A Clothes Encounter In The Business World
By Lydia Ramsey
Do you ever wonder where all the dress rules have gone? Depending on when and
where you are on any given business day, the words "distant past" might come to
mind. It's difficult to decide if people don't know what to wear to work
or if they have lost sight of the relevance of appearance to professional
The Queen of England is reported to have told Prince Charles, "Dress gives one
the outward sign from which people can judge the inward state of mind. One they
can see, the other they cannot." Clearly, she was saying what many people are
reluctant to accept; that people judge us by the way we dress. In all
situations, business and social, our outward appearance sends a message.
Try going to a busy restaurant at lunchtime. Look around you at what people are
wearing and see if you don't make judgments about who they are, their line of
business, their personalities and their competencies. Think about how you feel
when you are dressed in your usual business attire as opposed to casual dress.
Your choice of business apparel speaks to your professional behavior and
credibility. It is important to understand how to dress for business if you wish
to promote yourself and your organization in a positive manner.
How you dress depends on four factors: the industry in which you work, the job
you have within that industry, the geographic area in which you live; and most
importantly, what your client expects to see.
Professional Dress for Men
In men's clothing, fashion does not change significantly from season to season
but business attire is about being professional and not about being fashionable.
It's about presenting yourself in a way that makes your clients feel comfortable
and confident with you. Dressing for success is still the rule. The professional
businessman should keep in mind these few points when deciding what to wear to
Choose a conservative suit in navy, black or gray either pinstripe or solid. The
quality of the material speaks as loudly as the color and can make the
difference between sleaze and suave.
A solid white or blue dress shirt with long sleeves offers the most polished
look. The more pattern and color you add, the more the focus is on your
clothing, rather than your professionalism.
Ties should be made of silk or a silk-like fabric. Avoid the cartoon
characters and go for simple and subtle if you want to enhance your credibility.
Socks should be calf-length or above. Make sure they match not only what
you are wearing, but also each other. A quick glance in good light before
heading out the door can save embarrassment later in the day. Check for holes as
well if you'll be going through airport security and removing your shoes.
Shoes should without question be conservative, clean and well polished. Lace-up
shoes are the choice over slip-ons or flip flops. Don't think for a minute
that people don't notice shoes. Many people will look at your feet before your
Belts need to match or closely coordinate with your shoes. Once again,
Keep jewelry to a minimum. In a time when men sport gold necklaces,
bracelets and earrings, the business professional should limit himself to a
conservative watch, a wedding band and maybe his college ring.
Personal hygiene is part of the success equation. Freshly scrubbed wins
out over heavily fragranced any day of the week. Save the after-shave for
after hours, but never the shave itself.
The finishing touch for the business man is his choice of accessories:
briefcase, portfolio and pen. When it comes to sealing the deal, a top of the
line suit, a silk tie and a good pair of leather shoes can lose their affect
when you pull out the ball point pen you picked up in the hotel meeting room the
Professional Dress for Women
When women entered the workplace in the 1970's and 1980's in greater numbers
than ever before and began to move into positions which had traditionally been
held by men, many of them believed that they needed to imitate male business
attire. The result was women showing up at the office in skirted suits or
coordinated skirts and jackets with tailored blouses finished off with an
accessory item that looked very much like a man's tie. Happily those days
are gone. While the business woman may now wear trousers to work, she does it
out of a desire to appear professional and at the same time enjoy the
flexibility and comfort that pants offer over skirts. Her goal is no
longer to mirror her male colleagues.
The same overall rules apply to women's work attire as apply to men's. Business
clothing is not a reflection of the latest fashion trend. A woman should be
noticed for who she is and her professional skills rather than for what she
wears. Her business wear should be appropriate for her industry and her
position or title within the industry.
Start with a skirted suit or pants suit for the most conservative look. A
skirted suit is the most professional. With a few exceptions, dresses do
not offer the same credibility unless they are accompanied by matching jackets.
Skirts should be knee-length or slightly above or below. Avoid
extremes. A skirt more than two inches above the knee raises eyebrows and
Pants should break at the top of the foot or shoe. While Capri pants and
their fashion cousins that come in assorted lengths from mid-calf to ankle are
the latest trend, they are out of place in the conservative business
Blouses and sweaters provide color and variety to woman's clothing, but they
should be appealing rather than revealing. Inappropriate necklines and
waistlines can give the wrong impression.
Women need to wear hose in the business world. Neutral or flesh-tone
stockings are the best choices. Never wear dark hose with light-colored
clothing or shoes. Keep an extra pair of stockings in your desk drawer unless
the hosiery store is next door or just down the street from the office.
Faces, not feet, should be the focal point in business so chose conservative
shoes. A low heel is more professional than flats or high heels. In spite
of current fashion and the sandal rage, open-toed or backless shoes are not
office attire. Not only are sandals a safety hazard, they suggest a
certain official agenda.
When it comes to accessories and jewelry, less is once again more. Keep it
simple: one ring per hand, one earring per ear. Accessories should reflect
your personality, not diminish your credibility.
Business attire is different from weekend and evening wear. Investing in a good
business wardrobe is an investment in your professional future. For those who
think it's not what you wear but who you are that creates success, give that
some more thought. Business skills and experience count, but so does personal
appearance and that all-important first impression.
Lydia Ramsey is a business etiquette expert, professional speaker, corporate
trainer and author of MANNERS THAT SELL - ADDING THE POLISH THAT BUILDS PROFITS.
She has been quoted or featured in The New York Times, Investors' Business
Daily, Entrepreneur, Inc., Real Simple and Woman's Day. For more information
about her programs, products and services, e-mail her at
or visit her web site