By: Lahle Wolfe
Working from home allows women to attend conference calls in sweats and send emails at 2 a.m. in pajamas. But at some point you will have meetings with clients, investors, donors, or other business professionals.
Competing in small business requires many skills, but knowing how to dress for a business situation can help you seal the deal in face-to-face meetings. In certain 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 own 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 own clothing.
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 a see-through lacy top or stilettos. Dressing to show off will not impress business men or women, and will hurt your professional image.
International Standard Business Attire
The standard suit and tie for men and women 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 to be safe.
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 small business dealings. You want to project that you are a business woman, and not look like a mom coming to a meeting from your child’s play date.
How to Dress for Business Success
For the purpose of 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 several high quality outfits that are interchangeable than in multiple poor quality outfits.
- Color and Patterns: Conservative colors and fabrics remain a standard in business attire for men and women. Wear dark gray or navy pants and suits. Women can also wear black if the clothing itself 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 a 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.
Make sure pants are pressed and as wrinkle free as possible. 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 can see too much thigh with 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 (walking and climbing up stairs). If you cannot walk comfortably in a skirt it is too small or too tight.
- Shirts and Sweaters: First rule: don’t show cleavage. Blouses should be tailored and coordinate with the rest of your outfit. Fine-gauge knit shells are fine but be sure any top you choose is not see-through.
- Bras and Panties: Undergarments should support your figure and not show through clothing. If your panty line shows your clothing may be too tight or you might need to wear a slip.
- Shoes: Closed-toed pumps in a color that compliments 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. Shoe color should coordinate with the color of your purse.Shoes should be polished and clean, made of leather or microfiber. Sandals are never appropriate for business attire but tennis shoes may be fine for business casual.
If you are uncertain about how to dress for a meeting treat all face-to-face business contact as you would a job interview and dress appropriately in standard business attire. And, if you are invited to a business social event it is acceptable to ask what the dress requirements are.
Enjoy wearing your favorite torn jeans while working from home but when you step out into the business world remember to dress as if you are a powerful and successful business woman.