Most of you know me as a small business expert, a TV/media personality, an author, a speaker or even a recovering investment banker. But those that really know me also know that I am quite the fashionista as well (I have even started my own business fashion blog!). So, in honor of New York Fashion Week, I decided to ask the fashionable CarolRoth.com contributor network of experts, advisors and entrepreneurs what they think are the biggest fashion faux pas and mistakes in the business world. Their answers are presented below in no particular order.
You may notice some similar ideas listed, but I kept them separate, as something in the way one is framed may resonate differently with you.
1. The Provocative Picture
Social media is a great way to give an incredible first impression, or not. I am amazed by some of the pictures that I see professionals using for LinkedIn, Facebook Brand Pages & others. Unless your industry is of the adult kind, keep it covered. Think, would my Grandma approve?
Also, unless you are an athlete or in the sporting industry, keep the sweatshirts and Ts for the gym. Your picture is judged in 3 seconds, so give it your best effort when you take that shot; it will be appreciated.
2. Flip-Flops Flop
I don't care what the corporate culture is regarding dress code, flip flops are a huge faux pas, in my opinion. Reserve them for the weekend and vacation, please.
3. Yipes! Stripes!
Casual Friday has permeated the business culture to the point where one might assume that anything goes. It doesn't! The most profound fashion faux pas I've seen is the striped suit with a striped shirt. That "look" is way too visually busy. Always wear a solid shirt with a striped suit. I'd even avoid wearing a repp tie with stripes. A foulard would be a far better selection to project the executive aura. Pick a tie with the colors of the suit, stripe, and shirt and add a contrasting color.
4. Dressing 20 When You're 40+
Even though some say 40 is the new 20 or 60 is the new 40, dressing appropriate to your age is critical to building credibility. Cover up the cleavage, forget the mini or short skirts and leave the after 5 makeup for after 5. Be a fashion role model, not a fashion role disaster.
Thanks to: Leanne Hoagland-Smith.
5. Photo O(o)ps 101
Dressing provocatively or too casually damages credibility. Never is this more evident than when I do media photo shoots and encounter really bad wardrobe choices. I recall a realtor who decided to channel Elvira in a black dress with deep cleavage and a thigh-high slit up one side. Unless her listed properties were in cemeteries, I couldn't believe that this was a standard dress code. "Mind sending me some copies?" she asked. "I want to update my dating profile."
6. Dressing for Success or a Date
Sometimes, people confuse networking with dressing to meet Mr. or Mrs. Right. I have gone to networking events where the dresses were just a little too low cut, showing too much and men walking around with their shirts unbuttoned too low with no undershirt. Even if the event is in a bar or lounge, you should always dress in business attire.
7. How to Blow it the First Time
I worked (unsuccessfully) in the corporate world for twenty years. It was private banking; people were very stoic and banker-like. Now that I'm self employed, I utilize many of the same skill sets when it comes to clothing and gatherings.
1. There is nothing wrong with wearing a tie.
2. If you don't wear a tie, then throw on a sport coat.
I think that the mistake that many people make is to dress down for success. It doesn't work for me!
8. No Fashion Slaves Allowed!
One of the biggest fashion related mistakes that I see in the business world is the individual who chooses the 'look of the moment' instead of working a consistent, attractive image. While fashion magazines and TV shows are full of inspiration, remember that you MUST plan and maintain a visual image that is authentically YOU. Learn your best colors and fabrics, incorporate your personality, and use 'right-now' fashion items to update your look without causing a credibility destroying 'disconnect'.
9. Once the CEO, Always the CEO
I was visiting the office where the past CEO dropped in for a meeting. It was a summer day and he wearing shorts and flip flops. It was very disturbing for the group to be in a professional setting with the past CEO so casually dressed.
Even though he is no longer the CEO of the company, until that day, he was still viewed as a CEO. Unfortunately, his final impression has downgraded his status permanently.
10. Stand Tall or Watch it Fall
A lovely dress on a co-worker with a tasteful slit at the center of the chest seemed completely work-appropriate and fit like a glove. That is, until it was time to sit at a big client meeting around the conference table where the slit popped open and both of her unintended assets made their appearance. She noticed that eyes lowered and were drawn her way, so she sat up taller, then moved her notepad to her center like a lecture podium and soldiered on!
11. A Little Less Personality
No matter who you are or how great you look, when it comes to business, your clothes need to speak to your professionalism more than to your personal style. More is better when you're talking shoes, sleeves or coverage; less is better when talking fragrance & other chemicals that could offend.
Even if your views are liberal, your clothes should be conservative - and overdressing is always better than showing up in thongs and a sun dress and finding out the hard way that was the wrong choice.
12. Mirroring the Client
Fashion is an interesting thing. What works in Dallas does not work in Los Angeles and neither will it work in New York. I think that the biggest faux pas is not understanding this. I can wear Dockers and a golf shirt to a meeting in downtown Vancouver in the summer, however, a suit is still mandatory in most cases out East. Understand your environment, call a personal assistant to the President and ask what is appropriate. Mirror your clients and you can never go wrong.
