Is Your Wardrobe Costing You Business?


Communication happens long before you open your mouth. Whether you’re a presenter, a salesman, a preacher, or a guest, people will make categorical judgments based on how you look long before you have a chance to have a meaningful engagement. It might not be fair, but, nonetheless, it’s what happens. You can choose to deal with it or live with the consequences.

Recently I had a meeting at a very conservative client’s office where I was supposed to meet with a new team and the CEO. I dressed appropriately to the occasion, a suit and tie. But I forgot that I was meeting a potential new client, an author, during one of my afternoon meetings. Interestingly, one of her first observations was “I expected you to be dressed more casually, since you’re in marketing.”

Some might say that you need to be yourself, dress the way you want and be done with it. No need to try to impress people (as my 15 year old will argue when I tell him: “no, you’re not wearing that”). I disagree. I believe you should be yourself but dress appropriately to whatever environment you’re trying to impact.

Some clients will discredit me if I show up in a suit for a meeting. In their minds, I could not relate to their, cutting-edge business or ministry. They would see me, at least initially, as old school and not relevant. Others, however, would feel very nervous taking strategic and creative direction from someone wearing faded jeans and a white belt (ok, even I feel nervous about the white belt–it only lasted a short season). So why should you fight an insignificant battle or begin your engagement at a “deficit” of influence just because of what you’re wearing? You can still be yourself and dress appropriately to the occasion.

Interestingly my personal sense of style allows me to wear anything from suits to jeans without losing my own identity. For example, I don’t have to wear dated, doubled breasted suits to a meeting. Personally, I like the more tapered, smaller lapel and thinner pant-leg suits that are currently popular.

How much thought do you give about what you wear?

  • Chris

    I have not thought a whole lot about what I wear. My boss has mentioned that I sometimes come across as sloppy. This has gotten me thinking a lot more about the first impression I make.

    Thank you for writing this.

  • MaurilioAmorim

    You're welcome. These changes are never easy to make but every time I've seen people grow into their own style or even update their choices, the positive always out weighs the trouble.

  • todshuttleworth

    The dress code thing has actually gotten more difficult with about 70% of folks going pretty casual, but still the balance being more formal. I agree it matters, but have to admit I have less and less patience for the other 30%. I hate dressing up for the 30% that expect you to be formal. Doesn't seem right, but that's what you have to do.

  • paulaswift

    This is exactly what I work with my clients on all the time!!!

    So many of them try to fit in to a mold without giving themselves some credit for a little expression. We discuss their industry, their clients and their own personalities to help guide them in what's appropriate, what makes a positive statement in their work, and most of all, what they are comfortable wearing = confidence!

    My wardrobe consist 90% of jeans…from dressy to casual – and yes, it depends on the client I'm working with. I never wear suits – can't stand them – they are uncomfortable and stodgy and I'll spend the day thinking of how to get out of it. When I'm in more traditional business arenas – such as chamber business hours functions – I may wear black pants with a catchy sweater or fun top. I always get complimented since I never really blend into those crowds – they notice me, though I'm still professionally presenting myself. And they know quickly that my work is different from theirs – thus potential opportunity for them (and me). Might I be passed over for a traditional corporate gig? Perhaps. But then again, do I want to work with that kind of client? Nope – not my style 🙂

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