When a man wears a suit in a business meeting what message does it convey? … and is it appropriate and in what type of situation should he wear one?

If it is a formal meeting for a special purpose (such as presenting a business proposal to a board of decision makers) and there is an underlying expectation that everyone should be dressed in a suit, the answer is most likely yes. It often also signifies power and authority, especially a dark suit and a white shirt with a strong coloured tie such as red. The subtle aspects of covering of the body such as the tie (covering the lower neck) and long sleeves (covering the lower arms) provides a non-verbal message of ‘hiding something’ or ‘masking’, possibly linking in to the concept of ‘not putting all cards on the table’.

What about another type of business meeting where the relationships between the people are more established, relaxed and connected? Is it appropriate to be wearing suits? What if men had no jacket, no tie and a soft coloured shirt? This would convey a more relaxed approach, and if sleeves were rolled up slightly this would indicate a more open and honest approach (not hiding anything) and ready for action towards being useful and productive.

Ultimately, it comes down to what the purpose, values and culture are for the meeting. Is it a matter of power and persuasion or is it more about openness, honesty and helping others? It could be one or the other … or maybe somewhere in between.

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