Gini Dietrich

Jeans Not Appropriate for Business Meetings

By: Gini Dietrich | August 21, 2012 | 
110

Don’t worry…I’m on vacation only one more day after today. I’ll be back on Thursday. In the meantime, check out this hugely controversial blog post from 2010. My stance still hasn’t changed (I will never wear jeans when I speak), though I’ve decided if your jeans are dark, fit well, and are accompanied with something suitable on top, it’s not as big a deal as it was to me two years ago. 

I get jeans have become the social media uniform. But I don’t get why so many really popular public speakers think it’s okay to wear jeans when they are on stage, particularly if they look like you just rolled out of bed.

In our industry, everyone complains that we still don’t have a seat at the boardroom table, yet we think it’s okay to wear jeans as our professional dress. If you want to sit at the table in the greater business conversation, you have to look like you belong there.

But jeans are not suitable for professional speakers, social media nerds, or any professional meeting.

I remember many years ago, Gary Kisner (who ran the Fleishman-Hillard Kansas City office) told me that you have to look the part if you want people to take you seriously. He was using this lesson in the context of telling me to stop biting my fingernails. He asked me why I thought real estate agents drove nice cars or bankers wore expensive suits. It’s because people want to do business with professionals who LOOK like they’re successful. The banker may have only one expensive suit, but he looks the part. The real estate agent may have had to forgo buying a house for the nice car, but when clients get in her car, they think she’s successful.  Perception very much is reality.

If you want a seat at the proverbial table, look and act like you belong there. You’ll go from offering social media consulting as a tool in the toolbox to having very high-level conversations about strategy and business growth, as it relates to your expertise.

People want to work with professionals who look successful and, let’s be real, even though your jeans cost $200, if they don’t fit well and they’re wrinkled, they’re still jeans.

As my mom always says, “It’s better to be overdressed than under-dressed.”

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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110 Comments on "Jeans Not Appropriate for Business Meetings"

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belllindsay
belllindsay
3 years 9 months ago

What are you, 102 years old…!? 😉

Lisa Gerber
3 years 9 months ago

 @belllindsay That’s funny. 

belllindsay
belllindsay
3 years 9 months ago

 @Lisa Gerber Just teasing – I respect @ginidietrich for her sense of ‘what works’ – lord knows she’s doing something right! People *do* judge a book by its cover, unfortunately. 

si_francis
3 years 9 months ago

How about shorts? It’s dumb that we are judged on what we wear not what we say.
 
This TedX talk on how fashion has been used to divide society is really interesting:
http://www.tedxhousesofparliament.com/speakers/anna-reynolds

Lisa Gerber
3 years 9 months ago

 @si_francis Hi, I’m jumping in for Gini while she’s out….it is dumb, isn’t it? But people judge a book by it’s cover, and a bottle of wine by it’s label, and that’s dumb too. As we say around here… people.

DanOnBranding
DanOnBranding
3 years 9 months ago
Yes and no. I for one am not comfortable taking an important business meeting in jeans (although I think some can get away with it when they wear a nice jacket with it). But professional speakers? Totally different story. I’m paying to see them speak so I could care less what they wear. Am I really going to be that upset if they wear jeans? No way. “What they said was totally insightful and useful, but what’s with the Levi’s?” sounds very petty in the big scheme of things and it’s a different dynamic going on. I saw 6 speakers… Read more »
keithbloemendaal
3 years 9 months ago

Ok, so I am sitting in my office wearing plaid shorts, a t-shirt with sail fish on it, a sun visor, and sandals…. I have 2 meetings this morning, do you think I will change for them?I live at the beach, and this is how I dress…. period. 

Lisa Gerber
3 years 9 months ago

 @keithbloemendaal Plaid shorts? hmmm. (just kidding) actually, I live at a ski resort  – when my husband goes to important meetings, he puts his “dressy” jeans on. Anyone here in nice clothes looks like a salesman – there is always context to be considered. But same idea really… dressing the part. 

