Need some advice on my work wardrobe

I’m a chemist/engineer. Have been for about six years now.

The attire at my workplace ranges from casual to business professional. I’m at the far end of the casual range. My typical work attire is: Jeans, a collared shirt (untucked), casual fashion sneakers. I switch out of the shoes and put on ugly safety steel-toes when I go into the lab or factory.

I spend probably 80% of my time in the lab/factory. During these times, I’m wearing a lab coat as well.

There’s no big “push” for me to dress nicer. Hell, my boss’s wardrobe is pretty close to mine. But lately I’ve been feeling like, “Hell, I’m 30 now. I should stop dressing like a college kid. I want to move up, I need to dress like it.”

I’m feeling a bit awkward these days when I meet new employees (we’re hiring a bunch) and even moreso with customers (which is more and more frequent as I’m becoming an “expert” in my field) :rolleyes:. “Hey, look at me! Don’t let the slouchy jeans fool you, I’m an experienced professional!” :smack:

I guess I’m looking for advice on a look. Professional. Technical. But there are two caveats:

First: I work in a messy lab and an even messier factory quite a bit. A piece of clothing gets ruined from a chemical spill or splash maybe twice a year. So I can’t wear a suit, and I’d be way out of place if I did.

Second: Our customers are EXTREMELY casual. Think good ol’ boys, NASCAR, dubiously legal hispanic workers and messy, messy shop-floors. Even more so with these guys, a suit or even nice slacks and a dress shirt would make me out of place. That said, my current wardrobe probably makes them think, “psssh. College kid.”

I’m kinda stuck here. The new owners are European and dress quite nicely. Most of our customers are extremely casual. I deal with both. I’d like to find a happy medium between “casual and messy” and “sharp business attire”.

Any suggestions?

darker jeans always look more “formal”, perhaps go with very dark blue or black? since you have a lab coat, a blazer or jacket would not be something to worry about.

if you want to move out of the jeans realm, chinos are the next step. do you get a clothing allowance or reimbursed if your clothes are damaged?

when i was working in print/mail rooms, i would only buy clothes that were at off price stores or under 20 dollars in department stores. i wore khakis, but at under 20 dollars i wasn’t devistated if they got toner, machine/fuser oil, ripped, etc. i did not get reimbursed for damaged clothes, that is why i had the under 20 dollars rule.

instead of sneakers you could go with more casual “soft” shoes. again if you have to wear saftey shoes in the lab, that may not be a concern as well.

It sounds like jeans and button shirts are still the way to go, but it comes down more to the style/cut. Straight legged jeans that are more fitted in the butt look more professional than baggy/loose jeans. Darker washes also tend to look better, especially when combined with better fitting jeans. Compare this fairly light jean with a baggy butt (please tell me they aren’t baggier than that!) to these nicer, darker jeans with a nicer shoe.

If you think your button shirts make you look too “college” then check their size…having just gotten out of university, it seems most guys tend to wear shirts that are too big for them. The seam connecting the sleeve to the shoulder shouldn’t be hanging out around your bicep like one of those tattoos. If you wear a t-shirt underneath, consider how ragged the shirt is… if the shirt happens to have your university’s Freshmen Orientation logo on it, consider replacing it with a nicer shirt ([/glares at husband] ;)) College guys/recent graduates also seem to often have pale blue button shirts. IMHO they don’t often look all that good, and everyone has one, so you just blend in/are forgettable. Get bolder colours, stripes, whatever that suit your complexion better. Iron your shirts occasionally.

A shoelike this can look a little nicer than casual sneakers.

Go into a nice clothing store and actually ask someone to help you. Those impeccably dressed people who work there tend to look so good because they know how clothing should fit. Let them help you look better!

Good advice so far. Can you suggest some nice clothing stores? My wardrobe these days is mostly department stores and Target.

Lame, I know. I’m still in the college mindset though I graduated some years ago.

I don’t really know the stores where you live - largely because I don’t know where you live, but also because I’m making the statistical assumption that you are American.

Around here, I’d point my husband towards Simon’s, Le Château men’s (love that store), maybe Moore’s, Tristan. Stores that actually focus on clothes, rather than clothes, pots and pans, oil changes and garden accessories.

My husband’s only recently gotten back into wearing jeans. For years and years he’d wear some variation on chinos/khakis/twill pants (in lots of colors: dark green, khaki, charcoal, navy) paired with polos, button-down shirts, sweaters, or nicer crewneck/t-shirts. He always looks pretty sharp, while still being able to maintain casual as needed.

My advice: think Eddie Bauer. Their clothes aren’t so expensive that you’ll regret it, but do a pretty good job of walking the line between casual yet still competent. And they look and wear well.

