Clothing is a form of nonverbal communication. You can gain a lot from it, and even make a lasting personal impression. That’s why it’s important to be familiar with the office norms before appointments. Hence the oft-repeated question regarding dress codes: What should I wear … to a job interview … or an appointment with a client … or with the executive or management board … or with suppliers … or to a workshop with colleagues? There’s certainly no shortage of opportunities to dress to impress.
My advice is essentially this short message: dressing fashionably and stylishly requires simple recommendations. If you focus on extravagance, exuberantly “cool” and exceptionally fashionable brand names, you won’t fit in with the largely traditional, conservative, dignified setting of a consultancy or auditing company.
Your clothes should always be a bit more conservative than whoever you’re dealing with.
But I must add that you should never appear noticeably under- or overdressed! First you need to work out which clothes an occasion demands. For an interview at a medium-sized company, a black suit, white shirt and muted tie can easily seem overdressed. For an interview at an auditing or consultancy practice, a dark gray suit is definitely the best choice. With it you should wear a blue or white shirt with a modern tie. The fashion industry swears by skinny ties. So don’t turn up with the wide tie that your grandpa would wear.
For on-site work with clients, if a suit is standard dress in the company, adapt to that – this will be required at consultancy firms and banks. If jeans and a casual shirt are “in,” adapt to that. Maybe with chino pants and a sport coat.
And now we come to the wardrobe staple of any man of the world:
The current fashion favorite is a slim-cut sport coat with two buttons. A blue suit must be the norm in the office. A brown suit belongs in your leisure time, not at work. A black suit is only suitable for certain occasions. You can’t really go wrong with a dark or light gray suit.
Every man needs to have these three suits as a bare minimum:
At every turn we are suddenly seeing colorful socks peeking out from between dark shoes and a dark suit. If you’re a sophisticated Brit, you don't give it a second thought. But this is probably a touch too extravagant for the modern German gentleman. Socks should still be high (to the knee) and function as a color-coordinated link between your shoes and suit. Avoid colorful patterns and brand names. Mickey Mouse socks should also be banned from your work closet.
Brown shoes are no longer frowned upon in the workplace. In fact, they work well with a blue or gray suit. But never with a black suit! You can – and in fact, must – combine brown shoes with a gray suit. Your shoes must be welted dress shoes. They last longer, so the investment will pay off. If you avoid rubber soles and get a shoe tree for your footwear, you’re definitely on the right track.
Please forget all about short-sleeved shirts. They should be completely eradicated from your work closet. Long-sleeved shirts are all you need with your suit. Dark shirts are off-limits. Blue or white shirts are the default for day-to-day business.
But are there international differences? That’s the question the editorial department asked me to answer. The answer: yes, there are. And you don’t need to travel far to see these differences. A British gentleman is always dressed with sophistication. You will also recognize him by his many extravagant accessories, whether it’s just a pocket square in his sports coat, a colorful tie coordinated with his socks, or chic "statement" cufflinks. Americans find this British style too extravagant. Businessmen in America are often found in beige chino pants and a navy blue sports coat – usually without a tie. That way they can adapt to their audience, clients and contacts. Figure out how people dress in a company, sector, region and country. That way you’re a bit more prepared when you meet your clients and already have your first small talk topic ;).
You may have noticed that these tips are for men. I hope that someone will offer the female perspective. A good subject for another blog post!
Good luck choosing your office clothes!
Marcus K. Reif with Career Bible