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
3 years 9 months ago

@si_francis It was a very controversial post when it first ran.

digitalmiss
digitalmiss
3 years 9 months ago

@ginidietrich @frugalista so glad i work in an industry where jeans are highly appropriate for meetings with CEOs lol

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
3 years 9 months ago

@digitalmiss Your company rocks

dough
3 years 9 months ago

Except when they are

kentjulia
kentjulia
3 years 9 months ago

@ginidietrich Agreed!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
3 years 9 months ago

@kentjulia So many reasons to love you!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
3 years 9 months ago

@aileenabella There definitely are two camps about it

GeoffReiner
3 years 9 months ago
Hey Gini, Thanks for the insight and I must say I completely agree.  One thing I learned while doing my MBA is to dress for the position you want, not the position you have.   If you don’t believe me do yourself a favour and conduct this experiment: make reservations to a classy restaurant and wear a fancy suit or business professional attire. Make note of the quality and speed of service. Pay attention to the way your server speaks to you and notice their body language. Then make reservations to another classy restaurant, arrive late and under dressed, and notice… Read more »
Lisa Gerber
3 years 9 months ago

 @GeoffReiner  @kbloemendaal Exactly on a number of points:
 
1. About the dressing for the audience.
 
Actually, when I first started off in my professional career, I was a concierge with a company that had tons of growth potential for me. I went out and spent a lot of money on clothes, and dressed for the position I wanted, not the one I had. I got there in less than two years. 
Performance is obviously the priority but I strongly believe it happened faster because I dressed the part.  – They took me more seriously. 
 
I’m doing that experiment. I’ll report back!!

GeoffReiner
3 years 9 months ago

 @Lisa Gerber That’s awesome!  And make sure you’re late for your reservation when you’re dressed down. Hostesses hate that :)Hey, here’s an idea to make this interesting… Why don’t we both book reservations the same evenings and do a comparison. Email me if you’re interested in this little case study 🙂 
 
geoff@jump-point.com 
 
Enjoy the day Lisa!

GeoffReiner
3 years 9 months ago

 @Lisa Gerber 
 
 Lisa that’s awesome!  And make sure you’re late for your reservation when you’re dressed down. Hostesses hate that 🙂
 
Hey, here’s an idea to make this interesting… Why don’t we both book reservations the same evenings and do a comparison. Email me if you’re interested in this little case study 🙂 
 
geoff@jump-point.com 
 

Lisa Gerber
3 years 9 months ago

 @GeoffReiner OK!!! Going to email you now!

Kim_Parr
Kim_Parr
3 years 9 months ago

@kmueller62 I guess it depends on the type of business… and the type of meeting… but in general, I agree.

TroyClaus
TroyClaus
3 years 9 months ago

LOL RT @geoffreiner: Don’t you hate pants? Learn why Gini says jeans are no good for meetings 😉 Thanks @ginidietrich http://t.co/GGCpFoke

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
3 years 9 months ago

@geoffreiner It’s funny to see how emotional people get about it.

Danny Brown
3 years 9 months ago

Depends on the industry. Tech and creatives wear jeans; I was demoing jugnoome technology yesterday to a company who have offices in more than 50 countries, and a $1 billion annual turnover. All three execs (VPs and SVPs) were in jeans. I was in shorts.
 
Suits and power dressing is cool for those that prefer it; it’s not a necessity, though.

Lisa Gerber
3 years 9 months ago

 @Danny Brown  What?!?! You didn’t wear your kilt? 

rdopping
rdopping
3 years 9 months ago

 @Lisa Gerber Kilt = shorts in DB speak…..;-)

sydcon_mktg
3 years 9 months ago

 @Danny Brown  Agreed! Being in the Tech industry & dealing with creatives its always jeans. Even the marketing firms we deal with its jeans. Large firms, jeans.  Existing clients we have seen & done shorts as well. 
 

Danny Brown
3 years 9 months ago

 @sydcon_mktg Here’s to more jeans and dressing as we please, and letting the expertise be the real driver of partnerships. As it should be.

