Social occasions are at the heart of the meeting business. When the conference day ends, there’s a reception or dinner to attend. Coffee with a supplier or drinks with a peer push the workday beyond 9 to 5.
But unlike at the office, where a written dress code spells out the rules, out-of-office business/social occasions can flummox us in the “what to wear” department.
As the holidays approach and business/social events escalate, I turned to Maria Meschi for some preholiday meeting wardrobe fashion pointers. She is project manager at the Indiana University School of Physical Education and Tourism Management in Indianapolis, and this summer, her talk, “Don’t Wear Yoga Pants to Dinner,” was a hit at Meeting Professionals International’s World Education Conference. Although the talk was aimed at her fellow millennials, what Meschi had to say applies to all of us, in any season.
Set Goals Before Dressing
Before you open your closet door, do some strategic thinking.
“The first thing you should do before an event is figure out your goal for the event,” Meschi said. “Then, dress to your goals and behave to your goals.”
Keep in mind that values and style vary from organization to organization and from region to region. A company in New York might not blink at tattoos while a firm in the Midwest would frown. Business suits are abhorred by software makers and beloved by bankers.
Fashion Faux Pas
No matter where or when the occasion, these are definite no-no’s, Meschi said.
• Wearing clothes that are wrinkled, torn or stained. “It makes you look as though you don’t know how to take care of yourself,” said Meschi, and like it or not, she said, some will then conclude that you also can’t handle your job.
• Wearing clothes that are too tight or too loose, pants that are too long or too short, and shoulders that are too big or too small. In addition to her day job, Meschi is a costume designer and an actor, so she spends a lot of time thinking about how clothing tells the audience things about a character’s personality. Traits projected by ill-fitting clothing aren’t positive ones.
• Showing too much. It could be a bra strap, panty lines or chest hair. “Some of these things are not as frowned upon as they used to be,” said Meschi, “but for me, it is a distraction.”
• Flapping around in flip-flops. “I have no concerns about sandals with ankle straps — I’m talking about the shoe that makes a sound when you walk and that you have to make an effort to keep on your feet,” said Meschi. “They are too casual.”
• Missing the target. If everyone else is wearing a suit and you are in jeans, you will look as though you don’t fit in; likewise, if you are wearing a suit and everyone else is ultracasual, you won’t fit in. Generally, Meschi said, “you will be less penalized for overdressing than underdressing,”
Beyond Business Suits
Fashion is typically on target when it gives you confidence. “If you are wearing clothes that make you look good and feel good, you are three steps ahead, “ said Meschi.
Because clothing is also about self-expression, yours should tell others a little about you. As an artist, Meschi expresses creativity through her clothes. “I am uncomfortable in a traditional suit or blazer. I wear a lot of prints and bright colors,” she said. “It is important to me because my creativity is valued in my career, and I want to look the part.”
Exhibiting personal style can be subtle. Even those who work for conservative companies can show they are not so buttoned-down by wearing a colorful shirt or blouse or an interesting necklace with a dark suit.