Accessories are the ultimate icebreaker. A pair of stylish shoes, interesting cuff links, or a bold piece of jewelry can spark a conversation or garner attention at an important event. Consider accessories an important finishing touch to your ensemble.
Personal encounters can demonstrate the importance of accessories at the office. Peter was sporting an Hermès tie, known to insiders as the ultimate in neckwear, the first time he met with his future boss. The senior executive, who would eventually tap Peter as a senior advisor, quickly complimented him on his tie. Fueled by the success of their first meeting, Peter wore different Hermès ties for the next couple of interviews, and the men really connected.
Of course, the job offer was not based on the tie, but this tool proved an interesting advantage. In fact, a tie is a tool used by many lobbyists and bankers to connect with clients—whether it highlights shared interests or a love of couture, this accessory can be very useful. Men may sometimes believe they are appreciated only for their brainpower, but that simply isn’t true.
In this article, we’ll explore the shoe heights that work best for women in business, how to choose the right handbag to represent one’s personal brand, when to invest in jewelry, and guidelines for wearing hosiery to work, as well as strategic tips for choosing assorted accessories. Men will learn the basics of matching prints, patterns, and stripes, which types of shoes are appropriate for the office, and how to shop for accessories and furnishings to wear to work.
Women’s Workwear Accessories
Accessories are fun to shop for because you rarely have to undress in a fitting room, or analyze your complete look. However, your key selection of the right pair of shoes, handbag, or statement piece of jewelry can dress up or down your ensemble. Don’t buy more than you need just because it’s easy to shop in this category.
Shoe shopping is a favorite pick-me-up for many women. You can always find a pair you like, they almost always fit, even when nothing else does, and the price tag (usually) doesn’t break the bank. Whether you’re curvy or straight, petite or tall, size 2 or 16, shoes are the universal equalizer.
The best shoes to wear to work are ones you feel comfortable and confident in all day long. Right now, too many women wear matronly flats or stylish high heels that are difficult to walk in. There are better alternatives. Rather than change from ballet flats into your “work heels” at your desk (after everyone has seen you, and chances are you’ve already made some lasting impressions) or ruin an outfit with comfortable yet ugly shoes, let’s identify the ultimate professional shoe for you.
Heels more than three and half inches high may look beautiful, but they are not ideal for all-day comfort. Women are drawn to height, as if taller somehow equals skinnier. Be careful: this is really an illusion. If you are one of the few women who finds high heels more comfortable than bare feet, you might well be spotted wearing them through airport security or on a leisurely stroll at the mall.
However, if high heels are part of your professional armor but they cause you pain, try a pair an inch or so lower. They will elongate your shape equally well but will be considerably more comfortable. Except in weather-appropriate situations, no one should be changing shoes in the elevator (you never know who might be riding up with you) or wearing pant lengths that don’t match your commuting (or work) shoes. Complaining about foot pain at the office or walking in wobbly shoes is not attractive. And happy feet make a happier woman!
There is a time and place for every heel height —you just have to know when to wear it. Shoes should help reveal a message. Sky-high heels (those over four inches) don’t belong at the office, high heels (three inches) can certainly be professional if you find them comfortable, and the mid-heel (between two and two and a half inches) is the average woman’s perfectly professional shoe.
The mid-heel is doctor-recommended for those who choose to wear heels, and they can be found in a variety of styles. A kitten heel is a personal favorite of mine; measuring between one and two inches, they look terrific with pants. These versatile low heels provide style and all-day comfort!
If you prefer flats, pointy-toe styles are dressiest for the office. Ballet flats have been incredibly popular for the last few years and work well in a business-casual environment, but they are hard to pair with formal business dress. If you need additional support, consider flats with a low wedge or a seven-eighths heel. A traditional penny-loafer style can also be appropriate for work, but look for dressy alternatives in patent leather or with sophisticated detailing. If you wear flats, make sure that they’re a successful tool in your business image arsenal.
When I first walked into my client Lacey’s closet, I was excited to see that she had a fun collection of shoes prominently displayed. I immediately spotted classic, pointy-toe, black, patent-leather pumps; playful tweed stacked heels; bright magenta kitten heels; closed-toe leopard wedges; and gold flats. Upon closer inspection, however, I identified one tiny problem: they all appeared unworn. Lacey divulged her love of shoe shopping and desperately wanted to wear her “fun” shoes, but her daily go-to was a matronly pair of square-toed, black loafers worn with cotton socks.
