StyleForum: The Worst Look

Everything in this thread. EVERYTHING. 

"Business casual" is the death of style.


I noticed you suggested in an earlier post that an about to be grad student should start wearing ties. I know you later suggest wearing a jacket, but what are your thoughts on shirt, tie, without the jacket? At Put This On it's one of the 25 rules you don't break. However I (also a student) have been recently prone to wearing well-fitted shirts with skinny ties, and was wondering how big a blunder this has been. Thanks, and great blog!

- Asked by Anonymous

Yeah, I get why people dig the skinny ties without jackets thing, but I also understand that basic rule.

In general, I think it’s a good rule for a majority of people to follow — especially those new to style. The reason being that most people aren’t buying shirts that are fitted to them and the blousing you get around the waistline doesn’t look good. Add to that a moderately sized width necktie and you get the cubicle farmer look of an office drone who was forced by the company’s dress code to wear a tie and put on a dress shirt.

And that’s a really sloppy look. I see it all the time and most guys if they’re putting on the tie should be wearing a jacket, just to be a slight bit more put together. If they didn’t want to wear a jacket and be more “dressed down”, then they should forgo the tie — at least then you’re comfortably in the “business casual” mold.

Let’s go back to your personal preference of wearing a slimmer tie, fitted shirts, etc. I think that’s a pretty decent look. A lot of people can pull that off. And as with all things style if you’ve got proper fit, then you’re really just doing better than 90% of guys around you.

But my thought is this: You’ve gone through the trouble of getting your stuff to fit right and putting on a necktie — why not go all the way and wear a jacket, too? You’ll be completing the look, you’ll look even better, and your silhouette will be flattered.

I suppose this is my way of saying, "No half measures."


Hey, love the blog! I'm studying in Taiwan right now, but when I return I'll be at a top grad school. I'll be a TA/TF, and I've heard that a big challenge (especially in humanities departments, vs. business or law) will be distinguishing myself from the undergrads. I need to dress like a grown-up, but at the same time I don't want to look like my 60-something year old professors. What would you recommend? I'm on the "ramen budget", and as long as the clothes will see me through school I'm OK.

- Asked by Anonymous

Here’s what I would do:

Wear nice shoes: Get a quality pair of brown wingtips, suede wingtips and brogue boots. Florsheim should be within your budget, although you can maybe find stuff on Charles Tyrwhitt when they hit the deep discounts or Allen Edmonds off of eBay. Don’t wear ratty sneakers and gym shoes.

Wear a tie: College kids hate ties — unless it’s a job fair. Lots of affordable options between The Tie Bar and The Knottery. Of course, you can hit up eBay and try to snag some really dope stuff at cut-rate prices. Since you’re in academia, I’d suggest going with textured, seasonal neckwear: wools and tweeds for the cold; madras, linen and chambray for the heat. Silk knits also look good, too.

Wear a jacket: Try to find something slimmer-fitting and youthful and make sure it’s altered by a tailor to fit properly. I’d again go with casual fabrics like chino, linen or chino-linen blends in the warmer months and tweed and flannel in the colder months. L.L.Bean signature has some nice stuff as does Lands’ End (and plenty of sales if you get on their email list). You probably only need one for each season and I’d supplement it with a navy wool blazer with half lining.

Denim: Get a dark selvedge denim pair that fits slim. Maybe get a white pair of 501s and have them tapered in the leg for summer.

Get a good briefcase: I imagine you’ll be carrying a lot of papers or at least a laptop around. Get a nice briefcase in either canvas (more casual) or leather (more professional). Don’t be the dork who wears a backpack — or worse, has a roller backpack.

Get fitted: The most important thing that will distinguish you from most college kids and most professors (heck, most men) will be that you clothing fits properly. As long as that’s good, you should be able to separate yourself from the kids and the old men.

ADDING dieworkwear replied: 

Though it depends on the school you’re going to and the program you will be in, I would urge you to reconsider wearing ties as a grad student. Quickest way to look like a douche, IMO. And I’m a grad student that writes about ties.

