Successful Meetings: Dress Up a Little

First, read this.  Penelope Trunk has a way of getting right at the heart of matters and always provides excellent research on anything that might seem unorthodox or controversial.  And, in my own career, I’ve found her advice to almost always be spot on.

Did you read it?

One of my friends would get upset, almost to the point of quitting, because the job he was in had a dress code.  Many of us in our 20s are concerned with things like identity and wearing jeans to work and getting visible tattoos.  I, personally, would love to grow a big, long massive beard.  But more important is the knowledge that appearance can make or break perceptions and attitudes.  Those perceptions and attitudes that are formulated will continue to stick with you.

I have worked for the same company for six years now.  When I first started I was fresh out of college and was not, how might you say… “kempt.”  Sure, I wore dress pants (kind of), but they also had holes in them.  I didn’t own an ironing board.  I didn’t own a real razor (just an electric one).

When I got a promotion here in 2005, I started wearing suits once a week, to help change some perceptions abot how serious I was about my career.  Earlier this week, I ran into one of the guys I worked with back in my first role here.  I didn’t have a suit on, just regular casual dress clothes.  As I got off the elevator, he mentioned that I looked very dressed up.

His image of me, the one imprinted from working with me every day for two years, is still an unkempt, out-of-college guy.  What is now a dress-down day for me stood out in his mind as me being dressed up.  I’ll likely never be able to change his perception of my attire, and all the stigma that comes from that.

So what does this have to do with meetings?  Everything.

Every day before I leave work, I check my schedule for tomorrow’s meetings.  I scan the attendees and am looking for two things:

1) Anyone I don’t know

2) Anyone in a higher position than me, who I don’t normally interact with/have a working relationship with

If either of those are true, I plan on wearing a suit coat the next day.  It’s that simple.  It doesn’t matter if the person I don’t know is an entry-level, new employee or a peer by all accounts; if it’s the first time I’m meeting them I do what I can to make the best impression.  If it’s someone of a higher position, you always want to make a great impression – you never know who you’ll be working for/with someday.

What if dressing up isn’t your style?  Get over it.

What if you can’t afford nice clothes?  Go to Goodwill.  Half of my suit coats are from there.  The majority of the other half are from Target.  I don’t make a ton of money, but that doesn’t mean I should look like I don’t know what business casual means.

So dress it up a little and – if you have to – find your own way of adding a little more identity to the “costume” of dressing up.  One of my favorite belts to wear with a suit is a little studded belt I have.  I save ties for only the super-important meetings (once or twice a year).  My formal brown shows are actually RocketDog shoes.

There are plenty of ways to make it work for you, but just be sure to make it work.

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