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Navigating office politics – say no to the navy suit-shorts


Understanding your place in the office pecking order is one of the most important decisions a young professional can make 

I am now convinced that men's fashion magazines are full of crap. Ok, credit where credit is due – the articles are "ahead of the bell curve", providing trend setting fashion ideas for young professionals ranging from the socially destructive (like wearing a three piece suit and matching bow tie) to the downright bizarre - who would have known that wearing a pair of navy suit-shorts would project a confident yet professional image in an office setting? But the idea of embracing any fashion exhortation set by (the curious editors at these) mens’ fashion magazines should be taken with more than a pinch of salt. 

As a general rule, when trying to assemble an appropriate (yet modern) office wardrobe one should begin by deciding on each item of clothing by deploying the following set of questions (though not necessarily in the same order): "Is this appropriate to wear in the office?" Followed by the slightly more egregious, "Will my colleagues think I am a douchebag if I wear this?"

"Is this appropriate to wear in the office?"

So how should guys decide whether a particular piece of clothing or certain accessory is appropriate for the office?  Put simply, do not confuse a top-tier law firm with a graphic design studio.  In fact, don't even think that a top-tier law firm is a top-tier accounting firm – though they may  share many similarities, the reality is that the history, structure and commercial objectives of respective corporate organisations are likely to have bred very distinctive cultures over time.

The golden rule for dressing well and dressing appropriately for the office is good-old-fashioned logic.  Like any other decision we make concerning work, what we decide to wear is largely dictated and constrained by common sense.  Despite what men's fashion mags  dictate, I would hope that most men know that ditching their suits pants for a pair of suit-shorts would leave them exposed in more ways than one.

So, suit-shorts represent an extreme example of fashion stupidity, you may well ask, but there are plenty of other items that lie in the spectrum of men's business fashion.  Not necessarily as silly at first glance, but potentially damaging to your reputation in the long run, is the pocket square.  A pocket square is a great example of an accessory that may work for some but not for all (and can work for your outfit in non-office environments). 

What is wrong with wearing a pocket square in an office setting?  Well, nothing is wrong with wearing a pocket square in.  To put it rather bluntly, the problem lies with you, and, more specifically, where you sit in the office hierarchy.  Pocket squares are typically perceived as a staple accessory of the ‘well-to-do’ or the head-honcho.  Though not without exceptions, guys below the age of 40  generally do not possess the intellectual or financial capital to qualify for the "pocket-square club".  In fact, if you work in a top-tier law firm and are brave enough to wear a pocket square, you may be inadvertently breaching a social taboo and committing a CLM (a ‘career limiting move’). At the same time, you may be denying your boss the one big thing he has over you – his status or, more specifically, his right to boast about the fact that he has more cash.  Junior guys wearing pocket squares are essentially saying "stuff the rules, he isn't better than me".  Your boss is probably thinking, ‘why is this kid showing a lack of respect?’.

"Will my colleagues think I am a douchebag if I wear this?"

To answer the second limb of the rule, start by recognising that the line separating the douchebags from the trendy is a fine one indeed, albeit a subjective one.  It is certainly not my responsibility to admonish the perils of looking like a douchebag in the office.  Admittedly, one can only learn from the brutal experience of a good bagging from your fellow colleagues.  However, as a fellow young professional, I do feel a sense of duty to issue this caution to my junior white-collar comrades against the dangers of dressing to impress: refrain from wearing a pair of navy suit-shorts; at least until you are in a position to fire the person who laughs at you behind your back.

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