The definition of professional attire is evolving, especially for men. Want to be stylish and still be taken seriously? Look no further than Cork-based school principal Finbarr Hurley, writes Annmarie O’Connor.
Dress codes. They’re not what they used to be, especially when it comes to work.
Ever since flexible terms like ‘business casual’, ‘smart casual’, and ‘casual business’ have infiltrated the style lexicon, most of us have been set adrift on its semantic raft.
Will a football jersey fly in the boardroom? What percentage of smart should I put to my casual? Such confusion is not only a professional peril but one that could warrant a P45 should ‘Dress Down Friday’ at the bank be translated as a love-worn hoody and flip flops. There’ll be a dressing down alright; just not what one may have expected. Need a translator? Why didn’t you just say so?
Allow me to introduce Finbarr Hurley: West Cork native, boy’s primary school principal, and, arguably, one of the country’s best dressed men. Instagrammers will know Finbarr from his outfit of the day (#OOTD) posts as @mrtfsilhouette — a daily photographic diary taken, for the most part, en route to work from the elevator of his apartment block.
Although self-documentation is nothing new in the online world, Hurley’s inimitable ability to blend the serious with the sartorial has won over both dedicated and dilettante followers of fashion. Bright colours, proud prints, sharp tailoring mixed with dapper details (Hermes scarf, anyone?), Hurley’s image reflects his vibrant personality and the evolving definition of professional attire, especially for men.
It’s of no doubt that Hurley hits the sweet spot between serious and sartorial, proving that personality can co-exist with professionalism. That said, the recent hue and cry over formalised written dress codes issued to staff in certain Irish primary schools suggest the debate over what ‘professional’ looks like continues to be an issue.
“We do not have a formalised dress code in place,” he says, “and I would be very slow to introduce one. Teachers, in general, are very professional, and especially in the primary sector. When working with young children, teachers need to be comfortable as a lot of the day is spent moving around and getting to their level (in junior classes). Once teachers are comfortable in what they are wearing, then they are more at ease to deliver a full and meaningful curriculum to their students. Having to worry about a dress code is not a stress that they need.”
Well said. So long as clothing choices complement rather than overshadow one’s professional standing, then ‘war’ should be a non-issue in workplace wardrobes. Or should it? With a proliferation of contemporary style choices comes the increased risk of missing the mark.
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The clothes may not maketh the man but they certainly provide some non-verbal clues about who he or she is. So, the question remains, is there a way of looking the business while being in business?
Hurley seems to think so. Having fostered a deep appreciation for design craftsmanship while living for ten years in Brussels (and as a visitor to the neighbouring and avant-garde Antwerp), the Cork man knows a thing or three about creating the right impact.
So, what are his top tips for fellas wanting to look good while still looking work-appropriate?
“My advice to guys struggling with workplace style is to, first and foremost, find something in which you feel comfortable. Secondly, if it feels good and the fit is flattering, then get it in a selection of colours (for example, a cashmere pullover) so that you develop a work uniform.”
Smart move. In the absence of a de facto uniform (army officer, nurse, cabin crew), creating a system of smart separates can free the mind to concentrate on other things rather than be cluttered with the words, “What shall I wear?” Ironically, limiting choice to a network of reliable cuts and styles begets the freedom to add a personal touch with varying prints, fabrics, and colourways — a style signature, if you will.
That’s just for starters. The real magic happens in the small details, those shapeshifters that can transform an outfit from basic to boss in an instant.
“Accessorising a suit can give workplace attire a hint of personality whilst maintaining the serious edge required,” says Hurley. “A funky pair of socks, a colourful pocket square, a silk scarf, a tie pin, or a leather satchel, brogues, all gives the serious workplace look a hint of something else.”
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If fashion isn’t your forte, Hurley suggests getting help in figuring out what goes together. Many menswear stores boast free personal shopping services that, scary as they sound, are the most practical way to administering your hard-earned cash.
That’s the beauty of his advice. It doesn’t require a trust fund or an eye for the designer — just an open mind. Hurley may be inspired by the style icons like Simone Marchettii, (fashion editor of La Repubblica) and the Gentleman Blogger Matthew Zorpas (thegentlemanblogger.com) but his own wardrobe choices are easily accessible.
A fan of high-street stores H&M, River Island, Zara, and Topman, Hurley is discerning in his spend, opting for special pieces from Cork’s Salinger’s boutique, vintage pieces from Miss Daisy Blue, and, if the bank balance is healthy, an online splurge at Mr Porter, Luisa Via Roma, or Matches Fashion.
Although getting the job done always comes first, feeling good while doing so cannot be underplayed. Being well turned out does more than simply futureproof professional standing; there’s a certain sense of wellbeing in being well-dressed. We all have those mornings when we’re simply feeling off, but looking the part, according to Hurley, can “lift my mood and establish my mindset for the day”.
It has a knock-on effect, if his students’ reactions are any indication. “Going through the school I always get comments from the students ranging from ‘I love your suit’ or ‘Mr Hurley, your clothes are lovely today’ usually in the younger classes to ‘Where did you buy the trainers, sir?’ in the senior classes. I am sure there are times when they are saying, ‘What has he on today?’ but to be fair to them they are very positive about my style.”
You see, you don’t have to follow suit to wear the suit. Now that’s uplifting.
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- Business attire: Suited up. Suit, tie, white shirt, dress shoes, briefcase, watch, cufflinks, pocket square.
- Business casual: Suited with no tie. Suit with no tie, coloured button-down shirt, smart shoes (Oxford, monk strap or moccasin).
- Smart casual: A smart mix of formal and casual. Blazer, jeans, sweater, necktie, casual or dress shirt, trainers or smart shoes
Hurley’s top tip: Unsure of how casual to be? Always err on the side of caution and go with a more dressed up rather than dressed down casual.
- Follow Finbarr on Instagram: @mrtfsilhouette