I want to build a professional wardrobe (male). Do you have any advice?

Professional Male Wardrobe
Professional Male Wardrobe

Before you make any purchases, think about your environment. You will want to match the level of formality of your clients or coworkers. You should match your attire to the most formal client on the agenda. It’s always better to be over-dressed than under-dressed. Also, if you are meeting with several people at different levels, try to match the most senior person in the meeting.

Here are recommendations on what you should incorporate as you build a professional wardrobe.

Wardrobe Basics

Navy or charcoal suit – Start with conservative and dark. Wool. Branch out from there as you accumulate more suits. In a pinch (or when traveling), you can separate the jacket from the pants and get additional mileage from the suit.

Navy Blazer – One of the most versatile things you can own. You can wear this with or without a tie. It can go from dinner to board room. Throw it on over a golf shirt before dinner on the patio or when traveling for work. Or keep it in the office for unplanned meetings with senior leaders or clients. Add other sportcoats and blazers over time.

White Dress shirts (at least two) – Hit it with an iron before you wear it, or pay to get it laundered and they’ll do it for you.

Pale blue dress shirt (at least one)

Ties (at least two) – Best to start with something versatile and conservative.

Dress Slacks – Charcoal, Tan, and Navy Wool. Pair the charcoal and tan with the navy blazer.

Dress shoes – Start with black, and add a brown or burgundy pair. Keep it simple and professional. Cap-toe oxfords are classic. Avoid square toes. Leather soles look more professional than chunky rubber soles.

Dress belt – Match the dress shoes.

Dark jeans – When you need to attend something casual with a client or when you travel.

Words of Advice

Be yourself and dress how you are comfortable, but be aware of how your personal “curb appeal” could set first impressions that are hard to overcome.

You don’t need to spend a lot of money when you build a wardrobe. Buy the best that you can afford and replace these items over time as you get more established in your career. If you add one or two quality pieces a year, you’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll build a quality wardrobe.

Find a good tailor and use them. You’ll look and feel much better when your clothes fit you properly. A $200 suit that fits well will look infinitely better than a $4,000 suit that fits poorly. That’s where the tailor comes in. Good tailoring is always money well spent.

Polish your shoes or take them to a cobbler who will polish them for you for a couple of bucks.

Use cedar shoe trees. The shoe trees will extend the life of your shoes by 2-3x (or longer) and keep them looking good.

When buying a suit or sport coat, make sure the shoulders fit. A tailor can fix most other things, but altering the shoulders is tricky and expensive. Poorly fitting shoulders make you look like you’re wearing someone else’s clothes.

If you are unsure about what size fits best, visit a retailer with a professional sales staff. They can measure you and guide you on what fits and looks best.

Try to avoid using a suit jacket as a blazer or sport coat. You can get away with this if the suit is a solid color, but not with stripes or plaids.

You don’t need a black suit. A navy suit will always suffice when a dark suit is required.

A tuxedo is a wise investment. You may not need it often, but at some point you will, and you’ll be glad you have your own. Plus, the cost per wear (over time) winds up being less than a rental.

Check if your company has a corporate discount program with a clothing retailer. Brooks Brothers and Jos. A. Bank offer programs.

The words and other content provided in the blog, and in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as professional advice (please read the Terms and Conditions for additional information).


Alicia Lillegard, Esq.

Alicia Lillegard has over 20 years of experience in employment law, human resources and insurance, working with with large blue chip companies, startups, and not-for-profit organizations. Ms. Lillegard is currently Managing Director of New England Human Capital, a human resources consultancy which advises small and midsize businesses on Human Resources compliance, including employment procedures, employee relations and employee benefits. She holds degrees from Loyola University Chicago and John Marshall Law School.

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