Work essentials

A man's guide to office style

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MaleEdit | Office Style Guide

Regardless of your personal feelings toward fashion, dressing well helps convey a certain professionalism.

If you are in, or heading toward, a career that requires you to spend your working life in an office, there will come a point where you'll need to consider your wardrobe.

Needless to say, there is no shortage of advice. When reading that advice, a common refrain is the importance of The Basics.
But if you don't have a great passion for the sartorial side of your life, this advice can leave you scratching your head. I mean, these basics: what even are they?

Turns out the answer is both exactly as you'd imagine, and a whole lot more.

From essential purchases to the fine details that make all the difference, we asked three of the country's foremost menswear authorities to help build a working wardrobe, without spending half your paycheque.

We'll save suiting for a separate article, but for now, consider this a modern-day primer in office style for those chasing fashionable and versatile shoes, trousers, shirts, jumpers, sweaters, jackets and coats.

Start at the bottom
Good shoes are worth the investment. And if you spend your working life in an office, you're going to need more than one pair.

So says Paul Parkinson, whose Melbourne shoe store is a go-to for those working in more conservative professions (think judges, bankers and politicians).

When it comes to formal footwear, the range of choice is incredibly broad and what to get really depends on where you work.

Key styles
If you're prepared to invest in quality work shoes, sticking to a classic style will ensure you're buying a shoe that won't go out of fashion.

The Oxford, a traditional dress shoe worn with straight laces, is always a safe bet, says Mr Parkinson. Brogues — low-heeled shoes with decorated perforations in the leather — and boots are good options too.

Tim Cecil comes from a long line of men's wear retailers, he is the great-great-grandson of Sydney and Melbourne menswear pioneer Henry Buck, and has recently opened his own store that focuses on modern classics.

For those with a more casual office environment, he recommends the desert boot — ankle-high boots with open lacing. 

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"It's one of those perfect things that can sit somewhere in the middle, and can look quite dressy or super casual," he says.

Colours and material
Mr Parkinson recommends starting with two pairs of shoes: one in black leather, one in brown.

If you want something that will last — and we're talking decades — then invest in a pair of shoes with a Goodyear welt, he says.

This term describes shoes with an extra piece of material (usually leather) connecting the upper to the sole. They are easily repaired, extremely durable, water resistant and with proper care can survive everything you can throw at them.

You will get more wear out of a natural, full-grain calf leather shoe than something made with high-shine leather, which may be fine on the trading floor but can look out of place outside the workplace.

Mr Parkinson says natural leather shoes or boots can work at the office, at weddings and other formal events, and can even be dressed down with a good pair of jeans 

Fit and care
When it comes to fit, look to have a bit of surplus leather in the shoe. Your feet can become broader, even after a short holiday, but they're unlikely to narrow.

You can get extra wear out of your shoes by rotating them regularly, Mr Parkinson adds, which is why it's important to have more than one pair.

"If one pair lasts you 12 months, two pairs will last three years," he says.

"[Shoes worn every day] tend to get a bit dark inside. You burn them out. Giving the shoe a chance to rest is really ideal." 

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Trousers, strides, slacks
Key styles
If you don't wear a suit to work, Mr Cecil suggests starting with a good cotton chino that tapers (narrows) towards the ankle.

For something more dressy, another classic option is a wool or wool-blend trouser, says Chris Pickings.

Mr Pickings' Melbourne store specialises in menswear imports with a focus on American and Japanese workwear.

"A cotton and wool blend is somewhere in the middle. It's fairly durable and has plenty of range of weaves and colours," he says.

Colours and material
For chinos, a pair in beige or khaki is a great starting point, says Mr Cecil.

"[These colours] give you a bit of contrast. With a white shirt and a navy blazer, it's a classic combination you don't have to think too much about."

As for wool trousers, charcoal grey is your best bet, says Mr Pickings.

If grey is not your thing, navy is another great option that works with almost anything you'll wear on your top half. 

Fit and care
When trying on a pair of trousers, Mr Pickings suggests focusing on the rise: the distance from the crotch seam to the waistband.

For work, you want pants with a "regular" rise. They should sit naturally on your hip, and not be tight in the crotch area. Pants with a low rise, designed to sit below your hip, can make your legs seem unnaturally short.

"I see so many guys in suit trousers that have a low rise and a tapered [narrowing] leg," Mr Pickings says. "They often look terrible, particularly for men with larger bodies." 

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Basic shirts for the office
Key styles
When it comes to shirts, Mr Cecil says a good place to start is a handful in quality Oxford cotton. Named after the university, Oxford shirts have a distinctive basket weave, which give them a pleasant textured look.

