Dress for Success: What to Wear to a Business Meeting

Business meeting

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What you wear to a business meeting is just as important as your interview outfit; you can’t simply put on your favourite pair of ripped jeans and rely on your brainpower to make a good impression. In today’s competitive working world, it’s best to keep your appearances up by dressing appropriately.

But what may be suitable for a casual working environment will definitely not be for a corporate one. As if planning for the meeting wasn’t enough, you’re now fretting over what to throw on to impress a prospective client, connection or employer. To push your panic aside, we’ve formed this guide for both men and women to make sure you look the part at your next conference.

Business casual meeting

Business casual often throws people off: do you wear jeans and trainers or stick to the conservative suit? Some companies may err on the side of caution and dress formally, while others more casually. To set any confusion aside, follow the tips below to ensure you’re dressed for success.

For women

Leave the two-piece aside and select something more fashion-friendly

What to wear

  • Top: Keep it simple with a chiffon shirt, simple jersey top, turtleneck or patterned blouse. You could also layer with a blazer for a smarter look.
  • Bottoms: Suit trousers, chinos and structured wool trousers are all acceptable for company meetings.
  • Skirt/Dress: A dark-coloured bold bodycon dress, pleated A-line or midi skirt are working women’s go-to ideas for professional clothing. They are feminine options that are suitable for the workplace.
  • Shoes: Loafers, brogues, pumps and up to four-inch heels are suitable.
  • Accessories: Light jewellery is your best bet; don’t go for any bold statement options or big earrings – these will only distract from what you are there to do.
  • Outerwear: For the colder days, opt for a pea coat, trench coat or smart jacket to accompany your look.

Young business woman with laptopShutterstock

For men

Ditch the formal suit and choose something smart but comfortable

What to wear

  • Blazer: A blazer isn’t always required but it can smarten up any look, making you feel more confident throughout your pitch. You could choose a blazer in a dark block colour with either a chequered pattern or without.
  • Shirt: A shirt is an essential part of a working man’s wardrobe; whether you’re layering on top with a cardigan or a blazer, your buttoned-up, collared shirt should be pressed and tucked into your bottoms.
  • Bottoms: Smart trousers or chinos are a safe option (preferably dark or beige in colour; don’t pull out your summer whites for a business meeting – no matter the weather). If you’re in a startup or in the creative industry, jeans could be suitable, provided they are dark denim with a straight cut (no skin-tight or ripped jeans).
  • Shoes: Chelsea boots, brogues or formal shoes are all a great option in brown, black, leather or suede.
  • Accessories: A belt is a wardrobe staple and should be worn with every outfit. A watch is also a nice touch but make sure it’s not too flashy – you don’t want to distract your audience with an accessory.
  • Outerwear: If your meeting is in the colder months and you need to wrap up warm, choose a pea coat, trench coat or a formal wool jacket.

Young businessman phoneShutterstock

Formal meeting

Boardroom formal attire and online conferences require a professional image that conveys executive presence. Sylvie di Giusto, author of The Image of Leadership, says: ‘There is a difference between the professional wardrobe you choose to wear on a daily basis, and what you should be wearing when you enter the boardroom.’

For women

Make a statement with more than a tailored suit

What to wear

  • Top: A cotton or chiffon buttoned-up shirt is always a safe option.
  • Bottoms: Tailored trouser suit or wide-legged trousers in a dark or beige colour.
  • Skirt/Dress: Black or tweed pencil skirt that sits no more than four fingers above your knee. If you prefer dresses, opt for a high-neck A-Line dress that isn’t too short or long, following the four finger rule.
  • Shoes: Court shoes, brogues, loafers or pumps.
  • Accessories: If wearing a dress or skirt, wear skin-coloured or black tights to finish off the look. Wear simple, non-distracting jewellery and pair with a structured bag.

Business woman leaning on wallShutterstock

For men

Play it safe with a matched suit

What to wear

  • Shirt: Crisp, white, buttoned-up cotton shirts are usually a safe option; however, something with a pattern or simple colour is also suitable.
  • Suit: A two-piece or three-piece suit in dark charcoal or navy is an ideal choice of clothing for a board meeting. Ensure it’s of good quality and has a tailored fit.
  • Accessories: A silk tie is a must, as well as subtle cufflinks, a leather belt and a watch.
  • Shoes: Black or brown oxfords or brogues (don’t forget the matching socks).

Handsome businessmanShutterstock

Top tips

‘In general, paying attention to the visual details of your look conveys preparation, planning and respect for those whom you meet,’ says di Giusto. ‘The way you respect yourself also sets the standards on how others will respect you.’

If you want to knock your manager’s or client’s socks off, follow the below tips:

  • Don’t show too much skin: It’s not the catwalk and your attendees don’t need to be distracted by your bare legs or arms. Keep it classy by covering up.
  • Choose the right fit: Your clothes should be well-fitted. Make sure your trousers aren’t dragging on the floor, your belly isn’t popping out of your shirt and your blazer fits well (you won’t want a fashion faux-pas with a split mid-meeting). Ladies, make sure your blouse isn’t too revealing and your skirt isn’t too short.
  • Complete your look with the right hairstyle: How you choose to wear your hair is just as important as your outfit. Men’s hairstyles should be well-trimmed and tidy, while women’s neat and kept out of their face.
  • Fragrances should be subtle: You don’t want to turn your business meeting into a gas chamber and make your business partners suffer from your overpowering smell before you’ve even managed to pitch in. Opt for something lighter in smell.
  • Makeup should be natural: Wear a natural base (nothing too cakey) and go for a natural glow with a bronzer and a hint of highlighter. Wear a layer of mascara and a natural lip colour – you don’t want to look like you tried too hard!
  • Accessories should be kept to a minimum: Meghan Casserly agrees: ‘Simple jewel[le]ry is best, this is no time to distract. Stay with classics like stud earrings and pendant necklaces.’
  • Be comfortable and confident: The bottom line is that you need to be comfortable in what you are wearing – if your personal style leans on the casual side, find ways to spruce up your business attire without compromising any opportunities. When you are content, confidence will ooze naturally and you will feel powerful in what you are wearing.

With these tips, you will be prepared for every type of business encounter, making sure that you not only act the part but look it, too. Select the right style that works for you and that helps you shine in your next meeting, effectively leaving the impression of a trustworthy, credible and successful professional.

Do you have any other fashion tips to help out fellow working men and women? What’s your dress code for business meetings? Join the conversation down below and let us know!


This article was originally published in November 2015.