- The Washington Times - Friday, June 17, 2005

Congratulations. You’ve been invited to give a presentation in front of a large audience. You’ve obviously mastered one discipline - now it’s time to develop expertise in a few others: Overcoming public speaking jitters, and selecting appropriate attire.

A Style reader writes this week about such a quandary. Specifically, he is concerned not so much with the particular type of clothing, but its caliber, and the image it projects.

For example, when you’re up in front of the crowd, is it time to dress for success with a $5,000 Brioni suite and Rolex watch, or is it better to downplay your financial achievements, keeping in line with the habiliments of your audience. This is a tough call, and really depends as much on your personal preferences as your finances and comfort level. Still, the subject matter of your speech can provide a lot of guidance, and as a general rule of thumb, you should also consider your audience and what you want them to take away from the event.

For example, if you’ll be expounding on your sound financial planning practices (and are plugging the book you wrote on the topic), an expensive, well-made suit, and fine accessories — watch and cufflinks for the guys, some killer gemstones for the ladies — might make you seem more credible in the eyes of your audience, i.e. “If he can afford that suit, he must know what he’s talking about!”

On the other hand, overdressing can have the opposite effect, and can even be deleterious to your cause. If you are speaking on behalf of a non-profit organization trying to raise money for cancer research or to fight animal abuse, the appearance of great wealth can lead your audience to conclude that the money they are donating to your charity is ill-spent. You’d be better off in a flattering suit that doesn’t seem to have just been flown in from Italy on your personal jet. Ultimately, remember that the most important element of your presentation is your message. Your attire should merely enhance, not distract, from that.

Dear Jordan,

A lot of the suits I’ve tried on recently are too long in the arms, but it seems to be the trend to have lot of buttons at the cuff. Can a tailor still adjust the sleeve length?

Marisa - Rockville

Dear Marisa,

It is likely that a tailor can take care of the problem, but depending on the type of buttonholes (real vs. imitation) and the type of fabric, the method of doing so may be quite expensive. On a $250 suit made of acetate, for example, the buttons and threads can be removed without leaving a mark and simply moved up after shortening. But on a very fine fabric, where needle marks will remain, the tailor will have to shorten the sleeves from the shoulder, rather than the cuff, which will hike up the price considerably.

Dear Jordan:

Is it polite to wear perfume in an office shared by others?

Sarah - Falls Church

Dear Sarah:

Scents, even pleasant ones, can cause headaches and exacerbate allergies, especially in a closed office environment. Fragrance should be noticeable to your officemates only when they’re leaning over your shoulder to help you use spell-check.

Dear Jordan:

In rainy or muddy days, I drive in hiking boots and bring a pair of shoes in my tote. I am appalled at the secretaries (and executives) who change into slippers! I find it offensive to work with people dressed in sleepwear.

Renda - Bowie

Dear Renda:

If you’re in a managerial position, send out a simple “reminder” style e-mail about appropriate dress codes. Otherwise, suggest jokingly that you didn’t get the memo about “pajama day” and hope they get the hint.

Dear Jordan:

Many of the top broadcasters wear pink and purple ties. They look great on camera. Would I be making a mistake wearing them to work at my accounting firm?

Stephen - Cleveland Park

Dear Stephen:

Adding a touch of flair to an otherwise traditional suit is usually recommended in most professions, but while times have changed, some firms have not yet explored their more colorful sides. Try it on a non-client day and take cues from your colleagues

Dear Jordan:

My favorite pair of jeans just tore. Can I still wear them to work?

Leslie - Silver Spring

Dear Leslie:

There’s a big difference between respectable denim and a ratty pair of old jeans. It’s time to move those jeans over to “weekend wear” and do some shopping.

Ms. Jordan Speer is the senior editor of an apparel business magazine and has been writing about the industry for more than nine years. Send workplace or corporate fashion questions to [email protected]


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