13. Fashion Forward for Business
I find that in business events/meetings, the fashions are very dated, bland and colorless. Much like updating your company image and re-inventing your brand, why not spice up your closet too? Don't be afraid to wear bold colors to a meeting, color blocking, accessorizing and keeping up with runway trends. This will cement your personality and personal style within your business life and makes going to a business meeting that more fun. Be creative.
Maria Lago of 3 PR
14. Office Cleavage a NO NO!
When it comes to cleavage in the workplace, if it is not in the job description, then don't do it! Nothing is more distracting to both men and women than a 3" line of cleavage. Does this mean that you have to button up to your neck? Nope! Should there be some kind of cut off for excessive cleavage displayed at work? Yes! Try some alternatives like layering. You can opt for a peek of lace camisole under a shirt or jacket. You can also do a tank or tee in white or nude. Keep it classy!
15. Get Clear on Business Casual!
Business casual attire is not really "casual." Leave torn jeans or ANY jeans at home! Business casual means no coat and tie needed for men and no suits for the ladies, but it is NOT an opportunity to wear your weekend clothes. Forget about running shoes or other too casual shoes. And don't wear anything that you would wear to the gym, please! Black pants, black shoes with a bit of heel, a bold solid top and a scarf are the perfect way for a business woman to look both comfortable and professional.
16. Be the Billboard of your Brand
Most people mistakenly ask their partner or a parent what looks good on them. Major fashion "don't." Your mom will never encourage you to own all of your "wow factor" or show off your best assets (fully). And your partner bond will always (subconsciously) lead you to pick things that please them. In business, the most successful have figured out their brand and have not only dressed their body type, but they’ve also dressed in alignment with where they want to go and what they want to attract.
Kristen Domingue of ignite!
17. I Just Want to Be Comfortable.
I am guilty of this myself for a brief period of time, but we can't dress like Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg (T-Shirt, Sandals, etc.) until we accomplish the credibility they have!
18. Always Be Dressed for Success!
I used to run errands in sweats & sneakers. Spotting a mom buying party supplies, I'd ask "Did you order the cake already?" If not, I would hand her a business card. After enough times of the dubious look, and no follow up, despite my reputation and beautiful website, I started to realize it might be my attire! As a business owner, you represent your company everywhere, even the supermarket! Always put your best foot forward, even when grocery shopping. Potential clients can be anywhere!
19. Have a Fit
There are a plethora of "appropriate" business styles whether buttoned up for Wall Street, boots, chaps & stetson on the ranch or sexy lingerie (sometimes nothing else!) if you are a fashion model.
No matter what you wear, the most important thing you can do is make sure your attire fits your body perfectly. If you can afford it, bespoke is the best business investment you can make. When clothes don't fit exactly right, it can make people think "what else are you less than meticulous about"?
20. Statement, Not Distraction
Believe it or not, a potential hire came in for an interview in a three-piece suit with an ascot tie. I believe it was an Armani, beautifully tailored and fit perfectly – but the suit wore him. The clothes we style ourselves with should be a complement to who we are as individuals --- not a statement that detracts from the person wearing them. It made an impression, but the wrong one. I remembered more about the suit and less about his skill. He didn’t get the job.
21. Dirty Shoes? You Lose
As a long time entrepreneur and previous shoe salesman, my biggest business fashion faux pas is scuffed and unpolished shoes. Unkempt shoes can destroy the look and presence you are trying to convey in a single glance.
22. Seven Deadly Sins of Fashion
The seven deadly sins of business fashion: Failing to assess the organizational culture. Assuming that while professional is good, sexy is better. Sincerely believing that you can bring style to the company with your cutting-edge fashion. Hoping your appearance will get you noticed, even if your work is only average. Insisting that they accept you for who you are, rather than whom they want you to be. Owning more play clothes than work clothes. Neglecting the basics- always look clean and neat.
23. Talk About You, Not Clothes
In college, I asked my Personnel professor why we perpetuated the standard dress code for women. Skirt, jacket. Blah! He told me, "You could try and make a statement with what you are wearing. Break a sterotype. Shock someone. But then, when you leave, they will talk about your clothes. Not you. Make the clothes a non-issue." Good advice!
24. Catch Blue
I have encountered quite a number of Big "Fashion Don'ts" in business, but perhaps the most memorable came from a young gentleman. This gentleman was preparing for an interview and he wore a highly-bright neon colored suit to the office. It just didn't work for his skin tone and it definitely did not convey a message of professionalism (so, you couldn't take him seriously).
Lesson learned: Leave neons for the beach!! Always dress for success and learn company culture (dress-code).
Do you have another business fashion faux pas that wasn’t included? If you do, please share it below. And as always, many thanks to everyone that contributed to this article!