Competing in small business requires many essential skills, and knowing how to dress for a business situation is one of them. An advantage of working from home is the ability to attend conference calls in your sweats and send emails while wearing pajamas at 2 a.m. But at some point, you will most likely have meetings with clients, investors, donors, or other business professionals, and you will have to dress like a grown-up.
Overdressing can be seen as trying too hard (and construed as unprofessional), while under-dressing will appear as though you do not care about getting the job.
The right attitude, combined with the right attire, can help you seal the deal in face-to-face situations.
Don't Be a Showoff
In many industries, how you dress is critical. For example, if you design and sell clothing to women’s specialty stores, showing up wearing something from your product line may sound like a good idea, but the wrong outfit will cost you the contract. It is better to bring product samples than to serve as a model for your clothing line.
Your attire should not upstage an event or the person you are meeting with. You want to be remembered for your business sense and not for your lacy top or stilettos. Accessories should also be kept modest and tasteful, so keep the Rolex watch at home.
International Standard Business Attire
The standard suit still has a strong place in the professional world. Tailored dresses, as well as skirts with a blouse and jacket, can also serve as standard business attire for women. Standard business attire is more polished and professional-looking than casual dress. When in doubt, stick with standard business attire.
The term business casual means different things to different companies. In some companies, it may be acceptable for women to wear capri pants or long shirts—but avoid these for formal business dealings. You want to project an image that you are a serious businessperson—not a mom coming from your child’s play date or a woman coming from the gym.
How to Dress for Business Success
For business meetings and events, women should consider the following guidelines for business attire:
- Wear tailored clothing: Tailored clothing always looks better. It pays to invest in just a few high-quality outfits that are interchangeable than in several poor quality outfits.
- Color and patterns: Conservative colors and fabrics remain a standard in business attire for women. Wear dark gray or navy pants and suits. Women can also wear black if the clothing is professional. Cocktail dresses are not appropriate for business meetings.
- Avoid color and pattern extremes: You want to make a statement about your business, not a personal statement expressing your passion for purple polka dots. Plaids and subtle patterns that appear solid from across a room are conservative and safest. Wide stripes and fabrics with high sheen are too distracting for business meetings.
- Pants and suits: Pants are fine, but stick to tailored pants with a crease. Khaki, twill, and corduroy are good fabric choices for business casual, but stay away from denim and heavy cotton materials. Pants and suits made from wool and wool blends are good standard business attire and work for all seasons. Try to avoid synthetic fabrics like rayon and polyester blends which lack quality and can wrinkle. Make sure pants are clean, pressed, and wrinkle-free. The hem should cover the ankle but not drape to the floor. Even if you have a lovely figure, stay away from pants that are too tight.
- Skirts and dresses: The right color and material are important, but the right length is critical. If you sit in a chair and expose too much thigh with your legs crossed (or uncrossed), the outfit is too short. If your skirt has a slit, it should be small, centered in the back, and no higher than the back of your knee. High slits in skirts are never appropriate. A slit should not impair mobility (such as walking and climbing stairs). If you cannot walk comfortably in a skirt, it is too small or too tight.
- Shirts and sweaters: The first rule is, don’t show cleavage. Blouses should be tailored and coordinate with the rest of your outfit. Fine-gauge knit shells are fine but make sure the top is not see-through or too form-fitting.
- Bras and panties: Undergarments should support your figure and not show through clothing. If your panty line shows through, that means your clothing is too tight.
- Shoes: Closed-toe pumps in a color that complements your outfit are best. Do not wear chunky heels, flat-soled shoes, stilettos, or shoes with too much height. It is important to wear shoes that fit well so you can walk comfortably. Try to select a shoe color that coordinates with the color of your purse.
If you're uncertain about how to dress for a meeting, treat all face-to-face business contact as you would a job interview. Dress appropriately, in standard business attire. And, if you are invited to a business social event, it is acceptable to ask what the dress code is.