Lacey was shopping aspirationally, imagining a different life through her shoe choices. She regularly released her inner diva in the retail world. But once she got her purchases home, reality set in and held her back. Lacey’s shoes were fabulous and exactly what she should have been wearing.
At forty-one years of age, she was much too young to be trapped inside a cardboard shoebox wearing orthopedic “old lady” shoes! We put the loafers side by side with the classic, black, patent-leather pumps and compared their attributes. The loafers said, “I look old and my feet hurt,” while the pumps (reasonably comfortable at two and half inches) said, “I am stylish, modern, and uncomplicated.” For the first time, Lacey understood others’ perception of her image —and didn’t like it. Our clothing, shoes, and accessories help tell our story. Put in the effort and work hard to construct the right version.
Style Alert: Even older professionals don’t need to dress “old.” Select stylish, modern flats that offer support and keep an extra bounce in your step!
Avoid shoes that appear dressy but are made of stretch fabric, slip-on shoes with elastic on the sides, full-coverage loafers (these don’t look anything like penny loafers), clunky menswear-style shoes, and chunky mules, especially when worn with socks. In fact, thick casual socks should not be worn to the office (or at least should not be visible). Try boots in the winter to cover your ankles, or opt for dressy trouser socks or knee-highs for warmth.
Once you identify the perfect shoe height, it’s time to define fashion-forward style. While there are many classic as well as new, on-trend styles debuting every season, walking the office runway in a pair of Christian Louboutin heels will fully realize your power-shoe potential. I know women who can’t wait to buy their first pair after a big promotion, and others who have been collecting styles since Carrie Bradshaw fell in love with Louboutin’s shoes on “Sex in the City.” They can be pointed or round, stiletto or stacked; their legendary red sole discreetly tells your audience you’ve made it.
The best styles for work include pointed, oval, almond, or narrowly rounded toes. Any brand is acceptable, but square toes or very rounded ones offer a more casual look and can appear outdated. Either a stiletto or a stacked heel is appropriate for the office. A stiletto is skinnier (and many believe sexier); a stacked heel offers more comfort and support while still being fashion forward.
Wedges are a newer addition to the office runway and tend to be more popular in the warmer months. Black patent-leather shoes are classic and timeless, and stand up to year-round use. A nude heel that matches your skin tone will help elongate a bare leg. A pop of color in suede or leather will brighten monochromatic ensembles. Selecting shoes with a thin platform underneath the ball of the foot will add the height many women seek in a workday shoe without sacrificing comfort.
If your office dress code allows for open-toe shoes, a good guideline is to wear a pair that are open in the front or the back, but not both. A sling-back or a peep-toe style mixes the seriousness of a pump and the sexiness of a sandal, without the sound effects. Don’t develop a reputation at work as the woman who “clickety-clacks” down the hall! If you work in a very casual environment where your peers wear flip-flops, opt for a more professional choice, like a flat or low-wedge sandal. No matter which style you choose, a pedicure or well-groomed feet and toes are your best accessory.
During the colder months, boots are a fun addition to your work wardrobe. Whether you’re shopping for ankle boots or knee-high styles, opt for simple, sleek lines and avoid anything overly chunky or bulky. Ankle boots can have a stacked, stiletto, flat, or wedge heel, and look for a pointed or round toe; avoid cowboy boots, hiking boots, or anything similar in style.
Knee-high boots with dresses and skirts can be very glamorous; minimal embellishment is key. Your boots should elongate your shape—look for a fitted pull-on, or zippered style in leather or a leather and fabric combination for the ultimate in sophistication. If you work in a casual environment and want to put your boots over pants, the style must remain simple. Elaborate riding or motorcycle style boots and Uggs do not belong in an office setting.
Your outfit does not just extend from head to toe —it also includes what you carry. Your handbag is an opportunity to continue or enhance your style statement. You’ve worked hard to dress effectively —don’t forget to match your handbag to your leadership style.
Your handbag can communicate “tired and sloppy,” “organized and prepared,” or “stylish and modern” faster than you can say the words! Women often prefer not to—or forget to—invest in this pivotal style element and organizational tool. The biggest faux pas women make in this area is carrying a worn bag with straps that look ready to fall apart, or pairing extremely casual bags with business attire. Don’t carry something that looks cheap, or it will distract from your professional look, and don’t carry a bag more casual than your outfit. You certainly don’t need to match your bag at all times, but try to match genres.
