Dress for Success: Crisp Shirts and the Truth About Corporate Casual

The retailer Brooks Brothers has long been associated with tailored, classic clothes for the workplace. What better place to find tips to help you dress for success. Lindsay Taylor Hall, a rising senior at Central High School in Philadelphia, Pa., and a participant in the Knowledge@Wharton High School Business, Entrepreneurship & Leadership program at Wharton in the summer of 2011, sat down with local store manager Maria Mariani to talk classic looks, corporate casual and why every wardrobe should have a crisp shirt.Read More

by Diana Drake

The retailer Brooks Brothers has long been associated with tailored, classic clothes for the workplace. What better place to find tips to help you dress for success. Lindsay Taylor Hall, a rising senior at Central High School in Philadelphia, Pa., and a participant in the Knowledge@Wharton High School Business, Entrepreneurship & Leadership program at Wharton in the summer of 2011, sat down with local store manager Maria Mariani to talk classic looks, corporate casual and why every wardrobe should have a crisp shirt.

Knowledge@Wharton High School:  Tell us about Brooks Brothers. What kind of company are you? What do you sell?

Maria Mariani: We are the oldest American retailer in the United States. Brooks Brothers was founded in 1818. So we have been around for 193 years. And we sell men’s, women’s, boys’ and girls’ [clothing], as well as home products. We are a complete lifestyle brand.

KWHS: How does a company that is almost 200 years old maintain its relevance in the modern world and appeal to modern customers?

Mariani: Innovation is definitely one of Brooks’s strong suits. We’ve done that in the past and continue to do that. We brought the seersucker suit and the original polo button-down collar shirt back at our inception. Currently, we have gotten involved in social media, which is definitely something that is very relevant today and current to keep a younger and new audience. [We also have new] product offerings [like our] University Collection. Back in 2007, we introduced black fleece, which is the first time that we had an outside designer collaborate with us to design a product line. That was Thom Browne, [who has still been] with us through this season. We just keep trying to offer something fresh for our customers.

KWHS: In the past few decades, the idea of corporate casual has entered into the corporate world. How has that affected your line?

Mariani: Brooks Brothers has a history, a very long history. And when corporate casual first came on the scene, we were actually owned by a company named Marks & Spencer. And they kind of shifted to that corporate casual idea. Brooks lost some of our customers along the way because we didn’t offer the classic silhouette and all the things they had come to Brooks and we were known for. In 2001, Claudio DelVecchio, our owner, purchased Brooks Brothers from Marks & Spencer and went to pain-staking lengths to re-establish relationships with mills in England and Italy and to bring us back to where we were prior to that. So, corporate casual is, you know, definitely still here. And we can provide that for our customer. But we also can provide the classic Brooks’ look — and everything [customers] need for every aspect of their lives.

KWHS: What exactly is corporate casual?

Mariani: Corporate casual is when a suit and tie is not deemed necessary. So it’s a less formal presentation of yourself. However, you should maintain a professional and polished and tailored appearance.

KWHS: A young professional going into the corporate world for the first time, maybe fresh out of college – what kind of staples should they have in their wardrobe so that they can dress for success?

Mariani: Men and women should have a good suit as the staple of their wardrobe. A year-round weight wool would be most ideal for them, because they can wear it four seasons out of the year. Definitely, non-iron shirts that will keep you with a crisp appearance. And then accessories that complement that. So, ties for gentlemen, definitely belts, shoes and the like.

KWHS:  Back on the casual side of things, what is too casual for the workplace?

Mariani: Things like jeans or casual chinos — anything that’s not in a neat and presentable fashion. If it shows wear or tear, it’s not appropriate for business. Also anything with a large logo, like a graphic tee or something like that, is not considered appropriate. Also open-toed shoes or flip-flops, shorts – any of those more casual items are definitely not business appropriate or business casual appropriate.

KWHS: Do you have any other words of advice for a young professional maybe going into an interview?

Mariani: Definitely know who you are interviewing with. Know your potential audience so that you can dress appropriately and dress the part. A suit is definitely a good way to go. And insure that you exude a professional appearance and also that the clothing fits you – to insure that you present yourself in the best way possible.

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