Gentleman Scholar

How Can a Gentleman Dress Casually for a Summer Workday but Not Look Like Andy Sipowicz?

And other office etiquette and style dilemmas.

Please send your questions for publication to (Questions may be edited.)

Working for the federal government in D.C.—in an all-cubicle office without a strict dress code—I have observed some eye-opening variability in office attire, particularly in the summer. While a few holdouts (myself included) keep up the starched-shirt-and-tie-and dress-pants in the warmer months, some gentlemen wear shorts or untucked short-sleeved shirts.

As a non-managerial employee in his mid-30s, with an athletic build, and in an office with a slack dress code, what options do I have for maintaining a sharp look when it comes to summer dress? Obviously the Andy Sipowicz look is out, and shorts scream unprofessional. I’d like to move toward a short-sleeved option for the summer, but they often look boxy and juvenile.

Must a gentleman without his own office suck it up and come in to work drenched in sweat?

Troy Patterson.
Troy Patterson.

Photo by Christina Paige

Thank you for letter.

To correct a misimpression: There are many 100 percent cotton slim-fit short-sleeved shirts on the market. With a moment’s caress of the keyboard, the monitor transforms into a display window where you may browse an OCBD from Old Navy ($20), a gingham number from Brooks Brothers ($80), a purplish plaidish one from Steven Alan ($150), and so on, unto a floral-print shirt from Burberry, with mother-of-pearl buttons, at the mother-of-God price of $495. I hope it doesn’t require too much searching for you to find some in a style befitting your steez at a price appropriate to your pay grade. Match them with linen pants, and you, enduring a summer in our fetid capital, will suffer less extravagantly than your colleagues.

To air a ridiculous notion: Given the liberal sartorial standards of your workplace—shorts in the office?!— you are at liberty to dare experimenting with shorts in the office!?. Perhaps you are the guy who will kick off the mainstreaming of Bermuda shorts with a loafer-clad foot. This could be the correct historical moment: It was reported, this month, that “U.S. shoppers spent $2.8 billion on men’s socks last year”—a steep increase that the Wall Street Journal’s sources attribute to a vogue for flash: “Bright colors and patterns have become key trends in the sock category.” What better way to show off your socks than by showing off all of your socks?

OK, OK, skip it. Don’t leave yet. Please at least stick around long enough to hear a gripe about some of your fellow government employees relating to summer garb: The Gentleman Scholar hereby denounces the United States Senate for doing away with Seersucker Thursday. It used to be that, somewhere in the middle of June, a number of legislators would all wear this cotton fabric to work on the same day and make a little bipartisan party of it. Then, in 2012, someone decided that it was “politically unwise to be seen doing something frivolous when there’s so much conflict over major issues,” and the tradition was killed. Ladies and gentlemen of the Senate: Your constituents read the news. We know you’re frivolous. You’re not fooling anyone by wearing sober suits while behaving frivolously. If you are going to be gridlocked in a swamp all day, you might as well be wearing a fabric that breathes.

I work in an office where I typically encounter many of my co-workers more than once in the course of a typical day. I feel that I need greet each individual only once per day: One “Good morning, Mrs. Smith!” should suffice for one 9-to-5 shift. However, some of my contemporaries will utter a “How’s it going?” or “Hey!” each time we pass in the hallway. How many cordial greetings does a gentleman owe his fellow rat-racers? And should it be an adjustable policy that changes based on one’s seniority/subordinate status within the organization?

Thank you for your question.

I am concerned that you’re being unduly anxious. I mean, yes, it is kind of annoying when that one bro in sales treats every stroll past a cubicle as an occasion to tap its top cap rhythmically and reel off an SNL catchphrase. And, no, no one knows what to make of that admin who presses her hands together and, bowing slightly, solemnly says, “Namaste,” each time she enters the break room to make green tea. But isn’t “How’s it going?” just a verbose version of a split-second’s smiling eye contact? Failing to see what the big deal is, I am concerned, therefore, that you’re being unduly awkward. I’m not trying to seem rude, but are you trying to seem rude? Surely you can muster a friendly nod when passing a co-worker in a hallway. All you’re doing is walking down a hallway: Does your face have something better to do?

What is the best thing to use to carry my daily essentials? I’m a librarian, so there is little take-home work, but I always have a few books, a water bottle, some random papers, and some toiletries. I am 56 and feel like a backpack is too young for me, though it is what I carry now. A briefcase is too “executive.” Can you recommend something that is stylish and age-appropriate? At work my dress is professional, if conservative—dark slacks, good shoes and belt, dressy shirts—so I could use a little flair.

I’m glad you asked, thanks.

My diagnosis—arrived at after lengthy consideration of the metaphysical mysteries of the man bag—is, dude, you need a canvas tote. L.L. Bean, based in Freeport, Maine, offers many fine customization options, but discerning preppies will tell you—and, if they are New-Anglophiles, will wear a pained expression while telling you—that Lands’ End, founded in Chicago and based in Wisconsin, makes a superior product.

To be clear: You want a tote with some heft to it, not one of the flimsy ones; those are for going back and forth to the farmers market, and for young people who need you to know that they’re better than you because of their taste in literary magazines.

My workplace has one single-occupancy unisex restroom on each floor. This aspiring gentleman inevitably finds himself either kept waiting while a colleague does something terrible inside or making others wait to use the toilet while he does the same. While the nonjudgmental attitude of colleagues of the same gender is well-summed-up by Taro Gomi’s masterpiece, it can be excruciatingly awkward to encounter a member of the opposite sex on the other side of the door.

How should one handle the brief but uncomfortable encounter with a lady who either emerges or is waiting, when both time and odor leave no mystery as to what has just transpired?

The both of you should be very ashamed of your bodies and, driven by self-loathing, embark on a mutually destructive office romance, conducting your assignations in a supply closet.

Alternatively, you might use your waiting time to read stuff on your phone—perhaps excerpts from The Bathroom, Jean-Philippe Toussaint’s first novel, which is more absorbing than Charmin Ultra Soft. Thus, your eyes will be fixed on a screen at the liminal moment of loo-departure and you will have preserved your colleague’s privacy. Or, to set up an exit strategy effectively eliminating the issue, delicately ask your office manager to requisition a 300-count box of kitchen matches for each water closet.

Thanks for your question!