August 22, 2013
From Squalor to Baller: It’s All in the Collar
All foolish rhymes aside, I think that one of the most important aspects of   wearing tailored clothing well is the space right below the neck, where jacket, shirt, and tie all come together. This magical zone is the pedestal for the face (which is really where you want people looking, right?), and for that reason it is of critical importance.
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In my opinion, a well-balanced collar/lapel zone involves shirt collar points that are neatly tucked under the lapels of a jacket. This creates smooth, clean lines around the the base of your neck and draws attention upwards towards the face rather than to the garment itself. There is more than one parameter involved when achieving this cohesive look, though. Finding the right collar is one, but finding a well-fitting jacket is another.
When a jacket collar is too large it will often result in "collar gap," a dire circumstance that occurs when the jacket fails to sufficiently hug the neck. This unfortunate circumstance can be seen all over the place, and it’s something that is difficult for a tailor to alter. Any jacket that causes this issue is best avoided. 
The second variable involved in creating collar/lapel harmony is the size and shape of the shirt collar. In my opinion, the collar looks best when it is wide enough to meet the jacket lapel, thus achieving that sleek and simple look (usually 3 or more inches in point length). The most common problem I see is when men wear collar points that are much too small (a trend that has been holding on for far too long and I hope will disappear soon). The result is an awkward “W” shape at the bottom of the neck rather than sweeping lines. To circumvent this, then, a shirt collar needs adequate width and spread. 
Of course, this can be achieved with more than just extreme cutaways and spread collars who’s collar points don’t even make it past the (aptly named) collar bone; semi-spread and point collars can create this look too, but their points will need to be a bit longer (it’s just some simple trigonometry).
I like the look achieved when collar, lapel and tie are all roughly the same size, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it is an imperative. Nonetheless, it probably is the safest route.
Once this zone is in harmony, the rest falls in to place. Well, not really, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction. Realizing the importance of this area was one of the biggest sartorial steps I have taken to date. It’s one of those things that will probably never be noticed but will help make your tailored clothing look sharp and cohesive.

From Squalor to Baller: It’s All in the Collar

All foolish rhymes aside, I think that one of the most important aspects of   wearing tailored clothing well is the space right below the neck, where jacket, shirt, and tie all come together. This magical zone is the pedestal for the face (which is really where you want people looking, right?), and for that reason it is of critical importance.

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July 23, 2013
Personal Style, Part III: Confidence & Context
 This is the third installment in a series about events that shaped the way I dress. These stories may or may not be relevant to you but hopefully they offer a perspective that isn’t often seen on the internet. Previously: Part I, Part II.
If you’re reading my blog then you’re probably someone that puts some thought into what they wear. It’s a sad truth that many men do not dress as well as they could or as well as was expected historically (although there has certainly been growing momentum to change this). Here in California, most men dress very casually in and outside of the office. It takes some serious guts to go against the grain. Being “that guy” can be hard at times, especially when you’re first learning about clothing. When you dress well it is often interpreted by others as an open invitation to remark and critique; nobody comments on what the frumpy office drone is wearing, but once you start to make a change people often seem more comfortable in commenting on your attire. That’s why dressing well takes confidence. 
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At the same time, it’s important to keep in mind the context that your clothes are in. Although “dressing for yourself” is a great thing to do, it’s important to remember that the way you dress (whether good or bad) will change the way people think of you and interact with you. 
A couple of years ago I was an intern for a firm in San Francisco. After years of construction work over the summer I was eager to work in a white collar environment and dress the part. I made a point of wearing a tie every day, even though ties were virtually nonexistent in the office of 300 people. I assumed that my tie-wearing was a move that showed I was a professional and could be taken seriously, but instead it did the opposite. It showed that I was not well tuned in to the office environment and was more interested in my own wardrobe agenda than the acceptable office attire. My tie-wearing made me stand out, and not in a way that an intern probably should. I later found that one of my managers expressed concern to a coworker that I was “uptight” because I insisted on wearing ties (anyone who knows me well knows that this couldn’t be further from the truth). In my attempt to fulfill my role as a professional I had unwittingly isolated myself and effectively done the opposite. Fortunately, my hard work paid off and I was able to land a full-time job at the firm; however, my “professional wardrobe” was not as beneficial as I had hoped. 
It does take self confidence to dress well but it must be done within the context of the environment you’re in. This is something that has taken me a long time to realize and is something that I’m still working on. I assume that dressing elegantly is a skill that comes with time and experience, and recognizing that hopefully means I’m on the right path. 
There is a difference between “that guy who always looks nice” and “that guy who is always too dressed up.” They way you dress should be guided not only by your personal interests but by the situation you’re in. After all, the guy that wears velvet slippers to the office isn’t really any more stylish than the guy who wears sandals. 

