Welcome to our first in a (hopefully recurring) series called, “How To Dress Sharp For Work”.

We recently had a reader ask:

I’m a relatively new grad working as a Project Manager for a large Mechanical Contractor trying to upgrade my wardrobe. My biggest issue is finding clothes that look good and fit well both in the office at meetings and also walking around active construction sites in work boots.

So far, I’ve been wearing a lot of straight fit khakis and company polo shirts or open collar button downs. Which is similar to what my colleagues wear but, almost all of them are significantly older and have been doing this for a long time.

Being younger and less experienced I would like to step it up a notch in order to make a better impression with our clients to make up for my young age and lack of experience.

This is a tough one – but really only because there isn’t a ton of info out there for construction style. You want to look good, but need to be able to meet the physical demands of your work.

There’s plenty of advice for folks working purely biz-caz, but try stepping out at the construction site in the ever-recommended Allen Edmonds Strand and things might not work out so well.

A smooth transition from the office to the construction site is a major style challenge. The good news is, there are still some simple steps to take that can greatly improve your look around the workplace.

Fit is everything

You hear that phrase a lot – fit is everything – but here it applies tenfold. Largely, it’s because you don’t have a ton of freedom of expression. There’s a good chance your coworkers aren’t following that rule.

If you do, you’ll stand above by that measure alone. Where they’re rocking those straight-fit khakis, you’ll be looking sharp as a tack in something slim and tapered.

Of course, there are more stylish moves you can make as well. I’d suggest starting with your boots and to take a two-pronged approach.

  • Find a pair to invest in.
  • Make that investment valuable to its greatest potential.

The right pair of boots will not only last you a lifetime, but ease the transition between office and work site.

Balance is essential

You want something rugged enough to hold their own, but not so clunky as to look goofy with your newly slimmed-down uniform.

Smart Casual for Construction Sites

A personal favorite of mine are Oak Street’s Lakeshore Boots, which I wear with suits and jeans alike. Note: these can be hard to find, but Oak Street’s Trench Boot is a great substitute with just a bit more heft.

Next, play around with your bottoms. Where chinos may be the go-to, there are some slight variations that will allude to your sartorial prowess without making you stand out like a sore thumb.

Try some slim cargo pants (keyword: slim) every now and then. Or, since those new boots are so versatile, wear a pair of heavier cotton or wool dress trousers on a day you know you won’t be spending much time in the trenches.

Up top, show how in touch you are with modern style by rocking a band collar here and there. Or illustrate a little panache by swapping that company polo for something a bit more designer (but still wholly professional).

Smart Casual for Construction Sites

If you’re stuck in the semi-casual button-up world, would tossing on a blazer be too much? If so, consider a more casual third layera chore coat from Apolis or even a Levi’s denim jacket easily take the place of a blazer, all while leaning more blue-collar than country-club.

Last, don’t forget your accessories. I’d bet that those older gents you work are part of the generation that still pays a lot of attention to timepieces. Even if you can’t splurge on a Rollie, you can snag a classy piece from a more affordable brand like Shinola or Daniel Wellington.

From there, branch out a bit. Get some great sunglasses, a more interesting belt (braided? Pelican hook?), maybe even a necklace – just don’t dive too far in ‘mewelry’ and get gimmicky.

Think of accessories as a few final touches to seal the deal.

For the Guys on the Ground

While we’re at it, I’ll throw in a few tips for the guys literally pounding the pavement. Sure, you may rarely (or even never) step foot in an office, but that doesn’t mean you’re relegated to baggy Walmart-quality carpenter jeans and t-shirts from your IM softball team.

First, this is one of the best opportunities to rock raw denim. By default you’ll wear those suckers day in and day out and break them in in a way that no other profession besides cowboy can.

 

Smart Casual for Construction Sites

If dark denim is too formal, try a light wash. Keep to a slim fit (remember, fit is key). You’ll look 100 times better than your counterparts by simply slimming down your denim. A little bit of stretch in the fabric will help you be able to move just as freely (if not more) than in their baggier predecessors.

On top, keep the same thing in mind and keep things slim. Heck, show off those guns. Ditch the logos and go for something solid and classic.

 

Smart Casual for Construction Sites

Step it up one more notch by swapping in a henley for a look that says you paid just a little more attention that morning. You can easily end up with a fully functional outfit that could go from the site to the bar (though I do recommend showering in between, for everyone’s sake) without once looking dumpy.

Function over Aesthetics: Safety Ratings and Leather Sealing

A note on safety-rated boots: EG reader, Tristan, pointed out that while lots of these boots we highlighted look great, they may not be legal to wear on-site. Every situation will be different, and like most clothing, there are low- and high-end options.

Red Wing would be on the higher end. To quote Tristan:

A lot of us have to have a 6-inch height to the ankle for mandatory ladder and egress regulations (this one’s my favorite style -BC). If you’re more on the management side though and do not have to have the 6-inch (here’s an option -BC).

A note on leather sealing: Tristan also pointed out it’s a good idea to protect your leather boots with sealer because of all the puddles and dirt on the construction site. I’d even go further and do the full conditioning regularly, as Red Wing illustrates here.

Amazon has a ton of Red Wing boot care products, but you can also do a deeper search if you wanted to try another brand.

What can the rest of us non-construction workers learn from all this?

The first and foremost is just another reminder that fit is king – it can’t be said enough and is always true.

If you’re struggling to step up your attire, the best formula is to start with functionality and then slim everything down. Sometimes all it takes is a slight upgrade to tried-and-true standards.

You don’t have to re-write the book – some minor edits will make a world of difference.

Last, don’t forget to look at your entire outfit – just throwing a blazer on an otherwise mediocre outfit won’t make you instantly stylish. It takes a comprehensive approach to really pull it all together.

What other careers should we highlight in this series about dressing sharp for work? Share your ideas in the comments.