Tag Team–back again. Check–it’s Tuesday, let’s begin. Party on WACAC, let me hear some noise. G-Cush on the blog, jump, jump, rejoice. WHOMP (there it is)!
With that…Welcome everyone to another installment of How to be an Adult with your best friend and professional colleague, Grant Cushman. Today, I hope to tackle the fascinating and ever-elusive topic of professional dress and how you can master the art of admission style.
It’s a well-known fact that clothes make the (wo)man, and that goes double for admission counselors; without clothes, you probably wouldn’t have gotten the job in the first place. Since we are always in the public eye, it’s important that we look like we’ve moved past the time in our lives where our collective mothers laid out our collective clothes on our collective beds the night prior. Therefore, it’s key that we, as charming, wonderful, and humble counselors, take inventory of our wardrobe and decide the best way to present ourselves.
Now, this topic (like all topics I belly-flop into) is a bit too broad to ever hit on every element of style. All I hope to do with this introductory post is to lure the unprofessionally dressed counselor away from his or her comfort zone of oversized shirts and sweater vests and into a more modern and acceptable style. I’ll follow the Olympics’ lead and break it down by gender.
Now, as men, it may seem that we get the short-end of the stick in terms of versatility. All you really need is a button up shirt, pants, shoes, and a belt, right? Well…yes. But you can be so much more. Plus, you’d be surprised at how often men still mess up the most basic fashion rule: Fit is everything. Let me illustrate this point further by taking a walk down memory lane…
WHO’S THAT HANDSOME YOUNG DEVIL WEARING WHAT MUST BE A GRAY PONCHO?! Oh yeah, that’s me circa 2010, back when open-mouthed smiles and thumb rings were still cool (evidently). The more first-year counselors I interact with, the more I begin to believe that all of them collectively raid their 6’5” father’s closet to find clothes that fit. Cheap clothes that fit are way better than expensive clothes that don’t; it’s better to have one shirt that fits than ten that don’t; and it’s better to have three similarly structured statements than only two. If you need advice on how clothes should fit, visit the appropriately named website HowClothesShouldFit.com. Bookmark that, print it out, staple it in the shower, tape it to your carpet, drill it into your car–wherever it has to be so you are constantly reminded that Fit Is Everything. On an unrelated note, be on the lookout for next week’s blog by Grant Cushman titled, “How to Adhere Objects to Surfaces Like an Adult”.
With that in mind, let’s break it down into the essentials…
Shirts come in all different shapes, styles, fabrics, and makes; it’s essential you find the kind that fits your style (but, most importantly, your office’s dress expectations). As a simple rule of thumb, if your shirt doesn’t have a collar, then it’s not appropriate for the workplace. The go-to shirt for any admission office is the dress shirt:
You can rock out a dress shirt with or without a tie, but this staple is always a great choice. The different type of fabric depends on your style, but I personally always go with an Oxford Cotton Button Down (OCBDs for short). Oxford cotton is a bit thicker than most dress shirt fabrics and allows for a bit more versatility and ruggedness; you can dress a shirt up with a tie for the office and then un-tuck and un-tie it for more casual wear. Here’s a picture I took of me earlier today, so you can see how far I’ve come (and so everyone can see what Chapman University bathrooms look like–which is probably the real reason you’re reading this blog):
You can also wear a polo shirt, but polos are for golfers and I don’t think you live anywhere near Augusta. I say stick with the button down.
Pants are a pretty make-or-break part of the outfit. Where would you be without pants? (Hint: jail). It doesn’t matter how well your shirt fits; if your pants are baggy (or pleated), then you may as well dress like MC Hammer. The only pants that should see the light of day in your office are slacks or chinos. Let’s begin…
Why did I indent and italicize there? Because I don’t know how to further contextually delineate and divide these subjects anymore. Anyway–SLACKS. Slacks will be the most formal of the pants dichotomy that I will be explaining. Slacks are the type of pants that come with a suit, so they are pretty serious business. You could literally only wear slacks to the office for the rest of your life and be absolutely fine, or you could throw some color in the wind Pocahontas-style and wrap your legs in…
Now wait, Grant, aren’t chinos and khakis the same thing? No. Get out of here with your hip-down ignorance. Khaki is a color and chino is a type of pants. For example, I couldn’t wear a chino polo because that doesn’t make any sense, but if I wanted to get fired from my job I could wear a khaki polo like this almost certainly unemployed man:
Anyway–Chinos. Chinos are a fantastic option for below the belt coverings and are generally my pants of choice. Much for the same reason I like Oxford Cotton Button Downs–their versatility–I’m a big fan of the chinos. Chinos work well in the office and can be a great outfit that you wear on the weekends before your friends cancel on you last minute and you’re relegated to sitting on the couch watching reruns of Modern Family (but hey, at least you look great in those chinos).
Best to stay away from jeans. Also pleats. And pleated jeans. Yeah I know casual Friday is a thing, and it’s nice to switch it up every once in a while, but always remember the mantra: dress for the job you want, not the job you have.
Shoes are really a matter of preference, and the variety is pretty much endless. Whether you’re wearing Oxfords, Derbys, Loafers, Cap Toes, Wing Tips, Monk Straps, Dress Boots, or some almost always universally overly-dressy Opera Pumps, it’s really hard to go wrong with some tasteful and classy dress shoes. So instead of breaking down the difference between these shoes, I will instead encourage you to do your own research and invest in a shoe that speaks to you (not literally though; talking shoes are a big workplace no-no).
What is important about shoes, though, is the element of matching. It’s a relatively simple concept, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it done wrong. Refer to this infographic for a simple breakdown of what shoes to wear with what color suit (if you aren’t wearing a suit then default to your pants color):
Brown and black are pretty much staples of any legitimate business man’s closet. However, if you want a shoe color that will take you to the next level, you’ve got a friend in cordovan:
“But Grant, that shoe looks like it was made of rich mahogany and shined with 100 dollar bills–I can’t pull that off!” Well you’re right about the first two things (standard cordovan cobbling procedure); however, let me turn this day from a “check minus” into a “check plus” and say that you can pull off cordovan. Cordovan goes with literally any color suit (except black, so I guess not literally). Just be sure you buy an equally fancy and classy cordovan belt, so the clothing symphony doesn’t turn into a cacophony.
Cordovan is the color of royalty and, should the world ever decide to elect a president, you can be sure that cordovan will be required dress for that position.
So that’s it for men. Now, let’s hop over to women.
Based on my years of observational research and self-proctored double blind studies, I’ve found the one secret to women’s clothing in the workplace:
You didn’t think it would be that easy, but it is! You can literally (and this time I actually mean literally) throw a scarf on ANY outfit and make it appropriate for the workplace. For example:
There you have it! You might think women’s fashion would be more difficult due to the inconceivable amount of variety that exists in women’s clothing, but you’d be wrong. It all comes down to whether or not you have a thin piece of fabric wrapped delicately and intricately around your neck.
So there you have it! See you all in two weeks!
NO BUT REALLY…
I know almost zero about women’s fashion and I would hate to wander into unknown territory in fear of being ridiculed (or worse, someone actually taking my advice). Instead, I will link you to some fashion blogs for women. Be warned, I literally googled ‘business casual for women,’ so take these links with a grain of salt (or preferably, don’t take them at all).
So there you literally have it. I would ask you to comment on the blog, but no one does that, so instead I’ll encourage you to say “hey I read your blog; it was pretty good” in passing–which is what people actually do instead.