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As a seasoned business professional you know exactly what to wear to look good for domestic meetings, but if international travel is on the horizon, you need to plan ahead. Great Britain is the home of history, art and pop culture and fashion, but business attire has its own unique set of rules.
The last thing you want to do is look like a tourist if you are visiting on business! We’ve gathered seven trends and tips to help you dress for business success in one of the most famous cities in the world.
- Neckties without Stripes
Did you know that most formal establishments from the military to training institutions wear formal uniformed suits and apparel? Part of the outfit for virtually every institution is a necktie that is striped and branded to that organization. In London, stripes are synonomous with boarding schools or hospital staff who wear regimental tie patterns, and so business men should avoid wearing one to avoid offending (and even possibly confusing) other professionals.
Instead of ties with stripes, consider wearing something solid. You can never go wrong in London with a fashionably colored, solid tie. While not always popular in North America (and often considered too flamboyant for most business meetings) the polka dot tie is very popular with Londoners. You’ll fit right in if you steer clear of the stripes and add a dash of friendly color to your suit with a solid or dotted tie.
- Traditional Suit Hues
Depending on the type of business environment you work in, colorful suits can be acceptable and even welcomed, particularly in creative artistic environments. However in London, while casual dress can be colorful, the typical business suit is formal and conservative.
Businessmen in London prefer black, deep navy and charcoal grey suits in traditional materials such as cotton or wool. Lighter materials such as linens are considered casual or “vacation wear” and not acceptable for business meetings. You won’t be taken seriously if you show up with a mismatched suit that boasts loud, contemporary colors but pin stripes or birds-eye pattern suits will win you points. So stick to the tried and true classic looks and accent your outfit with a colorful tie.
- Serious About Shoes
When attending a meeting or conference in London, pack your most conservative shoes for business attire. Social events outside of business hours are an excellent opportunity to break out your more colorful or unique shoe options, but when it comes to meetings and business gatherings, opt for the traditional style of laced leather dress shoe in classic black or brown.
Loafers are considered “weekend wear” according to the London business dress code. While they can be coordinated easily with suits in North America, they will stand out to the same degree as athletic shoes would. Pack the loafers for evening social, but bring your standard formal shoes for suit and tie combinations.
- Facial Hair
From the 1950’s through to recent years, the stance on facial hair for business professionals has been a simple “no”. While there was some tolerance for a well maintained moustache, beards and goatee variations were not accepted as proper grooming in business environments.
In the last two years however, facial hair has made a gentleman’s come-back and is growing in acceptance in business environments, with barber shops across London creating artful new designs. It has become something of a trend in recent years, but the key factor is maintenance. If it looks neat and groomed, consider it to be acceptable. However if you are attempting to grow a beard inspired by the band ZZ Top, anticipate comments and disapproving looks particularly from older British professionals. A clean haircut and fresh shaved appearance is always the safest bet.
- Fit Matters
When something (or someone) is attractive, they are “fit”. It’s a term that Londoners use to identify when someone has nailed a look that is appealing. To be “fit” by dress standards, you also have to ensure that your outfit is properly fitted and flattering.
The British are not fond (in general) of loose clothing even for casual wear. When it comes to business, custom made suits are expected in most professional environments. While the brand of the suit is not always important, the fit matters. Ensure that your business suits are bespoke and made to measure to create the correct neatly dressed impression.
- All Weather and Outer Wear
The reputation that London has as a wet and rainy destination is well earned. Average rainfall for London each month is about 45 mm (almost 1.5 inches per month) and there rainfall averages about 15 days of the month. While actually designed and manufactured in Baltimore, Maryland it is little wonder that one of the most popular rain jackets is named “London Fog”.
A trench coat is acceptable and almost mandatory for business wear. Coordinate your trench coat with a stylish, quality umbrella to complete the look. Hats manufactured from suit like materials (such as a fedora style topper) are also acceptable wear for business professionals. As with general suit attire, choose more traditional hues and patterns like hounds tooth for a classic look.
- All Work and Some Play
When it comes time to socialize in London, the rules of conservative dress are tossed out the window. Pack your colorful clothing, quality dress pants and dress to impress. Avoid overly casual wear such as worn t-shirts and jeans if heading out to enjoy the nightlife. When it comes to the weekend, Londoners love to dress up and have fun! Consider combining indigo or dark colored jeans with a dress shirt, sports jacket and tie for a polished look that will have you fitting in with the locals.
If you are not confident about packing your wardrobe from home, consider packing light for your business trip to London and arriving early to do some local shopping. Given the proximity to major textile producing countries, there are some fabulous fashion finds to be had at reasonable prices in the city. Expand your wardrobe with quality formal attire and nail the look London style!