Wondering about your polo shirts? You might be best leaving them for the weekend.

"I think a polo shirt and dress trousers is a big no-no in the workplace. It's never a good look," Mr Pickings says.

Colours and material
The material of choice for your shirts is cotton. Mr Cecil recommends starting with Oxfords in blue and white.

"Then you might think about a micropattern, maybe a checked shirt, to mix it up a little bit. Once you've got those, you can start having a little bit of more fun with colour and pattern," he says.

If you're wearing suits to work, or if your office style is very smart, a shirt with a finer cotton — such as broadcloth, which is smooth and tightly woven — might be a better option.

"The other item I wear a lot, which is quite popular and works well with a lot of different outfits, is a chambray shirt in indigo blue. It's super comfortable, really universal and looks good on most men," Mr Cecil says. 

Fit and care
When it comes to fit, focus on the shoulders and the waist, says Mr Pickings.

The shirt's shoulder seam should sit at the edge of your shoulder — not before it, or after it. If the seam is falling off your shoulder and down your arm, the shirt is too big and will contribute to a sloppy look.

Try lifting your arms and moving your body. You should be able to move naturally without worrying about stretching or popping any button, or a tucked shirt coming out of your pants.

You don't want too much fabric bunching up around your waist, either. 

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Jumpers and sweaters
Key styles
Sweaters and jumpers should be warm, comfortable and smart.

First, look for a lightweight merino wool pullover, Mr Cecil says.

"It's a great layering piece, so it's a good place to start. I'm generally more a fan of a crew neck rather than a V-neck, particularly if you're wearing it without a tie," he adds.

Colours and material
Wool is the classic option for sweaters.

If you're going to be wearing the sweater a lot, you might want to look at a wool/viscose blend, which will be more durable, according to Mr Pickings, adding that lamb's wool is another good option that is hardier than merino. 

Fit and care
Wool is particularly sensitive to washing. If you wash wool with warm water, or put it in the dryer, it will shrink (emphasis on the word "will". You won't get a second chance).

Knitwear can breathe, so instead of washing, think about just hanging the jumper on the line to air out. If you do need to wash something woollen, do it by hand or take it to the dry cleaner.

Keep in mind that finer fabrics like merino and cashmere are prone to pilling, a process where the yarn twists and forms small balls on the garment. It tends to happen more when the fabric is rubbing against something else (like a jacket).

You can de-pill your sweaters with a specialist tool, but a good razor will work, too. Just be careful not to damage the jumper. 

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MaleEdit | Men's Blazers

Jackets, blazers and coats
Key styles

If your office style isn't too formal, consider looking at "deconstructed" jackets and blazers. These have less padding and lining, making for a more relaxed fit. They can look great both dressed up and down, Mr Cecil says.

If you don't already own many jackets or blazers, go for something minimal. This means no zips or unnecessary pockets and buttons. A two or three-button jacket is a great start.

Colours and material
For Mr Cecil, it's all about navy.

"We would say the first jacket to buy is a good navy jacket for both summer and winter. Perhaps a cotton version for summer and a lightweight wool version for winter," he says. 

Fit and care
Most jackets are dry clean only. Follow the label and don't attempt to wash them at home unless you really know what you're doing: many expensive mistakes have been made in the washing machine.

That said, if you have a good wool jacket that's looking a little rumpled but isn't actually dirty, hang it in your bathroom before you shower and let the steam loosen its creases.

When you try on a jacket, the same points about shoulder seams on shirts apply. They should sit right on the top of your shoulder.

When you straighten your arm, the sleeve should stop right where your arm hits your hand, and certainly not down to your knuckles. 

MaleEdit | Men's Suits
MaleEdit | Men's Clothing

As with all good clothing, jackets can be altered, and things like sleeve length are inexpensive to fix.
When it comes to the buttons on your jacket, there are established rules to follow.

A two-button jacket should never be worn with both buttons done up. Go for the top button only, and never the bottom.

Three-button suits come with a simple rule: sometimes, always, never; meaning you can sometimes fasten the top button (if you feel like it), always fasten the middle button, and never button the bottom.

When doing up the buttons, look for any pulls in the fabric around your waist. Creases around the sides indicate the jacket is probably too tight.

By the same token, when buttoned up, the suit should not be flapping open when you lean forward.

The best thing about good basics is that you can mix them up. With a handful of shirts, two or three good pairs of trousers, and a couple of sweaters and jackets, you'll have plenty of different outfits to choose from.

This story was originally published on ABC Life. 

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