When shopping for a handbag, choose one that matches your carrying philosophy (instead of your shoes). Decide whether you are the kind of person who likes to change your bag every day or carry the same classic look for years. Be budget-savvy: rather than purchasing many cheap purses, invest in one good one. Look for a color and material that offer versatility. Black leather is certainly the most popular, though there are many options for those who prefer to avoid leather on principle.
Analyze your wardrobe —if your clothing features a lot of color, a neutral bag in camel, brown, black, or a metallic shade (like pewter or bronze) will match everything. If your closet is full of neutral clothing, you can go for a statement handbag in a brighter color like red, burgundy, cobalt blue, hunter green, or eggplant. Textured or treated leathers, and embossed, patent, or glazed fabrics can also add style to an executive’s neutral wardrobe. While it’s okay for your bag not to match your outfit exactly, make sure it doesn’t clash in style or color—don’t carry a chocolate-brown bag if you wear black daily.
When selecting your preferred size, look for a bag that adds balance to your shape and weight. Small bags make you look bigger, while larger bags make you appear smaller. Will you carry your bag on your shoulder, in the crook of your elbow, or in your hand?
Try putting your own stuff inside while you are in the store to make sure it fits without creating unsightly bulges. For the most flattering look, choose a bag that’s the opposite of your own shape. For example, if you are very curvy, select a bag with sharp, defined lines to help add structure to your shape, like a top-handle shopper tote. If you stand tall or have angular features (like a chiseled jawline or very straight hair), an over-the-shoulder hobo style with curved edges will be flattering. You may find a bag combining two shapes; the key is to buy the one that looks good on you—not just the one you like.
The Right Price
When investing in a nice work bag to match your professional attire and overall brand message, think about the cost per wear. Don’t be overwhelmed by sticker shock. An expensive-looking suit should not be paired with a $40 pleather handbag. Whereas clothing can be made to appear more expensive with tailoring and accessories, a purse by nature is a statement piece and must be chosen with care. Compare the price of a bag with the number of days you expect to carry it—a $300 bag worn every day for a year costs less than a dollar a day. Wear it for two years, and the cost drops even more!
Expect to invest in high-quality construction and to spend between $100 and $500 for your work bag. (Pleather, unless textured, doesn’t look as professional and tends to deteriorate quickly.) Work-wear essential spots like Banana Republic, J.Crew, Talbots, and Ann Taylor, as well as department stores and boutiques, offer a nice selection within this price range. If you are more comfortable with the lower end of this sliding scale, scour sale racks and outlets to find a fabulous bag for less.
If you are seeking to make more of a statement with your handbag, consider a “status” or designer piece. These can go for $700 and up, depending on brand and materials. A designer bag may have a visible logo—like those by Gucci or Louis Vuitton—or it may feature a tailored, well-defined design with a brand presence that flies under the radar, like those from Marc Jacobs or Céline.
Women who work in more creative industries may have a greater appreciation or interest in acquiring status bags to wow colleagues and clients, but they are relevant and effective for anyone willing to make the investment. A style faux pas for the office: fake designer bags! If you want the real thing but can’t afford it, find something with a similar design aesthetic or identify your designer bag and start saving!
Style Alert: Like clothes, bags have an expiration date. Once it looks overly worn or stained it should be tossed. If it’s a hard-to-part-with status bag, move it out of your everyday closet, or visit a good cobbler or leather shop —they can often work wonders. If you have a valuable bag that simply doesn’t work for you anymore, but is still in good condition, consider consigning or selling it to generate income for your next purchase.
Organizing the Inside of Your Bag
You are at a networking event and someone asks for your business card—can you retrieve one quickly from your sleek business card holder or well-organized wallet, or are you digging through crayons, takeout menus, and hairbrushes to find one lying at the bottom of your bag? The purse journey doesn’t end with the purchase of your dream bag; the inside of your bag matters, too!
I often take clients shopping for handbags to teach them what styles look best with their shape and to help them learn what to expect from a handbag. A good bag should be comfortable to carry, stylish to look at, and helpful in keeping your busy life organized!
Like your closet, a handbag should not double as a storage container—instead, it should offer an organized way to find essentials while you’re on the go. Some women like to shop for bags with numerous inside pockets, but there are alternative ways to staying organized. Make sure you can fully close your wallet (and that it’s in good condition).