Dissenting opinion! I just don’t see how wearing a tie as a grad student makes you look like a douche though.


Really appreciate what you're doing with your blog. I'm probably close to you in age, on a fixed budget, trying to up my solid style game -- sticking with basics, building the wardrobe slowly, etc. I've haven't made any great progress with shoes, though. For the summer I've got boat shoes, but now that fall is here I still have some old half-sneaker, half-something else brown leather Sketchers shoes. Suggestions for casual options? Chukkas? Thanks for your help!

- Asked by Anonymous

Truthfully, I’m terrible at dressing “casually”, and I also don’t recommend going too “cheap” on shoes. So, that’s a bit of a tough one.

On the low end for chukkas, you could definitely look at Clarks desert boots in the beeswax leather. My roommate has a pair and I think they’d probably do fairly well throughout the fall weather. I’m not going to tell you they’re waterproof or anything, but they’ll be decent in a light rain. For what it’s worth, I wore my sand suede desert boots in an outright downpour this summer and they’re just fine. I stuffed them with newspapers when I got home and let them dry out. Texture’s a bit different, but I’d say they’re a slight bit more comfortable now.

If you’re looking for a pair of higher-quality chukkas, then I’d consider giving Allen Edmonds a look right now. Their “Rediscover America” sale is going on and the Malvern is on sale for $276.25. Depending on your size, you might be able to score them cheaper on eBay.

I’d also give consideration to Charles Tyrwhitt’s chukkas (brown, dark brown, chocolate suede) which come in at $217 before shipping.

Speaking of Charles Tyrwhitt, give a look at their chelsea boots (black, brown). I’ve worn them with denim in the past.

I also think captoe boots look pretty good with denim — heck, any boot generally does. The Allen Edmonds Bayfield is $262.50 at Lands’ End right now (code SAVEFF with PIN 9132). Charles Tyrwhitt military captoe boots can be had for around $250 on eBay. L.L.Bean Signature captoe boots are under $200 and are Goodyear welted. If you’re willing to spend a bit more and are an eBay ninja, I’d look out for Alden Indy boots.

Hope this helps.


Hi. I live in California and i want to dress formally but i feel like i cant wear the full attire i want to because everyone else wears shorts and t-shirts. is there anyway i can dress formal but not to business like?

- Asked by Anonymous

Well, it really depends on how you define formal. Formal to some means a full suit, conservative shoes and tie. Sounds to me like you want to do something less than that, perhaps more business casual.

If business casual “done right” is your goal, I think looking at this GQ feature will be up your alley. While I certainly wouldn’t go and necessarily copy everything verbatim (especially the brands they recommend), the images are a good inspirational starting point to pull ideas from.

Still though, I’d say your big hangup seems to be that you’re worried about sticking out among those around you. It seems like you’re afraid to “dress up” because others around you constantly dress down — strangers, coworkers, friends, etc. That’s something I can’t really help you with.

You have to have the self confidence to wear what you want to wear despite what the world will think of you. I don’t see anything wrong about being different — especially if it makes you feel good about yourself and is honest to who you are and want to be.

The one thing I’ve come to realize is that you cannot — and never will — completely control a person’s final opinion of you. You can’t change someone’s mind and make everyone happy by constantly doing things that make them feel comfortable and pleased. You can only control how you feel and what you do — and people can take it or leave it.

Whenever I go out, I almost universally “dress up” with a jacket, tie and pocket square. It makes almost no difference to me who I am with or where I’m going. I want to wear what makes me feel the most confident. When people ask why I’m “dressed up”, I just tell them that this is what I wear and that I like to look nice.

You won’t ever elevate your self-confidence if you’re constantly carrying the baggage of everyone’s opinions.


Dressing up for work at the office: What about your coworkers?

Last week, vigilantesteez left me a note asking how my personal style compared to that of my coworkers:

Hey man, another fellow Chicagoan here. Great tumblr! I’m sure you’ve addressed it before, but how does your style compare to your contemporaries at the office?

This is a bit of a complicated question. I work out of two offices (state capitol building and downtown Chicago) and there’s kinda-sorta three dress codes.

