ExecSearch International - Australia

ExecSearch International - Australia

Dress for Effect Articles

Crimes of Fashion

By Duff Watkins and Jean Woo

Are you a sartorial recidivist, repeatedly violating the laws of style?  Do you scoff at the laws of fashion?  If so, you endanger your career and limit your opportunities in life.

Here are 11 common crimes of fashion with tips on how to stay out of jail.

1. Packs and bags
Scaling the corporate ladder is not like scaling Kilimanjaro.  Relegate backpacks to the hiking trails and stick with leather briefcases and shoulder bags for business.

Specifically designed bags are best (eg, for laptops) because they are streamlined and functional.

Similarly, gym gear belongs in a bag that’s designed for that purpose.  Plastic shopping bags have many uses but toting gym gear isn’t one of them.  Your gym bag should proclaim “I work out!” not “sale on!”  Like all apparel, cases and bags are an investment in image.

2. Clashing colours
Colours are meant to coordinate and cooperate, not compete.  Limit your choices to three colours and shades therein.  Joseph may have looked sharp in his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat but you won’t.  So choose colours that provide the greatest contrast (eg, green vs. red, orange vs. blue, violet vs. yellow) or colours of similar shades

3. Abbreviated pants
Clothes are made in different countries in different factories.  Even different brands have different lengths and different fits.  That’s why size tags vary.  Even if you're sure of your size, try on pants before buying them.  Pant hems should land at the top of your heel in back, and break gently on your shoe front.   Socks should not be visible.  You want to look like a high-flier not a high-tider.

4. Funky facial hair
In some quarters facial hair has sprouted into quasi-respectability.  But in the suit and tie world it’s just another distraction.  So if you insist on being a rugged individualist and really, really, want to wear that little rectangle of unshaven hair beneath your lower lip, keep it trimmed and tidy.  Because it is so conspicuous, it’s highly likely to undo your best efforts to appear well groomed.

5. Half-mast ties and silly socks
Ties are the single best garment by which to flag your individuality.  Do so cleverly by selecting a tie for its colour, texture, pattern and quality; not by wearing a novelty tie.  A properly worn tie unfurls from your neck to your waist and dangles at your belt buckle.  It does not sway at half-mast in the middle of your chest like a symbol of mourning.

As for flamboyant socks, suffice it to say that cartoon characters belong to Disney, not on your clothes.  The objective of ties and socks is to subtly arouse interest from other people, not have them wondering if you dressed yourself.

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6. Period hair and comb-overs
Men, on average, voluntarily change hairstyles every ten years. Ensure that your style is current, not nostalgic. Involuntary changes must also be accommodated.  Draping your existing hair to convey a false impression of hirsuteness does not work, has never worked, and never will work.  So why bother?  Far better to embrace reality and keep your hair cropped short or shaved.  Who would you rather resemble, Michael Jordan and Andre Agassi or Donald Trump?

7. Mega-jewellery
Less is more.  A simple watch and wedding band are all you need.  An elegant signet ring is an acceptable addition. Anything more detracts from your image.  Unless you’re a Pharaoh, save the gold chains, bracelets, ear rings, and piercings for a more appreciative audience.

8. Smellshock
Scents succeed by stealth.  Fragrances are dispensed in surgical strikes, not dropped like napalm.

Your body chemistry determines which colognes smell best on you.  The easiest way to find that out is to ask women (who else?).  They’re experts in smells and can tell you what works best for you.

Caution!  Don’t mix and match odours.  Deodorants and soaps should not combat colognes to compete for the sniffer’s attention.  Use scents as your secret weapon, not as an aerial assault.

9. Yellow peril
Yellow stains around shirt armpits and collars mean one thing:  the garment has outlived its usefulness.  Retire it honourably and consign it to the rag bag. Make it a habit to inspect your clothes when you disrobe. 

10. Splits
Do beer and whiskey belong in the same glass?  No, never.  Do joggers belong with suit pants, button down collars with double breasted suits, or sunglasses perched atop your head while wearing business attire?  No, never.  Combining a casual with a corporate look just doesn’t cohere visually.

11. Stinking
Bodies emit odours.  Male malodorousness is more common than you imagine.  Men sweat more than women and are the last to smell their own body odour because humans have a poor sense of smell compared to other animals.

Clothes retain body odours.  Clothes worn or re-worn without proper laundering will resurrect those odours. Any garment that does not smell fresh is a problem.   Musky or musty smells proclaim you as oblivious to hygiene, socially unaware and probably inept.

The penalty for this crime is immediate isolation (because no one wants to be around you).

So don’t commit the crime if you can’t do the time.


Dr. Duff Watkins

Dr Duff Watkins
is Director, ExecSearch International - Australia, Consultants to Boards and Management. He writes regularly for various newspapers.

Jean Woo

Jean Woo
is an image consultant and expert on ‘people packaging’.  She is Director of Personal Brand Management and gives advice on all aspects of personal branding.  She wrote Executive Style (Prentice Hall) and is co-author of Dress For Effect.