If you save receipts, store them separately, in a small leather envelope. If you carry a multitude of savings and membership cards, place them in a separate card carrier for easy access. Do you carry makeup or hair accessories? Organize them! Gather your lipsticks or compacts and place them in a small zippered case—this makes them easy to find as well as convenient for a quick touch up. You never know when someone will get a glance inside your bag—it may be private property, but if you appear disorganized or hang on to dated, worn-out items, people will notice.
If you carry a laptop, tablet, or even paper files, invest in proper storage. Books are judged by their covers—even if they shouldn’t be—and so are your tech accessories! A sleeve or hard case works well for laptops and tablets, and a leather folio is a classy choice for a pad, files, or papers; these can easily slip into a bigger purse. If these items take up too much space in your handbag, you may want to consider a separate tote.
If your job requires you to carry a computer daily, consider investing in a sophisticated high-end leather laptop tote or briefcase like those from Tumi. If you only need tech storage sparingly, nylon zippered totes like those from Longchamp or Kate Spade (style secret: her diaper bags make great totes!) are popular choices. You can also be eco-friendly and support causes with fabric bags, but if you’re attending meetings, keep in mind that casual bags say “chic but on budget,” while leather totes are more formal.
When it comes to wearing jewelry at the office, less is more. There may be regional and cultural differences, but, to remain professional in a corporate environment, keep noisy or ostentatious jewelry to a minimum. The best investment pieces are ones you will wear daily. Are you the kind of person who changes earrings every day? If not, small hoops, classic pearls, and diamond studs are all timeless options. Keep in mind: pink or yellow crystal studs will always look fake, and earrings longer than two inches are better saved for after-work activities.
Necklaces are a safer accessory than earrings to show off spirit and style. Here, you can easily select statement pieces to wow your audience. Long necklaces (between thirty and thirty-two inches in length) are flattering on most body types, drawing a vertical line that makes you appear slimmer; chokers tend to add weight and draw attention to your neck.
A long necklace in silver or gold with circle or oval links is versatile and easy to add to many ensembles for a contemporary look. A medium-length, bold necklace (between eighteen and twenty-two inches in length) pairs well with a third piece. They are also great to wear for headshots or for television when you’re framed from the shoulders up. Pearls are traditional for women but not a required purchase. If you’re looking for a fresh take, select a necklace that mixes pearls with metals or fun baubles; it will stand out and look a little less conservative.
What you wear on your wrists falls into two categories: bracelets are a fun, easy-to-change accessory, while a watch should be an uncomplicated staple piece that works with everything in your closet. Most of us don’t have an endless budget for accessories, so invest in a watch (if you wear one) and save on bracelets. Beware of anything too blingy—if you can see or hear it from farther than six feet away, it’s too much!
Rings are perfectly appropriate for the office, but try not to wear them on more than three fingers. Ideally, select one ring-wearing finger per hand for the least amount of distraction at the office. Statement rings are fun, but avoid two-finger rings, toe rings, nose rings, or any body jewelry at the office. If you are combining real and costume jewelry—for example, engagement and wedding rings with a cocktail ring—keep in mind that you may draw a lot of attention. Opt for costume pieces that truly look “costume” so they don’t get compared with what’s “real.”
A few of my favorite go-to spots for wear-to-work costume pieces are BaubleBar.com, CWonder.com, MaxandChloe.com, and StellaDot.com. Stand alone brands like RJ Graziano, Lauren by Ralph Lauren, Kenneth Jay Lane, House of Harlow, and Majorica can be found at department stores and on QVC or HSN. If you’re ready to graduate from costume pieces, or to invest in high-quality jewelry appropriate for the office, David Yurman, Ippolita, Alexis Bitter, and Roberto Coin offer stylish wear-to-work staples.
Style Alert: Always clean or update your jewelry once it becomes tarnished or pieces start to break.
I field an incredible number of questions about the appropriateness of pantyhose at the office. A traditional accessory, and not long ago a perceived requirement for women in corporate America, the “suntanned” pair of pantyhose is officially outdated. For many, the option of a bare leg is welcome; others hope the newly styled Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, who looks flawless in perfectly matched-to-her-skin-tone hose, can help reinvigorate this sleepy style. If you choose to wear pantyhose, opt for sheer black or ultra-sheer nudes that match your skin tone in a low number denier (under 10) in a matte or shiny finish.
