The suit you wear says more about you and your company than you might realize when it comes to doing business overseas. Ask any world traveler and they will tell you it is wise to cover your shoulders in the middle east, not to rush a meal in France, and to slurp your noodles in Japan. A busy executive is likely to draw a blank when asked about the business dress codes of the countries he or she has visited. The difference? While travelers have time to study social differences, most business professionals are too busy preparing presentations and rushing to meetings to learn what to expect – let alone what to pack. Yet just as language and social customs play key roles in building global business relationships, the way you present yourself has a real and lasting impact. As superficial as it seems, when people meet you for the first time, they form an opinion in the first 30 seconds. It is your job to make sure that the first impression is a good one. Most of us make instant, unconscious judgments about new people based on social norms – which means what you wear could matter more than what you say.
Business professionals in Asia tend to be more conservative and better dressed than the business professionals in Australia are, which tend to be more relaxed in business. An attire that is worn in Singapore can be labeled as underdressed but if you wear that same attire in Northern Europe, it won’t be considered underdressed. Southern Europeans place an emphasis on style while in the South in the US, dressing more conservatively is more the norm.
When picking an outfit for a business outing, remember to think global not local. Keep your look respectful and classic and keep loud ties and pointy shoes for after hours. If you find yourself lost and do not know how to dress for a certain occasion, you can take cues from peers. Every industry has a dress code, and a common mistake people make is not dressing appropriately for the industry they’re operating within. You do not have to go to a fancy store to pick your attire; maintaining a sharp image abroad can be as simple as a shoeshine or a pressed shirt. Most importantly, plan ahead. Lack of preparation is a key issue. So brush up on the dress codes and customs of places you’ll be visiting and consult colleagues who do business there. After all, it’s about more than just looking good.