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Chapter 2 Professional dress for men and women.


After reading this chapter, you should be able to:

1. Understand why hospitality professionals who do not wear uniforms need to pay attention to their clothing selection and grooming.

2. Describe what it means to be a "well-dressed professional in hospitality."

3. Identify the benefits of knowing your personal coloring in order to select the right colors for your clothing.

4. Select the right colors to communicate power, friendliness, creativity, and so forth.

If you do not wear a uniform, your challenge as a hospitality professional is to communicate to the world, through your clothing and personal grooming, who you are. You probably will not brag about your credentials and achievements, but your clothing (along with your voice, words and behavior (will speak for you. As clothing normally covers 90 percent of our body, we need to be aware of exactly what our dress is communicating.

Whether you are in sales, management or on the "front line" serving guests and clients, your appearance, behavior and effectiveness on the job really do affect the organization's bottom line and, hence, your own bottom line. Even if your position is "behind the scenes" with no direct contact with the public, your appearance counts just as much as if you were at the front desk. In hospitality we are in the "people business," and our professional appearance is an essential element for excellence. Regardless of our position in the organization, our appearance must reflect quality, service and friendliness. A professional appearance gives us a sense of pride, which we owe to ourselves, the customers and our co-workers.

Achieving a professional image of excellence includes the art of selecting clothes that complement our physical characteristics and are right for our particular job and the company for which we work. And, of course, an important part of presenting ourselves with style and class is impeccable grooming.

The art of selecting the right clothes for business may be a challenge for many. Several years ago, we got a call from a company to meet with the CEO of a large corporation. When I walked into his office, I was prepared to meet one of the most powerful executives in the field of telecommunications. Imagine my amazement when the man who oversaw a multi-million dollar company with a staff of 7,000 employees warmly greeted me wearing khaki pants and a jacket from a suit, a striped sport shirt and a rumpled wool tie! Nothing went together! We know when clothing combines because all the pieces look like they are going to the same place. In his case, the pants were going to a picnic, the shirt and jacket to the office and the tie should have stayed home! When I sat down, he explained how difficult it was for him to manage his wardrobe: "I can handle my job easily, regardless of the challenge; my clothing skills stop at my closet."

So, as you can see, clothing uncertainty can plague anyone--from those just starting out in a company to the person who owns or manages it. Regardless of our position, we all have the challenge of selecting the right clothes for the right occasion. I am constantly approached in both business and social settings for advice on business clothing and appearance; sometimes people just want feedback on whether what they're doing is appropriate.

Selecting and wearing clothes for work is one of the few areas in business in which we don't get much training or guidance. Most employee manuals in hospitality mandate that non-uniformed employees wear clothes that are "professional," but little or no description is given of what "professional" means. Many of us may get feedback that our appearance needs "polishing" and that we need to dress "more professionally." But even the supervisor who has the embarrassing mission of delivering this feedback does not instruct us in what clothing options will improve our image. This chapter will provide you with the guidelines in clothing, accessories and grooming to achieve your professional appearance for excellence.


In hospitality we dress for our guests, and our guests come from all parts of the world, representing diverse cultures. Coupled with this globalization, we also have corporations downsizing their operations. As the pyramid-type configuration of the corporation hierarchy flattens due to this downsizing, the traditional power symbols tend to disappear. Therefore, the use of clothing to reinforce those messages and images of power has been changing to communicate messages of approachability and credibility. For example, in the 1980s the "power look" was the image of choice in most organizations, which made the accepted professional look quite predictable. We wore our "dress for success" suits and there was not much room for individuality. But as the world shrinks and borders "disappear," the cultural dress symbols become more international. Now we dress for excellence and quality. This creates more options and more creative alternatives to business attire, especially in hospitality. However, there are still guidelines that must be followed to ensure that the messages that we convey with our clothing are still professional. These internationally accepted guidelines for business will work for you whether you are working in the U.S. or abroad, and regardless of the clientele you serve.

In hospitality your dress symbols will be conservative and business-like, but with flair. Your attire needs to assure clients, guests, colleagues and suppliers that you are competent, but it must not create distance so that they are unwilling to share their concerns. Your goal, then, is to communicate both trust and credibility.