WayneHendry
WayneHendry
3 years 9 months ago

Could not agree with you more on the issue of dress. Remember the mantra “dress for success”? It still applies because people are mostly visual: if it looks good, it’s worthy of more attention. More than that if you look good, you feel good and that is more than half the battle of being successful.

Lisa Gerber
3 years 9 months ago

 @WayneHendry Yep, and I like the way @GeoffReiner put it – dress for the position you want. 

TheJackB
3 years 9 months ago

I know a lot of “executives” who dressed themselves right into significant debt. I don’t believe in a hard and fast rule for this. I have been in meetings where the guy in the tie was looked down upon because he was seen as wearing the “emperor’s new clothes.”

3HatsComm
3 years 9 months ago

 @TheJackB You can sometimes spot the ‘new clothes’ and when that person just isn’t comfortable dressing the part; it’s a role their playing, not themselves. FWIW.

Lisa Gerber
3 years 9 months ago

 @3HatsComm  @TheJackB There is definitely a fine line. Overdoing it is just as uncool as under-doing it. 🙂 Sheesh, now we’ll confuse the hell out of people! 

JenFongSpeaks
3 years 9 months ago
Agreed! I work in an industry that sometimes feels like an “old boys club” at the corporate level. The way you get a seat at the table (beyond being awesome at what you do) is by looking like you belong there, as you say. It has helped me get ahead and be taken seriously.    However a female executive friend of mine in her late 50’s who works in the tech world told me just the other day that if she wants VC firms to take them seriously when they seek funding, they have to show up in jeans. It’s… Read more »
Lisa Gerber
3 years 9 months ago

 @JenFongSpeaks That’s interesting, about the VC perspective. It must speak a certain level of cool-ness. If you dress up in the suit, you’re trying too hard – you need it too bad, that kind of thing? 

3HatsComm
3 years 9 months ago
I’ve seen jeans work – and not work. Varies per the audience (h/t @GeoffReiner ) , the event or occasion, the wearer and that person’s role at the event. I’ve been at meetings with jeans, jacket and looked as “put together,” professional as the rest of the room. @keithbloemendaal mentioned shorts; I know there are times that’s part of the sales pitch, a conference at some pricey beach resort – a chance for attendees to be more confortable, get out of their work clothes.   Again, it varies. Location, culture have a lot to do w/ it. Atlanta has – probably b/c it’s… Read more »
Lisa Gerber
3 years 9 months ago

 @3HatsComm  @GeoffReiner  @keithbloemendaal and when in doubt, go middle of the road! 🙂

3HatsComm
3 years 9 months ago

 @Lisa Gerber  @GeoffReiner  @keithbloemendaal I’m the introvert, don’t like to stand out – so middle of the road, blending w/ the wallpaper is exactly my comfort zone. 😉

GeoffReiner
3 years 9 months ago

 @3HatsComm  @Lisa Gerber  @keithbloemendaal 
 
I tend to be a bit out there (big time extrovert) and would rather be over dressed than take a middle ground. However, it’s all about being comfortable and having the most amount of confidence!   

HowieG
3 years 9 months ago

 @GeoffReiner @3HatsComm @Lisa Gerber this is how you dress for a talk http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vpu-lT6BrZU and btw great talk it is

GeoffReiner
3 years 9 months ago

 @HowieG  @3HatsComm  @Lisa Gerber 
He’s comfortable, confident and he is being authentic!  Couldn’t agree more Howie 😉

M_Koehler
M_Koehler
3 years 9 months ago

My stance is still the same, no jeans. Unless you are in a factory jeans are not an appropriate outfit for public speaking. I’m weird, I don’t even like wearing them into the office. When we are offered blue jeans days I pass. None of my jeans are outlandish but I tend to go loose and baggy for comfort and that just isn’t an appropriate office look. And NEVER wear skinny jeans to the office.

Lisa Gerber
3 years 9 months ago

 @M_Koehler OMG no skinny jeans.

HowieG
3 years 9 months ago

 @Lisa Gerber @M_Koehler but @geoffliving loves Skinny Jeans

joeruiz
joeruiz
3 years 9 months ago

@bettervideo That’s a lot of ifs to be such a firm declaration.

bettervideo
bettervideo
3 years 9 months ago

@joeruiz Agreed. But basic premise is sound. “Why don’t the suits take sm/pr/web/video more seriously?” Try dressing/acting like an adult.

