Pachter's Pointers:
Business Etiquette Tips & Career Suggestions


Dressing for a presentation? Choose your clothing wisely

I put on my jacket and immediately my shoulders went back and I stood up straight.

I think I need to practice in my suit. I feel more “on” when I do.

These comments, from participants in a recent class on presentation skills, demonstrate that your clothing choices can help you to project confidence and to come across as a credible person – one your audience wants to listen to. Yet attire is one of those little things that presenters often don’t think about, or plan.

You don’t want sloppy or inappropriate clothing to prevent people from really hearing and absorbing your message. Make sure to attend to the following 7 items as you prepare for your next presentation:

1. Dress slightly better than your audience. Think about who is going to be in the audience and what they are likely to be wearing, and then choose your clothing accordingly. Dressing slightly better than your audience adds to your credibility. And remember that wearing a jacket will usually elevate your appearance. (Additional information on the hierarchy of clothing can be found in my book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette.

2. Make sure your clothing fits you properly. You can spend a fortune on an item, but if it is too big or too small, it is not going to look good. When you are in front of a group, all eyes are on you, and an ill-fitting item becomes a distraction. If your buttons are pulling, people will notice. If your pants are too short, people may fixate on them. When in doubt, take your clothing to a good tailor.

3. Pay attention to your color choices. Darker colors usually convey a stronger impression than lighter ones. Although lighter colors may not be as powerful, they can be very appropriate, especially in warmer climates. When possible, check the wall color in the meeting room before choosing your attire. You want to stand out from the background. Though most rooms have light-colored walls, that is not always the case. When I was presenting in Las Vegas, I checked the room ahead of time and saw that the stage had been draped in black. I had planned to wear a black suit. With my dark hair and black clothing, I would have looked like a talking head! I wore a suit of a lighter color.

4. Don’t dress provocatively. Low-cut tops that expose cleavage draw attention to your chest, and are not suitable for a presentation (or in the office!). Do not show too much leg, either. Short skirts draw attention to your legs. Is that where you want people to look when you are giving a presentation? The general guideline is that skirts should fall to the top of your knees, or just slightly above. 

5. Don’t ignore your accessories. Accessories can complete the outfit, but they also can become distractions and overpower you or your clothes. Don’t play with your accessories, including twirling rings or fiddling with neckties. Also, take your name tag off when you are making a presentation. It is not a fashion piece.

6. Attend to your grooming. You want people to focus on your presentation, not on distracting details. You don’t want your audience noticing dandruff on your shirt, smudges on your glasses, lipstick on your teeth, or chipped nail polish. These flaws are especially noticeable when you are presenting to a small group. And remember that people notice shoes. Your shoes should be clean, polished, and in good condition.

7. Pay attention to your posture. Stand tall. Keep your shoulders comfortably back. You can be wearing a great outfit, but if you are slouching you are doing a disservice to your clothes. 

Pachter & Associates provides seminars and coaching on business etiquette, communication, business writing, presentation skills, and professional presence. For additional information, please contact Joyce Hoff at or 856.751.6141. ( 


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