When I’m at the capitol for legislative session, the dress code is typically a suit. It’s actually in the state Senate rules that all gentlemen in the chamber must wear a jacket and tie (the state House chamber has no such dress code, and there’s no dress code for women in either chamber). Suits aren’t required, however, I tend to wear them — much like every other staffer, legislator, lobbyist or statehouse worker on session days — because it’s a fairly conservative environment. Have I bucked the trend and gone with odd jackets or no-socks? Sure, but you won’t find others often doing that. So, that environment is fairly formal.

When I’m up in the downtown Chicago office, there’s sort of two dress codes: when legislators are in the offices and when legislators aren’t in the offices. Some coworkers will wear a collared shirt, jacket and have a tie around if we know legislators are in the offices for meetings that day, however, most days it’s a very casual environment. Polos, khaki chinos, jeans, tennis shoes, etc., are kind of the norm here.

So, why do I wear a jacket and tie every day?

Well, our offices share the same floor as several other offices, including the governor’s office. From what I can tell, the governor’s office staff always wears suits. Often, visitors come up to the floor and once in a while I happen to know some of them waiting in the lobby, say “hello”, and they’ll be with someone who I don’t know and will introduce me. This happened once, a long while back, and the person with whom I wasn’t familiar asked if I was an intern.

For a while I thought it was my age, but I realized that question wouldn’t have been asked if I hadn’t been dressed like an intern (baggy chinos, untucked dress shirt, sporty “dress” shoes), but rather someone who looked mildly professional. After realizing this, I decided that it was time to dress better and stop being mistaken for an intern.

While my older colleagues have the choice to dress however they wish and not be mistaken for an intern, I don’t think I have the same choice because of my age. Just because there’s an option to “dress down” doesn’t necessarily mean that you should or must do it. I got a little bit of guff from coworkers when I started “dressing up for an interview” every day, but after doing this for well over a year I can pretty much wear whatever I want and look natural doing it.

My style in comparison to others in the office is definitely less conservative in a lot of ways — despite the fact it might be considered sobering around #menswear types. I don’t mind wearing fabrics and colors that are a bit loud, maybe even saying “GTH”. I’m one of only two people on staff who wears a pocket square. I definitely have my clothing altered for a slimmer, younger, modern cut — especially with trousers going no break. I don’t want to look like I’m dressed like a typical midwesterner from the suburbs.

So, I do try to differentiate myself, even if we’re all under the same dress code and putting on a suit. I might test the boundaries a bit, but at least I don’t look like an intern.


I've moved into management in IT/graphic design, so I feel that polos and khakis just won't cut it for summer anymore. Any ideas on how to take it up a notch and look trendy and without going corporate (i.e., ties)?

- Asked by Anonymous

Thanks for your question. I think these links will help you find some inspiration and give you quite a few suggestions of what might help:

All of them are worth reading and pulling ideas from. At a basic level for summer, I’d wear a button-down collared dress shirt, some creased lightweight chinos or lightweight wool trousers, a nice belt, a pair of nice shoes (ranging from suede bucks with chinos to leather-soled wingtips with wool trousers), and an unconstructed cotton-linen blended jacket that you can either take off or leave on. Just make sure your shirt and trousers fit well so they don’t look baggy. Maybe keep a solid silk knit tie in the office in case you have a meeting.

On the note of ties being “corporate”, I’d kind of disagree. I think there are casual neckties. Silk knits are definitely in that category, but it’s really more or less in the context of how it plays with the rest of your clothing.

Hope this helps!


Most Exerent: Business Casual aka Dressing to Meet the "Parents"

GW breaks it down for you. I’ll say that I think very much nails it and looks quite elegant in the process.


I live in San Francisco. I work at a tech company. Usual uniform: jeans and a button down. I need a jacket to wear for the commute. Not too keen on rocking a blazer. Something lightweight until the fog burns off. Ideas?

- Asked by Anonymous

Perhaps something similar to a Baracuta G9? If you don’t feel like paying the price for an original, then places like Lands’ End and L.L. Bean Signature have harrington-styled jackets at lower price points in a variety of weights.

