The author runs a menswear consultancy.
Thanks to the proliferation of primetime television drama featuring dapper gentlemen as protagonists (think Suits, Mad Men, and White Collar), the resurgence of formal business dress has never resonated louder today. Matched with the soaring interest in traditional tailoring and all things bespoke, there is no better time for men to embrace that timeless and most versatile of garments: the suit. Crucially, it is also the one item of clothing that can help boost your career the most.
Many in Singapore often cite the humid weather as an excuse for dressing down, but that argument looks increasingly feeble, when, for example, you see Hong Kongers remaining suited up during their summers (which are even less forgiving than ours).
As is often said, dress for the job you want, not the one you have. It is hardly coincidental that it is often the senior directors and partners in an organisation who seem most well put together. By the same token, the fact that you may be a fledgling employee or struggling to make middle management does not stop you from putting effort into your attire.
Granted, arriving at work in a three-piece suit and a bowler hat might be a tad over the top, but donning a conservative business suit for work is hardly at the same extreme, and the benefits (both tangible and intangible) to your career are worth it.
Wearing a jacket naturally makes you more aware of your posture and how you look to others in a work setting. You may notice yourself standing taller and slouching less, which helps project a greater sense of confidence and purpose. This is undeniably important when you are striving to clinch that deal in a business meeting.
It also sets you apart among your peers because you become less inconspicuous in a sea of increasing homogeneity. A suit also propounds gravitas and authority – imagine the psychological blow you would experience in your open-collar shirt and chinos when facing off against your suited counterparty during negotiations.
Nevertheless, know full well that wearing a poorly made suit can also work against you as you could end up creating the wrong impression. Ditch the tacky accessories (read: ties with cartoon characters or piano-keyboard motifs) and pay close attention to some of these pointers if you wish to up the sartorial ante and scale greater heights in your financial career.
1) Fabric choice
Pick an open-weaved fabric that is porous in nature. Commonly known as a “fresco”, this fabric is loosely woven to allow air to pass through more easily, so it wears cooler. When deciding on colours, you get maximum mileage with basic solids like navy, charcoal or grey. Start experimenting with textures, or other patterns like pinstripes or chalkstripes, only when you are ready to be more adventurous.
2) Suit construction
Jackets can be designed with minimal lining in their backs, and simply put, these can either be half-lined or fully unlined, so that heat from your back is not trapped under additional fabric layers. Similar options are available for trousers, where the inner fabric lining running down from the thigh over the knees can also be removed.
Pick a good tailor who is either able to craft a bespoke suit that fits you, or is willing to undertake alteration jobs to tweak that suit which you bought off the rack. Rather than making you look like an overgrown man-child, your suit is meant to instil a sense of purpose and credibility, so ensure that you avoid the common errors of having your jacket sleeves and trouser lengths too long. In a similar vein, skinny fits and cropped jackets are best reserved for the fashion runway, not the boardroom.
As I often remind clients, unless you work in a start-up where the expectation is for more casual dress, the majority of us still find ourselves in fairly traditional offices, and that is where you will never go wrong with a suit.
Just because no one else is wearing one is immaterial. Confidence pays huge dividends in the career stakes, and you should suit up not because you have to, but because you can.