Troubled young men are seeking my guidance with increasing frequency. Fortunately, it has nothing to do with pervy priests or rosy-cheeked choir boys. But it does have a lot to do with inside-leg measurements. I’m talking formal business attire.
The perplexed young bucks in question entered the workplace when every Wall Street dude was wearing hideously mediocre golf shirts to work. These role-model-less saplings have never worn a suit in their lives, or seen one worn with anything approaching savoir faire . Now, as the business world swings back toward dress codes, these lads are encountering the challenges of non-casual dressing for the first time-and they don’t know a welted pocket from a side-vent. The poor little lambs have lost their way.
Here’s what I’m telling them:
1. Don’t dandify. Tarting and farting yourself up-as per magazine editorials-with swanky suits, brocade ties, high-collared clowny checked shirts and pocket squares should only be undertaken by aging homosexuals (like me) who have the wealth of experience necessary to pull off that particular look. Over-accessorizing-the other thing men’s mags exhort readers toward-is also a good way to bring derision upon your self: Twinkly tie-pins and cufflinks, designer money clips and state-of-the-art cell phones will make an earnest young hopeful come off like a self-indulgent sleazeball.
2. The ideal look for you, as you start to claw your way to the lower middle rung, is that of a hip funeral director. Pretend you’re one of the brothers on Six Feet Under -choose from straight or gay-and buy yourself a hiply nondescript gray (NOT BLACK!) suit with flat-front pants. Ed Norton had the same look in Fight Club . To the delight of your boss, your sartorial restraint will signify a comforting subservience. Meanwhile, all the office hotties will dig the minimalist hip of your Helmut Lang–ish look.
3. Don’t spend more than $600; you could get fired tomorrow and find yourself back in a casual work environment-e.g., a restaurant kitchen. Brooks Brothers’ Brooks-ease suits sell for $598 (extra pants are $178 a pair). Tommy Hilfiger also has a good-looking three-button gray wool suit with an acceptable single pleat for $425.
5. Here is your list of furnishings (industry-speak for shirts, ties and shoes):
-A simple, Brooks Brothers white button-down shirt (snag a couple of groovily nerdy short-sleeved ones for summer), $49.50 each. Colored shirts, apart from being dissonant with your undertaker look, will broadcast your anxious, sweaty armpits to the world.
-Two mod-yet-somber, blunt-ended silk knit ties, one blue and one brown, $58 from Barneys.
-A well-polished, thick-soled dark brown Oxford lace-up will complete your 1960’s funereal preppified drone look. Brooks Brothers’ cap-toe shoes are $338, which is a bit steep, but they last forever.
-Be the first in your office to make the pen-protector hip again-i.e., make sure those shirts have a pocket to protect.
Re Catholic priests: If you find yourself in Italy this summer, check out the ecclesiastical vestment shops. They purvey the most divinely dreary Mister Rogers zippered priest sweaters-perfect for popping under that gray suit when the weather turns chilly next fall.