How To Build A Work Wardrobe

Graduate style: how much does your suit really matter when starting out as the new guy in the corporate world? If the adage “first impressions are the last impressions” still carries weight in modern times, then your corporate style – from day one – needs to be on point.

Why? Looking good at works means you can be trusted to represent the firm well on the outside. And you’ll more likely build rapport within the day-to-day runnings of the glassy-walled firm because you’ll be more confident in your appearance, even leading to the chance of promotion.

Even ancient academics knew the sartorial worth of the well-dressed. Herbert Harold Vreeland couldn’t have put it better: “Clothes don’t make a man, but clothes have got many a man a good job.”

So, young chap, a sharp office look does give you a stylish step-up in the corporate jungle. Here are five office pieces that every businessman should own. And how to work them, like a negotiator, from the get-go.

The Suit


A tailored two-piece suit is the foundation of your corporate office look. For the more traditional workplaces, stick to a navy, black or charcoal single-breast suit with a streamline notch lapel. Venture into light grey, dark brown, or a subtle check jacquard (not windowpane, too casual), if feeling adventurous. And a soft pinstripe (never chalk stripe) is a nice finish also.

While a bespoke or made-to-measure suit is always best (giving you a glove-like fit not possible off-the-rack) shopping from a reputable suit store – and then getting alterations as required, is a solid secondary option for newly-salaried graduate who can’t afford something custom made – just yet. As a guide, the suit should broaden your shoulders and cinch in at the waist, oozing confidence and impeccable attention to detail.

For suit fabrics, look to pure wools and cotton blends (depending on your budget); the polyester content increasing as the price lowers. All sized up, invest in two or three solid suits, having them readily available for workplace rotation. Then, look after them well, which means doing less. Only dry clean a suit every two-three months due to the chemicals typically used, spot cleaning any blemishes in between.

The Shirt


A button up shirt in a crisp cotton fabric is your next point of call. While white is the fallback colour of choice, splashing around with pastels gives you a step up. For a tonal look, with a navy suit, a pale blue shirt is business-style savvy. A faint pink, green or lilac hue is a subtle hint for sweeter palettes, avoiding oranges and yellow, which tend to offend more corporate firms.

For an easy yet stylish tie-and-shirt combination, button-up patterns should be kept to a minimum – lean stripes and fine checks only, using discretion with butcher stripes or gingham checks, which may be too casual. Instead of prints, you can opt for texture to create visual interest, via a herringbone fabric or cotton poplin.

Finally, the shirt collar is very important: the cutaway for a more traditional formality; straight point for something contemporary and the tab collar for the bespoke taste. A great all rounder is the button-down, particularly well-suited for day-to-night dressing and casual Fridays.

The Tie


“A well-tied tie is the first serious step in life,” wrote poet and dandy, Oscar Wilde. Stepping into your first big boy job, selecting a tie that is both stylish, functional and office appropriate is vital. For the city office worker this involves mild colour, offsetting the muted, somber tones of a navy suit and white collared shirt combination.

Silk business ties are great, opting for traditional prints such as dogtooth or tile, or something more polkadots or a thick stripe. Again, texture may be your preferred option too. Grenadine ties – woven from a high-twist silk yarn to create a fine knitted look – are a nice way to add depth to a neutral tie colour.

Finally, silk knit and flannel ties are having a moment, creating a strong textural look over flat cotton shirt. Cap the look off with a silver tie bar.

Pocket Square


Like the tie, a pocket square will awaken tailoring from its slumber. The pocket square is reactionary to the tie, opting for a complementary or contrast tie-and-square colour combination, depending on your taste. Our complete guide to colour matching will refresh your memory.

As a rule, let the pocket square do the sartorial talking. Due to the pocket square’s more demure positioning, geometric, floral or some sort of mosaic print will liven up a boring suit look, without the need for a garishly patterned tie. Finally, the either-or rule will keep you in the boss’s good books, coordinate your accessories, without matching exactly.

For example, a hint of burgundy in your pocket square’s print or pattern will team well with a burgundy tie.

The Shoe


Shoes are where your personal office style can shine, literally. A decent leather becomes the city slicker, and that means formal and refined, complementing all that hard work you put into tailoring. Key styles include oxfords, monk (single or double) strap and brogues, with a sturdy sole to pound that city pavement.

Keep the shoe leather black or dark brown for superior sophistication or something shady such as burgundy/oxblood. Consider tan as a fresh version of brown, which looks particularly stylish as a brogue with a Goodyear welt sole.

Finally, consider dress boot varieties of the aforementioned shoe types, ensuring the trouser break hits the top of the boot as it would a regular lace-up. And keep the sole neat and sleek, nothing with traction or hiking tread is necessary for the urban commute.

Final Word


As a new kid on the office block, money may be tight for a time. So invest in a clean cut, neutral suit and quality leather shoes as your main priority, and a solid shirt, tie and pocket square combination.

Like a coveted share portfolio, take the time to build up quality workwear stock that you’re proud to wear. Soon, any rookie status, pertaining to your lack of professional style, will soon overshadowed by just how well-put together you now are.

Above all, don’t rock up acting like a movie star on your first day. Ease into your corporate style as you learn the office ropes. Once colleague camaraderie is built, then you can ease some sparkle into your office suit without looking like a show-off. Who knows? You may have some of the older, more experienced guys coming to you for style advice.