Ever wondered whether the way you dress holds you back from success? Whether it’s a job interview or a business meeting, first impressions are very important. It takes about 3 – 30 seconds to form an impression of another person (psychologists and sociologist can’t seem to agree on the exact time, with some even extending it to 90 seconds). Everything we do after those 30 seconds either confirms the impression or changes it; but naturally, as human beings, we hate to be wrong so we tend to look out for clues that confirm our first impression. As the saying goes, “you don’t get a second chance to make a great first impression” so it’s very important that we create the right first impression.

Odd enough, the many things that influence how people arrive at their conclusion of who they think we are, have almost nothing to do with us. But the one thing we have influence over is how we present ourselves. Studies show that the way we dress and behave could greatly influence how they view and treat us. Believe it or not, the way you present yourself during an interview or a business meeting can have just as much impact on your success as your credentials.

Today’s business landscape is increasingly casual, with the business casual dress code replacing the traditional suit and tie that was once the standard uniform for every industry. While your attire depends on your personal style and your industry, when attending formal meetings you should always arrive looking neat, groomed and well dressed (leave the #SlayQueen at home for another occasion). Being yourself and appearing comfortable and confident is very important, but your personal style should not take the focus away from you and your credentials.

So, if you’re wondering what to wear to an interview or a business meeting, the most important rule of thumb is to look professional and polished. Below are some key things to take into account as you try to strike the balance between your personal style and being professional and polished.


Most companies have established dress codes whether formal or informal. If it’s hard to tell what it can be, you can rely on the industry to guide you. Regardless of the industry, one thing is always true for women; too much skin is never a good thing. Avoid cleavage, mini skirts, clothes that are too tight and clothes that reveal undergarments. If you’re unsure about the appropriate attire, err on the formal side. It is for you to take off your jacket and roll up your sleeves but it would be very difficult to make your ripped jeans and sweatshirt look formal.


When it comes to shoes, make sure you pick shoes comfortable ones. Flip-flops and trainers are a definite no-no. Shiny shoes, platforms, sandals and extremely high shoes should be worn cautiously or avoided altogether. Ideally, wearing closed toe pumps or court shoes in a neutral colour would be a good option.


Think about it: the person you’re going to meet is going to spend most of the time looking at your face. So this could be more important than we actually think. Today, both make-up and make-up artists have become very accessible, it can be tempting to want to look photo-shoot ready for your meeting but be very careful not to overdo it. Ideally, your makeup should be as soft and natural as possible. You want to make a good impression without overdoing it.

NB! Few things that should be avoided

  • Forget about the crazy eyeshadow
  • I know that Ruby Woo could be your signature red lipstick but make sure it compliments the entire outfit.
  • Skip the false eyelashes


Jewellery should be kept to a minimum. Stay away from the flashy and noisy items: so things like dangling earrings and arms full of bracelets should be avoided. If you have visible pierces in any part of the body other than your ears, make sure you remove them. Similarly so, make sure you cover any visible body art, unless they may be part of your exhibition to get the job or close the business deal.

Hair and Nails

When it comes to hair and nails, less is definitely more. Opt for more natural and neat hairstyles that are less likely to distract the meeting. With nails, ensure they’re well groomed, not too long and that the colour is not too bright.


  • Smile

They say a smile is the best makeup a girl can wear. So if all else fails, always make sure you wear a smile and some decent clothes.


  • Perfume

Many people are sensitive or even allergic to certain scents. So ensure that you keep the perfume or cologne to a minimum. Don’t drench yourself in your favourite Chanel so bad that the people smell you before they actually see you. Ideally, people should not be able to smell your scent unless they are standing directly beside you.

When all fails remember this saying by Jay Danzie “Your smile is your logo, your personality is your business card, how you leave others feeling after an experience with you becomes your trademark”: so at least make sure all these are working for you and not against you!

Go out there and conquer the world graciously.

  • Njekwa Mwamba

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