My client Patty, a lawyer in her late forties, not only wears pantyhose every time she goes to court, she is certain she will beat any opposing counsel who dares to show a bare leg. Clearly, there is a generation of women who believes in the power of pantyhose. Taking this position to its extreme, some women are wearing toeless panty hose with open toe shoes to work in the summer.
An almost anti-style invention, this marketing gimmick offers suntanned coverage to the leg and reveals pale toes. It’s a very dated look, but I know women who wear these or store them in a forgotten bottom drawer, tucked in the back for one of those “what if” moments. A shaved, well-moisturized bare leg free of bug bites and bruises is acceptable and stylish at most offices in a business-casual setting.
But in a conservative or business-formal office, don’t go bare legged until you see what senior management is wearing. Check your office dress code and your client calendar, and proceed from there. And if you’re not sure what to do about pantyhose, wear pants.
Style Alert: Dermablend leg makeup helps hide spider veins, and NARS Body Glow will make you feel like a model!
Opaque or subtly printed tights will carry you through the colder months in style. Black tights are widely accepted with every dress code and at any age, so stock up. If you desire extra control, shop accordingly. Spanx should be a part of everyone’s wardrobe. I know women who won’t even leave the house in pants without a pair of capri-style Spanx “holding them in” underneath! Avoid bright tights or wide fishnet stockings. Tights in neutral colors like gray, navy, brown, or even cranberry are fashion-forward options and will add a pop of style to classic looks.
Be aware of sexiness at the office—it is one of the biggest fashion conundrums keeping senior managers up at night. At a corporate style seminar in New York, an intern courageously inquired if her casual thigh-high socks (not hose) were appropriate wear for the office. At nearly six feet tall, she found tights and pantyhose uncomfortable.
Long pants were hard to find (though I quickly offered her a handy list of websites that offer pants in long sizes), and her naïve perception was that no one noticed her thigh-highs because the tops were hidden under her dress. Of course, it was my job to reveal the truth: her visible thigh-highs were not appropriate for the office. It is virtually impossible to prevent every situation in which they might be unwittingly revealed!
This story is not unusual. Many young women are unfamiliar with business fashion and continue to dress for work the way they dressed in college. Many oblivious women sit in the front row of my presentations—some have forgotten or don’t like to shave their legs, while others haven’t looked in a mirror to see if their hems are too short. Sit in a chair and see how far up your thigh the sun is shining! Many who wear thigh-highs don’t realize that when you’re seated, bent over, or even pivoting quickly, clients and coworkers see those bare thighs. Cover up, or pantyhose may become an enforced section of the dress code at your office.
Belts, wraps, and even some kinds of jewelry tend to make people nervous, so they avoid wearing these accessories. In fact, many women would trade a belt for a pin and a wrap for a scarf because those are accessories with rules they understand. However, these fashion items can be powerful outfit enhancers, and it’s important to learn how to wear them properly.
Ladies, stand up! A business-appropriate belt that accentuates the professional wardrobe doesn’t just go through loops on high-waisted pants; it goes up high on your natural waist. Let me show you how to find the magic spot. Lift your arms up and out. Take one hand over to the opposite side and place your thumb, and then hand, fingers spread, where your bra ends. That’s your natural waist!
I know it feels awkward, but this is the spot to highlight when tying a wrap dress or adding a wide elastic belt to any outfit. Whether you’re short-, long-, or regular-waisted, the exact point where your rib cage curves in could be at your middle finger or a bit below your little finger. In fact, if you try on dresses already hanging in your closet, most of them probably define your waist at this same spot.
Adding a belt to your ensemble can pull it together and add a touch of sophistication. The easiest and most comfortable belt to start with is wide elastic, featuring a dressy buckle. (If your buckle is black patent, pair it with coordinating shoes for instant style.) Tie the belt around a black sheath dress and add an open blazer—the belt immediately, though subtly, highlights your waist, making you appear slimmer. (Note that the belt probably hits your waist at the same place as the top button of the blazer.)
Next, try belting a monochromatic look like black pants with a coordinating shell. Add a long, ruffled, open cardi and belt it in the same place. Voilà! Your waist is highlighted rather than hidden. Adding a long necklace to this look will further elongate your figure, showing off a slender shape. Designers have been trying to create waists for years using the cut of clothes, but the reappearance of belts has finally made this feature a highlight.
