One of the most jarring things about watching The Apprentice in 2018 – besides the fact that they don’t use the internet and have to navigate using dog-eared A-Zs – is what the wannabe Alan Sugars wear. Whether they’re selling doughnuts or designing an ad campaign, all the men are suited up, with black Oxfords polished and a handkerchief in their chest pocket. Which is about as far removed from how modern men dress for work as Sir Alan is from modern business.

Work has changed. It’s not the same job for 40 years, or dressing for the job you want. People can work from home or in co-working spaces where dress codes don’t apply. You might have more than one career, starting in something that requires a suit before moving to a place where chinos and a shirt are smart enough. Or maybe ending up somewhere a t-shirt, jeans and pool slides works (it was good enough for Mark Zuckerberg after all).

Even if you work in a more traditional space, there is life beyond the sea of navy and grey suits. Now, even in the most corporate of environments, there are ways to express your individuality through your style – the new work world rewards standing out more than blending in. But that doesn’t mean just wearing what you want when you want – you still need to make the right impression and if everyone around you is wearing a suit, turning up in your team’s footie colours might not be the best option.

So is it even possible to ascribe an idea of modern workwear, when work is so diverse and requires men to wear many different (metaphorical) hats? “One approach is taking ownership of your smart stuff and making it your own,” says Thread stylist Millie Rich. “This doesn’t mean a pink shirt instead of a white one, but looking at the elements you have differently.”

If your office veers towards the smarter side of smart-casual, you can still wear the elements of a suit but in a new way. “Keep the trousers and shirt smart and then add in trainers,” says Millie. “It just brings a more modern edge.” If you don’t have to wear a tie, go for a shirt with a grandad collar. It’s dressier than a tee but you avoid that open-shirt-no-tie look that smacks too much of a politician on the campaign trail.

If your office is anything-goes, the smart choice is to set your own boundaries. It’s easy for the weekend to bleed into the week, but by defining what you wear for work as different for what you wear afterwards, you create some sartorial separation that makes you more distinctive when everyone else is in jeans and sweatshirts. “Your comfier clothes can be made to look smart enough,” says Millie. “It’s just about how you combine them.”

Drawstrings aren’t just for sweatpants anymore, but that extra detail on a pair of wool trousers splits the difference between on- and off-duty dressing. At least, it is when you get the fit right. “No one is saying go to work in your gym gear, but a softer pair of trousers with black lace-ups still looks smart,” says Millie.

Ultimately, common sense should prevail; if you have a meeting with the executive board, don’t wear trainers. But if you know your office is relaxed and no one will mind if you wear your suit trousers with a logo tee, go for it. Just be prepared for your colleagues to follow in your wake.

 

WORDS: NADIA BALAME-PRICE
PHOTOGRAPHY: JON CARDWELL
STYLING: MILLIE RICH