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Career change, closet overhaul -- standard n00b questions

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    Career change, closet overhaul -- standard n00b questions

    Hello, everyone.

    I've recently been offered a new job that will take me away from 10+ years of engineering work in hard hats, steel-toed boots, and standard uniforms to more of an engineering role within an office environment, corporate culture, with some opportunities for interactions with clients in various settings: government, utilities, plant floors, trade shows, etc.

    I'm simply not used to dressing up. I don't even know where to begin. Well..., I did find this site a couple of days ago, and I've been reading up as much as possible. But I still have some questions, as my head is spinning.

    I threw out all of my old clothes that no longer fit (started running a year ago, lost 30 pounds), which left me almost nothing. As I build my closet back up, I'm at a loss on quantities. What would be a good starting point, with respect to number of:

    * dress shirts

    * ties

    * dress shoes

    * polos

    * suits

    * undershirts

    * socks

    * belts

    What I'm getting at is, I don't want to look like I'm wearing the same thing every day, and I know that building this closet back up will take some time. However, I need a base from which to start, and I'll just add to it with one or two items per month.

    I bought one new suit for the interview, so I have... one charcoal suit. I bought five to six dress shirts (one white, several shades of blue, one grey) at Banana Republic (boy, do I wish I'd found this site first), so I have -- wait for it -- five to six dress shirts. Three (nice, work-appropriate) polos, five undershirts (white, crew cut), and two black leather belts, not Karate. Oh yes, one pair of black shoes, and just ordered a pair of brown penny loafers that were recently reviewed on this site.

    I mean, really.

    As far as what I was able to see on my tour of the new job -- the upper management wore suits. Not sure about my peers, although one of my future managers said something that led me to believe that some engineers wear tee shirts and jeans; he hates tee shirts and jeans; so I decided to burn all of my tee shirts and jeans. He mentioned golf shirts, and shirt and tie. So I gather suits would likely be reserved for client meetings and trade shows, rather than an everyday thing.

    I'm also a grad student by night, so I'd love to have something that looks good from work to campus. So I'm more attracted to dressing up than down.

    Oh yeah, finally, dumb question, but: chest hair -- what do you do on a casual day -- hide that stuff at all costs? One button undone?

    Any advice is appreciated, and if you live in the NOVA area, howdy.


    Sounds like you have a good start already. The key is to find out what your peers are wearing before you go too overboard. I'd recommend showing up the first day or two in a blazer, nice dress shirt & tie and pressed pants and the loafers or a pair of oxfords. That way, if all of your peers are in very casual attire, you can ditch the blazer and tie and still look nice but not too out of place. The new guy at the office always overdresses the first day anyhow, so they'll understand.

    If it goes in the opposite direction and everyone's in a suit, you still won't look too out of place in what you're wearing, and you can switch over to the suit day two.



      There are always more questions. For instance, what's your budget?

      I expect you're right about only needing the suit in specific situations like meeting with higher-ups and clients, but I also expect most government clients NOT to be wearing suits (from personal experience as a government vendor). For the charcoal suit, the black shoes will be all you need.

      You've got a good start on the number of shirts. As far as ties go, having lots of ties can make a big difference. Obviously you'll build up over time, but you can wear the exact same suit two or three days in a row and just switch out the tie, and nobody else will know. There's no need to be spending tons of money on ties, though. Places like Marshalls generally sell name-brand ties like Hilfiger in the $10-15 range. You can try thrifting, but most thrift store ties I've found are really boring. People will have differing opinions, but I've really started loving ties so I would say 5 ties is bare minimum and a reasonable beginning target would be 10. (I have 30 and sometimes wish I had a few more.) With spring approaching, focus on silk and cotton (but mostly silk). When fall and winter roll around, wool ties can be a fun, semi-casual alternative.

      Like kinojay33 said, try to find out whatever everyone else is wearing before you invest too heavily in a particular look, but I have a hunch that you'll settle into something like khakis or wool pants (depending on the season) with a long sleeve buttoned shirt. I usually take this combo a step further by adding a tie and rolling up the sleeves, but that's just my preference. The tie and rolled sleeves negate each other on a "dressiness" scale, but together they just add more visual interest. It's always good to stand out a bit amongst your peers for the right reasons. :-)

      As for shoes, the black shoes cover you for the suit, and penny loafers would work fine with khakis and a buttoned shirt (assuming that's the look you fall into). So in that regard, you're off to a great start. However, I would still be on the lookout for a pair of medium or dark brown oxfords to start rounding out the collection and making it more versatile. And when the weather is cold is rainy, you'll also appreciate having something more substantial than penny loaders on your feet. Plus, alternating between pairs of shoes from day to day will make them last longer than burning through them one pair at a time.

      Finally, kinojay mentioned a blazer. I think that's fantastic advice. If you don't already have one, it wouldn't be unreasonable to start looking for one. While it's not a necessity, it is a nice "bridge" piece between a full-on suit and a pair of khakis. With spring and summer coming around, I'd first be looking for a navy one. As fall and winter approach, I'd get a second one in grey. Between these two, you can be totally set, but if you catch the bug like some of us, you might start branching into tans and browns, too. Since they are bridge pieces, they do equally well outside the office for a date night or something like that.



        Oh, and as for undershirts, crew necks are fine if you're wearing a tie and leaving it on, but you'll otherwise want v-necks if you have an open collar. You don't want to be showing your undershirt.

