Dressing and Influence: The Right Look for Different Meeting Types

by Antonio on May 10, 2011 · 26 comments

in A Man's Life, Dress & Grooming, On Etiquette, Style


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We meet with a wide range of people every single day.

From our loved ones to our friends to our co-workers–our lives are a series of complex interactions and “meetings.”

In this article I address the question, “Can the way we dress for these interactions, these “meetings”  positively affect their outcome?”

I argue yes, it can.  In my experience, understanding the type of meetings you are headed into and having the forethought to dress in a manner that plays to your advantage is just plain smart.

In this article I break up meetings into 5 types, each defined by the feeling we seek to convey and the end goal.  I also provide an example of these meeting types and how to dress for them. The goal is to give you a framework to dress appropriately for any meeting anywhere.

Selling idea

Selling the Idea - You have to appear credible!

1.  The “Sales Type” Meeting

 

Feeling we seek to convey:

Trust, health, and competence.

Examples of Sales Type Meetings:

An entrepreneur pitching his idea to an investor, a pastor speaking with a young family about his church, a business school interview, a man on a date with a woman he has chased for 3 months.

Goal:

You are seeking to persuade others.

How to dress when you are selling:

Simply put, when you’re selling something you should dress as sharp as the situation allows. It doesn’t matter if you’re selling a product, your business idea, or your services–you want to put your best foot forward and give yourself every possible advantage.

If you’re selling a trucking company’s transportation services in Eastern Iowa, dark colored Dockers and your company’s polo shirt is practical and appropriate for the job.  Selling life insurance just across the river in Moline, however, calls for dress slacks and a sport jacket.  A department store manager, north in Chicago, wears suits five days a week.  Every one of his suits is purchased from his store, tailored to fit him by his store’s tailor.  His neckties are matched perfectly with his dress shirt–again everything selected from the business under his care.

Each one of these men dresses to the best of his ability in the context of his unique career situation and environment.  A suit in the trucking industry makes little sense and would draw suspicion, while dressing in a polo shirt undermines a high-end store manager’s apparent belief in his own clothing when his business sells two thousand dollar suits.

Pay close attention to regional differences; if you’re on a sales call in Texarkana, Western boots are acceptable footwear.  That same sales visit in New Jersey should be attended with classic style dress shoes that do not stereotype you.

In addition, be careful of style accents that contradict societal norms.  You may have been rocking a paisley puffed pocket square for years, but that conservative hiring manager at IBM may feel it’s a bit much for a entry level position in San Antonio.  Not that I advocate stripping out all aspects of individualism–just be aware that in a meeting where you are selling your services, the little things matter.

For more information on dressing your best, explore these classic AOM articles:

Three Steps to Building Your Individual Style

Your Personal Appearance – The Importance of Being a Sharp Dressed Man

Dressing Your Body Type

trying to sell

Are you trying to sell me something?

2.  The “Buy Type” Meeting

 

Feeling we seek to convey:

It depends on your goal, but it can be that of solidarity, weakness (despite being strong), or strength to attract seller attention.

Oftentimes we seek to employ subterfuge in order to manipulate the outcome of a meeting to our benefit or to avoid being taken advantage of.  If this is the case, you want to convey enough trust that you can open a line of communication while avoiding revealing too much about your time or resources.

There is an episode of “The Cosby Show” where Bill is dressed very casually–to the degree he almost looks homeless–as he negotiates the purchase of a car.  As he closes in on a low price, after hours of haggling, one of his daughters blows his cover when she reveals that Daddy is a doctor.  The salesman smiles, as he has caught onto Cosby’s act, and he immediately restarts the negotiation in his favor.

Other times you may want to clearly indicate you are ready to buy; the goal here is to attract as many sellers as possible in order to drive down the price and observe the available options.

Finally, there are cases when you should look to dress in a similar manner to the seller to create a sense of common ground.  This can work to your favor when there are many buyers and price no longer becomes an issue.  If you’re outside Kyle Field and looking to pick up a few tickets to the Texas/Texas A&M game, who do you think the A&M student is going to sell to– a fellow Aggie decked out in their gear or a Longhorn (assuming the price offered is similar)?

