Anyone who knows me will know that I have real issues with wearing a shirt.
I don’t mean that I walk around topless all day – far from it. Rather, I hate the look and feel of wearing button-downs, and I always have. For a while (until in fact when I considered writing this piece) I thought that the issue was the stiff, pointed collar of a button-down shirt, but on reflection I think it’s the buttons that distress me and make me feel confined.
I’m fortunate in that I work as an adviser in a university, and so formal office wear is not required (and IMHO, would be a barrier to establishing rapport with students who want to seek advice from someone approachable). My typical work outfit is black / beige chinos or dark jeans, and a plain v-neck fine-knit jumper. I feel comfortable, but I still look professional and can be taken seriously. I have never been questioned or pulled up on my choice of workwear by colleagues or superiors.
And yet, I notice that 99% of men in the workplace wear a button-down shirt whether it’s required, expected or not. When I used to get the tube to work, I was usually the only man not dressed in a light-coloured (usually white or sky blue) shirt and dark trousers. Is it really true that all men prefer to adopt a safe work uniform, so that they can get dressed without having to think about what to wear? Do men really not mind looking like clones of one another 5 out of 7 days a week? Women’s office wear encompasses skirt suits, dresses, cardigans, trouser suits and plenty more in a variety of colours, so I struggle to believe I am the only male who finds the limited range of men’s office and formal wear restrictive.
I naturally rebel against the idea of a uniform (and did so all through school), and not being able to express myself through the clothes that I wear. Although I have the occasional quandary, I much prefer spending a few minutes the night before choosing what my outfit is going to be the following day. It’s a very small sacrifice to make in order to preserve my individuality and identity.
Over the past year, I have decided to embark upon a quest to prove that a man can look smart without having to wear the conventional button-down shirt with collar. So far, in addition to my rejection of a shirt at work, I’ve worn a navy suit + beige crew neck merino jumper to a wedding ceremony:
and a light grey suit + black merino turtleneck to an evening wedding reception. The only occasion for which I’ve still felt it necessary to resort to a button-down is a job interview, simply because a suit is so expected in this setting and the stakes are too high to risk alienating an employer by wearing something unanticipated. But that’s been the only scenario.
Looking to fashion blogs and celebrities, there are plenty of examples of smart menswear that forsakes the button-down shirt (despite the enduring “gent” trend which refuses to die). For example:
Chris Hemsworth looks absolutely dashing in a blue suit and charcoal tee. I think that the smart shoes also go a long way to ensuring his outfit looks formal. In my google image search preparing to write this blog, I found a lot of examples of suits worn with trainers, which I think instantly downgrades a look from formal to casual, below the threshold of smart-casual. Whereas:
All black everything helps, but even without a suit a tie, this actor is red-carpet ready with a simple suit and black turtleneck. No accessories, no frills.
There’s not too much else to say, as it’s only one simple change to an outfit that makes such a difference – I could show plenty of other similar pictures but you get the point. It’s a cause close to my heart that men don’t all have to dress identically to communicate a similar message or aesthetic. Be free to be yourself!