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PO BOX 505 - Wyandotte, OK 74370, USA

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Go to Mid-America Speakers for more information about Carrie Ann Cook, Speaker.

Dress for Success & Your Audience
Lecture Saturday, September 6, 2008, 9:30-10:30 AM - GSG/FGS
Material can also be found on the CD of 2008 FGS Syllabus

Please note that more information is provided here than time for coverage will allow.

Dressing for speaking is about your image, as well as comfort. No matter how perfect the clothes are you have chosen for a given lecture, if you are uncomfortable in any way, it is likely to show. This may make your audience have a bad first impression before you open you mouth – sometimes as much as wearing the “wrong” thing.

  1. Introduction
  2. Truths
    1. 10 seconds to make first impression
    2. Dress is just a part of your overall speaker image
    3. Be comfortable with who you are and what you are wearing
    4. Speaker’s clothing must look good during conversation as well as “play to the room”
  3. Examples where adjusting for your audience can be a good thing
    1. Being outdoors
    2. Not dressing against an unwritten rule - no white shoes in winter, etc
    3. Matching your topic - colonial, civil war, death, etc.
    4. Not overdressing for children and teenagers
    5. Not under dressing for older adults
    6. Dress for the type of event – fan based, professional, etc.
  1. Overall good rules
    1. Unisex

                                                             i.      Aim to dress just a bit better than your audience

                                                          ii.      Blend in, don’t distract – know your group

                                                        iii.      Strive for a total package – don’t make do with worn shoes, neglect fingernails, etc.

1.    Well Groomed

2.    No Wrinkles in Clothes

3.    Match Everything in Some Way

4.    No Wear Showing – stains, frays, “iron shine”, etc.

5.    Be sure to have your belt loops occupied

                                                        iv.      Fastening suit jackets

1.    Keep double breasted styles secured

2.    Single breasted - top to bottom rule of thumb

a.    Always

b.    Sometimes

c.     Never

d.    Exception – center button of 3 button suit may be substituted for top

                                                           v.      Suit coloring and fabric

1.    Somber colors that flatter you and are in style are best (blacks, dark blues, grays, browns)

2.    Solids and pinstripes are traditional

3.    If the fabric wrinkles easily, such as linen, it should be considered very carefully before buying

4.    Choose fabric weight based on your body temperature, season, and planned types of lectures

                                                        vi.      Match your metals when accessorizing

                                                      vii.      Wristwatch

1.    Must fit well – unless a woman’s “bangle”

2.    Traditional band choice – metal

3.    No sport watches

4.    Analog projects more powerful than digital

                                                   viii.      Can’t be too cautious with undergarments

1.    Men’s undershirt improves look or “fall”

2.    Women should preserve the mystery

                                                        ix.      Dressing includes a sense of smell

1.    Well groomed in every way

2.    Take it easy with the scents

                                                           x.      What goes around, comes around – eventually

1.    Reoccurring fashion trends

2.    Don’t “jump the shark”

                                                        xi.      When in doubt, go conservative

    1. Female

                                                             i.      Rule of 13

                                                          ii.      Most dresses can still benefit from a suit jacket

                                                        iii.      Skirting the Issue

1.    No minis

2.    No longer than mid-calf

3.    Don’t be too fluttery

                                                        iv.      Ear rings

1.    Accessory staple

2.    Draw the eye to the face

3.    Wear only one pair, if you can bring yourself to

4.    No chandlers

                                                           v.      Don’t be strap-happy

1.    Never flash undergarment straps

2.    Choose shoes with little or no straps

3.    Make educated choices about strappy tops

    1. Male

                                                             i.      Tie width should reflect current style (unless retro)

                                                          ii.      Tie should fall to the top of the belt buckle or waistband

                                                        iii.      Ties should be darker than shirt

                                                        iv.      Suit shirt should be long sleeved

                                                           v.      Traditional suit jacket choice – single breasted

                                                        vi.      Wear tall enough socks you won’t flash leg

                                                      vii.      Don’t fail to accessorize

1.    Pens

2.    Notebooks

3.    Tech carriers

  1. Shoes: New Rules!
    1. Boots can be professional
    2. When toes are revealed, it may be preferable they are painted
  2. Exceptions can be made
  3. Common pitfalls and current don’ts
    1. Over accessorizing
    2. Patch pockets
    3. Too ethnic
    4. Visible body art
    5. Ill-kept or bedroom-look long hairstyles
    6. Long, loose hairstyles
  4. Style Trivia
    1. Black Tie requires a black jacket
    2. English tuxedos are white
    3. Cummerbund pleats face up and are not worn with a vest


Embarking on dressing for success, unless you are excited about fashion and clothes, can be almost as time consuming as preparing a new lecture or report. However, as the habit and your wardrobe develop, it can become second nature. It can be as important as your actual presentation style and body language. That said standard “power dressing” must be tempered with your own personality. Never forget that you are your own person and make all of your final decisions. If a speaker is uncomfortable in a high neck shirt that is the “it” thing to wear, choosing to wear it could negatively effect their presentation quality. If a person has spent years establishing something “signature”, such as a color, accessory, etc., it may be detrimental to abandon it now. After all, dressing for success is actually packaging - just another way of branding your product.

This speaker wishes all the best for every endeavor and also welcomes comments. Feel free to contact her by email or USPS at: PO BOX 471, Wyandotte, OK 74370.


Never forget your local library and reference librarian. In addition to checking with a few of your personal and trusted contacts that create an image you want to emulate, the internet can provide lots of suggestions, further information and alternate ideas. Online, start with Wikipedia (, try the following and conduct your own searches:

Sabbath, Ann Marie, Business Etiquette in Brief, Bob Adams Inc., Holbrook, MA, 1993.

Photos and illustrations from

Gregath/Cook archives; Microsoft; Various US Federal Government Archives;

Mount Union College

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