Examples of Buy Meetings:

The purchasing of a used car, negotiating with a contractor on the cost to remodel your kitchen, asking for a discount on your business’ advertising rates.

Goal:

You are seeking to acquire something from another through non-forceful means.

How to dress when you are in a buy type meeting:

As indicated above, it depends on whether you want to appear weaker than you truly are, display your strengths, or create a sense of solidarity.

Trying to appear weak in terms of clothing actually has less influence in the US than other parts of the world because of our casual dress standards.  However, if this is your tactic, avoid wearing expensive suits, branded clothing, or an expensive quality watch to a negotiation.  Keep it simple and clean.

To create an image of strength, dress in clothing that befits your environment and complements your body type.  This is very similar to the sales meeting type as described above, although you do have more freedom in terms of individual style touches such as accessories.  Typically buyers have more power as they have multiple offers being made to them and can walk away with plenty of options at their disposal.

To create a sense of common ground, you’ll need to understand who you’re buying from and perhaps even have some insider info on them.  It can work well with the weakness or strength image you’re creating above, examples being a class ring or team jersey.

3.  The “Support Type” Meeting

 

Feeling you seek to convey:

A sense of support and respect.  To draw attention to yourself in these situations is bad form.  Of all meeting types this is the least likely to turn into a sales or buy meeting due to the nature of the somber occasion.

 

Examples of Support Meetings:

Religious Services, Funerals.

 

Goal:

To provide comfort, support, and strength to others.

 

How to dress when you are there to support:

Simple and conservative.  Look to fit in with the crowd and remember that a support type meeting is about you being there for your friends in need. It’s hard to overdress for these occasions; formal (not flashy) clothes simply signal the earnestness of your support. On the other hand, if you dress too casually, you run the risk of drawing attention away from your friend and to yourself–a real sign of disrespect.

Avoid bold colors if attending a funeral in the United States; a dark colored suit is customary, although any dark colored and respectably put together ensemble will suffice if you’re without a suit.

When it comes to normal religious services, ask a member of the congregation about the standard way to dress for their meetings. You’ll want to fit in with the regular parishioners, and churches can run the gamut from very formal to very casual. Although again, when in doubt, it’s  better to be overdressed for a religious service than underdressed. Normal religious services obviously invite more color than funerals, although I prefer a classic conservative approach when doing so.  Easter Sunday calls for the pastel colors of spring, and a summer service in Georgia makes linen shirts, jackets, and trousers a valuable asset.

For more info on dressing to support, explore this classic AOM article:

Dressing for the Occasion (Funeral – Religious Ceremony)

 

 

4.  The “Casual Type” Meeting

 

Feeling we seek to convey:

Approachability, openness, and a sense of relaxation.  Of all the meeting types this is the most likely to turn into a sales or buy meeting.

 

Examples of casual meetings:

Drinks with co-workers and clients after work, company pool party or picnic, golfing with the boss, weekend birthday parties for the kids.

 

Goal:

Build relationships and bonds through shared experience.

 

How to dress for casual type meetings:

Casual business meetings are the most dangerous and difficult to prepare for as we want to relax.   To confuse matters further, we’re even told we can relax.  But a casual type business meeting is still a business meeting.  Make no mistake about it–negotiations are in progress and deals are being struck around the swimming pool.  Your boss is still your boss.

I recommend a man tread carefully in these situations and dress in a relaxed manner while maintaining a level of professionalism.   In hot weather, think clean shorts a couple inches above the knee, sandals, and a collared lightweight cotton shirt.  In winter, a sweater or tweed sport jacket with grey flannel trousers works well.

Many promising careers have been cut short because a man failed to understand the company party is not the place to drink himself into oblivion and display a graphic tee that brags about his sexual prowess.

Only when you’re in the company of good friends are casual type meetings truly casual.  Now go ahead and have a few beverages of your choice, strip down to those swim trunks you’ve had since college, and cannonball into the lake from your pontoon boat.

bathing suit

I thought this was appropriate for the office party?

For more info on dressing casually, explore these classic AOM articles:

Dressing for Hot Weather

Man’s Guide to Sweaters

quinceanera

A Modern Quinceanera.