Still, I’d suggest an unlined, unconstructed linen blazer.

ADDING from dieworkwear: 

How about a M65 or a field jacket? Not an actual M65, though I guess you could, but some designer inspired piece.

Can you tell I’m not the best when it comes to thinking about casualwear? Definitely check out military surplus stores. I’ve got a tropical poplin coat that I wear sometimes. Pretty lightweight stuff. You can nab one at Army-Navy Sales.

ADDING from funkypresident:

how about a 3/4 trench, which can also be good for rain? A Barbour Bedale is very versatile, and while I don’t typically associate Barbours with the west coast (it evokes Brit country or east coast prep to me), but that could be its charm.

If you can afford it, then definitely. Maybe a bit heavy for the warmer weather though? I’m not entirely sure. I’ve only tried one on once and that was during the winter. Amazing coat, but was totally out of my price range.


What would you consider business casual footwear? I'll be starting a job in a couple of weeks working for a hospital and needs some help.

- Asked by jaytea

I think it really depends on what you’re wearing for the rest of your business casual outfit, which has a really broad definition ranging from chinos and a polo shirt to a blazer, tie and wool trousers.

On the very casual end of that spectrum, I’d say suede bucks and loafers. On the more dressy end, I’d go with open-laced bluchers/derby styled leather-soled dress shoes with perhaps a plain toe or wingtip would work. I would also thing that chukka-styled boots would work well in either suede (Clarks Desert boot on the casual end) or leather.

Are you going to be standing up and walking around a lot during the day? If so, I’d go with a mid-ground compromise: suede wingtips. Suede will be comfortable to wear and look good with either dress slacks or chinos. Your choice if you want to go with leather soles or rubber, although I’d imagine rubber would provide better grip if you’re on tile floors all day.

A “casual” officeplace lets you get away with a lot of things shoewise, so make sure to find one that’s going to be comfortable for you to wear (foremost importance) and will work with your wardrobe you plan to wear to work.

Hope this helps!


I have a wool navy blazer but it is too hot here in Texas to wear it to work. Is a cotton navy blazer (including those with patch pockets) appropriate for an office setting?

- Asked by Anonymous

A cotton-navy blazer would certainly be weather/temperature appropriate, however, it certainly depends on the blazer itself. The problem with cotton, especially darker colors of cotton, is that it tends to show “wear” after a while in use (ie: dark denim getting lighter in color after multiple wears). Some cotton sport coats and blazers come pre-distressed and quite a bit faded. For a more professional setting, this can not look as great.

As an alternative to cotton, I’d suggest linen. The downside to linen is that it’s very prone to wrinkling (in fact, it’s outright guaranteed). You could also look for a linen-cotton blended jacket, which would be somewhat more wrinkle-resistant.

A final alternative would be tropical wool. This would be very lightweight, be very wrinkle resistant and much more professional in appearance than cotton or linen.

Regardless of what jacket you choose to get, make sure you get one that’s either unlined or partially lined. Full lining will make you sweat. The best lining option would be where the sleeves are lined and only the upper shoulder area. This will allow you to put on your jacket with great ease while minimizing the heat retention and breathability.

ADDING: I should note that patch pockets are more casual/sport-ish than flap welt pockets in a blazer, even more so if the breast pocket is a patch pocket. If you want to be more formal, then go for a tropical wool blazer with welt/flap pockets or patch pockets with a flap and a welt breast pocket. Ideally, this would also include metal buttons. Still, I think you could go more casually in a lot of office workplaces these days and get away with something less formal (and more casual) and still be better dressed than 90% of the people at work.

Hope this helps!


I start a summer internship in Washington DC in June. The dress code is business-business casual. How do I not dress like an intern? Should I wear a suit everyday?

- Asked by Anonymous

First, congrats on your internship! I hope it pays, because D.C. isn’t cheap to live in, from what I’ve heard.

