There are three sorts of jackets you'll wear for business and business casual attire: sportcoats, blazers, and suit jackets. Traditionally, sportcoats were the least formal, suit jackets the most formal, and blazers fell somewhere in between. More recently, sportcoats and blazers have been lumped into a single category, though there are still small differences between the two. Don't be bothered too much by the details - the main thing to take away here is that suit jackets are for business occasions and sportcoats/blazers are strictly business casual wear.
- Suit jackets are for business occasions, blazers/spoartcoats are for business casual.
- Suit jackets have more structure than sportcoats/blazers (especially in the shoulders) and are generally made of finer materials.
- Wear your suit jacket with a matching pair of trousers and never wash them separately.
- Rules for business casual wear are much more relaxed - it's perfectly acceptable to mix shirt and trouser colors.
- Aim for contrast: Light colored dress shirts look nice with darker suits and blazers.
For business and dressier occassions, it's safer to assume you'll need to wear a suit jacket. Your suit jacket should be purchased with a pair of trousers that match the jacket in fabric, color, and pattern. Always wear these together and never dry clean them separately -- this can cause disproportionate fading of the material, which will make the whole suit look much worse.
Darker suits (e.g., navy and charcoal) are usually considered more formal than lighter colored suits (e.g., brown and tan). If you're buying your first suit, navy or charcoal are great colors that work for job interviews and most other formal occassions.
A light, solid colored dress shirt always looks sharp with a darker suit. White or light blue are safe and common dress shirt colors. Subtle patterns on your shirt (windowpane, check, stripe) can look nice with a dark, unpatterned suit, but be careful of wearing patterned shirts with patterned suits as this can make the entire outfit very noisy. Though it can work in some outfits, it is generally not a good idea to pair dark, solid colors with dark suits.
Sportcoats and blazers
For business casual occassions where you feel that a suit would be overkill and a simple dress shirt will not suffice, throw on a sportcoat or blazer with a spread collar shirt. You can pair those items with a variety of different pants, depending on the occassion. Jeans can be worn with a sportcoat, though this will make the whole outfit look less formal. Dress pants can also be worn with a sportcoat for the opposite effect. Chinos are a nice compromise in that they are dressier than jeans but less formal than dress pants.
As far as color pairings go, your sportcoat/blazer color does not need to match the color of your pants; additionally, light, solid colored dress shirts are generally good pairings with darker jackets. If you want to play it safe, you can wear different shades of the same color (e.g., dark blue jeans with a navy blazer and light blue dress shirt). That said, pairing a navy blazer with tan or brown trousers can look very sharp if done correctly.
So which should you wear to work?
You will need to gauge how formal your attire should be based on your work place and the customers you deal with on a day-to-day basis. For instance, if you work at a law office or bank, you're likely expected to wear fairly formal clothing. On the other hand, Realtors and real estate agents can often get away with wearing business casual attire. These standards can also vary based on geography; for example, men might be expected to dress more formally in Boston than they would in Miami.
Take a look around your office -- what is everyone else wearing? How much do they dress up? That will give you an idea of what you should be wearing.
You can find an excellent visual guide on casual attire, formal attire, and everything inbetween here.
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