When my British colleague Mary Spillane was consulting with one of the largest hotel operators in the world, she found that the management teams in London looked too severe and boring. They had to be reminded that they were in the hospitality business and based in a large metropolis, entertaining business people from around the world. More color was required for the women's suits and make-up and for the men's ties. In contrast, the staff from Amsterdam were all expensively dressed but too casual considering that their clients, again, were mainly business people. Both cities' staffs received very similar advice.

The guidelines presented in this chapter will assist you in being a well-dressed professional in hospitality. Being well-dressed means that you wear clothes and accessories that

* complement your coloring and body type

* combine in color, fabric and pattern

* fit you properly

* are appropriate for the occasion

* reflect your personality and your position

* are current


One of the most critical elements in the selection of clothing is color. When there is balance and harmony between your own coloring--skin, hair and eyes--and your clothing, you look healthier and more alert, and people notice you in a positive way. The right colors will help you project credibility, authority and accessibility. We have learned to associate some colors with power and formality and others with more informal and casual occasions; knowing which ones to choose helps us send appropriate messages.

There is more freedom today in the use of color in business than there was in the past, especially for women. But, regardless of this seemingly endless choice of colors for business attire, the standard responses to color that have been extensively researched still apply. Let's take a look at some of these time-honored responses and their accepted modifications.

Dark colors can make you look more authoritative. For example, dark to medium gray and navy blue have always been preferred hues for those in a position of authority. But dark colors can also be intimidating, and they can overpower a person if his or her skin and hair coloring is light or medium. And black, while perfect for men's evening wear, is too dressy for the daytime. An exception to this rule, though, is that many women can benefit from black's strong color presence, especially if it complements their dark brown or black hair. It is too overpowering, though, for a light-haired woman. It is advisable to learn just how dark a color you can wear so that you project authority, but are not overpowering yourself with the color. (In the next section of this chapter you will find guidelines on selecting the best colors for you.)

Medium colors such as blue-gray or medium charcoal project less authority. They are better used for less formal occasions. They make you look more approachable, friendly and calm. When you need to establish rapport with a client you are meeting for the first time, wear a medium-tone outfit and save your more powerful dark and high-contrast look for closing a deal or negotiating money.

With an increased interest in the environment, earth tones--such as subtle brown patterns and tan in men's business suits--are more acceptable. However, brown and tan do not project the same credibility as gray or navy; therefore, it is best to wear them only in the summer or on those days when you do not have an important meeting.

Despite the popularity of pastel colors for women's clothing, professional women should wear them with care. Pastel colors tend to be associated with social or intimate situations. They are more acceptable in warmer climates. However, when you wear them you need to be more assertive to project the same level of credibility as other colors provide. A touch of one of these shades--such as a handkerchief in a suit pocket or a blouse underneath a suit--adds pizzazz to your outfit without detracting from your professionalism.

Within these guidelines, there are more color options for business today. Men's navy and gray suits get a new, exciting look with colored threads and weaves in multiple shades that, at a distance, look like a solid but up close show understated flair. The infusion of green into traditional backgrounds of gray, navy and taupe adds a new vibrancy to suit fabrics. Also olive and other shades of deep gray-green offer another option for the hospitality professional. Keep in mind, though, that when choosing shades other than navy and gray, the fabric as well as the workmanship of the suit must be of exceptional quality; otherwise, you run the risk of looking ordinary and lacking in credibility.

Women at work are expressing their credibility with outfits that offer more variety than ever before. Reds, from corals to burgundies to maroons, blues, from royal blue to turquoise to teal, greens from emerald and jade to olive, and rich gold all offer women new options in the business world.

Now let's look at which of these clothing color options are best for you. Most of us intuitively know that there are certain colors that we look and feel great in and some colors that make us look tired or even sick. When I show our seminar participants how I would look in a mustard colored suit (not a good color for me) they usually declare that I look sick and that perhaps we should call an ambulance!

