Header Ads


Dress to Impress

Have you ever turned up to a wedding, a party or a ball and realized you were wearing the same thing as someone else? It’s embarrassing, isn’t it? But it can’t really be helped.
Now imagine travelling abroad to meet a new client, and wearing the wrong thing. Perhaps you assume they’ll dress like you, so you go along in a smart suit only to find that they’re in shorts and T-shirt. (It’s possible, particularly in creative industries.) Or arriving in a hot country in your casual business attire and sandals – an outfit that might be entirely suitable in your organization for the time of year – to discover your hosts are dressed conservatively, in suits and ties.
Yes, there are worse things that can happen when meeting people from different countries for the first time, and you might be thinking, “A little bit of embarrassment isn’t the end of the world.” And you could even argue that a situation like that might even break the ice with people you don’t know – you certainly wouldn’t be forgotten, right? But I think, where possible, it’s important to get these things right, particularly when faux pas can easily be avoided.
When I worked at a bank’s head office, dress was always a contentious issue. You were expected to look smart at all times, even if you weren’t dealing with customers. As I was in HR, I came across the issue of how to dress appropriately on more than one occasion.
For example, I had to have a gentle word in a team member’s ear about her wearing flip-flops in the office, and another to someone in a revealing summer top. I also remember there being an issue with a colleague who donned particularly high red heels, and another being told it was inappropriate to have her hair in a high ponytail…
But wearing appropriate attire isn’t just about avoiding embarrassment and conforming to company culture. You can actually cause offence in some countries if you don’t get your clothing right. For instance, in certain places women are not allowed to show any bare skin. By not covering up, you could end up seriously upsetting your customers, and even run the risk of losing business.
As part of my research for this blog, I asked around to find out if anyone had any interesting stories about clothing faux pas – and they didn’t disappoint!
One of my colleagues told me she went to a conference in Argentina dressed in her favorite attention-grabbing yellow trouser suit, colorful nails and jewelry, only to find the other women in much more understated attire. She just had an image in her head before she went of people dressing flamboyantly, but it couldn’t have been further from the truth. She spent much of the time wishing she could disappear, which was totally impossible, of course, given the clothes she had on!
Another friend was working in Morocco for a week, and only packed sleeveless blouses because of the heat. One of her business associates took her aside on her first day and politely explained to her how it was generally accepted there that women cover their arms at all times. The associate then proceeded to lend my friend a suit jacket, two sizes too big (described by my friend as being “a relic from the 80s”), which she then felt obliged to wear for the rest of the week! For my fashion-conscious friend, this was a disaster!
And finally, an ex-colleague of mine was conducting interviews in Malaysia for a publication I used to write for. He had done some work in Thailand the month before, where people often wear yellow shirts as an informal homage to their king, especially on Mondays, the day of his birth. So he decided to wear the yellow shirt he’d bought on his previous trip. But rather than impressing them, he was told by one of the people he was meeting – a rather important business leader in the country – that he shouldn’t wear that color because it was reserved for Malaysian royalty. Although it was an innocent mistake, my colleague said he’d never felt so embarrassed in his life.
Now you may be wondering why you need to learn cross-cultural etiquette if you don’t currently work with people from different countries. But it’s becoming more important as organizations increasingly do their business around the world.
Whether you manage a global team, have ethnically diverse team members, or work with clients, suppliers or partners from different countries, you’re almost certain to come into contact with people from other cultures at some point. And it’s important to treat each with respect so that you don’t damage your working relationships.
When you understand how people do business in other countries, you’re more likely to make a positive impression. You’ll increase the chances of opening doors to new opportunities and, in the process, you and your organization are more likely to achieve your goals.

No comments