So you want to look sharp at work, but everyone dresses casually, and you don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb by dressing too formally.
I hear ya there.
I suggest you go for a smart sharp style—a look that is the perfect balance of casual and formal, while still leaning a biiit more formal. This is the perfect style for a business casual office.
In this article, I’m going to suggest you start by choosing the right shoes, because shoes can make or break any outfit. And, yes, for a biz-cas (new abbreviation alert) dress code, sneakers are great… but not just any ol’ sneaker!
You need a sharp pair of dress sneakers.
Which Sneakers Work Best For… Work?
I’m gonna assume you’re at a desk job. Maybe you’re an engineer, an accountant, a designer, or otherwise in a career where you work in a typical office with a business casual dress code…
Or maybe it’s some business, but mostly casual…
But sometimes it feels like some casual, but partly business?
Here’s the thing man… the typical office dress code is changing.
Is that good or bad? Who knows. I personally think it’s great.
You get a chance to flex a bit of your personal style muscle. At the same time, there’s a chance you may f*ck everything up.
But luckily, you read Effortless Gent 🙂 You want to have a smart sharp style like I suggest, and while your office dress code isn’t super strict, there is a certain level of professionalism you have to maintain because you still want to send the right impression (so board shorts and flip flops are out of the question).
A big part of that are the shoes you choose! Shoes make the man, after all. I’m sure Confucius said that.
So if you want to look sharp and polished while still maintaining that cool, casual, on-trend vibe… here are 3 tips for successfully wearing dress sneakers at work:
Tip #1: Get the right sneakers (my suggestions)
No Chucks, no Nike Killshots, No hypebeasty sneakers like Yeezys or off___whites.
I love all of those sneakers as much as you, but if we’re going for that smart sharp style at work, we gotta downplay our shoe game a bit.
Here’s what you need:
- A refined, low top leather sneaker
- One with a classic silhouette and shape
- A clean, plain toe
- minimal stitching or designs on the upper
- waxed laces matching the leather
There are a few out there that fit the bill across a variety of price points, but one of the best, from a quality-to-price ratio is concerned, is the Ace Marks Duke dress sneaker.
I ordered a few myself—one in white and the other in a cognac leather. I mentioned to the guys at Ace Marks I was writing this article, and they offered to partner with me on it, so I’m super psyched!
(Just fyi, whenever brands I love partner with me, it gives me the opportunity to continue creating great content for you, for free. So thanks to my guys at Ace Marks, and thanks to you, dear reader, for supporting the brands that make Effortless Gent possible.)
Aaanyway, that was just a little side note so we’re on the same page.
Why is Ace Marks one of the brands I’ve been mentioning for years, other than the fact that they’re good guys with a great product?
- Their shoes are fully handcrafted in Italy by a family-owned manufacturer who’s been in the shoe game for 4 generations
- You’re getting a full-grain calfskin leather upper and lining (fully leather inside and out)
- The removable insoles are also lined with calfskin, perforated for breathability, and feel soft and cushiony
- The tongue and collar are padded so your feet feel comfortable even after a full day of walking
- The rubber outsoles are stitched on (not glued) and flat waxed laces come standard with each pair
For a comparable level of detail, craftsmanship, quality, and materials, you’d easily be looking at a $400+ sneaker, but AM does the direct-to-consumer thing, so you get it for around $200.
My suggestions for the best dress sneakers?
The Duke in these colors.
Which dress sneakers are right for you?
- White is, of course, the most sneakery—that’s a word, right?—but would be fine for casual-leaning work environments.
- Black would be the most formal looking, because it is black, after all.
- Brown would be somewhere in the middle, and I’d argue, the most versatile out of the three.
I own all 3 so I got my bases covered (neener neener NEEner), but if you can only get one, I’d suggest the brown.
If you can afford two and you don’t yet have a pair of clean white leather sneaks, I’d go for brown and white.
ALRIGHT! So now that you have the right pair of dress sneakers, let’s move onto tip #2.
Tip #2: Use The High / Low Method
Here’s the idea: You want to balance casual with dressy to give you a smart sharp casual look that skews juuust a bit more on the formal side.
The Duke dress sneaker is a good example of high / low. It’s a sneaker (casual) but the materials and classic silhouette lend it a more formal vibe.
How do you pull off the High / Low Method with the rest of your outfit?
If your base outfit is a shirt and pants, make one of them more casual (the Low) and the other, more formal (the High).
So in addition to the Duke dress sneakers in this example, let’s say you want to wear dark denim (Low), go with a crisp dress shirt up top (High).
We can flip it here by going with gray wool dress trousers (High), a long sleeve polo (Low) and a waxed jacket (Low).
Need it to be slightly more formal?
Swap the waxed jacket with a sportcoat (High), or if it’s cold and rainy, you can wear the waxed jacket over your sportcoat to keep you dry.
See how easy the High / Low method is? When you mix casual and dressy elements in one outfit, you create a smart sharp look that leans a bit more formal, making the outfit office appropriate.
TIP #3: Muted Colors Are Your Friend
Muted colors and subtle patterns lend a more formal, refined vibe to your overall look.
If it’s spring or summer when you’re reading this, you can’t go wrong with your mid grey and pale pastels in combination with your menswear neutrals. For these looks, I typically go with an all-white or cognac leather dress sneaker.
If it’s fall or winter, you have many more shades and tones to work with. See my article about men’s winter fashion; we break down the color and types of clothes you should have in your closet for this time of year.
So in addition to the menswear neutrals, you can wear more rich, vibrant tones like deep purple, forest green, burgundy, burnt orange, mustard, and so on.
And as far as the dress sneakers, you can go with any of the three colors I mentioned: all white, cognac, or black.
BONUS TIP: Try a monochrome look that works with all shoes
If you go with a one-color (or shades of one color) outfit, you can wear any of these three shoes and your outfit will work.
Plus, it makes getting dressed easy and you don’t have to worry about if X matches Y, etc.
Check out these three smart, sharp, work-appropriate outfits. First, an all grey look:
Next up, all blue:
Finally, all black everything:
And (hopefully you can visualize) more than one shoe will work with each of these outfits. The white sneaks would go with the black and grey outfit. The brown sneaks could work with the grey outfit, and so on.
So if you ever find yourself unsure about matching (although we have a few resources for that), stick to a monochrome look and you can’t go wrong.
Which dress sneakers do you like best?
All white? All black? brown?
Hopefully this article helps you put together awesome smart, sharp, casual outfits for work, especially in those business-casual-but-more-casual-than-business environments 🙂