You’re attending a business event and the agenda says ‘business casual’. You want to dress to impress, yet you’re not sure what business casual really means. You choose an outfit based on what you think it means and when you arrive you feel totally underdressed and wish you could go home and change. You may feel uncomfortable, embarrassed and wonder how you’re being perceived. I know it happens. I hear about it often. I’m sure you see it often, too.
Is it really that important in the scheme of things? You bet it is.
Business Insider Magazine says, “Many highly intelligent, well-qualified, capable men and women are often disqualified or dismissed because ‘they don’t sell for what they’re worth,'” Price says. “They’ve left the ‘business’ out of ‘business casual’ and the lack of professional appearance holds them back. It’s frustrating, because clothing certainly does not determine one’s actual competence and credibility; it does, however, influence others’ perception of those qualities — and that reality impacts career opportunities.”
By definition, business casual is a style of clothing that is less formal than traditional business wear, but still intended to give a professional and businesslike impression. Okay, now what? Business casual is interpreted based on a number of elements like industry, geography, climate and culture. It can also vary based on the setting. Business casual for a work conference may be very different than business casual for a company BBQ.
Those elements can vary dramatically so I’ll focus more on general guidelines rather than specifics about which ensemble you should choose. Here we go:
- Be aware of the environment. When I’m attending an event for the first time, I’ll ASK the event coordinator what the typical attire is for their event. I ask for specifics. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, see if you can track down some images from previous events to get the feel of the informal dress.
- Keep it simple and be you. Wearing something that is tasteful, basic, monochromatic and tailor-fit is a sure bet. Then you can add an accessory that may be a bit more playful and bold than you might in a more formal business setting.
- Polish is key. Be sure your hair and nails are well groomed, clothes are well pressed, wrinkle resistant and your shoes buffed to a shine. Even the state of your handbag matters. Think polish, polish, polish. Every fine detail.
- Be careful. Avoid showing too much leg or cleavage. Business etiquette experts say unflattering assumptions are made about women who wear provocative clothes and they’re not taken seriously. A study published in Psychology of Women Quarterly, found that women in high-level positions who dressed in what was viewed as “sexy” outfits were viewed as less competent, regardless of their skill sets. (See my post Is Dressing Too Sexy Hurting You Professionally?)
No matter what, be a leader. Your image is a powerful way to stand out. Make a point to dress to the level of success you desire- a surefire way to gain credibility and respect.
No doubt this will spur some questions and comments. Bring ’em ON!!