Dear DECORUM! Readers,
Imagine you are meeting UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon for a casual business lunch. What do you pull out of your closet to wear?
This may seem like a trivial decision that only people like the fashion-savvy Elle Woods of “Legally Blonde” seriously consider, but such clothing choices are important for anyone, diplomats certainly included. Dressing with class gives a striking, good first impression to those you’re going to be interacting with. It will boost your confidence; when you are making a speech, working a room, you will have no reason to be distracted by or nervous regarding any mistakes in or bad comments about your look. Nice pieces can also make for casual ice breakers such as, “Nice tie!” or “I love your earrings! Where did you get them?”. The list of reasons to commit to trying to look your best–and, when working, your most professional–each day goes on and on.
In our example of meeting the Secretary-General (and for all other business occasions a diplomat would encounter), western business attire is required. UNA-USA offers a handy reference chart of what falls into this category and what doesn’t:
|Suits||A suit always looks professional. Be sure to keep suits clean and wrinkle-free.||A suit always looks professional. Be sure to keep suits clean and wrinkle-free.|
|Tops||No t-shirts. A blouse, sweater, or button-down shirt of any kind is appropriate. Dresses are also appropriate as long as they are not revealing and adequate in length (follow the rules below for skirt length).||No t-shirts. A collared/button-down shirt is appropriate and do not forget a tie!|
|Bottoms||No jeans or shorts. Slacks and suit-pants are acceptable. Skirts must be worn with pantyhose/stockings and should not be more than two inches above the knee. Bottoms should have a subtle pattern; avoid loud designs.||No jeans or shorts. Slacks, preferable in dark colors, are appropriate.|
|Shoes||No sneakers or open-toe sandals. Remember: high-heeled shoes may look pretty, but they can also be very uncomfortable, so use your discretion.||No sneakers or open-toe sandals. Loafers or other types of dress shoes are preferred.|
|Hair||Keep hair clean and out of your face for a professional look.||Keep hair clean and out of your face a professional look|
(This information and more can be found at http://www.unausa.org/munpreparation/dressing.)
Note to participants of Model UN: As you probably know, these are the standards followed at MUN conferences, too! At the last conference I attended, one of my vice chairs frequently complained about how many girls were clad inappropriately in sundresses. You don’t want to earn that negative attention! Additionally, if you are on a committee with an after-hours crisis simulation, expect to be changing out of those pajamas! Business attire is not required for a midnight session at all conferences (another delegate and I were the only 2 out of about 15 kids that wore formal clothes instead of street clothes at one back in December, and he said, “Well, I guess everyone can tell we’re new to this!”), but it’s safer to change back into your professional apparel anyway (“Hilary Clinton probably sleeps in her suits,” joked one vice chair).
Neutrals like black, white, cream, gray, and brown are good for basic pieces like suits. Accents of color–maybe on a tie or vest for men and on a shirt, scarf, or hangbag for women–will make you stand out from the crowd and look confident. Deep teal, classic red, rose, and eggplant are universally flattering colors that look good on all skin types (see http://www.stylelist.com/2009/08/11/four-colors-that-flatter-everyone/ and http://www.realsimple.com/beauty-fashion/clothing/wardrobe-basics/4-universally-flattering-clothing-colors-10000001584157/) Color pyschology is also a factor we can throw into the mix. Check out http://www.infoplease.com/spot/colors1.html and http://psychology.about.com/od/sensationandperception/a/colorpsych.htm for organized and fun facts on the common or universal associations with and impressions given by different hues. (Blue seems like a good pick for diplomatic relations.)
For more inspiration, check out the TV show What Not To Wear, in which hilarious style experts Stacy and Clinton take on fashion-challenged folks and help them change their look. Besides offering great advice and lots of laughs, the show demonstrates how much of an effect clothing style can have on your lifestyle in an honest, heartwarming way.
Also, check out these wonderful organizations: Dress For Success and Career Gear. Both are non-profits that work to improve the economic independence of disadvantaged people (Dress For Success helping women, Career Gear helping men) by supplying business attire along with other support networks and tools. See how much one suit can do? =)