        As for the open shirts and hair, that's strictly what you and your company are comfortable with. If it's a reasonably conservative office, I would just unbutton the very top button and leave it at that. If you can get a way with a second and are comfortable with it, by all means, go ahead.

        Regardless, you'll want v-neck undershirts. They're cheap in multi-packs at Target or wherever. No need to spend a ton. Just make sure they're not baggy because then anything you put over them won't fit right, either.



          Hey Tim,

          I'm in the process of rebuilding my work wardrobe, and here's my best advice:

          - Buy quality over quantity

          - Buy simple basics first. Mostly solids and light colors. ( white poplin, white twill, light blue poplin, light blue herringbone, light blue twill, light blue monotone stripe, etc)

          - Buy more expensive shoes than you think. I'd recommend 2 pair to start: Black Allen Edmonds Park Avenue and Brown Allen Edmonds Fifth Avenue. Wait until they are on sale in the $200 - $230 range.

          - Pickup a nice navy blazer that will last you a long time

          - For suits, I'd go in this order: (1) solid navy, 2 button, notch lapel (2) solid charcoal, 2 button, notch lapel, (3) medium gray, (4) whatever you want, I'd probably do a navy with a subtle pattern like a check or shadowstripe

          - Pickup a few nice merino v-neck sweaters (navy, grey, maroon) to layer with

          - For pants, go with slim flat-front pants. Wool or chinos are up to you. I'd suggest a pair of medium gray, charcoal, navy, and brown.



            Joe had covered this in the past in a series of posts. Def worth the read for anyone rebuilding their wardrobe back up!




              FWIW, I don't agree with a lot of that $1500 stuff. For example, the $237.41 he spends on accessories are truly optional things, and he chooses not one, but two watches (one of which accounts for about 10% of the total budget). More focus should have been put on useful ties instead of the silk knit thing. I also don't consider granite-colored chinos to be staple items, and the money from those categories could have gone into buying more/better shirts. Plus there's no consideration for winter staples. I goes it's a useful exercise, but it seems very subjective.



                @Alan - Great advice, especially about the blazer. I too am looking for a blazer since it's the one staple missing from my wardrobe.



                  With my recent overhaul (it always seems to come back to that, doesn't it?) I've purged roughly 70-80 shirts that don't fit me anymore (went from a large to a medium in most styles). I've also decided to purge a lot of the excess jeans/pants that I'm not wearing or utilizing as much as I thought I would.

                  Shirt-wise, I'm looking to get to at least a halfway point. 80 shirts (and this is just button down, not counting polos, or t-shirts for casual days) was WAY too much, and half of them were collecting dust. I think that splitting it down the middle and having 15-20 dress shirts and 15-20 casual shirts (but some that can also be dressed up, such as Express shirts) is a good base. This will obviously come with both time and money (I've got more of one than the other, and I'll leave it to you to interpret which one is which!). Obviously you may not want that many, so it's important to start with basics before you get too crazy with colors/patterns.

                  I've started the base off with mostly solid colors. White, black, gray, light blue, lavender solids. White/black striped. Blue/white checkered/gingham. If you want something that pops out from under a blazer or suit, those are some options that would go with pretty much anything.

                  Like Alan, I've rapidly become a fan of utilizing the tie more often than I used to. Marshall's and TJ Maxx are godsends when it comes to accessories like that. I picked up a lot of great ties recently (wool Nautica plaid, several Ben Sherman ties, and a few others) for $10 or less on clearance. Hitting the store on the right day would allow you to get some of these for $5-$8.

                  Pants and suiting. I only have one suit now, a gray suit, since that's as neutral as it gets, and I can pair it with anything. You'll obviously want to get some khaki colored, black, and gray pants/chinos if you're going at least business casual. If they don't frown upon denim, just remember the darker the denim, the more dressed up you'll look. You don't want to do light wash denim with a dress shirt and blazer, it'll look thrown together and sloppy. Blazer wise, I'd go one black, one navy, one gray, but that's just me. I actually need a navy one myself, but I'll worry about that once the shirts all get replaced.

                  Couldn't agree more on the merino sweaters. Budget options would be the Merona brand at Target (I myself don't have them, but many here have given good reviews), GAP/BR, and Express.

                  Polo shirts. The Mossimo brand from Target are regarded as well fitting and great for the price. Express polos can be had right now on sale, plus by using the online codes/coupons, for around $20-$25 each. Polo Ralph Lauren custom fits are higher priced but would hold up well over time. The issue with Express, Polo, etc. is the logo. If it has a logo, make sure it's as small as possible. The Express ones with the huge logos look gawdy, especially if you're wearing these in an office setting.

                  Shoes. I know most of the people here are willing to splurge on high end shoe purchases and it's true you do get longevity out of the items mentioned. However, let's face it, many of us are on a budget. You can typically find reliable brands like Florsheim at TJ Maxx or Marshall's for $50 in standard models like cap toe oxfords and the like. Something like that in black and brown, worn in a rotation, should allow you the time to save up for a bigger purchase without falling apart on you anytime soon.



                    My favorite resource for learning how to build a wardrobe is the series of guides by Antonio on Here's a good starting point - then follow all of the related posts:




                      Thanks, everyone. I truly appreciate all of your advice and thoughts. It's very refreshing.

                      I'm definitely going to pick up some v-neck undershirts post haste, and start looking out for a navy blazer. Saw one that I liked on BR, but the price is a bit too steep just yet. I have a month before my start date, so there's a little bit of time on my side.

                      Cheers. I'll be hanging around a while.