Scarves and Pashminas
I have visited closets filled with bins of forgotten printed silk scarves. Many women ask if this power accessory from the 1980s and 1990s will ever come back into style. Once considered a boardroom staple, the printed silk scarf can indeed look dated today. Though some women still pull off this look beautifully, with the scarf tucked behind a popped collar on a structured blazer, it’s time to sort through those bins! Keep any designer prints or favorite styles and toss the rest. Leopard is classic and fun to tie around a handbag handle, and if you find a vintage status scarf you might consider framing it to enjoy as artwork.
The stylish update to the traditional printed scarf is a pashmina scarf or oversized wrap. Both styles can be worn as a third piece to add polish and power to a business-casual ensemble. The pashmina had an “it” moment in fashion circles in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and it has since evolved into a wardrobe staple.
The easiest way to wear one is over a belted dress—the wrap is loose, cozy, and glamorous all at the same time, and the belt adds structure, grounding your look. Casually throw a pashmina over your shoulders with almost any structured, fitted look. Collect an assortment of colors or patterns for a fresh seasonal take and leave a black one at the office—you never know when you might need to dress up your outfit!
Men’s Workwear Accessories
Savvy self-marketers use their accessories to generate interest. When you’re in a room full of suits, your selection of accessories helps make your professional uniform unique. Adding a powerful tie, noteworthy cuff links, and stylish shoes will truly have an impact on your appearance. A designer watch is an aspirational purchase; a tie bar or even a pocket square is a high-end touch requiring less of an investment. No matter your choice of particulars, it’s time to get schooled in how to polish your look and differentiate yourself from the competition.
Making a splash with a fantastic tie doesn’t have to hit you in the wallet. Unless you are a connoisseur of designer styles, great ties are available at every price point. It can be fun to shop for loud, unusual ties, but be sure to match your ultimate selections to actual shirts, or chances are your standout pieces will be left unworn.
Loud ties (bold stripes, vibrant colors) require a quiet shirt (though it can still be subtly patterned), while a softer tie (dotted or lightly patterned) demands coordination with a more powerful shirt. When you’re matching a tie to your shirt, scale and balance are of utmost importance.
Consider changing your knot style or the width of your tie for a fresh, new look. A four-in-hand knot creates a simple, traditional look favored by many. This knot tends to be slightly asymmetrical, works well with point collars, and flatters tall, thin men.
A half-Windsor knot is a more complicated style than the four-in-hand. A bit wider and more symmetrical, it pairs well with spread collars. This style is quickly becoming the new standard and looks good on most men. A full Windsor knot is arguably the most luxurious in the group as well as the most complicated to carry off—not only can it be rather large in size, it also takes up a lot of your tie’s length. If you have a thicker neck, an extra-long tie is a must for this look.
Also, it’s good for elected officials to keep in mind that while the Windsor offers a high-end look, it’s one more at home in a high-powered boardroom than in public office. The width of ties has evolved through the decades from skinny to wide; today there is a broad range available. To stay on trend, keep your tie in proportion to the lapels on your jacket. Skinny styles work best on skinny men; a medium-width tie is flattering on most men. Any tie style you select should hit at your belt buckle or a little below.
Tie storage can create a confusing mess, with fashion-forward pieces tangled up with out-of-style stinkers. Organization is important! The best way to store ties is to keep them near your shirts. Some men like to hang them on a cedar hanger or around shirts for easy dressing; others keep them rolled in a dedicated tie drawer or basket.
To help preserve their shape, resist tugging your ties off; remove them the same methodical way you put them on, but in reverse. Once ties have pulls, loose threads, or stains that won’t come out, it’s time to let them go. With so many wonderful options out there, this natural attrition will afford you the opportunity to replenish your wardrobe with new and exciting finds.
If you favor bow ties instead of long ties, they probably figure prominently in your trademark look. Bow ties are seen as a style statement, and many daring men are remembered for this signature feature. Whereas many men these days save bow ties exclusively for tuxedos, they continue to remain an everyday favorite among educators and academics, journalists, politicians, and eccentric fashionistas. Bow ties are for those committed to the style: they showcase neck size and leave a large landscape uncovered on the chest and midsection, and thus may bring unwanted attention to those sometimes problematic areas.
Many men ask me if they can wear ties casually. Yes! I love a slightly loose and askew tie paired with a dress shirt and quarter-zip sweater. It’s great for a casually dressy look that works for transitioning from the office to drinks after work. You may also choose to explore more daring color and pattern combinations, knotting preferences, tie widths, and materials.
