Fashion Tips for Small-Business Owners

Lee Polevoi by Lee Polevoi on February 21, 2013
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Whatever type of small business you run, it’s always important for you and your employees to look your best.

What “best” means may vary based on your work environment, but certain fashion guidelines apply across the board. This is particularly true when you’re meeting with a prospective client and want to convey an image of professionalism. When dressing yourself for these occasions, keep these timeless fashion tips in mind.

For Women

In general, women’s attire should include businesslike suits or dresses with matching jackets. High-quality, tailored suits in neutral colors — blue, black, gray, brown, etc. — will coordinate easily with the rest of your wardrobe. Dark, solid colors convey a “tall and lean” look. Pants should be pressed and creased and not tight-fitting.

Stay away from “daring” outfits that are too form-fitting or come with a plunging neckline. A dress that looks smashing in a nightclub can be a disaster in the workplace.

Try to avoid chasing the latest fashions. This is an expensive habit to maintain. Trends by their very nature are here today, gone tomorrow. You don’t want to get stuck with clothes you’ll wear one season and never again.

To maximize diversity in your wardrobe, keep a variety of these items — blouses, skirts, belts, scarves, and jewelry — on hand to mix and match. However, go easy on accessories: Restrict yourself to wearing a bracelet or a necklace (not both) and no more than one or two rings at a time. Earrings are OK, one set, not multiples in each ear. They should be worn close to the ear, nothing too “dangly.”

For Men

“Sloppy” is never an acceptable fashion statement. Your clothes project an image of who you and your company are, so your goal should be to look professional at all times. This is particularly true if you’re a younger business owner who wants to be taken seriously by your older colleagues or employees.

The more traditional your industry and clientele are, the more conservative your apparel should be. Suits in navy, gray, black, or dark earth tones are always in style. For some variety, consider a pinstripe suit in similar shades. Your wardrobe should include one or two tailored, single-breasted suits at all times. Your pants and jacket should be made of the same material in the same or a complementary color, such as charcoal or black.

Other guidelines for men:

  • Opt for a conservative hairstyle and always trim your facial hair or shave.
  • Wear dark socks (never white) to match or complement your suit.
  • Your belt has a utilitarian purpose and should not draw attention to itself through oversized buckles or other ornamentation. Your belt and shoes should match. Shoes should be clean and shiny at all times.
  • Choose colorful ties to complement your suit, but avoid bold or wacky patterns (unless that’s the statement your business is trying to make). This includes ties that reference either sports or politics.
  • A ring and a watch are all the accessories you need (no flashy jewelry, wallet chains, etc.).

In general, “business casual” means looking professional in a relaxed but tasteful way. Khaki pants and polo shirts are usually OK; shorts and sleeveless shirts or “I’m With Stupid” T-shirts are not.

Both genders should cover tattoos and remove body piercings when possible.

Lee Polevoi

Lee Polevoi is an award-winning business writer specializing in the challenges and opportunities facing small business. He is former Senior Writer at Vistage International, a global membership organization of CEOs.

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