As I mentioned in my blog post last week, over the last decade or so we have seen a more relaxed approach to business attire.
While there are still industries that expect business suits and more formal business attire, other industries are more relaxed in their dress codes, think advertising, IT, etc. Even in banking I found that a tie is not necessarily a minimum standard any more.
Relevance and suitability
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This is perfectly okay with most people; however, there are still some guidelines we need to consider if we are going to make the most of our sales opportunities deriving from personal meetings. All it takes is in fact a bit of common sense and the effort to observe our environment.
With more relaxed dress codes it is important to be aware of:
a) the general trend
b) the specific attire of your industry or clientele (industry).
Changes in fashion may change some things, like the width of lapels, the cut of pants, or the colours of blouses, shirts and ties. Basic professional attire does not change with the whims of fashion; however, whenever there is change in dress codes you will find that there will be people who explore the extreme end of the spectrum – the more avant-garde or radical styles, and those who try to stick to the old school of dress codes.
There is danger in both these extremes – for instance, you may want to wear the latest grooviest patent leather, strappy platform shoes with a mid-thigh skirt and flowing blouse in a formal business meeting in town, but despite being dressed up to the height of the fashion, this might be way too relaxed for the occasion or the industry. Or you may want to stick with the formal suit and tie because you want to be perceived as a serious businessman despite the fact that all your customers are fine with polo shirts in the heat of midsummer and might perceive you rather as uptight or old fashioned than a credible business partner.
I know that some women think that this is cramping their style if they need to restrict their creativity and personal style. Believe me I know. I have made some bad dress choices in the early years of my career in sales and business. Trying to be a fashionista and professional businessperson at the same time is hard to pull off.
Determining appropriate business attire can be minefield, and given the wider variety of dress codes on offer, this can lead to some confusion over what one should wear and when. So what do we do?
It’s all about the relevance and suitability of what we are wearing and how we present to others.
This could mean that one day we are suited up and more formal in our attire and the next day we are able to dress down to something more casual.
We understand that for some professions, like people who work in the agriculture or in industrial sectors, their attire may require polo shirts, cotton drill pants and work boots of some nature which account for the rugged terrain they are likely to encounter in their daily work. However, even the salespeople whom we meet in these professions seem to know that keeping their clothes and boots clean and in good working order is tied up with their levels of professionalism. In fact I would say that I see salespeople with more clean/polished foot attire in the ‘rugged’ professions than I do in the city high street roles. Interesting, isn’t it? Have a look around when you’re in the CBD or business district next time.
As a general rule it is recommended that if our work environment is changing in terms of dress code we should not opt for the lower, most progressive or avant-garde end of the spectrum of styles. It is suggested that we stick to the top half of the industry’s or environment’s dress code.
However, this does not mean we have to be conformist or invisible. We can still dress in a style that suits us and our personality, but we just need to remember we aren’t just dressing for ourselves, we are dressing for others too. We are dressing to ensure that we can continue to create trusted relationships based on a fair exchange of value.
Remember, everybody lives by selling something.
Sue Barrett is a sales expert, business speaker, sales facilitator and entrepreneur. She founded Barrett Consulting to provide sales consulting, training, coaching and assessments.