The pocket square evolved from the handkerchief. It adds a distinctive touch of detail—and is not meant to be shared with a damsel in distress. (Carry a white hanky in your back pocket for that and other hygiene needs.) If you so desire, place a pocket square in the outer breast pocket of your jacket. Don’t match it exactly to your tie; rather, choose colors from your tie-and-shirt combination. A trendsetter might pick a completely different pattern while a more conservative dresser might select finely pressed white linen, a safe and classic choice.
A shortcut to achieving this dapper style is to have a pocket square attached directly to a cardboard insert, which is simply slid into the pocket. I have had quite a few of these custom made for clients. They are great if you have a hard time getting a straight line or the perfect puff in your pocket. You can also create two- or three-point styles. Visit the fabric store to select a unique fabric, or simply add a cardboard insert to any pocket squares already in your collection. Ask a tailor to make these for you and you will never have to adjust again!
Your shoe routine should focus on maintenance first and style second. Keep your shoes looking fresh and free of scuffs or holes. It sounds so easy, and yet many walk on in their tired, dirty shoes. With regard to style, slim is more versatile than heavy. Look for a streamlined shoe with clean lines and an oval toe box.
Although shoes can be an interesting accessory, they should blend into your overall ensemble rather than standing out or, worse, drawing negative attention. A plain-toe, premium lace-up is a stylish and sophisticated choice that matches everything in your wardrobe; it easily walks the line from business formal to dressy casual.
If you prefer a visible embellishment on your shoes, opt for a perforated upper instead of a traditional cap-toe to help elongate the shape of your foot. Cap-toe styles are very popular but they direct the eye to the joint between toe and upper, shortening your foot and playing up your midsection. If you want even more of a pattern on your shoes, wing tips are a timeless choice. The style difference between the long, elegant curve of wing-tip detailing and the blunt line of the cap toe is quite noticeable.
Some men prefer slip-ons or loafers to lace-ups. With so many styles to choose from, it’s perfectly appropriate to wear a pair of dressy loafers at both a power lunch and the boardroom. For a modern look, opt for loafers with a higher vamp (the top of the shoe comes closer to your ankle than your toes).
Styles with a plain front, a leather strap, a penny slot, or just a touch of metal are all professional. Anything with too many buckles, like a single or double monk strap, can start to look like jewelry for your feet, so tread carefully. Continue to look for an oval toe box and avoid bulky styles with a square shape. Leather soles are always dressy, though rubber ones work well in inclement weather and with many dress codes.
As we’ve discussed, match your socks to your pants the best you can (select either a solid color or pattern), or make a bold fashion statement with a fun color or pattern. Do not wear thick, bulky, or faded socks to work. In addition, you might notice dressy boots being worn to the office by a trendsetter or in a business-casual environment during colder months. This is acceptable—but the boots should be professional looking.
Your overall image doesn’t end with your clothing and shoes. If you carry a computer or work files, be sure to accessorize with a slim, sleek briefcase. Tech accessories, business-card holders, and wallets should not be overlooked as part of your work persona. Indulge in leather or modern tech-appropriate materials when possible. The same rules that pertain to other parts of your wardrobe apply here as well: maintain these in clean condition, and when they begin to wear, replace them!
A watch is a great tool to show off your great taste or a recent promotion. When investing in this accessory, decide whether you prefer to dress up a sporty style or dress down a fancy one. Either way, to keep your watch professional, stay away from anything too heavy or with “bling.” If you’re on a budget, select a simple, modern style that does not draw attention. If you wear a leather or cloth band, be sure to replace it once it becomes sweaty and smelly.
Cufflinks are a fun way to show off your personality at the office. Select a pair based on your schedule: connect with a sports-fan client or channel your inner superhero. You can be bold, funny, quirky, or a trendsetter, all with your choice of cufflinks. Tie bars (also known as tie clips) offer another way to dress up and turn heads.
A classic tool for men, they have recently come back into the boardroom (no doubt helped by fashion-centric shows like Mad Men). The tie bar pairs well with a skinny or medium-width tie and should be placed between the third and fourth button on your shirt. (Yes, it fastens to the placket.) Finally, invest in brass collar stays. The free plastic ones that come with your shirts or from the dry cleaner are not robust enough to keep your collar standing to attention all day, week in and week out. Have fun with these accessible luxuries!
