Work Style

    Reader Question: How to Style a Company Uniform?

    1st October 2012

    Happy October! Combining my favorite weather with my least favorite holiday (I’m looking at you, Halloween), greeting this month is always a little bittersweet for me. On the plus side, crunching leaves underfoot! On the other, girls dressed as naughty nurses in frost-inducing weather! Hot apple cider! My two-year-old niece wanting to wear the costume of a Disney Princess who wears a seashell bra! I guess I just have to, as the song goes, take the good with the bad.

    So let’s just go and get on with it, shall we?

    Today’s question comes from reader Snyder, who asks:

    Dear Style Girlfriend,

    In a few days, I’ll be starting a new job for which I will be required to wear a company-issued polo shirt.  Per company dress code, I’m not allowed to layer anything on top of it; layering underneath is acceptable.

    The problem is that it’s going to start getting cold here soon and I’m going to need long sleeves.  Is it acceptable for a grown man to layer long sleeves under short in a situation like this and is there any way to do it without looking like I’m in junior high?

    If it helps, I’ll also be wearing slim-fit Dockers and probably Clark’s desert boots.  Any insight you could provide would be appreciated.

    These workplace wardrobe conundrum questions are great because I know there are a lot of guys out there also scratching their heads over how to make their office attire more stylish. After all, I’ve already dealt with a few questions like that this year.

    I haven’t worked at a job with an imposed uniform since I got fired from Bruegger’s Bagels when I was fifteen (now THERE’S a story for another time. And yes, I’m still bitter). And besides, the bagel shop-issue black polo and khakis were covered by an apron and topped with a baseball cap that always smelled like smoked turkey when I was on the clock, so there wasn’t much room for injecting my own personality into my workwear. After getting canned, I burned that hat and never looked back. So, y’know, closure.

    That said, I mean, is it acceptable to layer long sleeves under a short sleeve polo? Sure, I don’t want my readers catching hypothermia!

    Since I don’t really have any non-turkey-scented work wardrobe experience, I asked my friend Katie, who works in pharmaceutical sales for any advice, given her own polo-related wardrobe challenges. When I posed the question of how to make a grown-up uniform still look stylish, she said:

    So my current manager is gay and whenever I am with him he has to rock the company polo too, and he always will have on great shoes, coordinating belt, and non-pleated khakis, chinos, etc….and he always has on a great watch too. It’s not too corporate, but not too sporty.

    I guess it’s kinda the little accessories that make me not even really notice he’s wearing the company polo because he always looks put together…. Your reader mentioned that he’s worried about wearing a short-sleeve polo when it gets cold out, he should ask for long sleeved ones.

    His company should accommodate; they gave us a few long sleeves after reps spoke up.

    (SG note: I would wait until it actually gets cold out – you don’t want to be the new guy making demands in his first week on the job. Nobody likes that guy.)

    Otherwise I think a a long sleeve Dri-Fit UnderArmour shirt might look better than wearing a cotton long sleeve under the polo….hmmmm….hope this helps!!

    {providing moral – and structural – support for Katie at her wedding this summer}

    …I think so; I hope it helped you Snyder as well!

    Readers, tell me:

    • Do you wear any kind of uniform at work?

    • How do you style it to feel more like “you?”

    • Churchill

      If the polo shirt is not flattering fit wise I would consider getting it tailored too.

      • Nate

        Agree with this 100%, they can make you wear it, but they can’t make you look bad in it unless you let them.

    • TJ

      I had to wear a company uniform when I did my intership. Polos, long sleeve button downs, black pants and safety shoes. I was able to layer a sweater over them. The only way I could inject my own style was a watch or socks.

      Halloween is great. It’s not my favorite holiday by any means (that would be Christmas) but it’s certainly not my least.

      • Style Girlfriend

        Agree about a watch and socks being a good way to inject personality!

        As for Halloween, it’s a lot easier to like the holiday when the costumes being offered up aren’t all predicated on the notion that they must be “sexy” “naughty” or “slutty.”

        If you went to Party City and your only choice was “Naughty Fireman,” you might be singing a different tune…

        • Brett2142

          Handmade costumes are always the best! They take a lot of effort, but you’ll be the one people are noticing at any halloween party…

        • TJ

          I’d totally go as a naughty fireman. However, this year I will be going as Marty Mcfly. I have yet to find someone to dress up as Doc Brown though.

