Dress to Impress

How do you dress for work? Is a business suit your choice of threads for the day-time? Or maybe it’s jeans & a t-shirt? Does what you do, or the sector you work in influence that choice? Or maybe you’ve got no option and have to follow a dress-code?

It’s an interesting topic, one covered recently and eloquently by Michelle Rodger @tartancat in her Sunday column. I’m intrigued to know what people think.

As you may know, we’re business advisors to a mixture of client types, all generally self-employed – oil & gas contractors, creative freelancers, businesses, and startups. Four very different groups and each with different expectations.

If you’re an oil & gas guy meeting me to talk about your personal tax planning does it help or hinder if I’m in a suit? Or does it make no difference?

The feedback we get from our creative clients is that the way our office looks – @johannabasford described it last week as looking like Ugly Betty – and the way we look (casual dress code) makes them feel at ease. The suits are actually intimidating to these guys.

Just what is the expectation these days, or is it more about what you do, how well you do it, than how you look (within reason!)?

Let me know what you think!

21 thoughts on “Dress to Impress

  1. I think it’s important to dress in a way that makes YOU feel most comfortable. Providing you’re not being punished by a dress code you can fit in anywhere as long as you feel able to carry it off. Wear a suit to a creatives lunch or combats to a networking event. As long as you are being yourself, people will usually accept it.

    There will always be people who judge you on your choice of clothes but, to be honest, they’re going to be difficult to work with anyway if you get it wrong in their eyes.

  2. Unless my work/client is having a funeral/wedding I won’t be wearing a suit πŸ™‚

    I like to be smart though… that’s “smart casual” isn’t it?

  3. Interesting to hear your thoughts guys. Do you have an expectation about how a “professional” like an accountant or lawyer should look, or does it make us more “real” if we’re not in our “uniform”?

  4. Working in financial services pretty much means that suits are the order of the day. When you’re asking clients to trust you with their hard earned cash, I think they’re looking for a sense that they can trust you as their adviser, and first impressions – rightly or wrongly – do count. We don’t have a specific dress code, rather that the wear “what is appropriate for the client” – but that can be easier said than done. Could the expectation of professionals in suits also be a generational thing?

    1. David, I totally “get” the need to look “smart” in your line of business. I do think there is a generational thing, definitely, however it’s also about people conforming to an industry’s image or expectation. Thing is, if you do what you’ve always done, then you get what you’ve always got! We’re working really hard to change the face of accounting – it’s helping us to develop a real “niche” for being open / accessible / jargon-free / in-tune with our clients. I just hope that our competitors stay dull & boring for a while longer! πŸ˜‰

  5. There is no set uniform where I work but I do think it’s nice to look smart. In saying that over the summer when my customers (students) aren’t around then we’ve been mostly dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. This is fine but I have felt a bit ‘not in work’ mode so decided that I’d dress a bit more smartly… well as smart as you can be with a pair of Converse trainers on πŸ™‚

    Interesting to know your ideas about “professional” services though. We have expectations that certain people wear certain things and as someone who never likes to dress up too much then i wouldn’t mind what my accountant or lawyer was dressed in as long as their service was up to scratch.

    I’m just thinking about my workplace again, there are women who turn up to work wearing dresses and clothes that i’d choose for a wedding or a big night out!! I sometimes wonder if i could be bothered putting all that effort in all the time. Answer is usually no.

    Smart casual is my normal dress code.

    1. Thanks Ang. I’m a fan of “smart casual” these days. I do wear a suit ocassionally, but it’s quite a rare ocassion these days. In my last business, my partner & I worked from home quite often. I would do that in my spare room in my jeans & t-shirt, ocassionally in my jammies. Brian always put a suit on – mentally he was “at work”. I guess I just feel more creative when I’m out of a suit. I don’t even like working in an office environment if I’m being honest! I do my best work in jeans & t-shirt sitting in funky coffee shops (although there aren’t many of them in Aberdeen!!).

  6. Interesting topic Alasdair. I would go with casual as you can then create a unique look to yourself in the same way as your business is unique to other similar types. It sounds like most of your clients wear casual clothes in their work so you would create an instant rapport with them by doing the same. I wear my fitness gear (including shorts!) to networking events and business meetings/lunches and sometimes I run to them. One networking event I went to, I had to put my car in for a service before it so I decided to run there and said so on the group’s Linked In page. I generated more interest in my business by doing that than I would have done if I’d driven there.