When selecting a belt, make sure it matches your shoes. Opt for a minimalist style rather than a busy one. Chunky metal buckles can draw attention to the midsection and are not as appropriate for professional dress. Smooth strap styles work nicely; textured ones add flair. Always shop for a belt one size bigger than your waist size so the buckle lands near the middle hole. Once your waist changes size and you move holes, or your belt starts to look worn out, it’s time to go shopping.
Eyewear for Men and Women
If you wear eyeglasses, finding the right style for your face shape is important. Try on numerous pairs to determine just the right balance and proportion. A good trick is to try a pair that is the opposite of your face shape. This works for both men and women. Look in the mirror to see where your face is broadest and most narrow. Select frames that are broad enough to balance the narrow parts but not so overwhelming that they make your face appear wider.
For example, if you have a round face, look for glasses with a square or rectangular shape. If you have a square face, look for an oval style or one with rounded, soft corners. A heart-shaped face will look good with a cat-eye style to counterbalance a narrow jawline. An oval face is easiest to match; most styles work. There are many face shapes, including hybrids of those mentioned above; what is most important is to identify whether your face is angular or more rounded.
The next step is to decide whether you want your glasses to make a bold statement or remain neutral. For frames that stand out, select plastics in the appropriate shape. This bold style will help anchor your look, adding definition to graying hair or even a bald head. Tortoiseshell, black, and textured wood are timeless styles that look good on both men and women. Colored plastic is more likely to be spotted on women, but it works for both sexes. Red, blue, or purple frames may appeal to those with flair.
If you prefer a neutral look from your glasses, opt for rimless. These are great on television (unless you’re a celebrity trying to use your glasses as an accessory), because they don’t draw unnecessary attention to your face or hair. If you’re working with wrinkles, the rimless option also works well by helping to downplay signs of aging. It should be noted, however, that metal frames are not wrinkle-friendly.
Whichever style you select, make sure to ask for high-index lenses to avoid a Coke-bottle look and to reduce the weight of your glasses. Also, add antiglare protection if you work in bright spaces or are often photographed. If you are looking for all-in-one versatility, have your eyeglasses double as sunglasses.
Transition lenses are a savvy choice for a person who frequently misplaces sunglasses, but they don’t become as dark as typical sunshades. If you wear bifocals, you might want to see if your prescription will work in progressives. That way, your lenses will not have a visible line. Finally, make sure your glasses are comfortable and sit perfectly on the bridge of your nose to avoid pinching and nose marks or indentations that may bother you or temporarily detract from your look.
If you wear reading glasses, the best place to shop for them is at the grocery store, pharmacy, or airport. People tend to enjoy having multiple pairs scattered around the house or office, and it’s easy to find stylish options at an affordable price point. I know several women who purchase multi-pair packs of reading glasses at the drugstore, matching colors to their outfits. If you plan to read outside, invest in tinted reading glasses to avoid that double-eyeglass look (wearing reading specs over your sunglasses,) which can age even the youngest wearer beyond their years. Maui Jim does a particularly good job at offering these hard-to-find sunglasses.
Sunglasses look good on everyone, any day of the week. You can dress them up or down, or treat them as part of a costume. Get a pair with your prescription and wear them to dodge the paparazzi or avoid a coworker at lunchtime. Save or splurge, but always shop for your face shape and make sure to select a pair with UV protection. Buy several pairs if you regularly lose your sunglasses—you always need to protect your eyes.
The last factor to consider when shopping for reading glasses or sunglasses is where to put them when you’re out on the town. It can be convenient to leave your hands free by placing them on top of your head or to hang them from your shirt collar, but my personal favorite is to dangle them on a fabulous La Loop—it’s a piece of jewelry with a purpose. Select a necklace style from this brand to blend into your dressy outfit, or a sporty rubberized one to match a tech-casual setting. Don’t let your eyewear choices drag you down or make you look old—use this modern touch and look like a VIP.
Fun to shop for if sometimes hard to wear, accessories help finish your look. Encourage yourself to add at least one stylish accessory to your outfit every day for a week. Before you know it, you won’t even notice it anymore. Gentlemen, try pairing a striped tie with a patterned shirt or adding a pocket square to your suit. Ladies, pull out those stylish shoes hiding in your closet and add a necklace to your outfit for instant glamour. These finishing touches are sure to help get you noticed in your climb from the mailroom to the boardroom.