Business Clothing Etiquette Around the World
We all know that clothing equals confidence — and this is especially true in the business world. Whether you’re negotiating a big deal or taking out a client, it’s important to strike a balance between appropriate and fashion-forward.
The thin line between dressing for success and dressing with excess is even more blurred when your business takes you abroad, where varied cultural norms and dress codes come into play. With varying climates, religious factors and long-standing historical traditions, things can quickly go south by simply making a bad first impression.
Check out our quick guide on what business attire to wear by country — so you’ll know if showing up to that big meeting in a button down will make you look professional or passé.
Clothing by Continent
Business attire varies greatly across Asia’s many countries. Russia, China and India all have very different dress codes — all while being titans in business around the world.
In China, it’s best to follow Kendrick Lamar’s advice and “be humble.” Stick to formal business attire, full suits with muted colors and closed-toe shoes. It’s also a best practice to keep jewelry to a minimum, wearing only a nice watch and a wedding band. Women should consider natural-looking makeup and skirts/dresses that go below the knee.
When visiting Russia, stay conservative and formal with your business wardrobe. Men and women typically wear full suits. Keep your jacket on during meetings and never put your hands in your pockets, as it’s considered rude during negotiations.
India — which has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world — is no stranger to international business. While not as formal as Russia and China, suits are still encouraged, but you can often get by just wearing slacks, a button-down, and a tie. During the summer, businesspeople tend to dress more casually, opting for linen and ditching jackets and ties.
One of the most culturally diverse places on the planet, Africa has a myriad of traditions that vary from country to country and region to region. When talking about business, though, dress formally unless a professional suit isn’t appropriate for the activity.
When doing business in Africa, there are subtle social cues and traditions, like having a soft handshake or your body language, that are just as important as appearance.
Business attire across Europe can range from casual to formal. Over the last decade, Europe has gotten more casual with its workplace dress code, opting for comfort over formality.
Formal attire is typically reserved for specific industries like finance, or for special occasions and meetings. You can get away with a nice dress or button-down shirt on most days, although the standard may vary between countries.
Whether you are in the U.S., Mexico or Canada, very little changes when it comes to business attire. You will find a range from casual to formal depending on industry and seniority, but you can almost never go wrong with business casual.
In each of these three countries, the degree of formality will vary by region and weather patterns. If you are in a busy metroplex you’ll often find that formal attire is the norm, whereas coastal cities like Los Angeles have a much more casual approach to workwear.
In this fashion-conscious continent, you’ll find varying degrees of flair and formality. It’s best to dress conservatively in a full suit, but don’t hesitate to add a bit of flair with jewelry, be it a nice watch, earrings or necklace.
Don’t expect meeting times to be followed stringently, as South America prefers to focus on relationship building and respect rather than start and stop times. High heels should be avoided in most places as most of the roads are cobblestone.
No matter where you are conducting business, it’s a good idea to do a bit of research beforehand. Do recon on the climate and fashion sense of the region As a general rule of thumb, it's best to overdress in business situations — tailored, conservative slacks and professional tops will keep you looking like a #boss.