by JENNIFER LAPKA PFEIFER | photos by BONJWING LEE
“Always dress yourself out of respect for whom you are spending time with,” my beloved, late grandmother once told me. She shared those words of wisdom while I was in my teenage years and their meaning becomes more and more sharply focused with each passing year. Essentially, as I would when preparing a speech, I aim to “know my audience” when dressing my body each morning by reviewing my calendar appointments for the day. Do I have lunch with my best friend? . . . a meeting with a potential funder? . . . a cocktail hour with colleagues? — or perhaps all of the above. I tailor my day’s look accordingly.
My husband and male friends frequently ask me for advice on how to best adhere to this or that dress code, especially business casual. As our society continues to shed formality, in general — think shrinking lexicons, the loss of cursive writing, RSVPing via text message, etc. — business casual has slowly become the modus operandi in workplaces around the country, starting with Silicon Valley CEOs in the 1990s. Even behemoth businesses like J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and American Express have opted in, in order to attract young and seasoned employees alike who want to express their individuality while being as comfortable as possible.
So what does the code constitute? Because the meaning of business casual is different according to geography and industry, what do I advise my husband and male friends to wear? I talk to my wealth manager about investing; I talk to my doctor about health; therefore, I sought the advice of a professional clothier on this matter, Tom Paolini of Paolini Garment Company, so I could help them. I share his knowledge with you, too, here.
Tom says, “The key to dressing for business casual, or any level of formality or casualness, is being mindful of time, place, and your personal brand. It could be defined as “familiar dressing.” You dress more formally typically when you have a new client or a board meeting. But dressing more familiar means that you are comfortable with your client base and peers and can literally loosen your tie.”
To Palolini, business casual is simply expanding an existing mode of dress — essentially how you already dress for the country club, for business travel, and for dinner on Friday night, but adapting that look to the work week. These adaptations can include keeping your suit but removing your tie and unbuttoning your shirt a bit; pairing high-quality denim jeans with a blazer; finding a unique bomber jacket and putting it with structured trousers; switching out serious socks with whimsical ones; maintaining manicured stubble on your face; and wearing bright shoes.
I have the greatest respect for Tom and his passion for elevating our community’s level of dressing and understanding of the fashion industry. Pop by his shop — which, interestingly, is located in the former home of Lawrin — the Kansas-bred 1938 Kentucky Derby-winning horse — in the Corinth South shopping center in Prairie Village. He and his team can offer men (and women) plenty more advice on custom suiting and shoes,.tuxedos, high-end textiles from historical, international mills, and more.
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