A relaxed dress code sounds easy. You think about weekend-wear and comfort, or “smart casual” for the office.
The reality is that a relaxed dress code is far from no-effort, not if you want to keep making a great impression. It involves putting some thought into your overall appearance, even if the final result looks “easy.”
We’ve seen a shift in dress codes for men over recent years with a trend for more relaxed formality, often including some of the most formal situations. This may be good or bad, depending on your point of view, but it doesn’t mean you should let your appearance go.
“Clothes make the man,” said Mark Twain. Even earlier than Twain, the priest and theologian Erasmus said “vestis virum facit,” (literally “clothes makes the man”). It doesn’t matter if the dress code is relaxed, it’s still worth paying attention to a few rules for pulling it off well:
In a world where fewer people now have to wear a full suit for work, don’t miss the chance to stand out for the care you take with your appearance. Relaxed formality should NEVER mean sloppy or unkempt. In fact, a coordinated, well-appointed ensemble matters now more than ever.
You may not have to wear a suit (although every gentleman should own at least one tailored suit!), but you can still coordinate a polished look. A sport coat, slacks and an open-neck shirt give a more relaxed impression, but also a look of being effortlessly stylish.
With the rapid change in accepted dress codes for men, remember the maxim that putting on a coordinated ensemble can elevate the spirit, extol your sense of self and help define you as a man to whom details matter. Looking good automatically makes you lift your head up and exude more confidence.
So make sure your outfits work well together. Choose trousers and shirts that you can mix and match with a sports coat for a signature look.
Pay attention to the details
Including accessories in your outfit can convey something about your personality and show that you pay attention to detail. We take a “less is more” approach – choose the two or three accessories that complement rather than overpower the outfit.
Consider jewelry such as rings or watches to go with your business casual or more relaxed outfit. A nice leather belt is always a good complement to your trousers.
You probably don’t need the formality of pocket squares, ties or cufflinks, but adding one of these is a quick way to spruce up a more casual outfit. You might need to rapidly go from your regular relaxed setting to a more formal one (such as with business meetings), so think about how you might quickly change to fit in with the new environment.
“The details” should also include your feet. Wear nice, clean shoes! People look at your shoes more often than you might think. Dirt, scuff marks and the general condition of your footwear will be noticed. It doesn’t matter if your dress code calls for a pair of Oxfords or is casual enough to allow burnished leather sneakers – keep your shoes tidy.
While you’re at it, wear socks if you want to make a good impression. There has been a trend for going without socks and it has attracted a lot of debate. In our view, going sockless, especially with your good leather shoes is sloppy. You also have to be very careful with hygiene – going sockless can lead to smelly feet and shoes.
“Dressing well is a form of good manners,” says Tom Ford. There is definitely a case to be made here!
Pay attention to fit
How well your clothes fit will make or break your outfit. Too big or too small both come off looking sloppy, no matter what you are wearing. For this reason, it’s worth having some of your key pieces tailored. Think shirts, sport coats and trousers.
Fit doesn’t always mean looking perfectly tailored – some pieces naturally call for a more boxy fit. One thing to consider here is fit for body shape; not all styles suit all people so it’s important to figure out what will flatter your own shape.
If you tend to prefer to wear clothing that will have some longevity in terms of fashion sense, the traditionalist approach suggests that clothing with a slimmer fit or more tailored appearance will last the distance.
Keep it simple
While bold logos have been making an appearance in fashion collections, this is not the sort of trend that is bound to last. One thing that never tends to go out of fashion is simplicity.
We’re talking clothing that isn’t “fussy.” Pieces that you’d be comfortable wearing to almost any occasion. They tend to have clean lines and fit well. Think of outfits such as a plain t-shirt paired with chinos, a leather belt and a pair of loafers.
Paired-back clothing is never uncool. We can look back to icons such as James Dean who managed to pull off a timeless look that is often repeated today. Being understated in clothes that are simple, yet fit well will always keep you looking good.
If you’d like, you can give a nod to fashion trends without being overtaken by them. For example, you might include one “trend” item with an outfit that is otherwise made up of classic pieces. This way you don’t end up with a wardrobe full of clothing that will never see daylight again.
It can be about comfort too. Fashion trends come and go but you often have your own favorite “look.” It’s much easier to make a good impression when you’re comfortable and confident in what you are wearing.
“Looking good isn’t self-importance, it’s self-respect.” – Charles Hix
Stick to basic colors and patterns
One reason why many people open their closets and declare they have nothing to wear is because they have a whole lot of items that are mismatched. If you have clothing colors all over the spectrum and patterns that will clash if put together, you don’t have a workable closet.
A benefit of a more relaxed dress code is its potential for simplicity, as we’ve already indicated. You can make putting an outfit together much more effortless if you coordinate your basics.
For example, start out by considering a few base colors for your key pieces. This might be black, navy, grey or neutrals for trousers, coats, jackets and shirts. You can always mix and match from complementary colors, then add splashes of other colors (such as with a scarf or a pair of socks).
A more relaxed dress code doesn’t mean the absence of thought going into your outfits. In fact, getting dressed should involve the purposeful selection of an outfit because clothes mean something.
What you wear communicates so much about you without you saying a word. You can meet a relaxed dress code, but still look well put together. You can exude confidence and competence simply because you are dressed well.
On the other hand, let’s not allow “relaxed” to go too far, especially in a work setting. If you look sloppy or unkempt, what kind of messages are you sending? It’s not that you have to be a slave to fashion or spend a long time getting dressed, but investing in a few basics that work well together will make all the difference.