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I have a number of super-successful Silicon Valley clients who dress in ripped denim, Vans shoes and t-shirts. They are worth hundreds of millions, even more, but it's a status symbol to dress like you're homeless to attend board meetings.Conversely, I have worked with trash-hauling company executives who dress in suits and ties every day of the week. And this contrast shows the dramatic shift that has occurred in business attire in recent years, as each industry has developed its own rules.
So how do you learn the rules? Back in the early 1990s, as a young exec, I read Dress for Success by John T. Molloy. It gave me a clear understanding of how to dress to impress. But the "business casual" dress movement has turned all of that book's ideas into quaint nostalgia. But fair or not, dress still has an impact on how you're seen. For sales people, especially, first impressions matter.
My daughters will confirm that I am not a fashion plate, but I do have some simple rules for successful dressing if you are in sales.
Know your prospect's uniform.
Before you meet with a prospect, you should know that company's dress code. "Business casual" has a lot of meanings. Call the front desk at the company and ask what the company's dress code is and what the men and women wear. Or ask your contact. The point is, part of your responsibility is to understand that company's culture, including its dress code. Ask for examples, especially of the senior most person who will be in your meeting.
Dress one step up.
If your prospect is in denim, you wear khaki. They wear sport coats without ties; you are in suits without ties. The point is that you always dress one step further up the clothing ladder than your prospect, but not two. One step...