5.  The “Formal Type” Meeting

Feeling we seek to convey:

Civility, a respect for tradition, an ability to abide by rules.

Examples of Formal Meetings:

High School Prom, Quinceanera, Order of the Arrow Initiation, Weddings, Marine Corps Birthday Balls, Bar Mitzvah.

Goal:

Build relationships and bonds through a structured interaction that has proven itself via the test of time.

How to dress when you seek to show a respect for tradition:

Formal type meetings are not limited to dressing in fancy black tie attire.  Rather they are time-tested, highly structured ceremonies that instill a respect for the past while looking to the future. Dressing in the manner dictated by the tradition shows your respect for the tradition itself and/or your respect for those for whom the tradition holds great importance. Each person plays a part in creating the atmosphere that creates the experience for all the participants. The way you dress can add to, or detract from, this atmosphere and everyone’s experience.

Formal type meetings are the easiest of all meeting types to dress for as the prescribed outfit is often a “uniform” of some sort.  It may have a few options, such as the black tie option of either cummerbund or waistcoat, but more than any other outfit, the rules as to how to wear it are clearly established.  Most militaries have their regulations so specific that the distance between medals and where they can be worn is clearly spelled out.

For more info on formal type dressing, explore these articles:

Men’s Black Tie Basic Overview

Black Tie Military Uniform Regs

Thoughts?  Comments?  Let me hear it in the comments.

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dtownsend May 10, 2011 at 2:14 pm

This is a great article, just one small point…

In your reference to the Cosby show reference, it wasn’t a daughter that blew his cover; it was actually Gilbert Gottfried, an associate to Dr. Cosby, who blew the cover. The Car Salesman was Sinbad.

2 Andrew May 10, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Where is the U.S. Coast Guard in your military uniform regulations article?

3 Antonio Centeno May 10, 2011 at 3:00 pm

@Dtownsend – Your memory is better than mine sir!

@Andrew – That’s actually Peter Marshall’s site. As he’s Canadian and not a vet, I’m sure it’s something he’d love to add but doesn’t have access to the info. If you have it contact him and send it his way!

4 Morris Townson May 10, 2011 at 3:05 pm

Yes, for years there has been confusion amongst men (and women) as to “how to dress” for any and all events. Thank you for offering this article. I do hope it is spread wide and far.

In my restaurant, I only hire professionally looking men and women. When I interview, I first look first for clean, neat hair, hands and nails and no visible tattoos and proper clothing. Second, I watch the way they walk and sit. And, thirdly, I listen closely to their speech. If they don’t past phase 1 (neat and clean, hair, hands, nails, no tatts, and proper clothing), the interview last less than 30 seconds and their resume goes into “File 13″.

5 Wilson Hines May 10, 2011 at 3:25 pm

I am a late 30′s guy back in college. It is utterly amazing to me how these kids today simply do not have a clue as to how to dress for different occasions.

6 Abhi May 10, 2011 at 3:34 pm

Which one or two styles would you say best suit competitive Model United Nations?

7 Antony May 10, 2011 at 3:46 pm

Image without substance means nothing. We place to much emphasis on “looking” a certain way and not enough emphasis on “being” who we want to project to the world. A man can look trustworthy, healthy, and competent but really be corrupt, ill and incompetent and his clothes just give him enough confidence to fool most people, Wall Street has demonstrated that. I have been fooled by just those kind of people in the past because I hadn’t yet trained myself to look past the shell of deceit.

How do you suggest a man to dress to be artistic, virtuous or loving? What should the farmer wear to the barn? The gardener to the field? The logger into the forest? The nudist to the beach?

We need to wake up and realize the consumer culture is on it’s deathbed and there are way more important issues than what we wear and learn to project who we are regardless of what we have on our bodies. I’m not suggesting that we become careless slobs in regard to our appearances but lets all learn first to be better people and look for the traits we value in others before we are fooled by their appearance.

8 Lee May 10, 2011 at 4:26 pm

My day job is one of the few bastions of America which requires one to dress well. It is almost like being part of a movie every day. The facade even extends to time off work. I cannot portray myself as unprofessional to potential clients, else risk alienating them.

