Business Presentation Attire: “Studs & Duds”

It is that time of year again. Not yet final exams, but final presentations. It is the ultimate test of your ability to speak in public and put your “great” ideas out there to be judged by your fellow classmates. You have your cue cards, your finely tuned Powerpoint ready to go, and you have been applying Drysol for the last week in fear of sweating through your suit.

My staple outfit for big presentations.

On the day before your presentation, your professor tells your class that you must “dress up”. For the average Business student this is not really an issue, normally jumping at any chance to “suit-up”.  However, every group has the “dud”. Conversing with the “dud” on the night before the presentation usually goes something like this:

Group Member: Make sure you dress up tomorrow.

Dud: I don’t have a suit.

Group Member: Well, just wear a shirt and a tie.

Dud: I don’t own a shirt or a tie.

Group Member: Haven’t you ever been to a wedding or a funeral?

Dud: Yes, but the dress shirt has a dragon on it with flames and the tie has NHL team logos on it.

Group Member: Well, wear a nice polo shirt with dress pants.

Dud: Can I wear a tuxedo shirt, with my black track pants, and black skateboard shoes?

Group Member: As long as the track pants aren’t tear a-ways.

Having had this experience several times in my University career I thought it would be a good idea to seek help from a professional. I needed advice to dispense to the aforementioned “dud” a few weeks before “game-day”.

I sat down with Colin Clark, Assistant Manager of Store Operations at Henry Singer Fashion Group. With over 14 years of experience, Colin possessed the “fashion cred” required to answer all of my mind-boggling questions. Take notes fellas.

 Sam: Many University students have a limited budget. If they were to invest in ONE suit, what color would you suggest?

Mr. Clark: I would recommend grey or navy. Why you ask?  The sheer versatility of these colors. You can wear virtually any color shirt and you wear brown, black or even oxblood shoes.  Both grey and navy are suitable for weddings, presentations, office Christmas parties, and funerals.  The pants can be worn with a sweater. The jacket can be worn with another dress pant or jeans.  You have the ability to go open collar casual or buttoned up formal.

Sam: Brilliant, just brilliant. I have a big presentation to give to one of my classes next week. My professor has told the class to dress up when we present. What would you suggest I wear? My presentation isn’t all that good, but I am looking to get an “A”.

 Mr. Clark: Call me Colin. We suggest that being interviewed or presenting, you respect the group that you are speaking to.  If your professor has hard and fast rules in place, consider working within his or her parameters.  If no parameters are given, wear a basic black, grey or navy suit, with a solid white or powder blue dress shirt. That together with polished black dress shoes will get you through any meeting.  If it’s a formal presentation, wear a dark tie to match the suit.  The idea is to look professional. Ideally, you want to have your audience remember your message and not your outfit.  You want them to believe in you. Dressing well assures they buy-in to your credibility.

Sam: Colin, do you have any side notes to add?

 Colin: Yes, clothing is a form of self-expression.  If you want to be taken seriously by a new group, you must establish yourself without being considered quirky. If you’ve met with this same group many times and you have a relationship with them, you will have more latitude to express your sartorial flair.

Sam: Riveting, just riveting. I often see my fellow Business students’ buttoning up all different buttons on their suits. What are people in the “real-world” doing?

Colin: If your suit has two buttons, do up the top one or neither. If your suit has three buttons, then you sometimes do up the top one, always the middle one, and never the bottom one (or none at all).

 Sam: Why don’t we do up the bottom one? It keeps me warm in cold classrooms and hides the southwestern chipotle sauce stain from earlier in the day.

Colin: You should try wearing a napkin around your neck at lunch to avoid sauce spills. If you fasten the bottom button, there will be a pull along the hips creating a wrinkle that you want to avoid. Also, having the bottom button unfastened allows the wearer more range of motion to sit, stand and reach into his pant pockets.

 Sam: Life changing, just life changing. I don’t consider myself a hipster or really know what is “trending”, but I subscribe to GQ magazine. A lot of those guys are wearing cardigans. There are a lot of buttons on those things, how on earth do I wear one?

Colin: Ah, the cardigan. Much like the sport coat or suit jacket, I suggest you leave the bottom button unfastened. Although some prefer to keep the top and bottom undone. This is more of a personal preference and may be dependent on the cardigan that you are sporting.

 Sam: Buttons, just buttons, unbelievable. Should my belt match my shoes?

Colin: As a basic rule, I’d say yes.  But remember, unless you are wearing brown or black, you may have difficulty finding that perfect match. And even then, they don’t have to be 100% spot on. Men’s rules for dressing are much simpler than that of a woman’s.  Until you have a vast wardrobe, err to the simpler side of things and endeavor to match up.

 Sam: Shoes and a belt, just so simple. I have a great black suit and great brown shoes. Can this combination be pulled off?

 Colin: Most would say “No!”  However, I say “yes”. If you are wearing a shirt or tie with brown trimmings it can be done.  It’s a step out of the comfort zone for many, but when done correctly, it can look very good.

 Sam: I always see these hip guys in Hollywood wearing running shoes with their suits. Can I suggest to my peers running shoes with a suit?

Colin: Are you Kanye West? Justin Bieber? Justin Timberlake? If not, then no running shoes with suits!

 Sam: Do you have any fashion advice for my fellow Business students?

Colin: I always say “buy quality”.  Moores, Banana Republic, Val Bergs, The Colony, Tip Top all offer quality goods.  Seek out a vendor you feel comfortable dealing with and confident in the quality level of service and product. Buy what you can afford.  Is a $2000 Prada suit a sensible investment?  Not if you are wearing it once or twice a week for the next 3 years.  It’s a luxury item and will not have the same performance as a $1000 Hugo Boss suit. Treat your clothes well so that they last.  Hang them up after each wear.  Dry-clean them once a season (maximum 2 times a year). Don’t buy sale items simply because they are on sale. Buy what will fit into your wardrobe.  Does a lime green cashmere sweater on sale for half price really belong in your wardrobe or could you have spent that money on a basic sweater that would give you far more latitude?

 Sam: More latitude, loving latitude. Any final thoughts?

 Colin: Who does your hair?  Do you see the same hairdresser time and again? How about your dentist? Doctor?  If so, consider establishing a relationship with a clothier.  They will look out for your needs and preferences much better than what you can find online or at a discount shop in Vegas. They will give you better service than an anonymous sales person at any store you visit.

 Sam: That is a lot of rhetorical questions. Thank you for your time and advice, Colin.


Don’t be afraid to politely pass on this information to the “dud” in your group.  Everyone will be happy when your group looks like a bunch of rock stars while presenting to your peers! Dressing appropriately for different situations is a key to success in Business.


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