In the world of business, first impressions count just as much as experience and ability. What you wear communicates that impression even before you say anything. Are you neat or careless? Well-groomed or sloppy? Do you look competent and successful or incapable and inept? Fortunately, the rules of business attire are explicit and easy to follow.
Start with a solid or pin-striped navy blue or gray suit using good-quality materials in a conservative and classic American cut. Your jacket sleeve must end at your wrist bone. Your shirt must be a blue or white in a solid or minimal pattern with long sleeves extending about 3/8ths of an inch beyond the jacket sleeve. You can add some flare with a hand-tied (no clip-ons), brightly-colored, silk necktie in a subtle stripe or with a small, repeating pattern. Stay away from large beer logos and animal prints.
Men's Shoes and Accessories
Wear well-polished, lace-up leather shoes in black, dark brown or burgundy, with dark, calf-length socks. Your belt must match your shoes and have a small, conservative buckle. Keep jewelry to a minimum with a high-quality watch and a wedding or engagement ring. Leave earrings, gold chains and flashy bracelets to Las Vegas types.
Your hair must be short and conservatively styled. If you must wear facial hair (which, by hiding your face may communicate that you’re hiding something), keep it well-trimmed and groomed. Otherwise, always shave, but save the aftershave, cologne and any fragrances for after work. A clean, non-allergenic smell is best.
As with men, keep what you wear conservative rather than fashionable. You want people to notice your work and not your figure. Start with a well-tailored pantsuit or skirted suit in a high-quality navy, dark gray or black fabric. The skirt must end within an inch of the knees. With a blouse, you have more leeway with colors than men do with shirts. Never show cleavage; you want associates to be looking at your face and not your chest.
Women's Shoes and Accessories
Wear closed-toe leather shoes with low heels rather than high-heels or flats. Your safest bet for hosiery is flesh-colored rather than dark or light. Make sure that your undergarments don’t show through your clothing. Wear minimal jewelry such as one subtle ring on each hand at most, and one small earring per ear, in gold, silver or pearl.
Women's Hair and Makeup
Keep your hair well-styled and controlled with simple, subtle hair accessories, if any. Avoid heavy perfumes. Your makeup must be simple and sparse. Rather than bright colors, wear light-colored day makeup in shades that flatter your face under fluorescent lights. Trim your fingernails short so you can type with your fingers rather than your nails.
Use a briefcase or handbag that is big enough to hold all your business tools, but light enough to carry conveniently. It must close neatly without unsightly bulges so do not overstuff it. A metallic pen and pencil set in gold and silver is a final touch for whenever you sign a contract or business check.