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October 17, 2015

Dressing Up for Work: Dos and Don’ts in the U.S.

Dressed up to go to work
In 2015, I had the opportunity to conduct training programs at well-known U.S. universities as well as attend business meetings and interviews at some of these locations as well. In this post, I’d like to share some of my experience with dressing appropriately for the U.S. workplace

There are different occasions for which different kinds of clothes are required to set the right impression. In some cases we may be under dressed, over dressed or dressed just right. I have faced each of these situations in my trips to the U.S. this year.

I had a business meeting with program managers of a workforce development program in a well-known college in upstate New York. When preparing for this meeting, my colleagues noted the dress code would be a nice button up shirt with formal pants and black dress shoes. When I showed up in this outfit, only to realize all of the other team members were dressed in suits, I felt underdressed. While it was embarrassing to be underdressed, coming on time (showing up ten minutes before the interview starts) and being prepared to answer interview questions would give me a leg up. While this preparation helped to even the playing field, along with some humor on cross-cultural business situations.

Over dressed
While this situation has not happened to me recently, in the past it has. Being overdressed had helped me win the respect of interviewers and team members when I was a recent graduate and new to the job. In fact, many young professionals are recommended to dress more formally as it adds a look of maturity to those who look young or younger than their age.

Dressed just right
Dressed in a suit
After the blunder earlier this year mentioned above at the workforce development program, when I visited Harvard for a reunion and business meeting with my former boss, I came dressed in a proper business suit, dress shirt and formal shoes. I fit right in with the other managers and peers in that department, as they were also all dressed up formally as well. In this case, following the dress code helped me blend in immediately, building an instant rapport with the colleagues so that we could focus on the business at hand.

While many of us, especially new to the field, complain about dress codes and wish they would just disappear, what we wear, how we wear it and when we wear it can be critically important in forming a good impression of ourselves in business interactions, not only with Americans, but worldwide. Keep in mind that while there are standard dress codes, dress codes can vary based on industry, company, position, purpose of interaction, and local culture.  It’s always a good idea to talk to people you know in advance of business interactions to understand the right dress code and how to wear the clothes properly so that we can show up looking and feeling our best! 

Avoid Mistakes 
Assure that you feel comfortable in new or strange clothes when going onsite. If you aren't used to wearing the clothes you have to wear or you are going to wear new clothes, it's better to wear it in advance of going onsite, walk around in it, and break it in. Don't find yourself in embarrasing situations, like I share in the video below. 

Will your company be sending your employees to the US on an international assignment? We can provide tailored expat readiness programs virtually to your staff to prepare them for success before they leave, while they are in country and as they repatriate. Contact us for more information.

Related Posts: 
Sports Idioms used in American business conversations 
An Indian approach to Professional Dress Codes 

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We help build effective, culturally competent global teams with focus on the cultures of the USA and India. Jennifer Kumar, Managing Director, an American citizen, has almost 10 years experience living, studying and working (owning a business) in India. Authentic Journeys Consultancy is registered as a Private Limited in India (Kerala) and an LLC in the USA (Salt Lake City, Utah). We provide onsite and live-online instructor-led courses, facilitation and corporate coaching.