Knowing the colors that complement you best not only helps you look healthier and more credible, it also helps simplify your shopping and dressing. The only sure way this kind of analysis can be done is by investing in a color analysis session with a certified image consultant. To find a color consultant, check your local yellow pages, or call the Image Resource Group (phone number listed in appendix of this book) which maintains a roster of certified image consultants in most states.

In a private consultation, an image consultant trained as a color expert will assess your unique coloring and determine which colors will best enhance it. The consultant will explain the characteristics of your personal coloring and how to judge colors that will work for your business and casual wardrobes. To assist in this process, you receive a set of colored fabric samples in a wallet that you can use as a guide when you shop and select clothes for any occasion.

Although an individual color analysis is the most thorough and accurate way to gauge your coloring, there are some general guidelines that can help you select the best colors for you and avoid those that are not complementary.


Your personal coloring is determined by your skin tone, hair and the color of your eyes. You can wear all types of colors but there are three qualities of the chosen color that must be in harmony with your coloring: the intensity--whether it is dark, light or medium toned; the undertone--true red, blue red or yellow red; and the clarity--bright and clear or subtle and muted.

We agree that a navy suit, a white shirt and a tie with a red pattern is considered a smart business outfit for a man. The questions are: How dark would you wear that navy suit? Would you choose a white shirt or an off-white? What shade of red tie--red like a tomato or more like a burgundy?

For a woman, a navy suit and a colored blouse is also an appropriate business outfit. But do you select a dark navy or a grayed navy? Or would you prefer a gray-green or golden brown suit? Do you combine your suit with a pure white blouse, or would you look better in a cream or bright turquoise blouse?

Start by looking at yourself in a mirror and determine which of the following color categories suits you the best. It is often difficult for a person to "see" themselves--especially skin tone--but, to simplify, base your decision on your overall look, the color of your hair and the color of your eyes.


Overall Look: Can be described as vivid with high contrast between the hair and skin.

Hair: Dark--black to deep brown, chestnut, auburn and "salt n' pepper" as your hair gets grayer.

Eyes: Deep--brown, brown-black, rich green or olive but not blue.

Examples: Sylvester Stallone, Whitney Houston, Bill Cosby, Angelica Huston, Dianne Carroll, Al Pacino.

Your coloring is considered deep if you have a high contrast between the color of your eyes, hair and skin. Because of this contrast you can wear a comparable contrast in your clothing. For example, mix two dark colors together or a dark color with a light or bright color. Avoid an entire outfit with light or pastel colors in a monochromatic look. Use them for shirts and blouses only.

You should be aware that the people with deep coloring with cool undertones look better in blue reds and burgundies, and those with warm undertones should choose rust and warm reds. If you are deep, a qualified image consultant will determine if you have warm or cool undertones.

Suggested Colors

Men: Choose medium to dark navy and gray suits--charcoal is the best; white shirts, light blue, light gray, stripes with a white background; dark or strong color ties in teal, true red, true blue, purple, terra-cotta, deep green, burgundy and turquoise. Avoid: Light gray suits, golden brown, camel and taupe jackets. Be careful with earth tone suits because you may look sallow in browns. Avoid beige and yellow shirts.

Women: Choose navy, black, charcoal gray, teal, royal blue, purple, true red, tomato red, terra-cotta and deep green suits and dresses. For blouses and accents select colors such as turquoise, coral and periwinkle. Black and white and black and red are good combinations. Avoid: Light colors alone, bright oranges, light golden colors and most browns.


Overall Look: Fair coloring with medium to light contrast.

Hair: Most often blond, light brown, ash or golden. If you are a woman, you often highlight your hair to keep the blond look of earlier years.

Eyes: Blue, blue-gray, blue-green, aqua, not deep hazel or brown.

Examples: Paul Hogan, Princess Diana, Linda Evans, Robert Redford.

Your coloring is light with light to medium contrast. When combining colors, select medium tone colors and medium contrast. Avoid colors that are too dark. Mix medium colors with light shades or other medium shades. Avoid colors that are too bright.

