Building a business wardrobe from scratch

By Mitch Bram

As I write this Thursday, it’s -12 degrees outside with the promise of -27 this evening with wind chills as low as -45.

This is Mother Nature’s way of making sure you have all been paying attention to my columns these past couple of months.   Aren’t you all so glad that we covered the basics of dressing well – even in sub-zero temperatures — back in November?  That’s a hint as to where to find my suggestions if you are freaking out right now.

Well, let’s get to it shall we?  The question this month comes from one of my loyal male readers.  “A lot of things are on sale now…if somebody were to buy a business wardrobe from scratch and had $1,500 to spend, how would you suggest that they do it?”  

That is a great question, deserving of an equally great answer.  The canned used-car-salesman answer would be, “You spend the $1,500 with me of course!”  But, for better or worse, and to your excitement or dismay, I will not be taking the easy way, or “cheesy” way out (Get it, Wisconsin …Cheese land?).  

I’m going to play out two scenarios for you.  The first will pertain to the gentleman who’s looking to build a business dress wardrobe.  The second will focus on the person aiming at the business-casual wardrobe.  Each will be listed below with the key items that will be the most useful as first additions.  Once we spend the $1,500 and get past the foundational basics, move up the ladder and start making some real coin so  we can move to THE NEXT STEP (me!).

Scenario 1: The Business Dress Wardrobe

(2 or 3) Conservative suits.  This means navy or charcoal…no black!  Think simple stripes, textured solids, nothing too flashy.

(4 to 6) Dress shirts.  Look for whites, blues, ecru (off white), with some texture or possibly faint stripes.

(4 to 6) Ties.  This is where you can have some fun.  Make sure to bring the colors in the tie to match with at least the color of your shirt, suit, or stripe or pattern in your suit.

(2) Belts.  Black and a version of brown.  Cordovan (Burgundy), chili, or dark  brown will work nicely.  Just steer clear of chestnut (light tan) until we get to … THE NEXT STEP.

(2) Pairs of Shoes.  You guessed it … always be sure that your belt matches your shoes — every time.

(6 to 8) Pairs of Socks.  Go solid or fancy, whichever you prefer. Just be sure to match your socks to the color of slacks/suit you are wearing.

Scenario 2: The Business Casual Wardrobe

(1 to 2) Blazers / sport coats.  A navy or black blazer is a must.  If you’re going with a sport coat, be sure that the pattern isn’t too loud and has enough colors in the pattern as to be worn with different varieties of trousers.

(4 to 6) Dress slacks.  Black, medium gray, camel tan, and medium brown are my four starter favorites.  This combination will give you the most flexibility.

(4 to 6) Dress / sport shirts.  Sport shirts can be worn with or without a tie depending on the circumstances and can be worn with or without a blazer or sport coat.

(2 to 4) Ties.  Not an absolute must but can be worn with a dressy shirt and your blazer or sport coat or with a sport shirt on occasion.

(2) Belts.  The same rules apply as above in Scenario 1.

(2) Pairs of Shoes.  Ditto. See above.

Some of you might be saying that it’s impossible to purchase everything on a $1,500 budget.  I have worked for Boston Store, Macy’s, S&K Menswear, and now Tom James.  Depending on your store or outlet of choice you may be able to piece together twice or three times the quantity of items I mentioned…but as they say, “You Get What You Pay For.”  I would love to work alongside you at accomplishing your “next step” goals.