Decoding dress codes are always hard, but I’d say you want to tilt more toward the business side of that equation. Here’s what I’d recommend you pick up for a five-day work week:

  • Five spread-collar dress shirts, in any combination of blue or white. Just makes sure you have at minimum one of either color and they are all 100% cotton.
  • Three dress slacks in various shades of grey (or all the same shade, if you prefer). I’d try to find pairs that are mid-weight, 100% wool, plain front and tailored for little to no break and tapered to your legs.
  • One navy blazer. Again, midweight wool, maybe only half lined since it’ll be summer. Of course, get it tailored to fit properly.
  • One navy or dark charcoal suit. Yes, a midweight wool, too, and tailored.
  • Navy or grey socks.
  • One pair of brown wingtips and one pair of brown loafers.
  • One quality navy silk tie (knit or grenadine), one club-stripe tie (stick with navy/red if you want to be safe) and maybe one more solid, striped or Churchill-dot tie that’s predominately navy, red or burgundy. If in doubt, go conservative on the tie.
  • One white linen pocket square.

You can kind of see where I’m going with this, right? Basic, standard uniform that doesn’t draw attention to itself, is extremely conservative and not filled with loud colors or patterns.

On a daily basis, you can just turn to the navy blazer, dress shirt, tie, grey slacks and either wingtips or loafers. On days you need to step it up (maybe you get a job interview!), then you can don your suit and wingtips.

The point is that you don’t want to be the intern who wears the untucked oxford and baggy chinos with tennis shoes. And while it certainly couldn’t hurt to wear a suit every day, that might put you awkwardly in the situation where you’re dressing better than your bosses.

If you discover after your first day/week that no one wears ties or jackets in the office, then you can ease off a bit from the uniform. Maybe one day wear the blazer, but not the tie. Another day, wear the tie, not the blazer.

Regardless, I would wear the blazer to work (you can always take it off) and bring a necktie with you every day (or keep one in your desk). You never know when you’ll need to look your best, so having those on hand can be helpful.

The upside to all of this is that on day one you can establish how you’re going to dress for the entire internship as long as you do it consistently after the first week. If people know you as the intern who wears a tie and jacket every day, that’s hardly a bad thing.

Hope this helps!

EDIT to add: Oh, and if you can find a briefcase (leather) and not wear a messenger bag, even better. I see them on craigslist all the time. A Filson canvas bag isn’t bad, either.

And, if possible, get some business cards — and not just from your employer. Get some nice ones done up for yourself with your name, cell, email. Keep at least 5 or so in your suit jacket and blazer interior pocket along with your wallet. Exchange business cards as much as possible and network the hell outta that down.

Remember, everyone you meet is a potential opportunity and you already have a step up by not looking like a sloppy college student, but rather a young professional.


I work in a business casual environment, and I agree with you on your points. I think first and foremost, the reader's gotta get fit right. If your still rocking the super baggy shirt and pants that break a couple times on the shoes, putting on a tie or sportscoat is just going to make you look even more out of place. Even if you're going real relaxed, a well-fitting polo and khakis is going to make you look well-dressed than an ill-fitting suit.
Ties are a great place to start, but you've got to be ready to get joked on for a while (if you're young and work with at least a few young people) or asked if you got an interview. After a while, though, people will just accept that as who you are and how you dress. In fact, a friend of mine got joked on for being dressy-dressy for wearing a tie, while I was wearing a full suit.
V-necks and sweaters are good, but I'd wait on sportscoats for Spring or Fall when you'd need an extra layer. Vests probably should wait until people get used to the way you dress. Not that it really matters what people think, but sportscoats and vests will definitely draw attention.

- Asked by girouxmcisaak

I’ll agree on fit. Fit and fit alone can set you way apart. Best thing is that it only takes a modification of your current wardrobe versus getting a new one.

Also, I totally can sympathize with people giving you shit for wearing a tie! Happened to me when I first started to try and dress better. Work through that!

afistfulofstyle adds: 

getting shit for wearing a tie lasts about 2 days. getting shit for NOT wearing a tie once you start wearing one is eternal.

Got tips for an entry level guy going to into corporate/relaxed environment, in terms of clothing options of course.
So far ive been doing khakis, clarks, dress shirt, no tie.
Tips and Tricks?

