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  • Writer's pictureTom Vachet

Dressing For Success

For the last 15 + years of the 90’s I was living in Manhattan Beach, California but working out of a series of four different offices in Metro Washington, DC. Every week on Sunday morning at 10am I caught a United 747 out of LAX bound for DC, and on Friday at 7pm I boarded a United 777 destined for home in LA. That doesn’t include frequent overseas travel to Asia, South America, and Europe. My cumulative air travel bordered on a million miles.

Over time I developed a method for packing a suitcase containing a wardrobe that would accommodate any occasion. The following was my standard list for every single trip:

  • A Kalvin Klein modern fit black suit jacket and black slacks.

  • Two ties.

  • Two white Hugo Boss fitted dress shirts.

  • One pair of nice fitted blue jeans.

  • One black Hugo Boss mercerized cotton athletic fit dress t-shirt.

  • A Hugo Boss black dress belt.

  • Two pairs of dress shoes; one dress pair laced, one casual pair slippers.

  • One black London Fog overcoat.

  • Undergarments and socks.

  • One nice watch; Rolex or Omega.

The items on my list could all be mixed or matched for any occasion that came up from an impromptu cocktail party to a presentation to a CEO. There was never an occasion where I was absent an outfit needed for an occasion. It also made packing mindlessly simple and stress free.

But dressing for success means more than just looking professional. It also entails having the right attitude and confidence to match your attire. And when it comes to impressing a potential employer or client, dressing well is essential.

For men, wearing a suit can be a great way to dress professionally while still making an impression. Choose one with a quality fit, in a muted color such as navy, gray or black. A long-sleeved dress shirt, with cufflinks and a neutral tie can complete the look. Avoid flashy colors or patterns, as these may appear unprofessional. The three most important, smallest, but most expensive, pieces of my wardrobe were my belt, my shoes, and my watch as they are the items most noticed on a man.

For women, the professional look is slightly less structured than men’s wear. A dress or skirt that falls at or below the knee with a blouse in a neutral color can be polished and comfortable. Avoid revealing clothing—such as low cut tops and short skirts—as this may send the wrong message.

Women have more room to play when it comes to professional attire. A tailored suit is always an appropriate choice for the office, but women also have the option of wearing dresses or skirts that fall at or just above the knee in length. Blouses should be conservative and made from fabrics like cotton, silk, or wool blend. Accessories such as jewelry, scarves, clutch or small handbag are acceptable too; just ensure they are not distracting from your overall appearance. Shoes should be closed-toe and low heel if possible.

Professional dress is not limited to attire alone. Grooming plays an important role as well and should be tailored to the job you are applying for. Men should keep facial hair neatly trimmed and avoid overly scented products like cologne. Women can opt for minimal makeup if they choose, but avoid anything too dramatic or distracting.

It's important to remember that dressing for success is not just about what you wear; it’s also about how you carry yourself. Confidence is key when it comes to making a good impression during an interview or meeting. Exude self-assurance by holding yourself up straight and walking with purpose, maintaining eye contact throughout any conversation, and speaking clearly and confidently.

Having a positive attitude will also help complete your professional look. Speak confidently during interviews and maintain an upbeat demeanor that shows you're serious about the position you are seeking. Demonstrate you are a subject matter expert. Be sure to make eye contact when appropriate; this indicates that you are engaged in conversation and paying attention to what the other person is saying.

When interviewing new candidates for a position I kept it simple. Normally my HR department had culled through applications and resumes for me. I reviewed those suggested and selected those with the best and most appropriate education and experience for the position. At GTE Information Systems Division, I needed to quickly hire six portfolio managers from across the US. HR brought them all to DC for me to interview for a new business launch.

For each I engaged them in some small talk, inquiring about their personal backgrounds, and asking them to describe their best success and failure. I already knew their academic and employment backgrounds. But the key objective in the interview, which I would share, was for me to ascertain if they would always be prepared, and that we could work together as a seamless team.

After a few minutes I would tell the candidate I needed to leave them in my office to attend to a brief matter for 5 or 10 minutes,, and when I returned I wanted them to provide me with a presentation about GTE ISD as though I was a new prospective client. This little exercise would show me how well they had researched us, how well they had prepared by researching our company, and how they operated under stress.

When it comes down to it, dressing for success means more than just looking the part. It requires having the right attitude and confidence to back up your outfit, as well as proper grooming to ensure you professionally present yourself. With these tips in mind, you'll be sure to make a great impression and increase your chances of getting hired or closing that big deal.

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