Personal Style, Part III: Confidence & Context

 This is the third installment in a series about events that shaped the way I dress. These stories may or may not be relevant to you but hopefully they offer a perspective that isn’t often seen on the internet. Previously: Part I, Part II.

If you’re reading my blog then you’re probably someone that puts some thought into what they wear. It’s a sad truth that many men do not dress as well as they could or as well as was expected historically (although there has certainly been growing momentum to change this). Here in California, most men dress very casually in and outside of the office. It takes some serious guts to go against the grain. Being “that guy” can be hard at times, especially when you’re first learning about clothing. When you dress well it is often interpreted by others as an open invitation to remark and critique; nobody comments on what the frumpy office drone is wearing, but once you start to make a change people often seem more comfortable in commenting on your attire. That’s why dressing well takes confidence. 

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April 23, 2013
Consider This: Dress better than you feel.
We all have days in which we don’t feel that great but still need to get things accomplished. It may be a lack of sleep, long work hours, lingering head cold, unexpected hangover, funky Chinese food or a myriad of other reasons. Many of these situations can be avoided to some degree, but less-than perfect days will always exist. The difference comes in how we react to them. My method of combating these difficult days involves one easy step: dress better than you feel. Here’s why:
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1. You’ll feel better.
I’m no Christian Scientist but I think it’s hard to deny that part of the discomfort that comes from feeling crummy is in our heads. Some Tibetan guy once said that “pain is inevitable; suffering is optional,” and to me that sounds about right. When I wake up from a late night of karaoke or a tough deadline I compensate with an extra effort in dressing professionally - perhaps a nice twill shirt instead of oxford, worsted trousers instead of khakis, or a printed tie instead of a knit. Most of us here in blogland love the sensation that comes with dressing well, and I find that it does wonders for my hangover as well; for me it is much easier to attack the day and get work done if I feel like a professional. Heading to the office in a crisp suit and tie feels much better than doing the same in my old college hoodie.
2. You’ll keep the whole office from knowing.
I’ve never understood why so many people wear their feelings on the outside while in the office. You can always tell the guys that were out a bit too late drinking or are fighting a head cold; they show up (a bit late) in old loose jeans and a wrinkled shirt, wearing the story of last night’s bender on their sleeves (pun somewhat intended). The same goes with the chronic over-workers; they roll in looking frazzled and rumpled so that everyone knows that they were in the office until midnight last night. I find both of these approaches to be foolish. If I dress sharp and arrive on time I am not bothered with wise cracks or sympathy - everyone treats me like normal and I can suffer in peace. At the end of the day, I’d rather get  ”got an interview or something?” over “I remember my first hangover.” 
3. Perception is everything.
It’s an unfortunate truth - too often our success in life is tied to how we are perceived and not what we are actually capable of. This is especially true in a professional setting. For this reason I try to put my best foot forward when I know I’ll need it the most. I don’t believe that “it’s always better to be overdressed” like some say but when I’d like to take the focus off my tired body I have no problem deflecting with sharp business attire. 
Of course, the most important thing to do to alleviate those crummy days is to take care of yourself. Good diet, sleep, exercise and moderation in vices are the best way to ensure a happy and productive day. But when you wake up with a pounding headache and a conference call in two hours, consider dressing over instead of under. 

Consider This: Dress better than you feel.

We all have days in which we don’t feel that great but still need to get things accomplished. It may be a lack of sleep, long work hours, lingering head cold, unexpected hangover, funky Chinese food or a myriad of other reasons. Many of these situations can be avoided to some degree, but less-than perfect days will always exist. The difference comes in how we react to them. My method of combating these difficult days involves one easy step: dress better than you feel. Here’s why:

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February 5, 2013

Business Casual Basics, Part III: Shoes

Previously: Part I, Part II. This is the third installment for my fellow white collar ballers.

