All colors send a message and it’s important to consider this when choosing what to wear. For women, the most powerful colors are red and black. Red helps you stand out (whether in a crowd or on a stage) and black is dramatic. For men, power comes more from wearing contrasting colors rather than one particular shade. For example, an excellent quality navy, dark gray or brighter blue suit with a pure white or lightly colored shirt will present a more powerful appearance than a tan or light grey version. Black can be a power color for men in business casual, but I don’t recommend it for suits, as the fabric can look worn out unless it’s very high quality. For certain professions (such as healthcare, social work or even accounting), power colors need to be toned down, so clients feel comfortable sharing confidences.
When traveling abroad for business, it’s important to remember that most countries are more conservative than the US. Some are more casual, and as you want to fit in, do a little research before you leave. Always bring a jacket, jeans, a sweater for layering and women should keep skirts/dresses at (or only slightly above) the knee. Pack separates and focus on a particular color group.
Men, for example, can bring suit separates in navy or dark gray; this way, they have a suit, in addition to slacks and a jacket, that can be worn separately. Then add coordinating shirts, ties and belts. Bring at least 1 tie (the tieless look is less popular outside the US). The color group for women could include black, red, navy and white, or (for something more unique) yellow, light blue, navy and tan. Within the color group, pack a sheath dress, coordinating jacket, 1 - 2 pairs of slacks and a few tops.
Everything you travel with should match several other items. Limiting the colors you bring lets you reduce the number of shoes, handbags and other accessories. Traveling abroad for business is not the time to be concerned with wearing the latest trends, but with looking appropriate for the culture of the city you’re traveling to.
There are several strategies you can take. You can wear a simple casual outfit to the office and bring a “gym” bag with a coordinating jacket, tie (if needed) and change of shoes. Leave some extra time to smooth out your garments and comb your hair. If there is a department store, boutique or tailoring shop on the way, you can again carry a more formal outfit with you (or ask ahead of time if you can keep it there) and change there. Lastly (and this is easier for women), wear a more casual outfit over your business formal suit or dress. For example, choose a sheath dress or tailored pair of slacks and silk shell, then wear a casual sweater or loose-fitting blouse over it. If you also carry a jacket with you, it’s quick and easy to make a full change to business formal.
First, always wear a jacket when giving a presentation, or leading a meeting; it adds strength to your visual appearance. Second, focus on one bright color or accessory to create a focal point. For women, this can be a statement necklace or bold scarf; for men, a bright tie or patterned shirt. Women also need to avoid clothing that is loose and flowy or shows too much skin. It’s easier for people in the audience to focus if you are dressed simply in tailored clothing.
When giving a presentation, always check what the background color is where you’re be speaking and wear something that will contrast, not blend in (for example, if the background is black, wear a bright color). You don’t want to be wearing tan against a tan wall.
Sharon Kornstein, is a certified image consultant, speaker & trainer on business wardrobes, visual appearance & professional etiquette. She helps clients look their best by adjusting dress & non-verbal communication so they can have increased confidence & make their best first impression.