This post may seem like it’s preaching to the choir, but in any given month about 50% of Ivy Style’s traffic consists of first-time visitors. So this is one is for those who are logging on for the first time. And for all you regulars, here’s something to pass along to your coworkers to help recruit them into our little trad fraternity.
Recently a couple of corporate America’s last defenders of traditional dress codes — JP Morgan and PricewaterhouseCoopers — annouced they would be relaxing their standards. Almost immediately, the Wall Street Journal reports, retail giant Saks Fifth Avenue began producing a guide called “The New Office Casual,” hoping to convince guys in the financial industry to buy a new wardrobe. After all, almost everyone can figure out the uniform of dark suit, white shirt and random necktie, but the freedom of business-casual terrifies a lot of men. It’s kind of like back in the old days with social dancing. Learning to foxtrot or jitterbug took some time, but at least it gave you a structure. Once dancing became freestyle, what exactly are you supposed to do?
So for those just entering the workforce or at a company growing increasingly casual, allow me to present the virtues of the genre we refer to as trad (“preppy” and “Ivy League” are a bit outmoded). It’s perfectly illustrated in the top image by the blogger known as “Oxford Cloth Button Down.”
Trad consists of safe, timeless basics that will keep you from looking too fashionable and also from looking like you’re wearing fashion that’s expired. Everything goes with everything else, so little calculation is required. Trad clothing commands respect thanks to its classic restraint, and won’t offend clients with ostentation. It doesn’t cost a lot, and almost everything transitions from your casual wardrobe into your business wardrobe — performing double duty, so to speak. What more could you ask of your clothes?
The Saks manual features seven wardrobe essentials it calls the Refined Top, the Perfect Fit Pant, the Dress Shoe Hybrid, the Sporty Suit, the Clean Sneaker, the Easy Layer and the Leather Bag. Here are trad versions that cost less and will serve your career better.
The Refined Top
Unlike a standard or spread collar, which looks sloppy and unfinished without a tie, the buttondown shirt looks neat without a tie. It’s a casual shirt and dress shirt all in one.
For a short-sleeved option, the popover is a sort of cross between a buttondown and a polo shirt.
To go full-on polo shirt, choose one that’s made well from good fabric, like this one from KP MacLane:
Joggers and cargo pants aren’t trad, and who wants to sign a million-dollar deal with a guy who looks like he belongs in a gym or on a telephone pole? Lands’ End offers chinos, lightweight wool trousers, and corduroy pants which in most cases you can specify the length down to a quarter of an inch, and, for added trad style, add cuffs.
The Dress Shoe Hybrid
Allen Edmonds is increasingly rolling out shoes with traditional uppers and various kinds of rugged rubber soles, making them more casual and easier to walk in. They cost more than cheap shoes, but you’ll look more successful and over the long haul they’ll turn out to be the value play.
Alden has a category called Dress Casuals with the same formula of traditional upper and casual sole.
The Sporty Suit
Let’s replace the “sporty suit” with a sportcoat, which are more casual than suits anyway. A gold-buttoned blazer might not look right for business, and a heavy tweed sportcoat might give the impression you’d rather be teaching Latin. Choose a patterned jacket in a shade of blue that you can wear with a tie when needed, and with everything else on this page. This one is from O’Connell’s, is made in North America by the fine folks of Canada, and runs only $695.
The Clean Sneaker
Replace with classic Sperry boat shoe.
The trad approach to dressing already takes layering into account, since, as mentioned before, everything goes with everything else. Not only when it comes to color, but through a sort of inherent logic. Buttondown collars tuck neatly under crewneck sweaters, which fit perfectly under sportcoats.
Below, cotton crewneck from The Andover Shop.
Cotton-cashmere V neck from J. Press:
Scottish lambswool from O’Connell’s:
The Leather Bag
And now that you’re dressed, you can get those contracts signed with a bag like this one, made from Horween leather and available from The Lodge.
Over the years I’ve liked to repeat that one of the chief virtues of the “trad” genre of clothing is its flexibility. It can be whatever you want it to be — and whatever you bring to it — from the cool to the elegant. Which means it can also be perfectly simple everyday office wear, from entry level to corner office. In fact, you can climb the corporate ladder and never need to buy a new wardrobe. — CC