The Sartorial Dealmaker: What to Wear When Meeting a New Client

Despite how the weather might feel, spring is here, and it's time to find some lighter and cooler clothes. Read our spring business fashion guide for tips. 

The Sartorial Dealmaker is a new series devoted to business fashion and etiquette. In this monthly feature, we’ll offer style advice for business professionals, both men and women, as well as tips on business etiquette to help you make the right impression. Ever wondered how to look good and keep your cool when it’s 98 degrees in the shade, what to wear for an evening out with clients after work, or which wine to order for the table? The Sartorial Dealmaker has got you covered.

Figuring out your company’s expectations when it comes to dress code can be a bit of a journey. Though you can do your best to glean in advance, only the passage of time and observation will truly mold your confidence. And once that’s nailed down, the next challenge is feeling out clients and understanding the way that your dress influences their comfort, which in turn influences the meeting’s productivity. Who knew so much was riding on which blazer you chose this morning? Here are 5 things to keep in mind when you’re selecting what to wear for a meeting with a new client.

1. Know Your Audience, Dress for Their Comfort

Dress for Your Audience

Image Source: Natasha Beckles, “Gladiators in Suits can be fab too! Fashion Lessons from Olivia Pope.”

Before you stand in front of your closet waiting for inspiration to strike, do a bit of homework. Take a look at the company website of the people you’re about to meet. The “About Us” page will likely have images of the firm’s key players, and what they’re wearing in those images is a cheat sheet to how the company wants to be imagined by the outside world. If you have a meeting with Stewart Butterfield of Slack, though you should certainly press your pants, a suit and tie might not be the right speed. If your rendezvous is with a team of lawyers, a more traditional business ensemble (tailored blazers and crisp collared shirts) is the industry standard to use as your guideline. It’s also important to remember what you’re hoping to portray! Look for that sweet spot between your personal style, a sartorial connection with your audience, and the expectations around dress code you’re subject to as a representative of your company.

2. Your Physical Grooming is Part of Your Look


Image Source: Menswear Monday: The Everyday GQ Man (University Edition) by Crystal Obi-Azuike

Your outfit is very literally a physical affair, starting at the top with your tresses. On a daily basis, build time into your routine to pay special attention to maintaining your hair, grooming your facial hair if you have it, and taking care of your nails. This regimen doesn’t need to be time consuming or elaborate. The key is to be consistent so that you don’t have to dedicate lengthy amounts of time to playing catch up with your personal hygiene while you’re also busy prepping presentations and research for your meetings. Keep standing appointments for a simple wash and cut at a reputable hairdresser or barber, as well as a standing appointment for a manicure. (Yes, gentlemen, it’s 2017.) It’s amazing how much these simple little things adds to personal style. Because they’re not blatant they contribute more to your general air, and are a subtle way of being stylishly well put together.

3. The Shoes Make the (Wo)Man

It can be hard to decide where to really invest when you’re building a wardrobe for work. My first piece of advice to anyone who asks about this is to buy good shoes — and take care of them! You could be meeting with the mogul of a streetwear line, or you could be meeting with a real estate tycoon: either way, you should be in the most immaculate pair of Nikes or perfectly maintained Salvatore Ferragamo loafers you can afford. Ladies might also consider heel height in the statement they’re aiming to make. I’d say the higher the shoe, the bigger the statement. Your shoes speak volumes about your attention to detail. Well kept shoes that, again, keep your audience in mind, are a small but resounding wardrobe hack that separates you from those who look last minute and fashion-challenged.

4. Accessories are Your Secret Weapon

Accessorize fro Success

If you’re unsure of your client’s vibe, accessorizing is a great way to dress an outfit up, or dress it down! Maybe you thought your client was a cufflinks and pocket square type of group, but after a quick Instagram sweep in the Uber to your meeting, you see they’re more likely to be erring on the side of casual. Having those easy to remove pieces allows for a quick adjustment that takes an outfit up or down on the dressy scale without completely changing your clothes. Apply the same logic to the type of watch you choose to wear, or how bold your earrings and other jewelry are. Having a few accessories stashed away in your briefcase or your car is a smart way to be ready for anything when it comes to connecting with a group of clients that you’re still getting to know.

5. When in Doubt, Wear Black

Ah, black. The great secret keeper, the indelible infuser of chic. There’s no denying that wearing black just always adds a certain je ne sais quoi that can be a helpful tool if you’re completely in the dark (no pun intended) regarding the style expectations of a meeting you’ve been roped into. This secret applies to women in particular because black dresses are a dime a dozen, can be found at any price point, and are easy to dress up if need be. On men, tailoring is very important when playing by this rule. Be sure that your black outfit fits you well and adds complementary dimension to your natural shape. This is crucial in helping you to avoid being mistaken for the waiter at your client lunch!

Don’t forget: your main objective when you’re deciding what to wear to a client meeting is to strike that special balance between company values, what your client is going to find relatable, and naturally, who you are. Stay well groomed with smart shoes, and when in doubt, dress in black and spruce up your outfit with accessories.

Does the next client you’re meeting have a soft spot for drinks in the sun? Don’t stress! Our next round of advice will teach you to balance business and pleasure with tips on how to stay cool and professionally dressed during patio season.

Nicole Edwards

Nicole Edwards is a fashion and lifestyle writer based in Toronto. She has worked as Associate Publisher of Private Islands magazine and Lifestyle Editor of Style Empire, and has contributed to NOW Magazine.