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Keeping up appearances

Clothes make the man (or so we said in an earlier era). If you’ve ever been underdressed for a meeting, you know the feeling. But what do the clothes you wear really say about you?

Af Steen Vive
Have you ever been caught in the wrong clothes at the wrong time? I don't mean in shorts while skiing, but in a professional context?

I have, and now I do my best to avoid it. Not only is it awkward, but it also reduces your chances of making a good impression, and ultimately, making a sale.

Pass the word to Mr Wolf

An example of a clothing faux pas that I made was when, in a previous job, I went straight from a meeting with a client in the financial sector to a project kick-off with a very different type of customer that needed to map and optimise its business processes.

There I was on an early Friday afternoon: slicked-back hair, dark suit and armed with a PowerPoint. Yet, I was completely unsuccessful in getting a buy-in from the client's staff.

The problem was that the signal I was sending wasn’t telling them “let’s work together to optimise the workflow, so you can spend more time on your core activities”. I was more like Mr Wolf from Pulp Fiction. I had been called in to solve a problem. It may seem superficial, but my appearance made a difference. The kick-off, and especially the subsequent project, would have gone better had I dropped the jacket and tie and rolled up my shirtsleeves.


Clearly, there are differences in dress codes: your typical employee at an NGO dresses more casually than someone in consulting. But are there any cultural similarities? I have a British friend who excels in spotting Danes in London to do business. “What is it that gives us away?” I once asked him. He laughed and said: “jeans, dress shirt, suit jacket and a pair of Ecco shoes in need of a polish.”

15 seconds 

Obviously, your professionalism counts. However, being dressed inappropriately means you may never get the chance to bring it into play. On average, first impressions are formed in 15 seconds – light years before you’ve had the chance to speak. 

That’s why you need to be aware of your appearance. And appearance isn’t about looking like a model; it’s about fitting in.

Appearances matter

Of course, appearance isn’t everything. Success is more than a matter of crisp shirts and polished shoes. I agree with Alan Dundes who once said: “Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.”

Appearance matters if you want to be taken seriously and get people’s attention. It’s okay that looking the part is considered as important as your professional skills, and it’s okay that your promotion (or dismissal) depends on whether you’ve dressed for success. 

... Or is it? What do you think?


Steen Vive


Jeg samarbejder med mindre virksomheder om at ansætte djøfere. Samtidig driver jeg projekter, der identificerer internationale jobmuligheder. Her på bloggen fortæller jeg, om de tendenser jeg ser i markedet, og de jobmuligheder de giver. Mit håb er, at du læser med og lader dig inspirere i din videre karriere.

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