How To Dress Professionally in a Non-Suit Environment

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Sex-and-the-City-2-001We’ve all heard the same tired advice about what to wear to the office. In some corners it rises to the level of religious argument about what it means to be business casual. And it’s certainly gotten more challenging to make the right choices given that the traditional business suit isn’t such an obvious option. Even venerable institutions like the Institute of Directors in London have experimented with “… jeans, T-shirts, shorts and all variants of footwear.”

So what is an advisor to do ….

In short, be yourself. Yes, your appearance has an effect on how your clients will view you. And yes, confidence in your appearance can help clients feel more confident in you. But dressing purely for your clients sake may not have the impact you hope. Playing dress up in an $800 Brooks Brothers suit may actually hurt you if it doesn’t reflect who you are.

That’s because they key to making people comfortable with you and developing trust is about being genuine and open about yourself. Your clothing is a reflection of how you want the world to see you. The closer that lines up with who you really are, the more confident, transparent and trustworthy you come across.

That said, when you have an upcoming in-person quarterly meeting with a well-dressed client, or a first-time meeting with a prospect, you certainly want to look snazzy. While suits have been a safe default for business folks for a long time, they’re certainly not reflective of everyone’s personality. So without a suit, how do you avoid being “too dressed down” or generally off-mark. Just remember, most of fashion isn’t about what you wear, but how you wear it. So, don’t fret. Be confident and always choose high quality. But most of all, be you. Confidence trumps a Gucci suit anyway.

Here are some tips for great non-suit options for men and women.

For Men

The best way to have confidence is to simply pay attention to your appearance. This doesn’t mean you need weekly mani-pedis or $500 diamond face cream. All this means is buying clothes that fit well and are flattering to your shape. If you don’t know where to begin, online forums can help you find your proper size and flattering ways to dress your body type.

The colors you choose to wear also play a huge role in someone’s first impression of you. Most people look best in neutral colors (black, gray, brown, tan, white) and jewel tones (think emeralds, sapphires, amethysts, and rubies). Neutral colors like navy and black give off a vibe of friendliness and trustworthiness, whereas bright colors and patterns tend to give a very casual vibe.

Keeping things simple will always serve you well with staple business casual wardrobes with no startling colors. You could wear a lightly colored button-up shirt, dress pants, and nice dress shoes. Ties tend to look silly unless you’re wearing them with something over them, such as a jacket or a sweater. Remember to arrive with your shoulders back and a smile, and you’ll be sure to impress.

For Women

Women’s fashion allows more space for creativity. There are so many options that it may feel that there are TOO many choice. But dressing well can still be simple. Again, be yourself. Find pieces you feel comfortable in, and where the colors and shape compliment you. A good rule of thumb is to pick a fitted top or a fitted bottom, and then wear something flowing for the other. If you wear two fitted pieces, it can come across too casual to too much like evening wear, and if you wear two flowing pieces, you can appear disheveled. To avoid this – wear an outfit such as a fitted pencil skirt with a flowy button-up top, or an outfit with flowing dress pants and a fitted button-up top. Fitted blazers are always a good bet as well.

For makeup, less is more. Many women refer to this kind of look as ‘no-makeup makeup’ – a BB cream to smooth out your complexion, slight definition of your eyebrows with a brow gel or pencil, a tiny bit of blush to add color to your face, mascara, and a nude lipstick. Your hairstyle can be as simple as you like, but the only requirement you have is to keep it out of your face.

In all of this, whether you’re a man or woman, be yourself. Confidence flows from the inside, from actually being confident and comfortable with yourself. Your clients and prospects have an incredibly sensitive radar for picking up confidence in other.  Leverage that fact by making clothing choices that make you more confident and comfortable. Your clients will notice.


Corinne is an emerging expert on social media-based communication, with a BA in Public Relations, Advertising, and Applied Communication. Content Manager at Blueleaf, Corinne enjoys organizing content in the cleanest and most elegant way possible. Outside of Blueleaf offices, she can be found performing in comedy, on the elliptical at the gym, or trying to conquer the latest video game. Connect with her on Twitter @CorinneDeCost.