Personal appearance counts. Especially in management consulting. This article is intended to serve as an advisory to anyone (males in particular) who aspires to give professional advice to other professionals and hopefully help you avoid some common fashion faux pas, especially in the more conservative business environment of Asia.
There is a general way that people dress in any industry. Management consulting is no different. This largely means that you will wear a suit with a full-sleeved shirt & a tie, and keep a conservative hair style. However, it does not mean that you need to look like a photocopy of everyone else. You may aspire to have a flexible ‘statement piece’ which could be a specific hair style, a unique tie collection, or a designer eyeglass. It does mean that you present an image that is professional. Your clothing and accessories should not be a distraction for colleagues and clients. This is achieved by having consistent statement pieces. If your statement piece is a bow-tie, then always wear bow-ties to all meetings with the client. Do not surprise your client by alternating between a long tie and a bow-tie. Similarly, if you wear a stud in your ear, always wear that piece of jewelry to all meetings. While deviating from the norm is fine, you must not deviate from your norm. Stick with the style that you have chosen.
Remember not to have more than one statement piece. As a management consultant, a statement piece helps project an image of an individual who can think beyond the current paradigm, create out-of-the-box solutions and hold your own opinion in the face of opposition. However, a consultant who mixes bow-ties with red socks and ear-rings does not look like such an individual. He merely looks eccentric.
Following the one-by-three rule is a good way to create a professional wardrobe that looks affluent. Instead of buying three average suits, buy one very good suit. Instead of three average ties, buy one great tie. A well fitted, high quality suit is instantly recognizable and distinguishable. And well worth the great impression it leaves. The bottom line – a management consultant must always be formally dressed and therefore prepared for a client meeting.
A suit is a suit. A suit is not a sports jacket, or a blazer, or cardigan (no matter how fancy) worn over trousers of matching or contrasting color. A suit consists of at least two pieces – a coat and a pair of pants stitched from the same cloth. The third piece, a waist coat, is optional. A suit does not have leather or metal buttons. The suit should be well-fitted, and have no loose threads, burs, or missing buttons. A dark suit is preferable in the winters, while light colored suits work fine in the summers. To guard against the cold, it is better to use a cardigan or thermals rather than wear a multi-colored v-neck or high-neck sweater under the coat. Polyester and nylon do not usually make a good suit due to their lack of proper ‘fall’. Suits should be made of wool, cotton, linen, silk or a blend of natural fibers.
Shirts should be full-sleeved and well fitting. A ready-to-wear shirt should be of the correct collar size, such that the top-most button should close comfortably, the correct sleeve length and appropriate torso fit (regular, fitted, or big). A rule of thumb is that the shirt collar should be one-fourth to one-half inch above the suit collar and loose enough to fit one finger into it. Sleeves should be up to one-fourth of an inch longer than the suit sleeve. The shirt should be well ironed and crisp, with no wrinkles in the collar, cuffs or front. It should not be torn, stained, or discolored and all buttons should be intact. French cuffs are optional, but should always be worn with professional-looking cufflinks. Plain colors or light colored strips, small checks or light colored self-prints make good formal shirts to be worn with a tie.
A tie should be formal; flashy prints such as those with comic characters should be avoided. The tie should fit tightly on the collar with a decent and clearly made knot (see http://www.tie-a-tie.net/ to learn how to tie a tie). The top button of the shirt should be closed. An undone top button looks casual at best and sloppy at worst. If the shirt collar is too tight, use an elastic collar extender. The tip of your tie must lie somewhere on your belt buckle.
Always wear a leather belt of the same color as your shoes. The belt must pass through, not over, all the loops on the trouser. Needless to say, all the belt loops on the trouser must be intact.
Shoes must be leather and of the same color as the belt. They should be polished to a shine. While many suggest that a sharp clacking noise on hard floors is the sign of a high quality shoe with all leather soles, it is best to avoid a shoe that is ostentatious.
Socks must always be worn and should be long enough to ensure that no skin is exposed from beneath the trouser leg. The color of socks should blend with the pants and/or shoes. Towel socks are not formal wear.
Choice of facial hair should be consistent and neat. Well-trimmed beards of any style or a clean-shaven look are both acceptable, as long as you do not wildly alternate between styles. Avoid the shaggy beard or stubble. Stubble is not a beard and is unacceptable in most formal occasions, including in consulting.
Silk looks best in a tie. A silk shirt might work, if paired with a woolen or cotton tie. Avoid pure silk suits as they dazzle and distract.
Body Art and Piercings:
Do not have visible tattoos. Depending on cultural and professional norms, they can be considered unprofessional. Male management consultants should not wear colored nail polish. They should also avoid distracting piercings. While a small, inconspicuous stud in the ear maybe fine as a statement piece, large dangling earnings or an eyebrow piercing is a certain no-no.
Mild, but effective, deodorant, perfume or talcum powder, depending on personal taste, should be used daily to mask any unpleasant body odors.
Hair Oil, Gel and Cream:
Style or oil your hair if so desired. However, use only processed hair oils. Raw or highly perfumed oils, gels or creams are a major distraction and are to be avoided at all costs. Excessive gel or cream should also be avoided – no one will hire a consultant who drips on the carpet.
To avoid any awkward social situations, always carry a clean, unused handkerchief each day. Handkerchiefs are usually light in color and made of cotton. Pocket squares are not handkerchiefs.
Dressing Down or Semi-Formal Dressing:
An invitation to dress down or dress in semi-formal attire is not an invitation to turn up in jeans. Semi-formal dressing is still formal in nature and the appropriate attire is a full-sleeved, button down shirt worn with trousers, leather shoes & belt, and accompanied by a matching or contrasting coat. A tie is optional, depending on the occasion.