Proper attire required

May 10, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 9.02.20 AM I got a text the other day from an old client and reader who said it had been a while since I addressed the topic of how to dress around clients. Apparently he is still suffering through the frustrations of dealing with his people who don't seem to get it. He said, “I've got grown men asking what the appropriate dress is for client meetings … REALLY … as you said in an article regarding manners, they just haven't had anyone tell/show them what’s appropriate … that’s my positive rose-colored glasses perspective.” So maybe it is time to talk about how to dress once again. I'm a man so most of my comments will apply to men. Doesn’t mean I think we shouldn’t have women in our firms or shouldn't have women in the workplace. I strongly support the idea of both! But here are my thoughts:
  1. Not all clients are the same and appropriate dress varies widely. You don't want to wear polyester sans-a-belt slacks to go see a successful developer. Conversely, you‎ don't want to wear a $2,000 Armani suit (or whatever is considered high-style these days), to go see your local city engineer, either. Different clients have different expectations about what is appropriate.
  1. Never is it acceptable to wear clothing that is ripped, torn, frayed, or worn out. It drives me crazy when I see people wearing suits with tears around the pockets, sweaters with holes in the elbows, or one I see in many men today – T-shirts that are frayed around the collar. Or how about shoes with round heals or holes in the soles? Bad, bad, bad! Whatever you wear, it cannot be worn out. You'll look like a bum.
  1. Whatever you wear, make sure it fits! I see so many guys – have been one myself – with suit coats or jackets that are too small. We get older – we live the “good” life and our gut expands – and clothes don't always fit. I see it with women, too. Sometimes it's embarrassing for you (and them). Make sure whatever you wear you get something that fits properly – not too big or too small.
  1. ‎Fabric – natural is better than poly or synthetic – at least for men. That means wool and cotton and silk, and maybe bamboo. Slick fabrics are bad. Stretchy fabrics – not for men. My suits and sport coats are 100 percent wool or wool/silk blends. And shirts – send them out to the cleaner. For $1.50 to $3.00, depending on where you live, you'll look so much better. A nice, starchy cotton shirt, properly pressed – to me, it's comfortable and looks like you care about yourself. I also like to wear jeans for work sometimes. I send mine out to the cleaner along with my shirts. Cotton rules. You'll never see James Bond wearing polyester!
  1. Belts and other accessories. Don't have a worn out belt! They get old and tired and look bad as your waistline goes up and down. Buy some new ones every once in a while! Ditto for your ties. Old ties look dated. IF you wear a tie get some new ones every so often from a good store (not Wal-Mart). And obviously, today there are a lot of people who don't wear ties. If you are one of them, buy new T-shirts, please! We don't want to see your worn, stretched, frayed and nasty T-shirts. New ones cost about $10 each. You can afford it! And get a new wallet. You don't want to be pulling yours out to pay yours and your client’s lunch bill and have one that looks like you first got it 20 years ago. They wear out – like everything else!
  1. Laptop bags and luggage. Get quality ones. I like leather. It looks classier. Nylon is OK but don't get a color that looks like it could be used by a college student. I'm not fond of backpacks because I'm an old man. A lot of younger, hipper folks are using them these days. I don't wheel a bag, either. My leather duffle will stuff in any bin or under any seat and I never have that last minute, “Where’d my bag go?" drama that some of these wheeled bag users seem to generate.
Other thoughts? Send them to me at We may help make you famous and print them in a future issue!

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s founder and CEO. Contact him at

This article is from issue 1149 of The Zweig Letter. Interested in more management advice every week from Mark Zweig, the Zweig Group team, and a talented list of other guest writers? Click here for to get a free trial of The Zweig Letter.

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