At a recent party, a friend told me stories about her first few business trips. “It was so tricky! I would never know ahead of time if I had to wear a suit or not, because all of the locations were different,” she said. After a few visits, she figured out strategies to deal with this. Because, as she says, “You don’t want to be the only one not in a suit, but you also don’t want to be seen as the ‘corporate overlord’ visiting from headquarters.”
Here is how she dealt:
- Before you go, ask. Ideally, you will be in communication with someone at the location where you are visiting. Ask them directly what the dress code for that office is. This doesn’t always work, but if you can get a straight answer it will save a lot of headache while packing.
- Pack suits that don’t have to be suits. If you arrive at an office and no one is in a suit, make it simple to slip off your jacket. Bring suits with pants/skirt that look great whether the jacket is on or not. Wear tops that have sleeves, so if you take your jacket off you will still look professional. A dress suit is a great option here, as long as it has sleeves.
- Take a cardigan in your bag. If I am wearing something short sleeved, I will often bring a (wrinkle-free) cardigan in my bag. If I get to an office and feel like I’m showing too much skin, I can easily put my cardigan on. This is also helpful if it’s warm outside but AC make the inside frigid.
Caveat: It’s not always possible, or advisable, to align your level of formality with that of the place you are visiting. I often go to locations where the employees are in jeans and t-shirts, but there is no way I will wear jeans while visiting a client.
If you are concerned about not knowing if you need to wear a suit on a business trip, there are ways to deal. Wanting to look professional but not stiff or awkwardly formal is a balancing act, so preparation and flexibility is key!