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Strictly Business: Dress Rehearsal
Posted Aug 1, 2005 Print Version     Page 1of 1

It's important that you always look professional to your clients and prospects. When you're looking good, you don't have to be concerned with your image, and you can concentrate on the client and what he or she needs from you.

Here's a little-known sales secret: you build credibility with others by seeming to be like them. That's why it's important to dress appropriately in the eyes of your prospect or client. Looking like they expect you to look will make your clients or prospects feel comfortable about meeting with you.

Thankfully, the days of the three-piece suit and the mandatory power tie are gone, replaced by today's "business casual" dress policy. (Formal dress has become a situational ethic; a suit and tie or the equivalent are still appropriate for meeting with an attorney, but not so well-suited for meeting with a building contractor.)

"Business casual" is a neat and crisp style of dress and is pretty much appropriate for meeting with anyone, even a chance encounter with a CEO. But keep in mind that business casual is more about classic than it is about trendy.

Here are a few pointers on what a well-dressed videographer is wearing: Neatly pressed khaki pants and a long-sleeved, solid-color shirt are good bets for men and women alike. Polo shirts are fine, too, if you are meeting with small business owners, or meeting outdoors. Denim jeans are rarely considered "business casual," although you can combine them with a long-sleeved dress shirt and a lightweight sport coat. (Never wear a short-sleeved shirt with a sport coat. The Miami Vice look went out of style years ago.)

Long-sleeved shirts are dressier than short-sleeved and are always appropriate. If you're not sure which colors look best on you, go with a traditional light blue solid or white shirt. Again, polo shirts—worn tucked in, not hanging loose—are generally acceptable in casual environments. Do not wear clothing that advertises your favorite sports team or the designer-of-the-month. If you choose to wear a shirt with a logo on the breast pocket, consider having your own company logo embroidered on your clothing. It's relatively inexpensive and it's a nice touch.

Your clothing should be clean and not show wear. Even your favorite long-sleeved shirt may not be your best choice for a client meeting after two or three years of wear and a hundred washings.

Make sure your clothes fit properly. Don't try to squeeze a 40-inch waist into size 36 slacks. And don't load up your pockets with loose change, pocket knives, or bulky electronic gadgets.

Ties generally aren't required for meetings. It never hurts to overdress slightly; in fact, I always try to dress just a little bit better than my clients, because I regard it as a sign of respect to them.

Wear a belt that matches the color of your shoes (which, by the way, should be polished and scuff-free). In many offices, sandals and athletic shoes are inappropriate, as is the practice of not wearing socks. Sock color should match the color of your slacks.

When it comes to jewelry, less is more. Avoid the gold chain look. Fashion trends change constantly, and that look was gone several years ago. Personally, I wear a rather conservative stainless steel watch, and that's it. For women, I recommend never wearing more than seven pieces of jewelry. Earrings, a watch, two rings, a bracelet, and a necklace add up to seven.

While we're at it, here are a few notes on accessories. Perfume or cologne: use a little, or don't use any. Make sure your clothes are odor-free. If you smoke, refrain before a meeting. Many people don't like the smell of smoke.

Don't take notes with a 29-cent pen. If you can't afford a $20 ballpoint pen, use a roller marker or something with a little class. Always bring along two, just in case.

Your briefcase, portfolio, or purse should be in good condition—no bulges, no ripped seams, no straps temporarily fixed with bent-up paper clips or gaffer's tape. If you're carrying a leather bag or briefcase, the color should match your shoes. A good leather portfolio is a great investment. Canvas briefcases and bags are also very stylish and perfectly acceptable.

As for eyeglasses: it never ceases to amaze me that sometime around mid-life, men keep wearing the same specs they've worn for the past 20 years. Times change, even if you don't. Big aviator-type glasses are out. There are scores of eyeglass stores with hundreds of up-to-date styles where you can get a new set of fashionable, reasonably priced glasses.

If dressing appropriately for a meeting with a client or a new prospect sounds like a lot of fuss and bother, then it's a safe bet that you're not walking into your current sales situation with all the ammunition you have at your disposal. Looking good is the first step towards feeling confident of your abilities and your professionalism and building credibility and rapport with your prospects. Long before you walk out the door, I encourage you to take a few minutes and decide what will make you look and feel your best at your next new business meeting.

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