Consider the last piece of birthday cake you ate. Fresh out of the oven, the cake looks nice, but add frosting, sprinkles and candles, and then you’re ready to party.
Now think about your work wardrobe. You’ve got the suit, but you need to add those essential elements that create a head-to-toe look. Completing your business attire with the right colors and accessories lets others know that making your latest deal or managing a major account is just as effortless for you as putting together a winning ensemble.
“You’re going to have immediate increased confidence because you’ll look sharp and feel more confident. Others will see you as more credible, more capable and more attractive,” says Judith Rasband, CEO of Conselle Institute of Image Management in Provo.
Here are a few tricks to make rounding out your wardrobe a piece of cake.
First, select a dress shirt with a quality fabric and fiber — 100 percent pima cotton withstands wear best. Stick with a straight collared dress shirt for a more upscale feel than a button down. Businessmen need not feel tied to only white shirts, a soft ecru or blue will communicate the same professional appeal, Rasband says. Pastel shirts in the spring can be replaced with earth tones in the fall for variety. Solid colors are considered the dressiest look under a suit, followed by stripes, then plaids, but for an urban image, go for a striped shirt with a solid collar and cuffs, Rasband says.
Now for the coordinating. When putting together a jacket, shirt and tie combination, only one should be dominant, the other two must be subordinate to avoid an overly busy look, says Rasband. All three elements should have at least one color in common, though only one should have the brightest hue or pattern.
For example, a bold houndstooth check jacket in black and white would be dominant. Pair it with a shirt with a smaller stripe than the check and a tie with a smaller pattern than the stripe. Or, if the tie is dominant, such as a red tie with block stripes, the shirt could have a subtle stripe and the jacket could be a solid color.
Cuff links, pocket squares and tie tacks have returned to menswear departments, creating upscale accessory options for men. “They are the few pieces of jewelry men have, they allow them a greater statement of individuality,” Rasband says. If there’s white or gray in the suit, accessorize with silver jewelry. Yellow or rust in the suit call for gold, she says. If a suit has a combination of warm and cool colors, wear a combination of metals.
Shoes should be selected in whatever wardrobe neutral is dominant in your group of work clothes, such as black, rust or luggage leather brown, Rasband says. Belt and shoes should match and socks should be the same color as the trousers.
After you’ve got a suit or two in the closet, look for some classic staples, including a great pair of two- or three-inch heels, a go-anywhere black trouser, and, of course, a stunning black dress. Then add colored or patterned jackets to the mix to provide versatility, says Sandy Dumont, national image consultant and executive director of the Impression Strategies Institute.
When selecting a skirt, forget mid-calf length, it makes women look dowdy and matronly, Dumont says. Likewise with ankle length skirts, they form a severe line that says you’re dragged down by the length of your skirt. For business, anywhere around the knee will balance out a female shape and make you look powerful.
Office wear should stick to two strong colors per outfit; throw in accessories in accent shades to keep the look from becoming too blasé, Dumont says. “If you have black pants, a red jacket and a white top, you’ve introduced three unconnected colors; it’s a hodgy-podgy outfit. But if you substituted a black top, it’s a matched look and you can wear a power necklace,” says Dumont.
Accessories can make a woman look more presentable and dynamic, Dumont says. An omega necklace adds presence, while short chunky hoop earrings can rev up experience and authority. Pantsuits lend themselves to bold earrings, while necklaces look elegant paired with skirts or dresses. Connect a colored jacket with a solid trouser by changing a jacket’s buttons to match the pant or adding a brooch in the same shade as the pant.
White looks smart year-round for tops or accessories when paired with black or navy. Royal blue and emerald green can be appropriate for business, as can fuchsia and magenta, if used sparingly, Dumont says. Plum or cherry red flatters most complexions, while yellow or a peacock blue can turn a dark suit into a fresh springtime look.
All right, brace yourselves for disappointment: footwear should be simple and classic, says Dumont. Clean, simple pumps work best for business. “The face is the focal point. If you have a shoe fetish, you can make little modifications here and there, but generally, you want the attention to stay on the face when conveying a message,” she says. Pointy toed heels create a long, lean impression, while round toes are best for flats, generating a petite look. For lengthy work days, Dumont loves the wedge heel, which provides more comfort and stability than a stiletto or platform, yet adds a dressier look than flats.
When selecting a handbag, pay attention to proportion — yours. “You don’t want your handbag to wear you,” Dumont says. “Larger women will look funny if they have this cutesy little bag while shorter people don’t want to look like they have mommy’s handbag. If it stands out like a sore thumb, that’s what people will look at.”