Ask a Biz Breakthrough Expert: Is the suit and tie dead?

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Dear Breakthrough Expert,

More and more people at my office are wearing casual clothes all the time. Is the time of the suit and tie going the way of the dinosaur? Should I just give in and wear a polo?


Over-dressed in Houston

Dear Over-dressed in Houston,

I salute anyone who still wears a suit in the Houston heat! As to whether you should or not, it depends on what position you are in and who you are interacting with.

As a general rule, if you are presenting to a group for a sales presentation, corporate update or other reason, you should dress just one step up from your audience. For instance, if you are talking to hardworking family farmers, who work in jeans and work shirts all day, you would do well to wear jeans and a sports jacket. You want to appear as an authority but not out of place, as you would in a three-piece suit.

I am a fan of the suit and tie myself. When I provide training to professional organizations or record video clips, I am not in control of who will see them. The one thing I do know is I want them to value the information I am sharing with them. A suit and tie provide the connotation of authority in a business setting the same way a police officer’s uniform is a symbol of their authority.

We are all familiar with the idea that first impressions are important and lasting, and clothes are a critical part of that first impression. Psychology Today reinforces the old saying with two clinical studies:


 “Two  studies by our team in the U.K. and Turkey show some of the very subtle ways in which clothing influences all kinds of impressions about us. Our clothes make a huge difference to what people think about us – and without us knowing or in ways we couldn’t even imagine. People make their assessments in the first few seconds of seeing another; assessments that go way beyond how well you are dressed and how neat and tidy you might look.” 

How you dress may also be a great way to distinguish yourself from your peers, but keep the one step up rule in mind. If your office mates are always in slacks and a polo, stick with a button-up and tie. Wearing a full suit may make it appear like you are “putting on airs,” as my grandmother used to say.

The bottom line is what you should wear depends on what are you trying to accomplish. If you need to be in a position of authority in corporate America, a fine tailored suit is likely a good investment. If you’re in a business where making people comfortable is important then khakis and a polo is likely a good fit.

I would choose to err on the side of being too formal; you can always take off a tie or leave your jacket in the car.

The single most important thing about what you wear is that you are comfortable. You cannot provide your best work for your employer or clients if you are not at ease!

Ask your question at  For more information about David Whitfield or first impressions, visit

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About David Whitfield 1 Article
David is a syndicated columnist, Host of Marketing Minutes heard on 1110 AM Bussiness and one of only 1000 Founding Circle Members of The John Maxwell Team, a Certified Speaker, Trainer and Coach, he has presented internationally in The UK, Japan, China and the US. He is an award-winning Marketer, Networker, Speaker and 2-time Author. With 23 year of business and consulting experience, he has been heard on syndicated Radio, seen on cable and broadcast television and published in The Houston Business Journal, the Houston Chronicle, Your Houston Business Magazine, The Blaze and several other newspapers and newsletters. His current clients includes the #1 Chick-fil-A in the world. He has been twice awarded at the International Education and Global Entrepreneurship Week at Lone Star College Cy-Fair. His training and certifications include: Strategic Business Leadership Coaching, Meeting Facilitation, Leadership School, Total Quality Management Level 1,2, and 3, The Karrass Effective Negotiating Class, Train the Trainer, Equal Opportunity Employer 2000, and The Franklin Covey Time Management Course. As a decorated member of the United States Air Force; he served ten years in England, Japan, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and the US, as a Security Police Officer. He was responsible for the highest priority weapons systems and in charge of Ground Security for Air Force One repeatedly.

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