A few years ago, I wrote about achieving what I broadly referred to as the “college professor” look. Grounded more in cherished stereotype than classroom fact, the tweeds, corduroy, tortoise shell glasses and leather dispatch case round out an idealized look.
While more inspiration than practical, this style embodies classic Ivy League charm and blends well with the current brainy/East Coast preppy trend.
Having so dispensed with the hypothetical, I felt suitably up to the challenge when one of my closest friends, a high school teacher, asked me to write a column on how he could upgrade his professorial wardrobe. The real deal, as it were.
His everyday wardrobe is fairly casual; khakis, jeans, polo shirts and sweaters are staples. Though he’s never been a suit and tie kind of guy, Bob (not his real name of course) now wants to dress in a more professional manner. He runs a major department at his school, which also means a fair amount of public exposure, and wants a wardrobe to reflect this level of responsibility.
He wants to project authority and professionalism without looking overdone, and in this case a daily coat and tie would be overdone. He’s not a banker, he’s a teacher; but does not mean he isn’t a professional. Bob is very good at what he does and wants his appearance to project that ability and experience.
What is needed here is an in-between look; professional but not stuffy, relaxed but still grown up. One of the quickest ways to do this is by focusing on fit and tailoring. You don’t have to give up your personal style to pull on a more polished look because you’re not changing who you are. But you do need to pay attention to how you translate your personal tastes into a more refined style.
In Bob’s case, as with many guys stuck in a dressing-for-college-class mindset, that means making a few key changes. Often, the simplest things make the biggest impact. Ditch shapeless worn out khakis in favor of tailored pants and swap baggy, faded jeans for fitted dark washed ones instead. Rather than rely on sweatshirts, try pima cotton crew neck or v-neck sweaters. It’s all about reinterpreting your outdated college-era wardrobe for the grown up you.
For many men, navigating the waters of business wardrobes without the benefit of a business suit can be a little scary. Suits are easy and authoritative. But for someone in Bob’s situation, a suit makes no sense.
In his case, odd jackets and blazers are the best solution. An odd jacket, be it corduroy, tweed, flannel or cotton, will provide the formality and authority of a suit coat but do in a comfortable and relaxed fashion.
Odd jackets can also be paired with almost any kind of outfit and give it a polished, finished look. And these days a jacket does not automatically necessitate a tie. I love ties, I personally think they are a wonderful way to express personality. But achieving a complete outfit sans tie is easily done with this kind of dressing. Layer a fine gauge sweater over a patterned shirt, or added a pocket square. These approaches can provide needed texture, color and detail.
Paying attention to fit and detail can lead to innovative discoveries.
Bonobos, for example, makes truly innovative khakis. Not your plain old wardrobe staple, Bonobos pants are contoured and cut to actually fit a body and fit it well. They have legitimately changed the playing field when it comes to casual pants. With a uniquely shaped waist line that wraps around your midsection in a way that eliminates so-called “diaper butt,” where the seat of your khakis bunches up, creating an unflattering silhouette.
A simple strait leg and lightly updated classic designs help Bonobos become the best option for a casually professional pant. The brand is also moving into jackets, shirts and partnering with other equally innovative brands.
Yes, it does mean investing in a new type of wardrobe, and some of that investing can be pricey – especially if Bob expands his shopping horizons and comes to appreciate the outstanding fit and quality of, say, a Brioni sport coat.
Frankly though, that is not the ultimate goal. You do not need to idealize famous clothing brands in an effort to dress well and project a stylish, confident – and confidence inspiring, for that matter – look.
The real point is that Bob will now be buying clothes that can last for life and can be added to over time. He is creating a new kind of wardrobe that can grow and evolve as he and his career grow and evolve. The fact that he wants to do all this is the most important thing of all. We are judged by how we look and how we carry ourselves. These days, now more so than ever, you are in charge of your career and you are your best marketing consultant.