Suggested Colors

Men: Choose navy or gray-navy suits--medium charcoal or charcoal blue-gray are best. You can wear camel or stone-colored jackets. Choose soft white and any pastel color shirt--blue is especially becoming--as well as soft stripes on a white background. Select ties in true blue, watermelon red, turquoise, yellow, lavender and a clear teal. Avoid: Too dark shades of navy and gray, black and browns for suits; also ties in too dark or bright colors.

Women: Choose medium navy, camel, blue-gray, charcoal blue-gray, cocoa, teal, blue-green, periwinkle, light royal blue, grayed-green for suits and dresses. Wear light tone blouses such as apricot, beige, off-white, light blue or rose pink Avoid: Bright colors that are too electric. Black is too strong but, if you decide to wear black, be sure to combine it with a light shade; black and red or black and a bright color will be overpowering on you.


Overall Look: Projects a total golden look with medium intensity.

Hair: Medium range--blond or brown with golden, red or strawberry highlights.

Eyes: Warm--green, hazel, brown, topaz, teal blue.

Examples: Renee Poussant, Shirley Maclaine, Ted Koppel, the Duchess of York (Fergie), Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, Janet Jackson, Woody Allen.

Your coloring is warm, meaning "gold undertones;" your skin, eyes and hair have a golden cast that must be complemented by colors of medium intensity with golden tones. Choose medium, not dark tones for suits; blended colors with some contrast are good. Enjoy the earth tones; they are your best colors. Avoid fuchsia, burgundy, pink, blue red and any rosy tone.

Suggested Colors

Men: Choose medium charcoal, charcoal brown, medium navy, grayed-green, olive, gray with teal, rust and camel patterns; shirts in ivory, off-white, beige, peach and light yellow; stripes in off-white background; ties in rust, teal, mahogany, tomato red, gray with gold and yellow. Avoid: Dark navy or blue-gray suits, mauve or burgundy ties and pink shirts.

Women: Choose golden bronze, camel, teal, grayed green, rust, mahogany, beige, marine navy, khaki, olive, tomato red suits and dresses; ivory, peach, periwinkle, grayed-green and almost any shade of yellow or gold for blouses. Avoid: Pink, burgundy, bright blues, blue-reds and pure white. If you love black, mix it with ivory, camel, beige or a golden tone.


Overall Look: Medium intensity with blue tones.

Hair: Ash brown, blond or gray, silver or salt n' pepper.

Eyes: Blue, gray-blue, rose brown.

Examples: Bill Clinton, Paul Newman, Barbara Bush, Maya Angelou, Whoopie Goldberg, Eddie Murphy, Larry King. Your coloring is light with medium contrast and your skin ranges from a pinkish beige to rose brown. You need medium contrast in your colors, and always look for clothing with cool undertones (tones of blue, burgundy and rose). Avoid any yellow or golden tones, brown (unless it is rose brown), camel or colors that are too strong such as black.

Suggested Colors

Men: Choose any navy that is not too dark, blue gray, medium charcoal gray, gray with blue stripes or patterns; shirts in white, soft white, any blue, pink, light gray or lavender, or striped shirts in navy or burgundy on a white background; ties in blue-red, burgundy, plum, turquoise, gray-blue, mauve, medium purple. Avoid: Camel, black, olive and brown suits; beige or yellow shirts or ties or any shade with golden tones.

Women: Choose navy, gray, blue-gray, teal, charcoal blue-gray, plum, burgundy, blue red, blue-green suits and dresses; white, soft white, rose, lavender, periwinkle or any tone of blue or rose for blouses and accents. Avoid: Browns (except rose brown), camel, ivory, yellow and golden tones. Black is too strong; if you wear it, mix it with soft white, light blue or rose.


Overall Look: Projects a clear look with contrast between hair and skin tone.

Hair: Medium to dark brown, black or rich gray.

Eyes: Bright and clear; jewel-like quality such as steel blue, blue-green, turquoise, black or brown that looks moist and clear.

Examples: Michael Douglas, Maria Shriver, Connie Chung, Oprah Winfrey, Cristopher Reeve, Elizabeth Taylor, Naomi Campbell.