WayneHendry
WayneHendry
3 years 9 months ago

Some really good perspectives here.  I agree with 3HatsComm that it varies according to the audience so maybe jeans and DC shoes can work amongst a younger audience.

carrieatthill
carrieatthill
3 years 9 months ago

@annereuss I was in a meeting once where someone showed up in jean shorts & a tank top

barrettrossie
3 years 9 months ago

It’s not bad to look out of place — if you’re overdressed. It’s bad to look out of place if you’re underdressed. How uncomfortable is it when you walk into a conference room with clients and you’re the only one in jeans? You better have quite a schtick to pull it off. Granted, I worked in San Francisco for 19 years, and there were some people who did just that. The Men’s Warehouse guys were the anomaly. 

Lisa Gerber
3 years 9 months ago

 @barrettrossie Right?!?! and this may not be the case for everyone, but it can throw you off – you feel a disadvantage in the power game when you look and feel underdressed. 

lauraclick
3 years 9 months ago
I think our mothers must know each other, Gini!  I always got that same advice and would rather be overdressed than underdressed any day of the week. I wonder if these rules are different for women. After all, when I think of people who wear jeans when they speak, it’s more often men than women. Do women have a tougher time pulling it off? Just wondering aloud…   I think this really boils down to the speaker and the audience. I spoke at PodCamp – a free event at a bar on a Saturday – and wore jeans and a blazer… Read more »
barrettrossie
3 years 9 months ago

 @lauraclickI think Wieden+Kennedy co-founder David Kennedy wore jeans and a denim shirt every day for the 15 years or so he was active in running the business. But he lived on a farm and drove 45 minutes into downtown Portland every day. And of course, he was David Kennedy. 

HowieG
3 years 9 months ago
 @barrettrossie in my comment I mentioned that the workplace and speaking is different. Same as sales. If you are going to wear jeans you need to be so special and unique people won’t care. But since 99.999999% of the people who speak aren’t they can’t get away with it and be credible.   I used to have Oak Tree productions as an account when I was in my first sales job in 1993. It is Arnold Schwartzeneggers. During his height of movie fame. I saw him in a meeting with big shot lawyers in suits. He was wearing a t… Read more »
penneyfox
3 years 9 months ago

 @lauraclick My business coach has always told me to dress one step above what everyone else is wearing. If they were wearing jeans, I should wear business casual, if they wore biz casual, I should wear a suit.
 
Her take has always been – you don’t want to look like the attendees, you want them to know you’re the speaker. I usually try to follow her advice, but you’re right, you don’t want to stand out or look out of touch.

Lisa Gerber
3 years 9 months ago

 @penneyfox  @lauraclick I like that advice!!

MSGiro
MSGiro
3 years 9 months ago

@shonali If @ginidietrich does not wear jeans to our first professional meeting, she’s fired.

shonali
shonali
3 years 9 months ago

@msgiro Hahah! @ginidietrich

kamichat
kamichat
3 years 9 months ago

I am totally with you here, Gini.

kamichat
kamichat
3 years 9 months ago

@bettervideo @ginidietrich I really do think that jeans are not for business speakers. Dress the part people.

bettervideo
bettervideo
3 years 9 months ago

@kamichat You’ll get no argument from me. But I do admit I’ve gotten a little lazy on wardrobe around the office. Good, timely reminder, 🙂

rdopping
rdopping
3 years 9 months ago

The suit makes the man? Look the part? Dress for success? Surely that may get you to the table but any dumb-ass can buy an expensive suit…….
 
My opinion is that you dress according to the culture of your clientèle (within reason) so if they are bankers; wear a suit, if they are techies; wear jeans and a nice collared shirt and a funky tie. Who AM I? Ralph Lauren? Sheesh….
 
If they are architect’s it does matter as long as it’s black……doh.
 
