Business knows no borders. Every entrepreneur is aware of that. However, despite the liberalisation of dos and don’ts of business dress code, the proper appearance still remains a key factor contributing to our professional image worldwide. Although the western clothing style – the classic suit for men or an elegant pantsuit for women – have become universal outfits at any given latitude on the globe, it is crucial to remember that small details and differences still exist and are worth considering when one is setting off to do business with partners overseas.
The hot Australian air has made it acceptable for the inhabitants of the Antipodes to take off their jackets. Nevertheless, just like in the rest of the world, classic formal dress code applies. Men wear suits, while women put on pantsuits or classy blouses and skirts.
Countries of Latin America
When traveling to South America, one needs to note that first and foremost, it is the proper apparel that can be critical to the success of one’s business endeavour, especially in countries such as Argentina, Brazil or Bolivia, where appearance is considered one’s calling card.
‘ Without making a good first impression, the components of which also include the class of the hotel we are staying at, it is hard to count on any success’ says Joanna Modrzyńska, lecturer at Nicholas Copernicus University’s Faculty of Political Sciences and International Studies, and also the head of Art of Manners school. As an expert in international diplomacy with 15 years of experience in the matter, she emphasises that business garment should be conservative and modest, but simultaneously made of top notch textiles and reflect current trends in fashion.
Interestingly, a dark three-piece suit is considered as an indispensable attribute of the higher management, while office workers usually wear two-piece suits.
Anyone who has watched a Brazilian telenovela at least once in life must have noticed the beauty of the women there. Brazilian women love to accentuate their femininity, which is why women going there on business should avoid outfits that resemble those dedicated to men. Offices are governed by conservative rules of formal dress code, however elegance is by no means reserved for business exclusively. Brazilians love to look good, even when they go shopping.
Unlike in Mexico, where perfect make-up is a must, Chilean women rely on their natural beauty. And although they prefer a rather modest make-up, they love to highlight their features with carefully matched clothes which show off their natural curves. Nobody is shocked by vibrant blouse colours or flower patterns here either – something that is normally avoided in Europe. It is a unique Latino feature, adored by the local community. As for men, Chileans wear dark, classic suits based on trends that are in fashion at a given time in Europe. They appreciate elegance, although it is not as pronounced as in the dazzlingly stylish Mexico.
Modrzyńska emphasises that sports shoes are only worn for workouts and are barely used in any other circumstances, so it is better to leave your sneakers at home if your business destination is Colombia. Pay close attention to your hands before attending a meeting with Colombians, regardless of your gender – it is a particularly important detail for Colombian interlocutors.
By examining Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada, it’s not rocket-science to figure out that Canadians dress more conservatively and formally than their US neighbours. However, as Modrzyńska points out, some of their dress codes may vary depending on the region. For instance, people from Vancouver are more casual in the way they dress, while entrepreneurs from Toronto draw inspirations from Britons, who are more conservative in this regard.
When in Asia, it’s reasonable to take China as one’s reference point. In daily situations, the apparel should be simple, modest and classic. It’s not recommended to show off your wealth or be flamboyant with clothing, although a high-end watch is an advisable investment. Women should avoid clothes that expose arms and the back, as well as deep cleavage or extravagant jewellery (Chinese women will even often refrain from wearing their wedding rings), or too strong make-up. In the summer, men can allow themselves a bit more comfort: good trousers and a shirt without a tie will suffice. It is important to note, however, that evening outings to reputable, western-style restaurants cannot do without a suit and a tie, while women should wear cocktail dresses.
With a number of exceptions (e.g. Morocco, Lebanon), one has to keep in mind that the dress code in Muslim countries is extremely conservative. The body must not be exposed, while in countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates, one has to wear a hijab – a veil that covers the hair, ears, cleavage and breasts. Women should not expose their body. Short skirts, translucent shirts and skimpy dresses will be highly inappropriate. When selecting the outfit, humility is advised. A good case in point is Queen Rania of Jordania (showcased in the picture).
One of the most evident exceptions to the rule is Lebanon. The women here love fashion, and if they opt for a veil, a hijab will be nothing but a fashionable accessory to their outfit. Indeed, this is where most contemporary Arabic fashion designers come from (Elie Saab, Zuhair Murad, Reem Acra). Lebanese women highlight their womanly features with colours, massive jewellery, and expensive clothes.
On one’s trip to Malaysia, however, it’s worth remembering that yellow is the colour reserved for the royal family and wearing it will be a horrific blunder.
The rules of dress code are much less troublesome when one goes to Japan. Here, a conservative but modern dressing style will work in nearly all circumstances. Even if your invitation says ‘casual’ or ‘come as you are’, it pays off to opt for an elegant outfit.
There is just one tiny issue to take note of. It’s quite common and customary in Asian countries to sit on the floor, e.g. during meals, so it is better not to put on clothes that fit too tightly, such as close fit pants, in order to be able to sit comfortably.
Modrzyńska points out that these societies are still distinctly stratified into higher and lower castes. The apparel, as well as its cut and colour, will in many cases signify social status as well as belonging to a particular caste (even though officially these divisions were abolished, their remains can still be visible in e.g. clothing). As a general rule, it’s advisable to avoid outfits which are white (symbolising sadness or misfortune) or black (evil, darkness), while all bright and vivid colours work perfectly fine. Red is ordinarily reserved for wedding ceremonies, green is associated with Islam, blue is the colour of godhead Krishna, and orange is the colour of saints and fakirs.
The United States of America cannot possibly be omitted here. The American dress code is primarily defined by how successful somebody is. The perfectly cut, custom-tailored suit of a Wall Street financier will serve as the best example. When going on a business trip to the USA, it is always reasonable to go for elegant simplicity and adjust to the dress code specified in the invitation.
When you go to Great Britain, there’s an easy correlation to remember: the larger the city, the more formal apparel is required. As Modrzyńska warns, British men often use different tie designs to indicate their affiliation to various groups (e.g. university graduates, members of clubs), so striped ties are definitely not an option. Britons also feel quite attached to various outfits, such as the morning coat. It’s also very popular here to observe the rules of dress code and and follow the instructions on invitations such as black tie or white tie. Apart from classic garments, the English frequently put on clothes made of tweed or wool – especially when the meeting is less official.
For Business & Prestige, Iwona Sobczak, journalist
Editing: Dominika Job, manager at Business & Prestige, cover photo: Pete Souza/Flickr/White House