Clothes That Mean Business

By Hannah Wallace May 31, 2008

Look the Part

We’ve heard this before, but David Bender, manager of Joseph A. Bank Clothiers in Sarasota, wants to make sure you hear it again: If you want to look like a professional, you need to dress like one. And it’s not all about looks, he says. Office dress code can directly affect productivity. Bender recalls that when General Electric changed the dress code from formal to corporate casual the company experienced an increase in discipline and productivity problems. When GE made the switch back to more formal attire, the problems went away. “The first impression is the best impression,” says Bender. His advice for first-time corporate players? “Go basic. A classic woolen suit in a solid navy, gray or black is a must for any men’s wardrobe ($700-$800).” Want to step it up? Invest in a custom-tailored suit from the company’s signature Gold Collection—Italian hand-stitched luxury that will make you look like a million bucks and help you earn it ($1,000-$1,500). “From the outside, most suits look the same,” says Bender. “But a great suit is an investment.”

Joseph A. Bank Clothiers, 8201 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota (941) 923-9440.

Dress it Up

Geoffrey Michel, founder of Sarasota’s fashion mecca, The Met, agrees with Bender. “Typically, in challenging financial times, the trend gets dressier,” he explains. A business leader should, he says, “exude confidence by looking sophisticated and well put together. It’s about simplicity and elegance.” In luxury men’s suits, Michel recommends Armani or Zegna (from $3,000). For a younger, less formal look, he suggests The Met’s house brand—a “workhorse of a suit” ($410). And what about women climbing their way up the ladder of success? Brenda Michel, Geoffrey’s wife and business partner, says, “Our go-to suit designers are Armani Collezioni [from $1,200], Lafayette [from $700] and Yansi Fugel [from $400]. And the dress trend continues to be strong. Dresses translate well into the work environment, if accompanied by the right footwear.” Speaking of footwear, Geoffrey notes that, “The look is classic, not clunky, for both men and women. Buy decent-quality shoes and take care of them. Nothing is worse than beat-up shoes.” He recommends Gordon Rush ($185) and Martin Dingman ($295) for men and Burberry (from $395) for women. Bottom line? “Regardless of the industry, dressing up is better than dressing down. It’s easy to take a jacket off and roll up your sleeves for a client who expects you to be more at ease.”

The Met, 35 S. Boulevard of Presidents, Sarasota (941) 388-1772.

Great Beginnings

“If you want to look like a professional, this is the place to start,” says Roger Gay, the manager of downtown Sarasota’s Brooks Brother’s Country Club store. Great beginnings start with the classic Brooks Brothers’ dress shirt ($80 to $140), followed by the classic blazer ($500-$600), and gray, navy or khaki pants ($79-$250). The look is finished with a Brooks Brothers tie ($75). Suffer from clothing angst each morning? Buy the main components in the three basic colors—navy, khaki and gray—and leave your clothing worries behind. For women, Brooks Brothers offers a line of Italian-made suit separates in seasonal styles and colors, including skirts (around $150), trousers (around $200) and blazers (from $388). Shoes matter, too. For men, consider the classic Peal & Co. penny loafer ($498); women might want to make a more dramatic statement with Brooks Brothers’ Italian-made alligator pump in black, brown or red ($1,998). Finish the look with a Peal & Co. leather briefcase ($1,500). “Your clients will know you mean business,” says Gay.

Brooks Brothers, 1500 Main St., Sarasota (941) 954-7545.

Spectacular Spectacles

“Too many businesspeople wear undistinguished eyewear,” says Sharon Katzman, owner of IOptics, Sarasota’s hot spot for designer glasses. “Men especially. They’ll have the sleekest haircut, the coolest socks, hottest ties, best shirts. But their glasses? They’re something my granddad would wear. A modern look needs a modern pair of glasses.” What’s the buzz in business eyewear? According to Katzman, it’s a frame on the minimalist side. “Businesspeople need a sharp, clean, sophisticated look that’s not kooky or too trendy,” she says. She suggests the classic rimless look of the Lindberg collection from Denmark (from $500). Katzman advises professional women to consider a splash of color. “It makes them appear more youthful,” she says. “In the professional world, people need to look you in the eyes and like what they see. Find a frame that works for your business and leisure life.”

IOptics, 446 Burns Court, Sarasota. (941) 955-5133.

A Brand Apart

In tough economic times, defining professional identity is vital for the individual. Defining corporate identity is equally important for the firm. Elizabeth van Riper, co-founder of Say It with Stitches/Company Outfitters, describes how the two trends work together. Branding is her business; her company fits corporate logos on clothing and accessories. “More firms are using logos to brand their businesses and spread the word,” she says. “It clarifies who they are.” Say It with Stitches brands everything from polo and dress shirts, to hats, overnight bags and other gear. The brands it picks to brand are all high end—including Tommy Hilfiger, Gear for Sports and Monterey Club. Van Riper makes it clear that, while the look her company provides isn’t business formal, it’s still professional. “It’s a structured, neater look,” she says. “A look that says ‘I’ve got it together.’” Van Riper says a standardized look with a corporate brand accomplishes three things. “It creates team spirit among employees; it ensures that employees dress property; and it presents an identity to the world outside. It’s win-win for everybody.”

Say It with Stitches, 5750 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota (941) 925-3855.

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