If you’ve spent any time learning about men’s clothing (be it from family, friends, or the internet) you’ve probably heard a disproportional amount of talk about shoes. Shoes are a huge part of what dressing well is about (both in cost and importance), even though they take up a fairly small amount of space on your body. It can’t be stressed enough; shoes are often what separate the men from the boys, and business casual workplaces are notorious for bad shoe choices. A little bit of knowledge here will go a long way. Shoes are also the foundation of your outfit in stylistic and structural terms; if you buy well and take care of your purchases they will in turn keep you comfortable and stylish for decades.

1. Save up some money.

This one has the potential to get expensive. Accept the fact that high-quality shoes will be expensive if bought new, and can even be pricey when bought secondhand. Thrifting can be a good option here as well.

2. Learn the differences between “real shoes” and bad shoes.

High-quality shoes are expensive for many reasons, but the biggest two are material quality and construction. These qualities are much more important with shoes than they are in a shirt or pair of pants because shoes need to stand up to a tremendous amount of wear. Read Kiyoshi’s post and Put This On’s article to get a sense for what I’m talking about. If you buy a high-quality welted shoe that fits well and is well taken care of it will last for decades. Trust me.

Need some help finding out which brands can be trusted for high quality shoes and which can’t? I’ve included a short list at the bottom of this post, but my rule of thumb (toe?) is this: don’t buy shoes from any manufacturer that can’t tell you what last their shoes are made on. Any respectable shoe maker will have products on a range of last choices and will be able to tell you about them.

3. Understand the different styles and their applications.

Ready for some shoe terminology? This should be enough to get you started.

