I'm involved in more and more investor type meetings where I feel out of place with my fashion sense. I'm pretty good at the old school suit and tie look or business casual (khakis, shirt, and tie)...but I need a little help updating my wardrobe to more of the sport coat and open collared shirt look...something sophisticated yet relaxed. Got any time to help a friend?
PS - my next meeting is Friday. Any short term advice I can use to update the wardrobe quickly and for not a lot of $$$?
Ooops! So I goofed and missed your meeting - hope this is still helpful. (But then again, something tells me you're not worried about fashion except for the blue & red kind at the moment.*)
Now...to your question. A couple of points:
1) The easiest way to do the "sport coat and open collared look" is to put your suits into service. It can be a little tricky to not look like you're missing your tie, but wearing a colored shirt (think pastels - sorry!) goes a long way to fight that battle. Wear your favorite (and well-tailored) suit with, say a pale blue shirt, and you'll make a good, cool impression. Think about what the suit at right would look like if you left off the paisley tie (which I think I'd do anyway, but I'm not a BR stylist, so...)
2) Again, putting your suits into service, update the shirt look with a collared sweater or two. Find yourself a merino wool (really, truly a 3.5 season fabric), polo-style sweater in a genteel shade, like charcoal or navy, and put it on under the suit.
3) Hit the stores and find three key pieces: a pair of snazzy (subtle plaid, pinstripes in unexpected colors) fitted, flat front (at the most one pleat) slacks, a neutral button down with a lovely hand (the fabric will add a certain something), and a jacket. The jacket's admittedly the toughest. Be sure to stay away from the overdone blue blazer, and do. not. buy. another pair of khakis.
Good stores to try that won't break the bank:
Zara (though their fits can be decidedly European) - for all three pieces
H&M (with the same caveat) - for the slacks. Shirt and jacket won't be in nice enough fabric here to make a good impression.
C-Mart. Need I say more?
You can also try the sale racks at J. Crew or Banana (though you'll have to watch the prep factor at both places - less so at Banana - see the looks above for hints)
And, if you have time and patience, check out the local Goodwill or Salvation Army outposts, especially for the jacket and slacks. You could find a pair of vintage pants with a great pattern for practically nothing. I had one coworker, always impeccably dressed, who found nearly his whole wardrobe at secondhand stores.
Lastly - think about ditching the khaki-polos look for business casual, and step it up a bit - all you need to do is leave off the suit jacket for any of the looks above, and you've got a stylin' look that's a little unexpected for the DC workplace.
*M just happens to be a died-in-the-wool-born-and-raised-in-Lindenhurst Giants fan. He's a little preoccupied right now.