          • Style Girlfriend

            Oooh, good costume! Those sneaks! That puffer vest! The hover skateboard! I like it.

            • average joe

              hover skateboard appears in Back to the Future III (or is it II?) Original has old school skateboard with wheels

            • TJ

              @c3755b158d652cba6ce9309e94cb88ef:disqus its II.

            • TJ

              It’s II

            • TJ

              I’m just doing a pair of white sneakers like he wears most of the time. I’ve got a pair of white sambas that will work nicely.

            • TJ

              The only thing i’ve got to do is make a hover board out of poster board and that will be it. I’m going with a pair of white sneakers like he wears most of the time.

          • average joe

            TJ – you could do the whole Oedipus Rex complex and have someone dress up as a younger version of your mom (please don’t bring your real mom) and you could wear Calvin Klein underwear – basing on the scene in the B2TF (original) where he wakes up in his mom’s house 30 years earlier and she’s calling him Calvin because of the brand on his underwear.

          • Brett2142

            Nike was selling the “Mag 10″ shoes from Back To the Future a year or so ago…you could still get a pair on ebay for around 5 grand.

            • TJ

              They don’t actually self lace. Big let down.

    • Tom Sweeney

      OK, we need the bagel story…

    • LV

      RE: Polo: Are you going to be cold when actually on the job? If not, then of course you can just keep a jacket nearby. To dress it up, take Katie’s advice above and make sure your shoes are dressing up the look. It really is the base that needs to be done first; your shoes will start whatever statement you’re trying to make, or ruin it. Either be bold (Converse All-Stars) or dress it up. Exposed arms? Statement watch! Or bracelet(s) if you’re ok with that kind of thing and can get away with it on work rules.

      We don’t wear a “uniform” at work, but it almost may as well be one with how linear our “business casual” dress code is. Women get more options, but us guys are pretty much stuck with “dark dress pants, subdued button-down shirt” in my workplace. I do liven things up with bright socks and bracelets though, and those who opt to wear a tie/jacket do stand out a bit. Now that summer is going up her fight, I’m pulling out my cord jackets as, well, a jacket! And oxfords that are a step above the “slip-on loafers that sit between casual and workplace when not looked at carefully” along with sometimes-colored laces. I don’t even get to keep my piercing in during the day! Oh woe!

    • Andrew So

      I like that your friend Katie noticed her boss’ “…great shoes…” and “…great watch too”. Magnificent leather goods add such a great punch to an outfit.

      Snyder, don’t fear long-sleeved shirts under your company polo. It will look far more ridiculous if you choose to forsake warmth in favor of “stylishness”. Shivering is not cool.

      Megan, Dri-fit refers to a specific moisture-wicking technology that Nike developed. Underarmour has different names for their materials. I didn’t want your readers to get confused if they Googled the entire phrase.

    • Zachary

      I do wear a uniform to work. Air Force ABUs. No real options for customization or style. I rebel with bright, multicolored watch bands. Which are, of course, not permitted.

    • UglyMan

      About Dress Shirts:
      Hey I bought two new dress shirts, they are slim fit and fit perfectly in the torso but are somehow puffy in the sleeves, is this normal or should I pay an extra to get fixed? I know they would look much better without the extra fabric there

      • Style Girlfriend

        You should definitely have the sleeves taken in! You’ll feel that much more confident wearing it.

    • DBate

      Being a pilot wearing a uniform is part of work everyday. Unfortunately there are only few possibilities for customization. In my case, I got myself a decent leather belt, and just recently bought a couple of slim-fitted shirts with a slightly different collar to the ones issued by the company. The difference in both is only noticeable to someone really looking close, but the quality is significantly better than the one of the company issued stuff. And I find that especially important when having to wear the uniform for +14h on a long range flight.
      Other possibilites for customization are cufflinks, a watch, and maybe a decent pen instead of the cheap BIC-style pens you find in your hotel room (of course only if you care about things like that). Finally some nice and CLEAN shoes, and we are good to go ;-).

      Cheers, Dave
      P.S. Personally I think that even when you have to wear a uniform – no matter which one and what quality – at least try to wear it ‘correctly’, e.g. wear your tie with a suitable knot and at the correct length (this is one of my pet peeves ;-)).

      • Style Girlfriend

        Definitely agree with the (PS)! Anything worth doing is worth doing well.

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    • Style Girlfriend

      good suggestion!