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January 7, 2013
Business Casual Basics, Part II: Dress Pants 
After some positive feedback from my first business casual post (I see you, Reddit) I’ve decided to continue the series for my fellow white collar ballers (being a baller is not actually required). Again, this may be old hat to some, but for those that are interested – read on. 
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1. Please stop buying black dress pants.
Just stop it. Right now. Unless you’re a classical musician or a waiter there’s really no need to go there. 
2. Assess your needs.
First, learn how people in your office dress and what the official stance on business attire is (if there is one). Some easy questions to ask yourself: does everyone have their pants creased or are they unpressed? Do you see wool slacks or cotton chinos or denim? If your office is anything like mine then all of these are perfectly acceptable, leaving the decisions to you. In my mind, business casual pants fall into three broad categories:
“Trousers.” This is a bit of a catch-all term, but in my mind it signifies pants made from a dressy fabric (usually some weave of wool, but any fiber will do) and with creases running up the legs. They will also have more formal details like slanted pockets, buttoned back pockets and hidden seams. These would be the equivalent of the bottom half of your suit, but without a matching jacket (you have a suit, right?).
Chinos. Named after the twill fabric that they are usually manufactured from, these bad boys are casual in nature but have become perfectly acceptable in most offices. These feature external stiching, rugged fabric, and a lack of creasing (or any pressing).
 Denim. Now before you get too excited, this isn’t a free pass for jeans in the office. I’m talking about dark, unadorned, slim/straight denim with no rips and holes. When done right this can work well with casual fabrics like oxford cloth and tweed.
Once you figure out what your office’s feel is and where your personal tastes lie you can start looking to purchase. Try to keep things consistent with the rest of your outfit; if you wear spread collars, ties and blazers you’re going to need trousers for just about every day. If you wear button down oxford shirts, sweaters, and loafers then you can roll with just chinos and denim. 
3. Figure out how these things should fit.
Now, this will depend on several things, namely your body shape, the pant style and your personal preferences. Much like shirts, the general concept is to find something that flatters your shape without pulling or looking constrictive. However, I believe that the fit should vary between the type of pants.
Trousers: due to their formal nature, I tend to lean towards classic proportions here. The nicer fabric will allow them to drape in an attractive manner and this is lost when they become overly snug. I don’t wear trousers tapered past 8” and I look for a rise that will allow them to sit above my hips.
As the intermediate choice, chinos can land anywhere on the spectrum. I prefer to keep mine on the slim side but make sure that my legs aren’t tapered past 7.5-8” (and I’m a lanky guy).
Denim can be worn slimmer than the other two styles, but within reason. I keep my denim snug in the thigh and waist as it tends to stretch with wear. I usually have a taper of about 7.5”.
Learning what pant fit suits you best will take some time and experimentation, but at the very least be conscious of the choices you make in this area so you can adjust in the future if need be. More information on fit can be found here and here. 
4. Gray, gray, gray, and then something close to gray (but still not black).
Gray is a great (gray-t?) color for trousers because it provides a solid foundation for the rest of your outfit without detracting from it. It’s hard to think of a traditional shirt or blazer color that won’t look good with gray pants (with the exception of gray, of course). Embrace the color and make it the cornerstone of your collection; your brown, tan and navy blazers will thank you. Add variety by using different shades and fabrics. Of course, denim is best in navy and chinos are classic in khaki, but stick with gray trousers until you’re well on your way to a full wardrobe.
5. Experiment with materials and texture rather than colors.
Wild colors can be fun but I find that diversifying with different fabrics is a more versatile way to expand your daily choices. Worsted wool is a standby for trousers, but consider flannel, tweed, moleskin, linen, tropical wool or cotton canvas depending on your climate.
6. Pleats: the ultimate divider
Pleats got a bad reputation when they became the go-to for guys giving PowerPoint presentations. I grew up in a world of relaxed fit triple-pleat Dockers and it was not pretty. However, there is a time and place for pleats. When worn correctly (up on your hips and not pulled open) they can help create a smoother appearance of the lines in your pants, especially for men with larger seats and thighs. However, if you don’t know much about how pleats operate I would suggest avoiding them until you know if they’ll be beneficial to you. More information can be found here.
7. Break it up.
The break of a pant leg is a crucial but often ignored aspect of fit. The term “break” refers to how far the pants extend down your leg before ending. A “full break” will involve the pant leg folding upon itself several times over the shoe, whereas no break implies that the pants end before even touching your feet. A medium break is an easy choice, but current trends favor slight/no break (as do I). Narrower pant legs will look best a bit shorter, and vice versa. More information here and here. 
8. Care for your clothes.
Take care of your clothes. Trousers should be hung and aired out before thrown in a closet. Dry clean only and do it as little as necessary. Chinos can usually be washed in a machine, and I prefer to hang dry mine. Iron if needed. Denim should stay out of the dryer and washed infrequently; the specifics beyond that vary depending on who you ask.
9. Make a list and stock up.
Pants for work can be found almost anywhere, but here is a short list (not complete by any means) that may help narrow your search.
Trousers: Howard Yount, Epaulet, Brooks Brothers, Land’s End
Chinos: Epaulet, Bonobos, J. Crew, Land’s End Canvas, Ralph Lauren
Denim: Levi’s, Gustin, 3Sixteen, A.P.C.
There rest of the Business Casual Basics series can be found here.

Business Casual Basics, Part II: Dress Pants 

After some positive feedback from my first business casual post (I see you, Reddit) I’ve decided to continue the series for my fellow white collar ballers (being a baller is not actually required). Again, this may be old hat to some, but for those that are interested – read on. 

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December 13, 2012
I’m about to embark on my first ever business trip (I was going to head to NYC last month but then Sandy happened). I’ll be in sunny Los Angeles, spending two days in meetings and one day on a construction site. The challenge: pack lightly for one professional day, one business casual day, and one on-site day. Here’s what I threw together:
Gray Prince of Wales suit
Navy cotton blazer
Pale pink shirt (stiff spread collar)
Blue shirt (soft spread collar)
Blue OCBD
Navy stripe tie
Navy knit tie
Wingtips
Steel toe boots
Raw denim
Alligator belt
Wide leather belt
sunglasses
Not pictured: neon vest and hard hat (safety first y’all)
This is what I’m thinking: suit and pink shirt the first day, keep the pants and add unstructured jacket and shirt the second day, and sub in denim, OCBD and boots for the site. I generally enjoy the challenge that packing presents; you want to present yourself well wherever you’re headed, but you can’t bring everything. Making everything work together is like a brain teaser to me. At the very least it’s certainly a test of the versatility of a wardrobe.

