Networking: Dress the Part

Alisa BonsignoreYou never get a second chance to make a first impression, which is why I’m perpetually shocked by the broad interpretation of “business casual” clothing.

I’ll be the first to admit that as a freelancer, my wardrobe relies heavily on denim. I’m no fashionista, but I also know that there are ways to look polished without having to wear a suit.

  • Remember the “business” part of business casual. I’ve been to a lot of conferences in the past year, and I’m a little bit shocked by how many people show up in flip-flops and worn-out logo tees. You’re there to present your professional self, not the clothes that you wear to mow your lawn.
  • Ladies, wear shoes that you can walk in. I went to a PR conference and spotted a young woman in a gorgeous black Armani suit. She also happened to be wearing 5-inch red patent leather platform stilettos. More than a few people joked that she was the PR rep from Playboy. Trust me when I tell you that this isn’t how you want to be remembered.
  • Watch out for that skirt! From my own “never again” files comes the lovely, full, knee-length skirt. It looks great on me, but I ended up flashing the entire train platform when that pre-train whoosh of air blew into the underground station. And as if that weren’t embarrassing enough, less than an hour later I nearly set the same skirt on fire when the hem passed perilously close to a votive candle perched on a low table at the event site.
  • Dress up your jeans. Someone once shared with me their cardinal rule of business casual: jacket trumps jeans. Pairing a tailored blazer with a pair of dark jeans makes you look effortlessly put together.

For those who keep track of me on Twitter, you’ll know that I broke my foot over the weekend. When I went to the doctor on Monday, I wore a practical uniform of my hiking skort – legs exposed for splinting without the danger of flashing my doctor – a white tee and an ever-practical denim jacket overtop to hold my cell phone as I crutch around. Both nurses commented on how I looked so put together compared to the usual cutoff sweats and grungy tees that they usually see. And let me tell you, a single, open-toed ski boot in slimming black? It really makes the outfit.

Are there others that I’ve forgotten? Please share in the comments.

Listen to BTW: [audio:] If networking is an issue, here’s an article on “How Not to Network” and a talk on “Interpersonal Skills for Introverts.”

4 thoughts on “Networking: Dress the Part

  1. Bobby G

    How timely! I’m preparing for a couple interviews and I too have the handsome open toe ski boot for my freshly broken foot. Although this post seems mostly meant for the ladies, I feel that the points should hit home with us guys too. Being a creative professional should reflect in your wardrobe. If a designer rolls into an interview dressed like they are headed to the corner tavern, I notice and I’m not impressed. While I am a big time jeans and t-shirt guy, I do spend time picking out cloths that are well thought out and look good. I’ve received compliments like I’m the best dressed person in the building, very nice shirt and things of that nature, and that always feels good. Dressing appropriately should be a no brainer, but articles like yours are still necessary. Oh, and thank Geraldo for making jeans and blazers cool, because you are dead on the money with that. Great job! -b