 

RealRobinsonIV
RealRobinsonIV
3 years 9 months ago

@djgraffiti @Tinu @ginidietrich What if your business is selling jeans?

djgraffiti
djgraffiti
3 years 9 months ago

@RealRobinsonIV @Tinu @ginidietrich The irony is that in my experience most ‘urban’ jean brand owners rarely seem to wear their own.

RealRobinsonIV
RealRobinsonIV
3 years 9 months ago

@djgraffiti @Tinu @ginidietrich, that’s like a ford executive driving a dodge.

danperezfilms
3 years 9 months ago

“Suitable”? It all depends on who you ask…

JillSTL
JillSTL
3 years 9 months ago

@AndreeaC_T @tinu @ginidietrich dress the part – jeans only ok if everyone is wearing them …

AdamSinger
AdamSinger
3 years 9 months ago

@ginidietrich jeans are not only appropriate: they’re required. I personally wouldn’t work at an agency that didn’t allow jeans 🙂

Frank_Strong
3 years 9 months ago

Ha!  Glad your views have changed!  I recall a one PR person introducing two very important speakers on a stage recently and he was wearing jeans!   I do like the modification:  dark jeans and a something appropriate.  Like a jacket?  Shoes are important too.  Can’t pull the uniform together without some classy Italian shoes!  BTW, I didn’t intend to wear jeans that day; but had a little issue with my dress pants that very morning and the jeans were all I had with me! 🙂 But now, I sort of like them.  

JHTScherck
JHTScherck
3 years 9 months ago

I think the way you dress have a huge effect on how you hold yourself and communicate with clients. It changes your perception. I act more professional when I dress up. That being said, if no clients are coming in – I am going to probably be rocking pastel shorts and flip flops 😉

JHTScherck
JHTScherck
3 years 9 months ago

I think the way you dress has a huge effect on how you hold yourself and communicate with clients. It changes your perception and mannerisms to a certain extent. I act more professional when I dress up. That being said, if no clients are coming in – I am going to probably be rocking pastel shorts and flip flops 😉

Lisa Gerber
3 years 9 months ago

 @JHTScherck TRUE. I work from home and if I have important calls and meetings, even though they are virtual, I dress up. Well, I take a shower.
 
Seriously, though, I put on some nice clothes so I feel on top of my game. 

manamica
3 years 9 months ago

 @Lisa Gerber I’ve used the trick before and it does work. 

FelicityFields
FelicityFields
3 years 9 months ago

@ginidietrich I’m waiting for the day when they come out with “business jeans.”

geoffliving
geoffliving
3 years 9 months ago

Um, that’s why Gini wore a jean jacket when we spoke together in Toronto!  LOL.

Danny Brown
3 years 9 months ago
ginidietrich
3 years 9 months ago

 @Danny Brown  That’s a jacket. Totally different. 

Danny Brown
3 years 9 months ago

 @ginidietrich I dunno – people in the audience were asking who the vagabond was on stage with @geoffliving , they were expecting you in Armani.

HowieG
3 years 9 months ago

 @Danny Brown  @Klout why did I hit reply and Klout came up instead of @geoffliving + @ginidietrich must be Danny love?
 
Anyway Gini was dressing grunge just like Toronto does.

rdopping
rdopping
3 years 9 months ago

 @HowieG  @Danny Brown  @geoffliving  @ginidietrich
 Your stepping on my territory with that comment! Grunge belongs to Seattle and that was the 90’s dude….:-)

geoffliving
geoffliving
3 years 9 months ago

What a convenient rationalization!

geoffliving
geoffliving
3 years 9 months ago

 @ginidietrich  @Danny Brown Yeah, I don’t think so.

ShannonEvansSM
ShannonEvansSM
3 years 9 months ago

I think it depends on the culture of the agency, and area of the country you work in. I work in San Diego, and the norm is jeans and a nice top. There aren’t many companies who dress formal here. However, I think in Chicago and the East coast that isn’t the case.
 
But I do agree, when in doubt it’s better to be over dressed than under-dressed. 