I’m about to embark on my first ever business trip (I was going to head to NYC last month but then Sandy happened). I’ll be in sunny Los Angeles, spending two days in meetings and one day on a construction site. The challenge: pack lightly for one professional day, one business casual day, and one on-site day. Here’s what I threw together:

  • Gray Prince of Wales suit
  • Navy cotton blazer
  • Pale pink shirt (stiff spread collar)
  • Blue shirt (soft spread collar)
  • Blue OCBD
  • Navy stripe tie
  • Navy knit tie
  • Wingtips
  • Steel toe boots
  • Raw denim
  • Alligator belt
  • Wide leather belt
  • sunglasses
  • Not pictured: neon vest and hard hat (safety first y’all)

This is what I’m thinking: suit and pink shirt the first day, keep the pants and add unstructured jacket and shirt the second day, and sub in denim, OCBD and boots for the site. I generally enjoy the challenge that packing presents; you want to present yourself well wherever you’re headed, but you can’t bring everything. Making everything work together is like a brain teaser to me. At the very least it’s certainly a test of the versatility of a wardrobe.

October 22, 2012
The Final Showdown: Proper Cloth vs. Ratio

I’ve talked about Proper Cloth and Ratio Clothing several times in the past. Not everybody needs or likes online MTM shirting, but I clearly enjoy the process. Here’s why I like it:

  • The potential for a better fit without tailoring
  • Control over collar style and other details
  • More fabric options than off-the-rack
  • More information on fabric, construction and the overall manufacturing process
  • Small cost premium when including additional tailoring to off-the-rack shirts
  • Usually less expensive than traditional tailor-made shirts

There are downsides, of course (the biggest being the potential for receiving a less-than-perfect fit), but my experiences have overall been positive. I’ve made it clear that I think Ratio and Proper Cloth are the best of the internet in delivering these criteria. I’ve had some time to pick up more shirts for each, and in the election-year spirit I decided to compare them head to head. I’ve created a helpful rubric with what I believe are the most important parameters to consider when shopping for a MTM shirt, as well as how the two companies stack up in each category. You will have to weight them yourself depending on what is most important to you. If you decide to look outside of Ratio and Proper Cloth for a MTM shirt, you may want to consider these same variables before purchasing.

Consensus: they’re both great companies making high-quality products and I don’t think you could go wrong with either. They do have different styles and areas of expertise, though. Proper Cloth is probably your best option for the shirt fanatic that wants control over every aspect and is interested in luxe options like name-brand mills and mother-of-pearl buttons. Ratio excels in helping the man who just wants to fill his wardrobe with well-fitting, high-quality garments with classic styling. I’ve had a great time interacting with both companies and I fully endorse both. 

TL;DR: If you want a  monogrammed mini-gingham Albini shirt with contrasting club collar and mother-of-pearl buttons, head to Proper Cloth. If you’re new to nice shirts and looking for the perfect OCBD that you can wear the sh*t out of, go to Ratio. Anything in between and they’ll both treat you well. 

If you want to try Proper Cloth, my referral link will get you $25 off your first shirt.

If you want to check out Ratio, this link will get you $20 off your first shirt.

