go with the traditional three-fold business tie, you can opt for different things such as knit ties, for example, which are different in texture, they are more casual and they are definitely office appropriate. If you decide against neckwear, I suggest to always have a pocket square in your blazer or sport coat because it really upgrades your look, makes it more unique, polished, and finished.
In terms of shoes, the rules have relaxed a lot. For the traditional office, you can go with the classic black cap toe oxford. At the same time, brown at the office today is probably more popular than black if you look at all the offices across the US and Europe. It really does not matter if you go with derby shoes or monk straps. In my opinion, a great shoe for the office, for younger men, is the double monk strap shoe. It is right in between the classic office leather dress shoe with the leather sole and a sneaker. Even though you can wear it in black, I prefer colors in burgundy red or maybe brown because it is casual enough to wear for a happy hour after work but also perfectly appropriate for most office environments.
That being said, most offices today are casual enough to go with brown shoes at pretty much any instance and if you want to go with brown, there are so many shades all the way from a light tan to a medium tan to medium brown, dark chestnut brown and really dark brown. I would definitely suggest to stay clear of sneakers and always invest in a quality pair of dress shoes. Now down the line, it always pays to invest in quality dress shoes because the cost per wear goes down. You may think that is easier said than done because you are just starting out your career and this is your first office job, it may be hard to come up with all the money for nice quality dress shoes.
You can buy quality leather dress shoes in different price points; you can invest 200 dollars, 300 dollars, or 2000 dollars for a pair. That being said, Ace Marks provides a range of quality office dress shoes that won’t break the bank. Does Ace Marks produce the best menswear dress shoes ever made? Absolutely not! However, what they do offer is a really big bang for the buck because they sell directly from the manufacturer to you as a consumer thus, saving the middleman market.
If I would have to pick just three shoes that are appropriate for office wear, I would go with the black half brogue oxford. The burgundy double monk strap, as well as their brown penny loafer.
A lot of men wear short socks or mid-calf socks when they slide down, they expose your hairy calves which is still unprofessional in this day and age. To prevent that, you should go with over-the-calf socks that stay up.