Dress for Success!
he way you dress speaks volumes about who you are as a person and as a professional. When you enter a room, it takes only a few seconds for people you’ve never met to form perceptions about you. You don’t have to utter a word because, regardless of who you are, your clothes and body language always speak first.
To begin with, there is no single set of rules that will work for everyone. But there are a handful of characteristics that most successful business communicators share when it comes to dress and grooming.
The corporate culture and the role you play in it should guide your choice of business attire. It all hinges on the norms of the business culture or the industry you are in. It is also true that while your attire can be a vehicle for personal expression, you can pay a price for violating the written and unwritten codes.
It needs to be borne in mind that business attire is different from social attire and is more formal. However, determining just how formal can it be is a bit tricky. The parameters that cover business attire are narrower than they are for social attire. For example, social attire can be more suggestive or flashier or make more of a statement, while business attire is tuned to the needs of the business circumstance.
At the business or professional level, your clothing and grooming should not distract. Typical formal business attire has an advantage because it can easily direct listeners to your face and eyes. A light shirt under a closed dark business jacket forms a ‘V’ that opens toward the face. A contrasting tie can heighten this effect. Wearing some red in the tie can help draw the eyes of your audience to your own.
In contrast, a flashy belt buckle can draw the eye to the waist. Bright buttons, shiny tie clips, colourful lapel pins, big metal watches, or other conspicuous dress accessories can divert attention from your eyes. The same goes for clothing that is overly tight, shiny, or loud.
When you’re in front of a group giving a presentation, making a speech or just plain talking, you typically need to dress one notch of formality above your audience. That means if they are wearing slacks and shirts, you may want to add a sports jacket to your outfit. On the other hand, wearing a suit and tie in front of an audience in jeans and T-shirts would not be a good idea.
Regardless of what you are wearing, make sure it works. After all, nothing sends a worse message than a poorly tailored jacket. Among the common mistakes is the wrong sleeve length. The jacket sleeve should end at the middle of your wrist bone, with the shirt sleeve extending three eighths of an inch beyond. Since many people are born with one arm longer than the other, make sure the tailor checks the length of both sleeves.
If you are not wearing a long-sleeved shirt under a sports coat, the jacket length should extend to the end of the wrist bone. This will preserve the visibility of your hands without calling attention to the bareness of your forearms. Conversely, your jacket sleeve should be shorter if you wear French or double cuffs, to better display the cuff and links.
Trouser legs should reach the top of your shoes, forming a single break a little above the point of contact. Socks should cover your calves — this will help you avoid showing leg hair every time you cross your legs. And, on the subject of feet, let’s add a word about shoes. The great American dancer, Fred Astaire, who wrote the book on popular dance, said this about footwear: “If you want to know if a fellow is well-dressed, look down.”
With business suits wear simple lacedups shoes, not slip-ons. A proper shine on smooth leather will not only polish the upper, but also eliminate any bare or dull areas along the edge of the sole or the heel. A shoeshine should include edge dressing and “heel black” to address these areas.
Business presenters need more than a professional look. They need to be able to move in their clothes. Tight pants or formfitting jackets restrict movement, though designers and stylists agree that a perfect fit connotes confidence, ease and authority.
Being well-dressed in a corporate setting can greatly influence perceptions. Your dress must bring you out as authoritative and competent.
Always remember – successful business dressing is all about being yourself, but a better, nicer and more appealing self. And please don’t overdo it ◆