I can assure any reader that dressing well means everything in certain situations. I have seen people get away with murder for the simple reason that they dressed and looked well. They projected an air of confidence and trustworthiness that swayed others. I’m not saying that dressing well was everything, but it was certainly the straw that broke the camel’s back. Dressing well doesn’t automatically make you Don Draper, but Don Draper cannot be Don Draper without the look.

Its unfortunate, but we only have one or two seconds to make a first impression. What we wear and how we portray ourselves makes that first impression.

9 Gabriel May 10, 2011 at 6:25 pm

@ Antony: We’re animals. That’s never gonna change. It’s human biology and it is for better or worse a very important survival mechanism in heavily social creatures like us. The species is still trucking along so I argue its most probably for the better too despite the ugly bits like prejudice.

It’s pretty obvious what all of those people should be wearing when doing their work. And if you’ve done a lick of that kind of work you’d realize that your comparison is asinine. Work demands work clothes. Social requires social clothes. I wouldn’t show up to my heavy rigging job over the summer with my button down oxfords and dress shoes. Thats steel toe boots and overalls for dirt and grime territory.

Dressing well doesn’t mean I need Louie Vuitton or Ralph Lauren either. It means I dress to my strengths to make the most out of my daily social encounters using what I can afford – and it is easy to afford, try JCPenney. I’m sorry to hear you got stung by a crook in a suit but that’s life. Live and learn. It happens to us all at one point in one form or another, suit or not.

10 Antony May 10, 2011 at 7:01 pm

@ Gabriel: You’re correct obviously we are animals, ones with the ability to reason like no other species but I think you’re missing my point. As for our species still trucking along, well that’s in spite of the actions of most material obsessed individuals that give no real thought as to where the clothes on their backs came from and at what cost to others and the environment. We just want to “look” good so we can “win” the situation, it’s time we realize cooperation outweighs competition.

I own a design firm and have lived in the world of “looking” good to impress others and the dress for success mantra is worn out and myopic. You call my comparison asinine but again you missed the point, I didn’t make a comparison I asked questions.
Think about individuals that cared little for what they wore but have did pretty well for themselves, Bill Gates and Richard Branson come quickly to mind.

You again are correct when you say that, “that’s life” when we get stung by others however it hasn’t been by stereotypical “crooks” that have fooled me but rather by competent looking professionals that spent more time focusing on their look than their abilities.

Finally, I said that I don’t think we should be slovenly in our appearance but concentrate more on what’s in the inside. Maybe its a east coast, west coast thing or maybe it’s an age thing because if you have a summer job most likely you’re still a student and I remember when I felt the need to make up for my inexperience with my appearance.

11 Gabriel May 10, 2011 at 7:46 pm

Fair enough Antony. I apologize for sounding aggressive or degrading. I get a bit jumpy with this stuff and its pretty asinine of me.

Not an age thing trying to make up for lack of experiences. Perhaps it could be an east coast, west coast thing. (But there is no party like a west coast party! Hey hey!) But if we’re both from the west coast then we’re going to have real problems now. I’ve just witnessed the effects of what dressing well has done for me in the past year now.

In all honesty, its been a bit of a shock. I’d like to think that I do have substance and its how I’ve gotten where I am today but the power of peacockery has definitely brought me benefits. I feel like its increased my influence and allowed me to get my foot in the door easier than before. Where once all I had was time and opportunities to show my worth now people look at me and instantly assume I’m a high strung, neurotic, go-getter Type A personality. Which I am. Because my clothing reflects my substance now it has given me an edge.

12 Kevin Daley May 10, 2011 at 9:04 pm

Excellent article. So many men are lost when it comes to dressing to impress. I would even venture further to say that many of the “casual” rules can be stretched to allow more formal wear. You just have to have the personality to pull it off.

To paraphrase the great Jeffrey Tucker, a man has to endure some amount of discomfort to be civilized.

13 Michal P. May 11, 2011 at 8:24 am

I don’t like “dress to impress” attitude. I would rather say – dress to recognizing you properly easier.
If you are unprofessional, unkind, or plain stupid, no dress will help you. But dressing properly ensures that other person don’t assume wrongly that you are any of above.

