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Gini Dietrich

Jeans Not Appropriate for Business Meetings

By: Gini Dietrich | August 21, 2012 | 
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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.

104 comments
BethMWood
BethMWood

I've presented to clients who were all in jeans, and felt great.  But, if I had worn jeans and they were all in power suits? Not so much.  As you say, better to err on the side of caution... better to be over than under-dressed.  And very true that you should know your audience.  If you're speaking to construction workers, will they relate to you more if you're in jeans? Probably.  That said, those jeans should be free of rips, tears and holes, they should not sit so low that you "crack" everyone when you sit or bend down, and they should be worn with dress shoes, and an appropriate top and jacket.  That's just my take.   

SJAbbott
SJAbbott

I always find discussion of workplace fashion interesting, especially when it comes to presenting a professional image to outsiders. There are so many factors and different corp cultures that "rules" are incredibly subjective. The common rule of thumb is to dress one style "more professional" than your audience (or client). Banking audience = tailored suit w/stylish extras. Tech audience = dark jeans w/collared shirt & dress shoes. Overdressed is just as uncomfortable as under-dressed. A person should know their market—and scruffy, dirty, damaged, clashing or wrinkled are never acceptable. 

 

The challenge for any audience is to ask themselves, "are this person's ideas wrong because they are dressed 'incorrectly'?" Mark Zuckerberg won't be a better leader in a suit—and he might be worse.

meghankrane
meghankrane moderator

When it comes to presenting yourself in any setting, fit is really key. By that I mean that your clothes should fit you well and play to the strengths of your body type. You can spend a lot of money on a suit and wear it everyday, but if it fits you horribly, you are better off wearing cheap jeans that are tailored perfectly for your measurements. Jeans, a suit, shorts, just wear something that fits you well.

crestodina
crestodina

I tend to agree...in theory but not in practice. I have 10 appointments on my calendar for today (I'm not kidding) and I'm wearing jeans. I've done some pretty impressive things with jeans on. I've sold millions in web services and taught web marketing to 1000+ people.I almost never wear dress pants.

 

I'll probably keep doing these things in jeans, but to be honest, I would look a bit more polished (and be a bit more confident) in some nice, pressed pants.

 

Need to go shopping. I hate shopping. Grrrr....

 

manamica
manamica

I ask myself 2 questions before a meeting: 1. How do they dress? 2. What do I want to exude? A nice sharp pair of jeans with a good shirt and jacket can exude confidence and can be a match for certain companies' cultures. In other environments, such as finance you must have a suit, and it'd better be a well-fitted suit. I've seen suits that looked so bad, some of those kids with their pants around their knees and boxers sticking out exude more confidence than the bad suit. 

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

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

ladylaff
ladylaff

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!!

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

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 a Salesperson. You are selling what you are speaking about and selling yourself to be asked to speak again.

 

BTW Zuckerberg is getting hammered by bankers about his dress when interacting with wall street and now the business news is asking 'should he step down'.

 

 

KevinVandever
KevinVandever

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. 

stephrochefort
stephrochefort

@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!

thecommsdept
thecommsdept

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

AnnHawkins
AnnHawkins

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

barrettrossie
barrettrossie

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

JessicaNorthey
JessicaNorthey

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

ShannonEvansSM
ShannonEvansSM

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. 

FelicityFields
FelicityFields

@ginidietrich I'm waiting for the day when they come out with "business jeans."

JHTScherck
JHTScherck

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 ;)

Frank_Strong
Frank_Strong

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.  

AdamSinger
AdamSinger

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

JillSTL
JillSTL

@AndreeaC_T @tinu @ginidietrich dress the part - jeans only ok if everyone is wearing them ...

danperezfilms
danperezfilms

"Suitable"? It all depends on who you ask...

RealRobinsonIV
RealRobinsonIV

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

rdopping
rdopping

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.

 

 

kamichat
kamichat

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

MSGiro
MSGiro

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

BernieJMitchell
BernieJMitchell

@ginidietrich I'm going to a meeting with @andybargery in combat jeans.... ;-) How was your holiday?

BernieJMitchell
BernieJMitchell

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

BernieJMitchell
BernieJMitchell

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

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@JessicaNorthey I'd prefer my cycling clothes.

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

 @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. 

djgraffiti
djgraffiti

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

bettervideo
bettervideo

@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, :)

shonali
shonali

@msgiro Hahah! @ginidietrich

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@BernieJMitchell I'm flying home in jeans.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

 @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.

 

I agree the dress code thing has gone too soft in many places.

RealRobinsonIV
RealRobinsonIV

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

Trackbacks

  1. […] Part of it was that nobody wears a suit, and he prematurely ended a couple of presentations where the social media expert showed up to pitch him for business in blue jeans. […]