Watch Dexter on Showtime or Netflix and look at how he dresses. His clothes are perfect for the environment you describe, and the fit is excellent.

Eddie Bauer’s good, and I’ll add Land’s End. They both fit just this niche: nicer than jeans-and-a-shirt, but not so nice as sports coats or suits.

Although if you go there and feel a bit hopeless, it may be worth it to save up and splurge a couple hundred on an outfit at an even nicer store, where they have helpful help. Chances are that, after that, you can use their advice to choose similar but cheaper things on your own elsewhere, and save the expensive outfit for job interviews and first dates.

Are there any co-workers who have a certain style you’d like to emulate? If so, ask them where they shop or what they suggest. Scope out their wardrobe for a few weeks and get some ideas.

Tuck in the shirt.

Shirt should be a woven (not knit) fabric; long-sleeved. If you roll up the sleeves, tuck the rolled-up part towards the inside (stays in place better, slightly more stylish).

If you switch to different (non-safety) shoes, you may also need different socks. Think about belts, too.

In addition to your wardrobe, you might also review your manner of speech – that sometimes benefits from some college kid-to-professional tweaks.

Get some nicer work pants. Riggs make some that look pretty good, as does Carhartt.

That way you’ll still be protected in the lab, but look a bit more formal than jeans.

Plus Carhartts’ll make you look like you could go grab a beer with the what it sounds your customers are like.

You can get what you’re looking for at Target. Look at the catalogs that were posted, see if something appeals to you, then go to Target and find something similar. Tuck your shirt into a dark pair of non-baggy jeans and lose the sneakers. There’s a lot of options in comfortable footwear for guys. Try boat shoes or some other kind of slip on style so it’s easy when you change in and out of the steel toes. Another option might be Sears. They now own Land’s End and carry their clothes there. Comfortable, casual, but not slouchy.

Heh. This is the one thing where I’m way ahead of the curve. Despite how I may type on the Dope, I’m pretty sure I have the professional speech and demeanor down. Thank you, years of high-school debate team. Back in college, I remember one acquaintance (a senior) remarking to another, “GameHat speaks like a very educated person!” …I was a freshman.

At work, though I’m 30 now, even in my mid-20s customers with whom I met in person after telephone conversations were often surprised.

“…Wow, you’re a kid! You sounded much older on the phone!”



Actually probably 75% of my shirts are Target polos and button-downs. I’d like to go a step up from these. They’re decent and decent looking, but the quality is pretty poor. They fall apart in about a season.

I agree that chinos and button downs might be the step up you’re looking for. You can find all that at JCrew, and while it will cost a bit more than Target, the quality is much better and you can troll the sales for good stuff too.

Also they have personal shoppers at JCrew who don’t charge for their services, so if you need someone to walk you around the store helping coordinate things so you can do the whole shebang in one trip they can do that. Just call ahead and they’re happy to help.

P.S. Where Chinos are concerned it’s always best to go with flat front, no pleats ever.

Yep, sounds like you are looking for chinos and buttondowns from JCrew, Gap and Banana Republic. Just try on stuff from all places until you find the pants and shirts that fit you best. Eddie Bauer is for fat guys.

Also, I think the shirts at JCrew are just absolutely terrible quality, but everything else is pretty good. The Gap has some nicely tailored shirts if you are flat around the middle (look for their Tailored line). Banana Republic has a Heritage line with some good stuff, and their straight chinos fit me well (don’t do relaxed fit, unless you are an Eddie Bauer kinda guy I guess).

Woo-hoo! Same here. Although long enough ago that the curves are now catching up to me …

Good luck on your Store Trek! :cool:

It’s also very possible to find a dress shoe with a steel toe that will fulfill your safety requirements. Never under-estimate the power of a good shoe to sharpen up an outfit.

I work in a similar environment as you do, and I agree with what’s been said so far - switch to a more formal jean or chinos or khakis, get some nicer quality polos and button downs, upgrade from sneakers to a comfy loafer or boat shoe. I don’t think a tie’s necessary in your case, but do make sure that your socks don’t clash with what you’re wearing.
I’ll also add that wearing a sweater, vest, or casual jacket can go a long way to toward making a casual but generic outfit look personalized, and you can switch it with your lab coat for lab/factory work.
A nice, coordinated belt and/or watch lend some polish as well.

My husband gets a lot of stuff from Eddie Bauer in the category that the OP is looking for. I wouldn’t call him fat, but then again he isn’t skinny for sure. Macy’s is also a place my husband goes to buy general casual business wear of that sort (khakis, button-down shirts) – the quality varies widely at Macy’s, I’ve found, but generally is a step up from Target.