14 Eddie in INDY May 11, 2011 at 8:27 am

As a teacher, sometimes I have to deal with grumpy parents. If I know when this is coming in the next day or so, I usually wear a clean starched White button up shirt and ALWAYS a Tie. If the situaltion calls for it, a Bow Tie is my “nuclear bomb”. Instant respect and the tone of the meeting is always civil.

Believe it or not, Some parents are Crazy!!! Dressing the professional part is always important in preventing a potentially bad situation from becoming worse!!!

Eddie in INDY

15 J.D. Tuccille May 11, 2011 at 9:39 am

@Antony and Gabriel. I’m not sure how image and substance came to be presented as an either/or dichotomy, but it really doesn’t work that way. You have to have the substance, including ability and integrity, and you also have to put forward an image that’s appropriate to the occasion. The idea that dishonesty comes packaged only in expensive suits while integrity is represented by people in casual (and somehow more “genuine” attire) runs up against reality. Having worked on the East Coast, and now settled near Sedona, Arizona, I can tell you that I’ve encountered at least as many scam artists attired in denim as in pinstripes.

Antony, you say you own a design firm. When I worked in media in New York and we brought in designers, we always looked at how they dressed. We wanted a feel for their sense of visual aesthetics and how they worked that within the parameters imposed by business attire. The image they projected was, logically, part of the pitch, and they neglected it at their own risk.

To dress well as appropriate to the situation is to take control of the image we put forward. And dare I say, it’s also fun?

Really, the argument that we should “get beyond” how we present ourselves in favor of some sort of inner truth that’s obscured by image strikes me as an exercise in asceticism — even puritanism.

16 Samuel Warren May 11, 2011 at 9:40 am

Another extremely helpful article Antonio. I was recently promoted at work from a position where jeans and a t-shirt was acceptable, to one which requires sportcoats, and an occasional suit. Your articles here have been an invaluable way to learn all the little things that no one else ever seems to know. I do wish you’d consider an article on hats with dress attire. It’s hard to tell what is ok, and what just won’t work until you’re in the situation with hats.

17 Tom May 11, 2011 at 10:26 am

I loathe to dress up. I posted on FB the other day: Thank God I’m not a suit. I’m thankful I don’t have to do that and never have had to do that and I make a pretty good salary in a professional atmosphere. No one has ever said anything to me. Yup. Cargo pants and a pullover work for me.
One thing that really cracks me up when I’m watching classic movies or old TV shows, is that the men are always in suits and ties. Ward Cleaver for example. There were only a handful of times when Mr. Cleaver was seen in casual clothing. It’s like you had to dress up to do your TV show.
Men’s dress-up is boring. Women get to have all the fashion fun. It sucks.

18 Shawn G May 11, 2011 at 11:55 am

The beauty of this site is that it addresses both the outward appearance as well as the inward reality. Brett and Kate you do a good job of focusing on the whole person as opposed to just one aspect of a person. This is how we become better men. If you simply try to grow one area and not others you’ll never be a whole person.

19 TJ Davis May 12, 2011 at 3:17 am

Kudos on the A&M refrence! Gig ‘Em!!

20 Dan P May 12, 2011 at 9:55 am

@Tom — y’know, I used to be the same way in dress as you — absolutely loathed “dressing up”, would normally wear jeans and polo shirts (for work, anyway — outside work was a T-shirt).

That ‘dress code’, if you will, changed _really_ quick when I received the opportunity to do some on-site work with one of my company’s clients in NYC. I didn’t wear suits 5 days a week, but the experience has definitely changed my outlook on what I wear. I now regularly wear slacks and a button-down shirt to work (no ties, that’s going a little too far for the environment), and make sure to keep everything in top form (ironed shirt, etc).

