State College, PA - Centre County - Central Pennsylvania - Home of Penn State University

Help Me! I need a better business casual look

by on December 31, 2018 11:53 AM

It has been years since I’ve had a style upgrade. I am a very casual person. Like many men, I like to dress comfortably and I am stuck in the style of my teenage years back in the 1990s. 

Years as a social worker and writer have allowed me to get away with my casual look to a degree. But more recently, I’ve realized that I may be looking a little out of style. There were subtle hints from my partner, Becky – “Are you really wearing your brown pants and flannel shirt out tonight?” And there were less subtle hints from my 16-year-old son – “Yeah, Dad, that shirt is not cool.”

Besides that, lately when I’ve gone to meetings or to cover some press conferences, I’ve felt somewhat out of place at times. I felt a little underdressed compared to others.  I need some help, I need some style, I need to learn to dress a bit better in a business casual sort of way. Help me, please.

I turned to Harpers, the iconic clothing store in State College. It seemed like the obvious choice. If a person wants to dress nice in State College, Harpers is a great place to go. To be honest, in the past I was a little intimidated by Harpers, thinking I might feel a little out of place in a store like that.

Boy, was I wrong. I mean, it was still a little intimidating; the store is beautiful and full of nice things. But just being around all the nice clothes and the warm atmosphere felt nice. I was surprised to find such a variety of clothing. With the Penn State gear, suits, tuxedos, and a wide variety of dressy casual clothing, and even women’s clothing and accessories, style ran the gamut. I was impressed.

Then I met owner Brian Cohen and I really knew I was in the right place. You could tell by looking at Brian that he knew what he was doing. He had on a trendy jacket and pants combo that had color, style, and yet, he looked completely comfortable. I trusted that he knew what he was doing. 

And Brian ought to know what he is doing, after all, he is the third generation owner of the 92-year-old store. 

When Brian looked at me, in a non-judgmental way, in my flannel shirt and old jean-cut-style khakis, I could tell he wanted to help me find some style.

Brian says that many men struggle dressing business casual because it is a harder look to pull off than just slapping on a suit that matches automatically. Business casual allows a man to make some choices and find his own style. But, he says, often these days, people take the term business casual as an invitation to dress down.

“Business casual is confusing, because nobody really knows what it is.  Or they think they know what it is and they are not wearing business casual,” he says. “I go into a business and they say this is business casual, and I’m like, I clean my house looking better than that. I’m think you need a standard.” 

Brian started by taking my measurements, which I appreciated. I struggle finding the right sizes because I am short, and nothing looks more sloppy then long sleeves and long pant legs. Brian made sure I would find the right size shirt, and with tailors on site all the dress pants are hemmed to fit properly. 

Next, Brian brought me some shirt, pants, and jacket combos that would work for me. It was amazing how he almost sensed what my style was and brought me stuff that I actually really liked, but maybe wouldn’t have gone for without his eye helping me along. 

He got me a nice pair of grey dress pants from an Italian designer that were cut in a jean style, meaning they had five pockets, with pocket number five being that little one on the right side of jeans. Neither of us could really understand what that pocket was made for.

I liked the way the pants looked and fit. He said even jeans can pass as business casual, as long as they are dark and not faded. The store had a plethora of different dress pants to choose from, and he said the majority of what they sell are the classic-style dress pants. But, these jean-style pants felt right for me.

Next, he found me a nice sport coat to go with my look. Business casual does not have to include a sport coat, he says, adding that sweaters, turtlenecks, and ascots are popular items that could be worn instead to add to an outfit. But I think he could tell I was more of a sport coat kind of guy. 

I typically wear brown, blues, and other similar colors, and that is what he found for me, a really nice brown jacket with a soft texture and blue pattern. I tried it on and loved it.

But, I was confused. A brown jacket and grey pants? Isn’t that a fashion no-no? Brian assured me that thinking is from a bygone era and that men today will wear brown shoes with a black suit to warm it up. He was right; the brown and grey worked.

OK, I was liking this. Maybe I could be more stylish.

Next, we found a nice dark blue shirt with a dot pattern. While I loved the blue, I would not have gone with the dots, but they worked. 

I think Brian could tell that I was not a tie kind of guy, but he showed me some anyway. He said texture, color, and print can go a long way in making the tie look less formal. He was right, but I still prefer to go without a tie. Brian said it was no problem, but he wanted to find me some color, a nice accessory that would bring the whole ensemble together.

So, he found me a pocket square. I wasn’t sure about that either; I had never worn a pocket square before, and it seemed a little much. 

But I trusted Brian by this point and let him put it in my jacket pocket to see what it looked like. I would have never imagined it, but it looked good and I liked it. It is amazing what a little extra something-something can do for an outfit. 

I could not wait to show my family the new look, so I sent them a picture. Becky used the words “handsome” and “very nice.”

The teenager was less outwardly impressed, but I expected as much. You just can’t win with teens.

“Pretty cool,” he said, and I don’t think he was being sarcastic. 

Yeah, pretty cool. Thanks, Brian. 


Vincent Corso is a staff writer for Town&Gown and The Centre County Gazette.


Vincent Corso is writer for Town&Gown and the Centre County Gazette.
Disclaimer: Copyright © 2020 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.