I was out at a networking event at a hotel in an upscale Toronto neighbourhood last night. The invitation gave a semi-formal dress code, so I put on a dress and a pair of heels and went on my way.
When I got there, what I saw when I surveyed the crowd of entrepreneurs confused me. Though the dress code was quite clear, several men were in very casual dress. It made me wonder if they came straight from their non-semi-formal work place to the semi-formal event, and didn’t, or weren’t able to pay any heed to the event expectations.
One of these casual men approached me and inquired about my business. Depending on the person, some men will get really excited because they’re talking to the first woman in Canada to specialize in men’s image, others will look downtrodden because they remember what they decided to wear that day, and still others will outright recoil (possibly out of shame or fear of being judged). This particular man was a member of the business team that put the event together, and he took a great interest in my work.
Of course, he asked me how he was doing with his wardrobe. Normally, this costs money, no different than asking for free legal advice, but I indulged him. I stepped back and took in his ordinary shoes, jeans, and a white knit Henley shirt.
“Well,” I said, “you’re in very casual clothes tonight.”
“Yes, is that okay?” he asked.
“Considering that the invitation says “semi-formal”, you didn’t seem to pay that any mind.”
“So what is your advice?” he asked.
“Dress for the dress code.”
It’s simple, really. When an invitation gives a suggestion of what to wear so that you are appropriate for and comfortable at the event, follow that lead. Otherwise, it creates confusion in people and probably isn’t that good for business because you’ve entered an event on a rule and broken it. We only get one chance to make a first impression.
When a person is under-dressed or looks as though they have not made any attempt to dress for the level that is expected, it can have a negative impact. A casual look at a semi-formal occasion may conjure impressions of laziness, ignorance, disdain, spite, and a devil-may-care attitude – not exactly a respectable image to project at a business event where you’re trying to sell your services.
The best thing to do is dress for the dress code. It exists for a reason, and your appropriate look will be much more appealing to others – especially in a business setting. Even if you’re still in jeans, take a sports jacket to the event – this will immediately elevate your outfit. Another option is to change your footwear to a fancier, more stylish shoe – this can also up your look.
First impressions are hard to shake. Do it right the first time and heed the dress code.