    1. That’s brilliant Steve! I’ve never seen anyone do that – certainly gets the message over about what you do. Mind you, I did hear about a woman in Aberdeen who owns a lingerie shop turning up to BNI one morning wearing her “products”. Apparently people are still talking about that morning months later…….

    2. Is that not your uniform though? If you work in fitness then it’s not going to surprise anyone seeing you in your shorts.

      My only concern about running to an event would be the purple face and sweat dripping off me.

      1. So will we shortly be seeing you swim to events Barry πŸ˜‰ Can you DM me the link to your JustGiving page.


  7. I started out many years ago as a CA in Edinburgh and had the highly conservative dress code of professionals in that city drummed into me to the extent that it took years for me to lose the tie when I moved into being a developer / marketer (etc) in Cayman.

    I have a consciously chosen “uniform” of chinos and linen short sleeved shirts in a solid colour (usually white), but I will still wear a suit for the right geography / client, and normally through on a jacket in the UK.

    The best person I’ve ever seen on this subject though was the designer/architect Todd Avery Lenahan, who I met at a Wedding conference recently. He has a very strong sense of personal style, but with clients from all over the world and from the very liberal to the highly conservative, he morphs his dress to fit whilst not losing his own style.

    I made notes from his presentations on this blog, may be of interest :


  8. Hi Tom, thanks for your thoughts. It really is an interesting topic, with no set “answers”. I like Todd’s thoughts on style & brand being the same. In my business we’re revolutionizing the accountancy market. It’s important, therefore, that we look different – younger / modern / more “edgy”, whilst remaining smart enough to inspire confidence in our clients.

    I do wear a jacket in the UK, but very rarely a suit one πŸ™‚

  9. hello Alasdair. My personal take on this is that it’s both a generational thing as well as being a personal choice. In business first impressions do count – whether it’s the first piece of work you have done for a client or the first time they see you in person. If you look scruffy or unkempt you will be judged on that. But you can look scruffy in a suit or in running kit, or in a wedding dress if you don’t take care of the detail like hair and nails and cleanliness.

    As a ‘mature’ woman I have traditionally worn a skirt to work and business meetings, and now I find I may be the only female wearing a skirt at business events. So that makes me the ‘odd one out’ and I don’t mind being different at all. I like skirts and I would not feel like the real me in trousers, but I think that attitude is an unusual one. Feeling comfortable as well as smart is important in business.

    And when I do my medieval re-enactment at weekends I have to keep my hat on, because only whores and children went without hats….

  10. Hi Shirley, yes agreed it’s all about first impressions and looking smart. As I’ve got older & more experienced I have felt less need to “conform” to society’s image of what a business-person should wear. I’m always smart, but never in a suit. It’s part of my personality, and that’s what people buy. In fact, clients might NOT buy me if I were to be in a suit all the time, particularly not in the sectors we now operate in!

  11. Morning Ali!
    Having worked with various clients in various industries I’d say that it totally depends on the client and probably an element of the generational thing. I will wear a suit if I feel the suitation warrants it. But more often than not smart casual. I think if your work speaks for itself or your clients speak of your work it is irrelevant. Smart casual is my preferred choice as it maintains a semi formal I’m working air but with the air of relaxed formality that I like my business to give.
    I also run a local networking group and members consistently feedback how they love the relaxed atmosphere. In fact we had a new member recently who I spoke to the day before meeting. He was in the way of wearing suit and tie to networking and I said to him that he may feel uncomfortable due to the relaxed nature of our group. Afterwards he was like yeah I’m glad I didn’t wear the suit!
    So I suppose it comes down to where you are, who you are with and ultimately your comfort level

    Great post though

    1. Great comments Karin! Think it boils down to wearing what you’re comfortable in. I wore a suit on Friday to #SMWAbz ‘co’s I felt like it! πŸ™‚

  12. For me, it’s all about the balance of how you carry yourself vs the clothes you wear.

    Sure, there are some kind of expectations but if you wear clothes that you are comfortable in, help project your personality along with your own personal/professional conduct I think it projects a great image.

    Particularly in roles where business relationships are based on people.

    That said, I think I need help clothes shopping… πŸ˜‰

    1. Don’t we all (blokes anyway!). Interesting to finally see a more relaxed dress code being accepted in Aberdeen.

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