First, can I be honest and just say I hate “casual/relaxed” dress codes in offices? Not hating on you (or your wonderful place of employment), but it leads to an ambiguous definition of what to wear and causes a bit of a headache.

If you want to dress nice and overdo it, then you look like a suck up. If you dress down, then people start mistaking you for the office intern if you’re younger.

My workplace (when the state legislature isn’t meeting) is kind of like the whole “relaxed” environment thing, too, and my prior way of dressing was much like what you described yourself doing. If you want to take a step upward — but not too far — I’d try the following things:

  • Wear a tie. Nothing crazy or aggressive. Get a solid navy tie — silk knit, repp or grenadine — and it should go with most of what you own. Maybe get a simple navy tie with white Churchill dots. Or a simple white stripe. Or red stripe. The more conservative of a tie you pick, the less people will think you’re trying to dress up.
  • Wear something over your shirt. This can be a cardigan, v-neck sweater vest, odd waistcoat/vest or a sport coat. If you think a sport coat looks too dressed up, try for a deconstructed non-wool option — like cotton chino — maybe with patch pockets. Mainly, I say this because it helps create a layered look, which looks more formal than casual.
  • Wear nice shoes. I’m not dissing your Clarks (I own a pair of desert boots, love ‘em!), but maybe save them for casual(er) Fridays. Get two pairs of leather-soled oxfords. Longwings, short wings, cap toes, plain toes — it doesn’t matter too much as long as they’re a quality piece of footwear. On the low end, I’d say Allen Edmonds (between eBay and Nordstrom Rack you can snag pairs for $50-100) or the Florsheim Veblens if that’s your style. Quality footwear will set you apart in a good way.
  • Above all, pay attention to fit. Get your pants tapered at a tailor if it needs to be done. Same with any sport coat or blazer.

I’ve mentioned here before that the way I used to dress often got me confused as an intern instead of a staff member, which bothered me a lot. At first, I thought it was because of just my age, but really it was more than age — it was appearance.

If you’re younger, which I assume you are because you mentioned “entry level,” then you’ll want to avoid that impression. You never know who you might run into and you’ll want that initial impression to be favorable and make you look more experienced than not.

I think it only take a few things to move you from “just got out of college” to “put together” when it comes to dressing casually. Fortunately, it’s not entirely that hard to do.

Thanks for the question and hope you find it useful.


And this is the look I’m shooting for this summer. Not that I’m anywhere near skinny enough but I can still try.

I can dig this for a casual look during the warmer days, however, it’d be rather unpractical for me.
I tend to wear a jacket of some sort as often as possible because it allows me to carry my EDC more easily. Trust me, there’s no easy way to carry a rescue inhaler in your pants pocket that doesn’t look and feel terrible.
It’s often I either wear a jacket or carry a briefcase. The jacket’s just easier to deal with for me.
ADDING from theodinspire:

Jackets, especially lighter ones in color and weight, are often cooler  in the summer than only wearing a shirt, as they can keep the sun and  heat off of your skin but still allow the heat to escape your skin.


And this is the look I’m shooting for this summer. Not that I’m anywhere near skinny enough but I can still try.

I can dig this for a casual look during the warmer days, however, it’d be rather unpractical for me.

I tend to wear a jacket of some sort as often as possible because it allows me to carry my EDC more easily. Trust me, there’s no easy way to carry a rescue inhaler in your pants pocket that doesn’t look and feel terrible.

It’s often I either wear a jacket or carry a briefcase. The jacket’s just easier to deal with for me.

ADDING from theodinspire:

Jackets, especially lighter ones in color and weight, are often cooler in the summer than only wearing a shirt, as they can keep the sun and heat off of your skin but still allow the heat to escape your skin.

About The Silentist

A menswear blog on finding your personal style, written by Kiyoshi Martinez.

I work at Khaki's of Carmel and live in the Monterey Bay area. Formerly from Chicago.

E-mail me, I'm fairly nice: thesilentist@gmail.com

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