Your coloring is bright and clear with a high contrast between your hair, skin and eyes. You need to continue this contrast in your clothing with rich, bright colors and combinations. Avoid muted or dusty tones and light colors used monochromatically. Wear true, primary colors. Mix dark with light or bright colors or wear two brights together. Avoid mixing two dark colors such as black and dark red; you always need a touch of bright or clear tone color in your outfit.

Suggested Colors

Men: Choose navy from medium to midnight blue; medium to deep charcoal gray; blue-gray patterns; crisp pinstripes are excellent. White shirts are best; and icy color shirts in blue, gray, pink, aqua. Choose ties in clear bold colors such as true red, turquoise, true blue, violet and purple. Avoid: Brown and camel jackets; beige, cream, or muted shirts and ties.

Women: Choose navy, black, gray, charcoal blue gray, red, emerald green, turquoise, purple, teal, blue-green for suits and dresses. For blouses and accents, choose clear colors such as coral, white, lemon yellow, violet and deep periwinkle. Avoid: Light colors--mix them with dark shades; camel and golden browns (use these colors only if they complement your hair); too dark colors such as black and deep purple may be too strong for you.


Overall Look: Medium intensity coloring; a neutral look with medium depth.

Hair: Medium range; medium to ash brown and ash blond; if gray, it is "mousy" not silvery.

Eyes: Grayed green, hazel, brown-green, rose brown.

Examples: Eric Clapton, Lloyd Bentsen, Queen Elizabeth. Your coloring is subtle, which means you have little contrast between the color of your eyes, hair and skin tone. You do not fit easily into any of the other categories; your coloring is blended and you need blended colors of medium depth. Wear medium contrast and avoid bright colors. Your color combinations will look boring on others, but on you, subtle, muted combinations look elegant and sophisticated.

Suggested Colors

Men: Choose medium charcoal gray, medium navy, pewter, charcoal blue-gray, gray with rust and teal patterns, rose-brown and olive suits. Wear shirts in soft white, light blue, beige, warm pink, light aqua; or striped shirts where the background is not too white. Choose ties with tomato red, teal, mahogany, rust, grayed green, and any subtle shade. Avoid: Too dark suits combined with white shirts and ties in clear colors; this kind of high contrast is overpowering.

Women: Choose rose-brown, navy, blue-gray, teal, mahogany, deep blue-green, tomato red, deep periwinkle, olive, charcoal blue-green, jade green suits and dresses. Wear any color that is rich and subtle: salmon, ivory, beige, taupe, pewter, paprika, deep peach, and bronze for blouses and accents. Avoid: Pure white, any bright electric color which will be overpowering and black and white combinations. Mix black with a light soft color such as ivory, jade or peach.

Now that you know your color category and the basic colors for your business wardrobe, you may be finding it difficult to visualize some colors from your list. For example, what is the difference between a true red, a warm or yellow red and a blue red? Or, what is a blue-green or emerald turquoise? Help is at hand. You can order a color swatch wallet of corporate colors for your color category by calling the Image Resource Group. See appendix for phone number.

Besides the colors included in your category, there are ten universal colors. These colors can be worn by anyone regardless of his or her coloring because they are not too dark, too light, too bright or too subtle. They also have a balance between warm (yellow) and cool (blue) undertones which complements all skin tones. You will find a list of these colors on page 187 in the chapter on "Selecting Uniforms."


1. Describe why it is important for hospitality professionals to follow the internationally accepted guidelines for business dress.

2. List the six clothing and accessories characteristics of a well-dressed professional in hospitality.

3. Describe the effect of selecting the right colors that complement your personal coloring.

4. Fill in the blanks:

a. -- colors make you look more powerful and authoritative.

b. -- colors make you look more friendly and approachable.

c. Black is not appropriate for men's daytime suits because --

d. Women can wear black suits during the day if -- --.

e. Women need to use caution when wearing pastel colors because -- .

5. List five appropriate colors that women can select for their business wardrobe.

6. List the six personal color categories and give two examples of well-known people--one man and one woman--for each category.
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Article Details
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Author:Michael, Angie
Publication:Best Impressions in Hospitality
Article Type:Professional standards
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2000
Previous Article:Chapter 1 First impressions.
Next Article:Chapter 3 Professional dress for men in hospitality.

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