The internet is a labyrinth of advice when it comes to this subject but it’s an inescapable fact that we make judgements about our fellow human beings within the first seven seconds of meeting them. Those judgements are based on appearance and although they might be modified later, if you make a poor initial impression then you are putting yourself at the bottom of the hill, with a long climb ahead of you. Perhaps the reason that there is such a conflicting range of advice on this subject is that business meetings are as diverse in their chemistry as are the individuals of which they are comprised. Every company has its own fashion culture, evolved over time through a synthesis of personalities and policy. There is also, of course, a cultural dimension. We might expect the business conventions of two European countries such as France and Germany to be the same: they are not. The further afield that you travel, say Saudi Arabia or Japan, the more significant these cultural differences become. What follows are general guidelines, but they must all be underpinned by research: get the best information you can about the level of formality expected and if in doubt, err on the side of formality. Your appearance should reflect your professional role, but it should also reflect preparation, planning and respect for the people that you are meeting.
How many unwitting individuals has that word ‘casual’ ensnared, encouraging them to arrive at a business meeting in jeans and a T shirt, in the misguided belief that if this is what tech geniuses wear, then they should fit right in, only to discover that everyone else is wearing shirts, neatly pressed trousers and blazers. It’s true that if you were to turn up to a meeting with a tech company wearing a three piece suit and buttoned up to the neck, you might give the impression that you were out of touch, but then that impression would be absolutely correct. If you’ve done your research, there shouldn’t be any big surprises when you open the meeting room door. ‘Business casual’ is smart. Your clothing should be well fitted, clean and pressed, your footwear well- polished. If this is clothing that you would wear around the house at the weekend, then it is almost certainly not appropriate. On the catwalk, the clothes are the star of the show, the models, though chosen for their striking beauty, are merely mobile mannikins: this is not the effect that you are seeking to achieve in a business meeting. A business meeting is not the place for fashion statements, it is you who must be memorable not your clothing. Stylish, understated professionalism is your goal.
Business Casual for Women
Women are still battling for equality in the world of business. Sexy, alluring clothing simply conforms to limiting male stereotypes. You should be admired for your business acumen and intelligence, not for your low-cut top. Your clothing should be comfortable, stylish and professional. A shirt, blouse or turtleneck, A line or midi skirt or bodycon dress are all suitable. Choose clothing which suits your body shape and in which you feel comfortable. Shoes should be smart, low heels, brogues or loafers. Outer clothing shouldn’t let you down, even though it may only be glimpsed momentarily. A trench coat or smart jacket should do the trick.
Business Casual for Men
Let sober be your watchword. It may be hot outside, but a business meeting is not the place for bright summer colours, they suggest a lack of seriousness. A blazer is a well-established mainstay of ‘smart casual’ and should be paired with a collared shirt, smart trousers or chinos and formal shoes. Whatever you may read on the internet, jeans, however well pressed, are not appropriate.
A Formal Business Meeting
‘There is a difference between the formal wardrobe you choose to wear on a daily basis and what you should be wearing when you enter the boardroom.’
Sylvie di Giusto ‘The Image of Leadership’.
There’s no way to cut corners on this: formal business meetings require good quality tailored clothing. An understated outfit comprised of quality garments is a tremendous confidence booster and signifies in a swift glance that you are a successful professional. Of course, tailored clothing counts for nothing without high standards of personal hygiene, well-manicured nails and a smart hairstyle.
Formal Business Attire for Women
A tailored trouser suit with a button up shirt, or a dark pencil skirt or a high neck A line dress are all suitable and should be paired with smart court shoes, brogues or loafers. Perfume should be very discreet; an overpowering scent would be distracting and disastrous. Make up should be minimal, as should jewellery. The hair style should be off the face and lacking in ostentation.
Formal Business Attire for Men
A tailored dark suit, either two or three piece, should be paired with a crisp white shirt and a subtle silk tie. Black or brown Oxfords or brogues should be well polished and worn with matching socks.
Accessories are the final touch and though your colleagues may only glance at them they are a crucial part of the overall impression and an ill -chosen accessory might just turn out to be the only thing your colleagues remember. Jewellery should be of good quality but should not draw attention to itself. It should be used sparingly to complement your outfit. A quality watch, slim and understated is a professional accessory for women and men and the most convenient way to keep track of time during a presentation or meeting. For men, understated cuff links and a leather belt are also important finishing touches. Finally, there is the bag which you use to carry your paperwork and laptop. Don’t let yourself down with a bag which is scruffy or inappropriate. Use a stylish leather laptop case which is durable, practical, timelessly stylish and professional in appearance.