The Naked Truth About Business Attire and Great First Impressions

As you move along in your changing career path, you’ll want to make a great first impression at every opportunity. This will include being aware of what you’re wearing, and where you’re wearing it.

Unfortunately, making a great first impression can be blown in less than 10 seconds simply because of inappropriate attire. The fact of the matter is that people will judge you based on your looks. Oh sure, they may have a pleasant conversation with you, and even take your business card. However, they know they won’t recommend you to their network of friends and colleagues because you don’t look the part.

If you don’t take your attire seriously, those you meet won’t take you seriously… not a good thing if you’re looking to make a splash in a new career.

Make a great first impression by dressing as if you’re a leader in your field. There are dozens of sources of information about dressing for success. Here are the five points I believe to be the most important:

1. Keep your shoes polished

It never ceases to amaze me at how often this point is neglected. I’ve seen men and women wear great looking outfits, and then have the look ruined by unpolished or well-worn shoes. This can be easily remedied by a little elbow grease on your part, or by taking them to your local shoe repair shop. I’ve found a few that not only polish the shoes by machine; they then buff the shoes by hand, and add a glossy finish to the welts. That extra touch helps you to stand out for the right reason.

Also make sure your shoes are in good repair. You shouldn’t have excessively worn heels and soles. Make sure that the laces aren’t frayed. Don’t forget to use shoe trees to help your shoes keep their shape.

Under no circumstances should flip flops be considered appropriate footwear in the business world, unless your business is located on a beach, near a pool, or in a locker room.

2. Have your clothes tailored/altered to match your current physique

You can spot a poorly fitted outfit a mile away. If you want to make a favorable impression, make sure your clothes fit you properly. If it’s been a while since you tried on your clothes, go through your closet now and do so. Make sure your clothes aren’t too loose or too tight. Are all of the buttons and fasteners intact? Did you grow another inch? Then have your pants cuffs or skirt hems lowered to match your new stature.

3. Dress appropriately for your new profession, and for the area in which you live

I believe you can never go wrong with dressing conservatively (suit, tie, dress white or blue long sleeve shirt or blouse, etc.) however, if your new career won’t be in the corporate world, your new “work clothes” may be a bit more casual. That doesn’t mean sloppy.

When meeting with others, maintain a sense of professionalism by wearing “business casual”. In the words of The Career Center at Virginia Tech, “business casual” is “crisp, neat and… appropriate.” This would include wearing a navy blue or black blazer, polo shirt or blouse, and dress pants in a complementary color (usually gray, khaki, or tan). During the cold weather months, wearing a turtleneck or a sweater is fine.

If your new career is one in which you’ll get dirty, make sure you have a set of clothes that are your “meeting clothes”. They aren’t to be used for anything but business functions. This would include a collared shirt, well-kept jeans, and clean work shoes.

Observe what others in your new profession are wearing in your part of the country. Proper attire on the east coast will be different than that in the southwest or Hawaii (though you will see some people in a suit there too!). Since we’re looking at making a great first impression, don’t be too casual until a solid foundation for your business relationship has been laid.

If you have tattoos, cover them until you’re firmly established in your new career. In some companies and professions, they’re definitely frowned upon. Always remember, you don’t want anything to detract from your skills and talents.

4. Personal grooming counts

Use cologne and perfume sparingly. Keep your hair neatly trimmed and styled. If your hair is dyed, make sure it’s a conservative color. You want to stand out from the crowd because of your skills and talents; not because your hair is the color of a famous clown.

If you have facial hair, make sure it’s neatly trimmed. The “stubble” look should be put aside until you’re established in your new gig. Keep your fingernails clean and trimmed to an appropriate length.

Women should also go with a more conservative approach in makeup and nail polish. The more natural your look (within reason); the better.

5. Wear jewelry to highlight, not overpower

For men, there should be no more than one ring on each hand, located on your ring finger. A nice wristwatch is optional. For women, this is not the time to go overboard with clanging bracelets and oversized earrings. Piercings in places other than your ear lobe shouldn’t have any adornment. You want people to pay attention to your credentials and what you’re bringing to your new career; not how loud and distracting your jewelry is.

As the saying goes, you only have one chance to make a good first impression. Don’t let your clothing ruin that for you. Take the time to look at your wardrobe from the standpoint of those with whom you’d like to connect, and make an impact for the right reasons.