So you’ve got a date, or an interview, or any event where beat-up Chucks and a ratty T-shirt ain’t gonna cut it and you need to look marginally put-together. Part of the beauty of “personal style” is the personal aspect of it, meaning that you can get away with pretty much anything if you’re able to present yourself with confidence and self-assuredness. Still, there are some pretty broad and general items on the “Marginally Put-Together” checklist that you’re going to need to check off, and we’ve got them covered for you.
Generally, you’d like to give people the impression that you take pride in your appearance. The primary way you’ll do this is through the clothes you wear, and how they fit on you.
If you’re applying for a professional position, especially in finance, engineering, or government, you’ll probably be expected to wear business attire, which consists of slacks, long-sleeved button-downs, ties, dark leather shoes and socks, and suit jackets. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to swing business-casual, which lets you incorporate khakis, short-sleeved and Oxford button-downs, polos, and (nice) jeans into your wardrobe. You’ll be able to figure out what dress codes are the norm at your work once you’re in the environment, but if you have doubts, err on the side of caution and go for business attire. This means:
- Slacks that are tailored to fit you, preferably a slim cut, which is flattering on nearly all body types (you don’t want to be swimming in fabric)
- Shirts that fit properly (shoulder seams line up with shoulders, cuffs extend no more than an inch past the wrist, shirttails will stay tucked into your waist through normal range of motion, the collar is neither too tight nor too loose – about one-finger’s width between the collar and the neck is appropriate). Ditto for jackets.
The same applies for short-sleeved button-downs and jeans – they should be tailored to fit you properly, but not so tailored that you look like a sausage. Obviously, whatever you choose to wear should be wrinkle-and stain-free, in good condition, and without any rips, holes, or frayed edges. No T-shirts, shorts, or sandals, lest you get laughed out of your office. You should stick to leather shoes for business attire — wingtips always look great with a nice suit. Go for boots, leather sneakers, and high-end athletic shoes for business-casual.
If you’re applying for a job in a less-traditional field, business attire might not be appropriate. A short-sleeved button-down with a leather bomber jacket, jeans, and decent, non-scuffed shoes would be a safe bet, but if the situation calls for more individuality and creativity, go for it. Just remember, no matter what you decide to go for, clean and wrinkle-free are the most important factors to consider.
Nix the business or formal attire unless you’re going to the opera or a really high-end restaurant. Same for ratty T-shirts, tank tops, cargo shorts, and flip-flops, unless you’re a frat boy or living in a beach city, or both. A collared shirt, either a polo or short-sleeved button-down, is going to be your go-to here because it looks put-together without looking extra or try-hard. Bombers, leather jackets, pullovers, cardigans, blazers, and club jackets pair perfectly with collared shirts. No shirts, hats, or sweaters with offensive slogans; you don’t want to shoot yourself in the foot before the date even really starts. Again, “clean and wrinkle-free” is your mantra here.
There are some universal haircuts that most guys can pull off, and that can transition neatly from work to leisure and back again. The buzzcut is one of them. It’s the lowest-maintenance hairstyle out there, and the only way it’s not going to look good on you is if you have a seriously-misshapen head or crazy scalp problems. Another one is the undercut, which basically consists of short sides and longer tops. The undercut is one of the most versatile haircuts, since you can slick it back, part it to the side, style it to stand up – the possibilities are endless.
Stay away from crazy hair colors if you know your work is going to frown on that kind of expression of your personality; in most cases, it usually will. Also, dreadlocks, Mohawks, and other extreme hairstyles are out of the running, unless you feel like they’re integral parts of your identity. In any case, you’re going to want to make sure that your hairline is neat – this means no hair growing over your ears, and cleans necks and sideburns.
Mustaches, beards, goatees and other kinds of facial hair are all fair game. You just have to make sure you maintain them. You’re not trying to look like Father John Misty here. (Or maybe you are; more power to you, in that case.) Since the hair on your face is going to be rougher than the hair on other parts of your body, using some kind of beard oil or conditioner will keep you from developing flakes or dandruff, and will mitigate dry hair damage. Also, keep your beard to a respectable length. If you grow patchy facial hair, it’s probably best to be clean-shaven, since no facial hair looks better than mediocre facial hair. If you do shave, make sure to do so with “the grain” of your hair to prevent ingrown hairs and skin irritation; conversely, shaving against it will give you a closer shave. Added bonus: it’ll also exfoliate your skin.
Go easy on the cologne/Axe body spray, fellas. You don’t want to smell like you took a shower in the stuff. It needs to be a hint that make people want to get closer to figure out why you smell so great. Look for a subtle scent; most guys tend to gravitate towards spicy scents with undertones of sandalwood and pepper, or cool, crisp scents featuring peppermint, lime, rosemary, and tea. Apply sparingly to your wrists and neck. Let it air-dry and don’t rub, since friction can change the scent of a cologne.
A watch is a must. I don’t care if you just have it on your wrist and use your smartphone for time; a sleek watch gives the impression of professionalism. I personally look for watches with black or brown leather bands and solid-colored faces, but there are thousands of styles to choose from that will match your personality and your tastes. Rule to live by – “understated and elegant” usually makes more of an impression than “flashy and ostentatious.”
Bracelets, necklaces, and piercings shouldn’t be an issue. Just don’t go overboard, since less is always more in most cases. If your work asks you take your piercings off, make sure you buy clear spacers to prevent your piercings from closing up.
Let us know what your go-to style tips are in the comments below!