Let’s face it. As a moderately functioning member of society, you need to put on clothes from time to time to be taken seriously. A large portion of software developers trivialize their wardrobe, and I don’t blame them. Why should the way we dress impact the work we do or affect the way we’re treated in the workplace, or any other place for that matter?
It’s an unfortunate truth, but any cognitive psychologist will tell you that we’re immediately judged and compartmentalized subconsciously when we’re in the presence of others – a large component of that being our hygiene and our clothes. Unfortunately, I’ll only be addressing the latter in this piece (I hope you’re washing yourself on a regular basis; although we all know that a developer that might not be).
I’m going to break down an average male technologist’s wardrobe into the cheapest, and most critically useful pieces. I won’t be delving into high fashion, accessorizing, or any of the frills associated with clothing. However, this guide will cover about 85% of the scenarios you’ll have to deal with on a work-week basis.
Step 1 - Assemble all the core pieces
Lucky for us, jeans have come largely into favor for both work and play. Spend about $50-100 EACH on a couple of nice pairs of dark denim jeans. They go with almost everything, and will be the cornerstone of your wardrobe. Don’t get anything light colored or acid washed; You’re not in an 80’s hair band. Anything too cheap and they’ll probably disintegrate while you’re wearing them, and anything over $100 you’re just paying for marketing. Donate the khaki pants that have been sitting in your closet since your high school graduation. You don’t need them anymore.
Unless you’re workplace has a dress code, most people reading this article won’t need to wear slacks on a regular basis. However, you’ll need to don a pair if you need to go on an interview or if you have guests or clients at the office. The two pairs that you’ll need are dark or “charcoal” gray, and navy blue. Black is usually too dressy, and usually reserved for weddings and funerals, which I’ll cover later.
The bread and butter of the casual dress-up world, and a go-to favorite for software developers when they’re asked to “dress appropriately” for business occasions. Polos are comfortable, they stretch, and allow full range of motion throughout the day making them good picks for every day wear, but if you’re asked to sit in with clients or have an important meeting, forego the polo andswitch to a button up shirt.
Tip: If you’re a slim guy, then stick to “fitted” or “slim fit” polos. Polos are hard to alter, so you’re stuck with what you buy.
4) Button up shirts
For a lot of developers, button up shirts are a last resort. They rot in closets and are periodically dusted off for interviews or begrudgingly worn when family members and significant others demand it. Start with one white button up shirt and one navy or royal blue button up shirt. Also grab one black shirt, and one brown shirt, if you like brown.
Tip: The darker colored also shirts make an easy transition into evening activities like happy hour or dinner.
Shoes can say a lot about your get-up. Luckily there are some very safe bets when it comes to picking out your first real pair. You’ll want to start with oxfords or loafers if you don’t like laces. These both adapt well compared to their shoe siblings when it comes to other parts of your wardrobe and are by far two of the most popular shoe types, making them easy to find at most retail shoe locations. Avoid things like wing tips and monk straps on your shoes until you’re ready to take the next step with your clothing.
Tip: Nice shoes with proper care and repair will last you 10 years. Cheap shoes will fall apart quickly and irreparably.
Get one black belt and one brown belt. Try not to go down the reversible belt path if you can avoid it. Solid color belts are less prone to break, and if one does break, at least you’ll have a back up.
7) Suit – Optional
Again, unless your office has a dress code, you probably won’t be wearing suits very often. However, it does deserve a spot in this guide for for formal events. For interviews, go with a navy blue or charcoal gray suit. Solid black is usually too formal, and good rule of thumb is that black should really only be worn at funerals, weddings, and black tie events. If you’re young, skip the tie and just wear the slacks, jacket, and shirt. If worn improperly, ties can quickly give away that you have no idea how to dress yourself.
Tip: Set aside some money for real alteration work before buying a suit. Don’t have the tailor at the department store take it in. Instead, find a real tailor and have him do the work. Have a store assistant help you pick one out, and tell them that you’ll have it altered yourself.
8) Jackets/Blazers – Optional
These require a little more interest or effort to put into your wardrobe, but that doesn’t mean they should be neglected. As with suits, make sure to go with navy blue or dark gray for an initial piece to your collection. They are becoming increasingly popular and fashionable when worn with jeans.
Tip: Never wear the same color jacket and slacks unless they’re meant to be worn together (i.e. a suit). There are hundreds of ways to weave fabric, and the conflicting patterns can be as intrusive as wearing clashing colors.
2-3 pairs of dark jeans
1 pair of navy blue slacks
1 pair of charcoal gray slacks
Polos – if you like them, get them. If you don’t, then leave them out. completely optional.
1 White Button up shirt
1 Navy or royal blue button up shirt
1 Black Button up shirt
1 Brown button up shirt (optional)
1 Black Belt
1 Brown Belt
1 Pair brown oxfords/loafers
1 Pair black oxfords/loafers
Step 2 - Matching
Matching colors can be especially frustrating for software developers due to primary colors. Electronics almost exclusively use the additive color model where red, green, and blue are the three primary colors. When it comes to clothing, you need to use the subtractive color model where red, blue, and yellow are the primary colors. Luckily, the pieces in this wardrobe are extremely neutral, and can be used completely interchangeably.
Another common rule of thumb is that you should never mix brown and black. This rule has been over-simplified from your accessories such as your shoes and your belt matching. The truth is that it is constantly debated whether you should completely eliminate mixing brown and black items of clothing. Just make sure your shoes, your belt, and in some cases your watch match and you’ll be fine.
Step 3 - Find a tailor
And no, I don’t mean your local dry cleaner or laundromat who also does alterations. Find a real tailor who will take care of your clothes professionally. Casual alteration locations will take about 2-4 measurements based on your piece of clothing. Professional tailors will take about 15-25 measurements depending on the garment, and they’re not as pricey as you’d expect. Tailors can make a $15 shirt look like $100 shirt just by making it fit correctly, and can take almost any piece of clothing and transform it for a few dollars. You’ll never go back.
Step 4 - Profit
From here you can branch out as much or as little as you’re comfortable with. You might possibly experiment with color theory, or try an experimental wool jacket. Whatever it is, you should always remember that clothes are extremely personal, and you should wear what makes you feel comfortable. However, unfortunate or not, there are disparities in how you are perceived and treated based on the clothing you wear. It seems remiss not to capitalize on these aspects of our culture when it takes so little effort. The next time you’re out on the town with your new threads, take close note to the level of service you receive. You might never wear a hoodie again.