The Ca­sual Of­fice Co­nun­drum

Here’s your road map to life be­yond the suit.


Iwas work­ing as an ed­i­tor at a menswear mag­a­zine in the ’90s when “ca­sual Fri­days” first en­tered the par­lance, hov­ered for a bit, and then put­tered out. The nu­ances of what was deemed ap­pro­pri­ate of­fice at­tire, once a very un­der­stand­able uni­form of suit, shirt, and tie, now stymied the mind with op­tions. Why was a sweat­shirt just a bit too ca­sual but a sim­i­lar-look­ing sweater was just fine? Jacket or no? And what about footwear?

Ah, the para­dox of choice. Men in today’s in­creas­ingly less for­mal work­place have so many op­tions. And that should be a great thing, a lib­er­at­ing thing, free­ing us from the shack­les of the suit with its seem­ingly lim­ited op­por­tu­nity for per­sonal ex­pres­sion.

But there’s a rea­son why uni­forms work: They’re easy. They don’t re­quire a lot of thought, and, by de­sign, they’re ab­so­lutely func­tional. Now that the suit in some work­places is hav­ing a bit of a breakup, split­ting the jacket from its matched pant and re­quir­ing a new skill set to make of­fice-ap­pro­pri­ate com­bi­na­tions, we need a lit­tle help, a road map to nav­i­gate this new ter­ri­tory of sep­a­rates.

Let’s start with the sport coat.

Solid col­ors are cer­tainly easy to mas­ter and show more per­son­al­ity in richer fab­rics with some nice depth and sur­face in­ter­est, such as brushed flan­nels, tex­tured cash­meres, or pin­wale cor­duroys. Ex­press your per­son­al­ity with a sub­tle win­dow­pane in a con­trast­ing but com­ple­men­tary color to a small-scale check or plaid. Neapoli­tan tai­lors like Ki­ton and Ce­sare At­tolini are masters of the bolder yet taste­fully col­or­ful sport jacket with im­pec­ca­ble con­struc­tion, while Bri­oni and Ermenegildo Zegna of­fer a slightly more sub­tle ap­proach in ex­quis­ite fab­ri­ca­tions.

Now what goes un­der­neath? Fine­gauge, light­weight sweaters add a pol­ished but re­laxed look when worn over a shirt with the top but­ton un­done. Stick with crew-neck sweaters (V-necks can seem a bit too 19th hole) in a neu­tral, rich pal­ette. Or add a turtle­neck sweater. It’s pure myth that you will over­heat while wear­ing one. In a light merino wool, it looks ef­fort­lessly ele­gant.

For shirts, try solids and checks on pale grounds for our sport jack­ets, and in col­ors that ref­er­ence those present in the sport jacket’s pat­tern.

And now for those pants. You won’t go wrong with a flat-front straight­leg trouser in a sim­ple worsted wool. Char­coal, light gray, and navy pair with just about any­thing, while black is a bit too fu­ne­real. Con­sider flan­nel and pin­wale cor­duroy in rich col­ors such as dark brown and bur­gundy for fall and, in spring, cot­ton ver­sions in khaki and stone col­ors. In my es­ti­ma­tion, In­co­tex is one of the best mak­ers of this per­fect pant for pair­ing with sport coats. Make it easy: Find the model that best suits you, and re­turn to it each sea­son.

And fi­nally, footwear. A loafer in any of its va­ri­eties—penny, tas­sel, plain vamp, suede, peb­bled leather—is the

per­fect shoe for a more re­laxed look in the of­fice. Hand­made Ital­ian shoe­mak­ers like Bon­toni and Ste­fano Be­mer of­fer beau­ti­fully hand-colored and pol­ished tones in shades of brown, as well as grays and deep blues that are par­tic­u­larly ele­gant, un­ex­pected op­tions. And as for sneak­ers, keep it sim­ple and only for your most ca­sual looks and oc­ca­sions. Ber­luti and Ermenegildo Zegna have de­vel­oped so­phis­ti­cated col­lec­tions that will pair ef­fort­lessly with your ca­sual sport jack­ets. A per­sonal fa­vorite sneaker line, Com­mon Projects, is a bit more sleek and stream­lined, of­fered in a broad range of neu­trals in leather and suede. Its clas­sic Achilles Low court-style sneaker in a char­coal gray, the most ver­sa­tile color in the sneaker world, goes with al­most every­thing. You will look like the mas­ter of in­for­mal work­wear.

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