October 1, 2012
Business Casual Basics, Part I: The Dress Shirt
Like many Americans, I work in a ‘business casual’ setting. This vague definition means different things to different people and companies, but you can be sure of one thing: you will be wearing a shirt, and that shirt will (hopefully) have buttons up the front. Since so many men eschew ties and blazers nowadays, the shirt often attracts a disproportional amount of attention in the business casual setting. Moreover, the shirt is generally not something that can be slowly accumulated over time, like blazers and shoes; when you get your first job, you’ll need a wardrobe full of them, and fast. For these reasons it seems that the dress shirt is a point of stress for many young professionals. I’ve put together a primer which will hopefully help some young men out; this may be old news to many, but it is a topic I am often asked about by friends and coworkers, and this seems like a good place for it.
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1. Fit is Paramount.
I won’t go in to too much detail here since this is covered extensively elsewhere. Just make sure your collar is snug, your unbuttoned sleeves reach your first thumb joint, the yoke sits on your shoulders, and the overall silhouette follows your own without pulling during movement or sitting. Know your measurements. Take some time to find a maker that fits your body. Unlike shoes and blazers, high quality construction and materials are not as imperative; find a good fit, stay away from synthetics and factor in the cost of alterations if need be. Brooks Brothers shirts are a classic and often on sale. Many seem to have good luck with Charles Tyrwhitt, Land’s End, and TM Lewin, although I personally do not have experience with these makers. Consider going the made-to-measure route if you have a hard-to-fit body type or are obsessive about details; I highly recommend both Ratio and Proper Cloth (refer to my previous posts for more information).
2. Know your collar styles, and ignore most of them.
Most men don’t think about collar styles when dressing or shopping, but they play a large role in the presentation of your face (which is hopefully what people are focusing on). There are lots of styles out there, but you only really need to know two: the button down point collar and the spread (or semi-spread). They both have their place in the American coporate setting; the button-down works beautifully with more casual fabrics and the spread is a great backdrop for ties and jackets. Avoid shirts with the following collar terms: club, point (non-button down), cutaway, wing, and anything with the word “mini.” These collars are not bad, per se, but they will not lend themselves to building an accessible and versatile introductory wardrobe. Shoot for 2.75-3.5” point lengths, with 4-5.5” spread for the spread collars and around 3” for the button downs (these number may not always be available but they provide a good point of reference). Find what flatters you the most and stick with it. Make sure that the spread collar is wide enough and spread-y enough to tuck neatly under your jacket (in other words, avoid this).
3a. Follow the one-color rule.
Getting crazy with colors can be cool, but is by no means a necessity for dressing well. I personally follow the one-color rule: all my dress shirts are either comprised of one solid color or a pattern with one color (besides white). I’m always amazed at how many men wear shirts with furious, colorful checks and stripes to the office. Tone it down. Following this rule is not limiting; beyond solids there are various stripes, graph checks and ginghams, to name just a few.
3b. Avoid dark and oversaturated colors.
Nothing says “I got all my shirts at Express” like wearing cyan, tangerine, emerald or heliotrope (look it up) shirts. Avoid black shirts unless you’re Johnny Cash.
4. Hide your underwear.
Undershirts are a personal choice, but just remember that showing them is only a few steps above showing your briefs. If you have always worn one (like many in my generation), try going without. You may find that it really wasn’t doing anything for you in the first place. If you do want to wear one, spring for a V-neck if you want to go tie-less and consider gray instead of white to avoid them showing through.
5. Make a list and stock up.
There will be many variants in what your shirt wardrobe could entail because ‘business casual’ is such a vague term. Some may focus more on rugged fabrics and button-down collars, while other will spring for spread collars and ties. Assess your own needs and go from there. Here’s a list of what I see as my ideal shirt wardrobe:
Broadcloth, twill or pinpoint with spread or semi-spread collar 
2x white (one barrel cuff, one french cuff)
2x pale/light blue (two different shades)
1x pale pink
1x  lavender
1x blue/white candy stripe
1x graph check
2x blue/white gingham (different shades and check sizes)
Oxford cloth, button-down collar
2x blue
2x white
1x blue/white stripe
TOTAL: 15 shirts. 3 week’s worth. Endless combinations and hardly boring or repetitive. Once the basics are covered, feel free to start experimenting with more fabrics, patterns, and collar styles. As long as you have a core of well-fitting, versatile shirts, you’ll never be stumped when getting dressed in the morning.
There rest of the Business Casual Basics series can be found here.

Business Casual Basics, Part I: The Dress Shirt

Like many Americans, I work in a ‘business casual’ setting. This vague definition means different things to different people and companies, but you can be sure of one thing: you will be wearing a shirt, and that shirt will (hopefully) have buttons up the front. Since so many men eschew ties and blazers nowadays, the shirt often attracts a disproportional amount of attention in the business casual setting. Moreover, the shirt is generally not something that can be slowly accumulated over time, like blazers and shoes; when you get your first job, you’ll need a wardrobe full of them, and fast. For these reasons it seems that the dress shirt is a point of stress for many young professionals. I’ve put together a primer which will hopefully help some young men out; this may be old news to many, but it is a topic I am often asked about by friends and coworkers, and this seems like a good place for it.

Read More