As to your “women get all the nice stuff” comment — I think it’s more the idea that a woman can pretty much look good in anything. Couple that with the fact that (barring a T-shirt and those “trendy” holes are already in them jeans) most everything in the women’s sections of a department store are, to some extent, already more “dress-up” looking than the men’s side. It also doesn’t hurt that they have a few options in dressing up (pants/skirts/dress) — though this is a relatively recent development, as women used to be “dress or nothing” during the same time when it was “suit or nothing” for men…

21 Doug May 12, 2011 at 11:13 am

This is a great and timely topic for me since I am ‘teaching’ my 14 YO son how to dress. Together we picked out his own suit and sportcoat last weekend at a decent clothing Dept Store- he had the final say however and he seemed to be surprised at how the Men’s Dept. salesman was so professional and knowledgeable about dressing – a new area of knowledge openign up. Looking at his classmates, it is clear that many parents don’t take the time to do this at all – much less in a caring way. I have definitely learned the importance and significance of dress in my 43 years – influences such as scouting, military, teachers, clergy and most of all my Dad! have shaped me strongly – and this all in a world where people constantly chanted “it does not matter what you wear ” – esp in my church (Catholic – jeans and t-shirts of course). My biggest nugget of learning is that clothes are ‘most often’ a reflection of what’s inside – not that they are the Rx to make you a better person or a perfect indicator. But to counter, I have also seen many instances where a uniform (in scouting or military) does in fact influence individuals to change what they are inside – bit by bit.. I have worked in the aerospace industry most of my career and the hallways are full of black and white photos of our pioneering thin-tied, khaki and loafer-clad predecessors – my Dad was one of them. And we wonder why we now can’t seem to be as successful as they were – and with much less Then look at the more recent photos with engineers and technicians wearing jeans, sneakers and t-shirts. Correlation is not causation – but it sure makes you wonder alright.

22 Aydika May 12, 2011 at 11:15 am

Antony, I’m really struck by the power of this post—mainly by the simple truth of what it outlines: We are individuals with our own personalities, goals and intentions — and every choice we make is part of that. Including what we choose to wear.

Aware of it or not, we step into each experience with specific intentions; and every choice we make — what we say, do, wear — is part of acting on those goals. By simply being conscious our intentions, we can align every choice we make with our desired outcome—not to manipulate people, but to achieve what we wish to do and communicate.

What @J.D. Tuccille said captures it well:
“To dress well as appropriate to the situation is to take control of the image we put forward. And dare I say, it’s also fun?”

Yes! I dare say: It is.

Great article, Antony. Four thumbs up!

23 Doug May 12, 2011 at 11:51 am

Very well stated Aydika !!

24 Brucifer May 12, 2011 at 9:25 pm

I frankly get really irked at chaps who spout stuff like “REAL men don’t need to dress up” ….. as a lame excuse to dress like slobs. Just as it is a fallacy to assume that because one is posh-dressed, one is a fop, it is also a fallacy to think some dude in crud-stained jeans is all tre’ macho and that.

There is frankly no more pathetic and unmanly a sight than seeing a 6 ft-something, 250 lb ‘he-man’ man being dragged by the ear by his wife or GF into a proper mens clothing store to get a suit and tie for a wedding or other event. Guys that otherwise look like their could chew iron and spit nails, look like little babies, kicking and squirming. Pathetic! I want to hand guys like that a diaper … then, teach the wimp how to tie a proper Windsor knot.

Adaptation is the most ancient of survival skills. Manly men should be able to quickly adapt to the terrain they find themselves in. Yet, some men who might think nothing of having several pairs of different cammo pattern clothing for different hunting environments, don’t seem to realize that a suit is nothing more than ‘cammo’ clothing for a different type of ‘hunting’ environment.

As friend Anthony has tried to illustrate to you, a REAL man is able to adapt his clothing and his demeanor to a variety of situations.

Hence, my own closet ranges from biker leathers to hunting/camping clothes, to nightclub outfits, to several business suits, … to my very own tailored tuxedo (what, ME rent!?) With this variety of couture, I am able to easily and comfortably travel in a wide variety of social circles and ‘look like I belong there’ in any number of urban and rural environments. Like the old country-western song goes, “I’ve got friends, in high and low places….” I know biker-gang Presidents. I know Corporation Presidents. I owe that in no small part, to being able to adapt and dress to blend-in various types of people in various social environments.

25 Wayne May 13, 2011 at 9:05 pm

You aren’t your fucking khakis.

26 Austin January 25, 2014 at 10:27 pm

I liked the OA initiation reference in the formal meeting type.

Wimachtendienk, Wingolauchsik Witahemui!

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