Recently my sister dragged me to a What Not to Wear seminar presented by a local fashion consultant and personal shopper. I had a long day at work and I almost bowed out. I’m so glad I didn’t! During the hour-long session, this style guru made every one of us in the room not only rethink what we were wearing but also clearly recognize how critical proper dress is in the business world.

It made me think about how every time I attend a trade show, I’m always amazed at the various levels of attire on the floor. I do see people appropriately dressed—business clothes and comfortable yet proper shoes—but I also see ladies in tight crop tops and pencil-thin spiked heels, men in baggy jeans and T-shirts, people in shorts and tank tops, even the odd person in sweatpants! What are these people thinking? Do they forget that a trade show is a place of business? Huge transactions are being conducted there every day. Yes, I know that trade shows can be grueling. You spend long days on your feet and you need to be comfortable. If your feet are aching, your mind focuses on the dull pain rather than that $5,000 order you’re placing. But it’s equally important to remember that you’re representing your business at these shows. What you wear is communicating a message, and if you want to be taken seriously, that message you send out needs to be serious. If someone is asking for favorable terms from a new vendor, don’t you think the company is more likely to work with someone who looks responsible and professional, rather than someone who looks like they are operating their business out of a gym bag?

The style guru at our presentation focused on the importance of wearing clothes that are clean, pressed and fitted to your body. So often people wear shirts that are simply too big for them or pants that are too long. Or people walk out of their house wearing a sweater that’s starting to pill or pants that are frayed at the hems. You may not recognize these imperfections, but someone sizing you up for the first time certainly will. To stay sharp, periodically review your closet and toss anything that’s starting to show its age. Another secret to looking pulled together is to find a good tailor. Many people don’t realize that the stars look great in their clothes because every piece has been tailored to their body. The fashion expert noted that you should buy an item that fits your largest feature first (the shoulders, for example) and then have the rest of the piece tailored to fit your body. Men have known the benefits of tailoring for years, but women seem to neglect this.

Some other dress-to-impress suggestions:

  • Be sure every item is pressed and free of wrinkles.
  • Invest in a sturdy pair of shoes and keep them in good shape (replace the heels and polish the toes).
  • Men’s shirts should stay tucked in, and the sleeves should poke out of the jacket at the wrists.
  • Add an accessory that expresses your style. If your business is more whimsical, consider a brightly patterned scarf or tie.
  • Dress to your business. If you own a rustic, casual store, then jeans could be appropriate, but make sure they are still clean, crisp and professional looking.
  • Hem pants to the appropriate length. Pant legs should fall down in a straight line and not pool at the bottom. Nor should they drag along the floor.
  • Don’t forget your hair and makeup. Long hair on a man can still look kept and stylish. Makeup on women shouldn’t look garish. And both sexes should pay attention to their hands and nails. You’ll be doing a lot of hand-shaking at trade shows.
  • If you’re meeting with someone, dress one step better. If the person typically wears jeans, wear khakis and a nice buttoned-down shirt.
  • What about your other accessories? Has your briefcase seen better days? Is your purse oversized and frumpy? These are all part of your overall look.


The bottom line is, if you want to be treated professionally, then you need to dress professionally. Not only do you portray a smarter, savvier businessperson to your vendors and clients, but you’ll start to feel smarter and savvier yourself. When you walk out of the house feeling good about how you look, you’ll be more confident throughout the day.

And lest you think what you wear really has no affect to the bottom line, consider what Neil Patel, co-founder of Crazy Egg and KISSmetrics and one of the top entrepreneurs in the nation, discovered. As he progressed from baggy jeans to Gucci suits, his consulting fees went up from $100 an hour to a rate above four figures per hour! “Whenever I went into meetings or went to a conference, people wouldn’t really give me the time of the day until they got to know me,” he wrote in his blog. “By dressing to impress, successful business owners started to flock to me and people listened when I spoke.”

So the next time you walk out of the house to do business, whether it is attending a trade show or simply working in your store that day, remember that how you dress will affect you, those around you and the bottom line of your business.


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