This article was produced in partnership with Cole Haan.
Remember what dressing up for the office was like? You’re not the only one who swapped a wardrobe of wrinkle-free workwear for a Zoom-friendly getup of sweats and slippers, but as companies across the country welcome employees back to their desks, it’s time to brush up on what it means to dress business casual. After a long hiatus from face-to-face interactions, you’ll want to transition back into office culture armed with a dress-to-impress attitude. Whether you’re on track to land a promotion or in the first few days of a new job, flexing your workplace style muscles with a game-raising outfit will pay off in spades.
“It’s no secret that we all dress down for virtual meetings and phone calls, but when you’re in the office around colleagues and your boss, it’s crucial to show that you’re committed to looking presentable while on the clock,” New York City-based menswear stylist Seppe Tirabassi tells Men’s Journal. “Now is an ideal opportunity to elevate the professionalism of your attire, which you can do without sacrificing the comfort of your stay-at-home clothes and footwear.”
When it comes to business casual, there are a few select menswear brands that get it right every time. Cole Haan is one of them. For nearly 100 years, the brand has been redefining the rules of how to dress in an ever-evolving workplace. The heritage label continues to revamp its most popular releases, like the best-selling 4.ZERØGRAND shoe, which disrupted the work footwear category in 2020 with its striking design and innovative construction. For Tirabassi, Cole Haan’s new 4.ZERØGRAND Stitchlite™ Oxfords are a rock-solid foundation for building a sophisticated office outfit.
Blurring the lines between formal footwear and casual sneakers, Cole Haan’s elegant Oxfords are crafted with ultra-breathable Stitchlite™ fabric to keep your feet dry and cool, and they feature decorative wingtip details that evoke the classic embellishments of a mainstay dress shoe.
“These are a great alternative to a leather Oxford that you’d typically pair with a suit,” Tirabassi says. “When you’ve got long days at the office, it’s alright to give your feet a break now and then with a more ergonomic shoe.”
Whether you’re an architect running around town for site visits or a software engineer glued to your keyboard, you’ll also appreciate the innovative multi-layered foam cushioning in the sole of the 4.ZERØGRAND Stitchlite™ Oxfords.
“No one has to know just how comfortable you are in these Oxfords,” Tirabassi adds. “Just keep your ankles covered with a pair of socks, like one of Cole Haan’s Stripe Dress Crew Socks in gray or navy.”
Tirabassi also has some advice for color matching.
“The beige version of the Oxfords with blue laces complements a relaxed navy or light blue suit perfectly,” he says. “Plus, the visual contrast will have eyes gravitating toward the shoe.”
As a reference, he points to J. Crew’s Ludlow Unstructured Suit, which is crafted with fabric from Baird McNutt, an Irish Mill that produces some of the world’s finest linen. Since the jacket is unpadded, it’s versatile and comfortable to wear all day long, from morning bike commutes to rowdy happy hours with the team.
“This isn’t your dad’s boxy suit. The slim fit is modern, cool, and very office-appropriate,” says Tirabassi. “Guys tend to think that clothes labeled as ‘slim cut’ will be uncomfortably tight, like a pair of skinny jeans, but it just means that the shape of the garment is a bit more tailored. In any case, the breathable blend of linen and cotton is perfect for a spring and summer wardrobe.”
Rather than styling your suit with a dress shirt, opt for a simple white oxford like Taylor Stitch’s organic cotton Everyday Oxford, which comes in a tailored fit with no pleats for easy ironing.
“The material is a lot less stiff than a formal dress shirt and will keep you cool on warmer days,” Tirabassi explains. “While this shirt is cut to a shorter length, which means it can be worn untucked, you’ll want to tuck it in when wearing it with a suit. A slim, loose tie is optional here, too. But don’t be caught without a belt if your goal is to appear put together at the office.”
In this outfit, Cole Haan’s two-tone GRANDSERIES Perforated 31mm Belt is a superb option. The perforated nubuck detail adds visual interest, and it complements the Stitchlite™ uppers of your Cole Haan shoes.
To carry all your daily essentials, like a laptop, water bottle, and notepad, complete the look with an office-friendly work bag—not a backpack (you’re not in high school anymore). Cole Haan’s ZERØGRAND All-Day Tote fits the bill.
“The camo breaks up the solid color of the suit with a fun, edgy pattern,” Tirabassi says. “It’s way cooler than a regular briefcase, but still a professional accessory to carry to your desk.”
The sleek, sturdy bag is constructed with water-resistant nylon and features double leather handles and a strap for slinging it over your shoulder (plus a back panel of compression-molded EVA foam for added comfort).
“With a business casual outfit like this,” Tirabassi says, “I promise you won’t be missing your work-at-home uniform at all.”[Cole Haan 4.ZERØGRAND Stitchlite™ Oxford: $210; colehaan.com]
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