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[In the first part of this post, I answered a query from Ed about how to dress up at work while remaining a little casual – getting interested in dressier clothes without going all the way to a suit. My first reply dealt with leather shoes and casual ties – a great way to dress up jeans and still look casual.]

The second part of this post will deal with jackets and trousers.

Now, one commentator on the first part suggested that the real progression for dressing up should be: shoes, shirts, trousers, jackets, ties, suits; in that order. Ed will already be focusing on the first two, but how one deals with the next three is really a matter of personal choice and experimentation.

If we reversed trousers and jackets in that suggested order, I would describe it as a straightforward and traditional scale (these days I think a smarter jacket, say in flannel or cotton, is a much more realistic step to take before smartening up your trousers – both can look great with jeans).

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However, the suggestion I made to Ed regarding shoes and ties was not a traditional one. It is a personal preference, and one that is more suited to a younger audience – it is probably more fashionable as well. Having spoken to Ed, I know this is something that will suit him better.

But it is only one suggestion. And tying yourself into any kind of rigid order is both depressing and suppressing – it discourages that experimentation you were keen to try in the first place.

So on Monday Ed might opt for a wool tie and brown brogues, under a casual coat, with jeans. On Tuesday he may go for a smarter, odd jacket – in camel hair, say – and dispense with the tie. Perhaps pairing it with suede shoes if the weather’s nice. Wednesday could witness a flirtation with tweed trousers.

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The point is to achieve the right balance of casual and formal, while varying the look. A friend remarked to me recently that surely wool ties should go with odd jackets (sports jackets to American readers). Well, yes, traditionally they should, but wear those two with corduroy trousers and red socks and you’ll look like a stereotype – a costume of a country gentleman (see previous posting When Style Becomes Costume). Tradition only takes you so far.

The beauty of men’s style is taking some of these elements and mixing them up; making them your own, while always keeping in mind the reasons they went together originally. Here, every element of the country gentleman’s outfit is united by being more casual than the city suit. So if you want to make an outfit more casual, insert one of these items – a wool tie with a suit, for example.

Keep the reasons for tradition in mind and you can’t go far wrong. This is what is meant by breaking the rules.

Given this, I think Ed will be able to make a decent stab and what jackets and trousers I will suggest if he wants to vary his slightly dressed up look. (Hint: Go for more casual materials, never worsted wool.)

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Top and bottom images: The Armoury

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Michael

Simon,

I first encountered your site back in 2012/13 as a newly qualified solicitor looking to buy my first bespoke suit (after a raft of semi-decent RTW/MTM). After carefully reading dozens of your posts, I settled on Graham Browne and over the next 5 or so years, I built out a strong wardrobe for work as a litigator in the City, with a number of GB suits, several Northampton made Oxfords, bespoke shirts etc. I also invested in more quality knitwear for out of the office. I never reached the heights of bespoke shoes or many of the esoteric Neapolitan tailors that you have written about, but I am very grateful for PS along my sartorial journey.

Without sounding too arrogant I hope, I’ve always managed to dress reasonably well, if only by keeping things simple – navy/grey suits, light blue shirts, black oxfords and avoiding eccentric ties. I’ve found your articles more useful for the finer details, such as pattern/texture and garment maintenance, rather than relying it as a resource to learn from scratch how to put an outfit together.

But I now find myself with a real challenge. In the last year or so, I feel like the dress code in the City – even for solicitors (and litigators at that) – has become less formal to the point of a suit being an anomaly, at least when not in Court. I’m sure you will already know this from your own observations (perhaps the final nail in the coffin last year being Goldman Sachs memo heralding a flexible dress code). I don’t have any issue with dressing more formally than the City mean/median or being in the sartorial minority for good reasons, but it now seems that wearing a full suit and tie can feel and look as formal as someone wearing a 3 piece suit complete with pocket square might have done 5-10 years ago. I think it also makes me seem like I’m on a different wavelength to millennial colleagues (although I’m only 32 myself), who are more likely to be seen in chinos/slacks, brogues and open neck semi-formal shirts (i.e. with a check or button-down).

Usually at Christmas I’ll be out (or online) getting some essentials in the sales, or just replenishing the wardrobe with non-sale items. Often a new suit. But this year I feel like an existential decision needs to be made – namely, whether a suit and tie is still the way forwards; or, if not, what exactly is the right dress code for an office/professional which is still quite conservative, if it isn’t a suit and tie? Instinctively I think wool trousers have to prevail over chinos/corduroy etc and I would ideally stick with my collection of 20+ bespoke light blue shirts. But it’s a slightly alien territory and feels daunting having to create at least half a new wardrobe from scratch. What I’m dead against is wearing an ordinary suit but without a tie – that always looks sloppy no matter how nice the suit, shirt and shoes are. So where do I go from here?

I should add that now have two young kids, my disposable income has dropped to such a level that I really need to think carefully before going out and buying good quality clothes. So I’m not going to go out and drop £5-10k on a new wardrobe, although I am happy to spend the money on individual quality/capsule pieces one or two items at a time.

Grateful for any insight and pointers.

Michael