The New Contiuum for Dressing for Success: Part 2 When Jackets are Optional

For those businesses such as marketing, fashion, sales, education, real estate, and a multitude of others, jackets are optional.  Having jackets optional for many companies signaled business casual in the past; however, for many this form of workplace attire communicates an approachable professionalism and does not put off customers. Further, if you are in sales, one day may take you to someone’s office inside a building where a jacket is preferable while the next day is outside at a construction site.  Often you want to appear professional but also appropriate for where you’re at.

You may be required to wear a tie but a jacket is your choice. Sometimes you may choose to wear a jacket but not a tie if you desire but it’s not required. If you live in Phoenix in the summer, jackets are definitely not worn even in retail.  It’s too darn hot!  Here we have the opportunity to relax our look with greater leeway when it comes to introducing fashion and our own personal style into our professional appearance.  Further, nontraditional fabrics such as denim, knits, with interesting textures can be considered.  However, let me caution you, satins, brocade, shiny metallics, and sheer fabrics are a no go for work.  You might consider leather or suede for your jackets but stay away from the leather pants unless you’re in the fashion business.

For Men:  Although jackets are optional great consideration must be made in your pants, shirts and accessories such as belts, shoes and socks.  Depending on the type of business you may even consider a tailored denim blazer if you want to wear one.  Blazers either structured or unstructured, worn with shirts and trousers, provides an approachable yet professional appearance.  In this category, V-neck and/crew neck sweaters and cardigans are another option to create versatility in your wardrobe and provide warmth during the winter. Vests give men another option outside of a jacket.  If you choose to wear a jacket single or double breasted blazers are great choices and are considered suit separates or sportswear when trying to find them in a store.

Regarding tops, shirts either short or long sleeved, turtlenecks, polos, or pullover sweaters are options.  When it comes to sleeves for dress shirts, consider long sleeved varieties.  Even when it’s hot, it looks cooler to roll up the cuff a couple of times rather than wearing a short sleeved shirt.  For button-down sport shirts that are tailored, short is fine.  However, when it comes to whether you should wear your shirt tucked in or out, tucked in with a belt is best.  Even though the look is not as traditional as when a jacket is required, your professional appearance is a must.

When it comes to pants, dress pants, either plain front or pleated in fabrics such as cotton twill, or wool blended slacks with or without a cuff are great choices.  Your pants should be in tip top shape without holes or frayed on the edges.   Regarding the color and design of the belt go towards a conservative belt buckle and the shoes and belts should match in color. Shoes might include loafer styles with flaps and tassels.  If you desire comfort, there are many companies that offer softer soles and leather uppers that enhance comfort for everyday wear.  Avoid the athletic shoes and sandals.

For Women: Options, options, options but still professional appearance counts.  Again, like men you can choose to wear a jacket or not; however, there are lots of possibilities.  For example, consider tunic tops with pants and a short jacket for interest.  Fashion becomes a player in this category particularly if you are in the creative fields such as interior and fashion design, architecture and theater arts.  If you want to go sleeveless; however, do wear a jacket or perhaps a knit cardigan.  Skirts in a variety of lengths yet a minimum of three inches above the knee and a maximum mid-calf are choices to consider.  Pants also have a multitude of lengths available from city shorts that are about three inches above the knee to cropped, ankle and regular lengths work well.  Try fitted shirts worn alone with pants or a skirt.

Dresses such as a sheath or shift with princess seams worn with a belted cardigan work well for this category.  Consider two-piece dressing that can mix and match with pieces already in your wardrobe, or sweater sets, pull over sweaters, bulky turtlenecks as options for colder months.

Fabrics might include traditional ones as mentioned above or those with interesting designs and textures. Stay away from metallic, brocade, translucent and sheer type fabrics.  Although this category allows a lot of freedom of expression, your appearance must remain professional. Denim trousers and jackets that are tailored are an option but DO NOT wear jeans (there is a difference!). Accessories such as scarves, hosiery and jewelry play an even more important role in personalizing your style.  Shoes such as pumps, tailored boots, open-toed shoes (not sandals), slip-ons and loafers are options for this category.

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About vseitz

Marketing Professor at California State University, San Bernardino and author of "I Don't Wear A Suit."

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