OneJillian
OneJillian
3 years 9 months ago

NOT AT ALL. #southerntweets RT // @ginidietrich Are jeans appropriate for all business settings? [http://t.co/NInRiq3Q]

JessicaNorthey
JessicaNorthey
3 years 9 months ago

@ginidietrich all the business meetings I wanna go to. I prefer, PJs and jeanskirts 🙂 #CMchat

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
3 years 9 months ago

@JessicaNorthey I’d prefer my cycling clothes.

barrettrossie
3 years 9 months ago

Where can I sign up for the column on Spandex™ bike shorts? 

Lisa Gerber
3 years 9 months ago

 @barrettrossie That’s a good dare for her next speaking engagement.

AnnHawkins
AnnHawkins
3 years 9 months ago

@berniejmitchell Bloggers worst attribute. Pick a controversial but inconsequential subject to get a lot of comments then repeat. Lazy

thecommsdept
thecommsdept
3 years 9 months ago

@BernieJMitchell @ginidietrich Are we paid for what we know, or what we wear?

BernieJMitchell
BernieJMitchell
3 years 9 months ago

@thecommsdept what we know! – I disagres with (the lovely) @ginidietrich – I favour @avinash dress sense 🙂

BernieJMitchell
BernieJMitchell
3 years 9 months ago

@thecommsdept ah! Email coming tomorrow now – venue is near the Stand BTW – @WaggenerEdstrom

stephrochefort
stephrochefort
3 years 9 months ago

@daveegauthier @ginidietrich i wouldn’t wear jeans to my job (ever), but if you’re not sure better to err on the side of caution and avoid!

KevinVandever
KevinVandever
3 years 9 months ago

You brought this back for my benefit, didn’t you? I like the direction you’re heading with your stance on this topic. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts two years from now. 

HowieG
3 years 9 months ago
I am late I know. And I agree with you. People have a misnomer that because industries have certain dress codes at work that they can dress like this when interacting with people OUTSIDE of their own workspace. I gave a presentation in full business suit to a team at a major ad agency media buying division on casual friday to a bunch of people in jeans and t shirts. That is how I was supposed to dress for them to take me seriously.   A speaker is a Salesperson. Doesn’t matter what your title. When you speak you are… Read more »
rdopping
rdopping
3 years 9 months ago

 @HowieG Did you wear a suit because they normally do? I think casual has been taken too far, is all. Professional dress is important. It signals respect; of yourself…. 
 

HowieG
3 years 9 months ago
 @rdopping I could of dress business casual with slacks and collared shirt. I chose the suit because it was my first time meeting these folks. It is ok for sales people to dress towards the upper end of a clients dress code when relationship is built. I used to have oil refineries and customers and stopped wearing my suits because sometimes I was taken to very dirty areas to look at equipment etc or spent a lot of time in maintenance shops so i would have a nice golf shirt and docker style slacks and shoes but not dress shoes.  … Read more »
Allie0zioql
Allie0zioql
3 years 9 months ago

@JoetteDeFratus http://t.co/Ci5quEBj

JoetteDeFratus
JoetteDeFratus
3 years 9 months ago

@Allie0zioql seriously? #ihatespam

ladylaff
ladylaff
3 years 9 months ago

I totally agree.  I take it one step further and think it is kind of passive-aggressively arrogant and disrespectful to wear jeans (and yes, hoodies too) because it sends a subtle message that you do not care what your audience thinks.  Granted when I started my carreer in PR, the women in my agency were not even allowed to wear trouser-suits, so I’m glad we’ve relaxed the dress code a little.  Especially now that we always have to crawl under boardroom tables to plug in our equipment, ha ha!!

Lisa Gerber
3 years 9 months ago

 @ladylaff Oh geez, when will they put the outlets on the table top? !!!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
3 years 9 months ago

@BernieJMitchell It’s just as controversial today and it was then

BernieJMitchell
BernieJMitchell
3 years 9 months ago

@ginidietrich I’m going to a meeting with @andybargery in combat jeans…. 😉 How was your holiday?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
3 years 9 months ago

@BernieJMitchell I’m flying home in jeans.

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