Sven Raphael Schneider, the founder of the hugely popular Gentleman’s Gazette blog, is a true menswear aficionado. Since lockdown shouldn’t mean your style has to suffer, we asked him for his advice on how to look good on Zoom. Lucky us, he’s agreed to share his dress code for men on camera.
Ah, Zoom. Love it or hate it, business is being conducted on this virtual meeting platform. Even though personal spaces have become our offices, one thing hasn’t changed: the perennial question about what to wear to work as a lawyer.
In an office setting, the answer was a bit easier to interpret in the form of dress codes and observations of what your colleagues and supervisors were wearing. Without the distinction between office and home and the visual cues of the office, it has become harder to decide what to wear. Can I select something more casual? Is a tie still necessary? Do I need a jacket, suit or blazer?
King of My Castle?
Your private home is the domain in which you have the sole authority to decide what you wear, which naturally makes it the most relaxed place to be. Dressing up at home seems somehow … wrong.
The fact is, in a white-collar or professional business environment, your work has merely relocated. It hasn’t changed in terms of its seriousness and importance. Clients and managers know and understand that life is now in direct overlap — and conflict — with work, and this new situation should call for some changes to the dress code while retaining a professional air.
Your Clothes Still Matter
Clothing and attire still play a strong role in making impressions on others, whether we like it or not. Dressing more formally is more likely to give the impression that you take work seriously and respect your position and those around you. Dressing down, even when you’re at home, can have risks. If formality still dominates your office culture, then we recommend sticking with it, even at home.
Four Guiding Principles for Managing the “What to Wear” Question
1. Get Dressed for the “Office” Every Day
For many men, getting dressed helps make the mental shift from home to work, so even at home consider maintaining this step in your routine. Furthermore, it won’t leave you scrambling for a clean shirt when a meeting pops up. Pick a baseline, such as a pressed dress shirt and trousers, that would have been acceptable at your office, and use that as a starting point.
2. Keep Your Approach Situational
For meetings with clients and superiors, match the clothing style that was expected of you in the office.
For a white-collar office, stick with traditional single-breasted business suits in navy blue and charcoal with matching pants, a silk or grenadine tie, and solid or subtly patterned dress shirts.
For peer-to-peer meetings, you can relax a little and skip the tie and the jacket. If you tend to get invited to spur-of-the-moment meetings, then we suggest wearing a long-sleeve dress shirt and slacks while having a jacket at the ready.
3. Wear Pants
It may be a joke for some, but to be clear, you should wear pants. You never know when you will need to get up on camera, and it’s better not to make a spectacle of yourself.
4. Don’t Skip the Accessories
Accessories are, by their nature, decorative. They require a bit of extra effort, but they do pay off in spades. A white dress shirt and a navy blazer might say, “I’m wearing this because I have to,” but add accessories and you will find that it transforms the look into “I care enough about how I look to make the extra effort.” Since Zoom is usually a seated affair, focus on accessories for your arms and upper torso.
Cufflinks are a gentleman’s classic accessory, and they instantly elevate even a simple dress shirt. Simple gold and silver work well for the office. Skip any colored, precious or semi-precious stones; those are better men’s attire for the evening.
Ties are loved or reviled, but they are the visual centerpiece of an outfit, especially on Zoom. If they are part of your office dress code, it’s worth investing in a few ties you love. Traditional business attire dictates silk ties in small patterns and stripes in rich, subdued jewel tones.
Pocket squares can help add a touch of color and interest to your Zoom attire without being distracting. Again, they say “I made an effort” while allowing you to have some fun. Nearly any pocket square in linen, wool or silk will work as long as the color palette is rich, the pattern is classic, and you understand how to combine them with your suit, tie and shirt. A simple white linen pocket square with hand-rolled edges should be every attorney’s first choice.
Watches for a lawyer can be a double-edged sword; they are classic men’s accessory, but they can also be used to brag. A case in point is the ubiquity of chunky sports watches, such as an Omega Seamaster or a Rolex Submariner, for the office. These watches have their place, but sports watches don’t belong in the office unless you’re a scuba diver or James Bond. A Zoom call with a client is not the time to show off, especially when a watch may fill the screen from certain angles. Choose a slim, understated dress watch with a leather band, such as a Patek Phillipe Calatrava or an Omega DeVille, to complement your office attire and save the sports watch for the weekend or the golf course.
Bonus Tip for Looking Good on Zoom
Position your camera so that the light hits you from the front or side, and have your background look as polished as your outfit. After all, even with the most proper attire, you will look amateurish if you can see your stuff in the background. If you live in a small apartment, a simple white backdrop or green screen allows you to create a professional setting.