Cutting Down on Clothes for the Office Gent

A post-work stroll with the family. The sweater makes a reappearance in the post and in real life.

A post-work stroll with the family. The sweater makes a reappearance in the post and in real life.

I remember being in law school, wondering, how many suits does a young, enterprising lawyer need?

My closet in my early- to mid-twenties, forging out in the professional world for the first time, was an homage to every time I needed a suit, or slacks, or a sport coat. Didn’t matter if I wore an item once or if it was literally worn out from all the wear, I was going to have plenty of professional wear. And plenty did I have.

In the relatively staid, formal profession of lawyering, one will likely always need a suit to go to court and to impress the most important clients. The fact that we do not wear wigs is itself a great achievement for America. But, as I’ve observed thus far in my practice, acceptable “professional” clothing is a moving target for any desk job requiring face time with bosses and clients alike, especially since so much of the on-call time is on a smartphone or laptop. Professional uniform is dictated more by office culture. Many offices are quite casual now, and there are fewer occasions for formal dress.

So, this is a long lead-in: what does a modern office gent need in his closet? The list is short.

sweater + polo = day in the office or night on the town

sweater + polo = day in the office or night on the town

The List of Office Essentials

  1. one quality, well-tailored suit (jacket and slacks)
  2. six to ten well-fitted oxford cotton button-down shirts
  3. four polo shirts for days that don’t call for a long-sleeve shirt
  4. one sport coat (ideally the suit jacket could double in this role)
  5. one pair (two is better) durable, high-quality, dark wash jeans (no holes)
  6. six ties
  7. optional: a cardigan and/or a pullover sweater

With that list in mind, my closet has gotten simpler in many ways. It was slower going than Sara’s for one major reason: having enough professional wear had me anxious to remove any article. I thought more was better, that I’d one day need that pair of black Dockers I had worn maybe once. That the jacket with the odd fit and a coffee stain would magically feel right for at least one wear. These fears kept my closet full of distracting, un-worn options.

Armed with the enthusiasm of a new minimalist, however, I’ve culled extraneous suits: a black one, a charcoal one, a khaki one, and a gray one. At last rough count, I had seven button-down shirts, which actually owes to an embarrassing propensity of mine to blow out left elbows in the sleeves more than conscious cutting. I (finally!) have only one suit (a solid navy one), and three sport coats. Yes, I know I have more sport coats than in my essentials list, but hey—I’m working on it.

Suit Yourself — Just One Suit

With list in hand, fellow office gents, I encourage you to dust off those extraneous suits lurking in the shadows of your back closet. Pick your best suit, and keep it, then donate the rest. I assure you, someone else will get more use out of them.

While you’re at it, does your most winningest suit need tailoring? My best suit is one from Joseph A. Bank that I had tailored during law school. Best does not have to mean designer; it means versatile and well-fitting. Bear in mind, a dark-colored, well-tailored suit is timeless. Moreover, dark colors coordinate with countless professional looks.

The modern lawyer needs one suit (think of it as a multi-tool). You probably need two pairs of nice jeans, though. I wear jeans pretty much everyday, in and out of the office.

You may wonder why it’s necessary putting so much thought into closet essentials. Admittedly, having a purposeful wardrobe does take time and planning at the outset. However, once you have settled upon your dressing needs and aspirations, you can weed out the countless garments that take up too much physical and mental space. Dressing with fewer pieces means less shopping, less laundry, less dry cleaning, less effort moving, less noise. Now I can spend more time in the morning with my girls, and less time finding a matching tie.

Slacks and a sport coat for a wedding in Austin.

Slacks and a sport coat for a wedding in Austin.