How Should You Dress for a Client Meeting?

What’s the appropriate way to dress for a client meeting?

Apparently, there’s a great deal of confusion on this topic. Freelance writer, Jesaka Long, describes an instance on her blog when she attended a client meeting and saw another freelancer at the same meeting in a tee shirt. (Fortunately, Jesaka had the good sense to dress professionally for the meeting.)

We freelance writers enjoy our freedoms–and one of those freedoms is the ability to wear whatever you want when you are working from your home office. You don’t have to look too hard to find tales of freelancers working in pajamas, sweats, shorts, and various other comfortable outfits. (Personally, I favor jeans and a tee shirt.)

However, when it comes how we dress for client meetings, the story should be a little different.

The Importance of a First Impression

If you’re looking for freelance writing job from a corporation you may be called in to the company headquarters for an interview. Even if you are already doing freelance writing for a corporation, you may still need to meet in person with your client from time to time.

What you wear to those meetings IS important–especially if your meeting is the very first one with that particular client. You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression.

My Experience

When I was working as a staff technical writer within the corporate fold, I was often asked to be part of a group of writers who conducted peer interviews.

We met face-to-face with those who might potentially join our team. Sometimes the interviews were with writers that we were seeking to hire. Other times, the interviews were with writers who would be working for us as independent contractors. Several times, I met with freelance writers who would be working from home.

In all of that time, I can only remember a few instances when a writer showed up dressed in what I would consider to be completely unacceptable attire for the situation. For the most part, the writer candidates I spoke with adopted the dress code of our company, which was business casual.

Of course, our primary concern during the meetings was assessing the writer’s experience and not their appearance. However, if two candidates had equal experience and one presented a more professional appearance I do believe that it would have made a difference in which one we selected.

Client Meeting Mistakes to Avoid

Here are some mistakes to avoid when dressing for a client meeting:

  • Sloppy attire. Even if you are dressed appropriately for the corporate environment, you won’t make a good impression if you’re sloppy. Make sure that your clothes are clean (no stains) and in good repair. If appropriate, iron your outfit before you wear it.
  • Not matching the corporate dress code. If at all possible, try to match the dress code of the company where the meeting will be held. Most of the time, you will be okay with business casual, but there are a few companies where more formal attire is expected.
  • Skimpy attire. Shorts or short skirts, muscle shirts or plunging necklines–these are almost never appropriate in a business setting. If you want to come across as a professional, you should dress like one.

By showing up to a client meeting in an outfit that’s less than professional you may be unintentionally transmitting a message to the client that you don’t really care about your work.

Feedback Time

Do you meet with clients face-to-face? How do you decide what to wear to a client meeting?





19 responses
  1. Tammi Kibler Avatar

    When in doubt, call and ask whomever answers the phones about the dress policy, specifically on the day you plan to attend. I once showed up in business casual on a day when the company was expecting a client visit and had instructed all employees to dress up. I wasn’t “wrong,” but I was the only one in the room dressed business casual and that affected my comfort with my presentation.
    .-= Tammi Kibler´s last blog ..Four Mistakes Sarah Ferguson Can Teach Writers to Avoid =-.

    1. Laura Spencer Avatar

      You’re absolutely right Tammi. It’s best to ask if you’re not sure.

      A lot of freelancers are uncomfortable with asking about dress code, but companies really don’t mind if you ask.

      I hope that you got the job on that day.

  2. Phil Avatar

    Business attire. You are operating a business.

  3. Laura Spencer Avatar

    Hi Phil!

    I do agree–though I think business casual it what passes for business attire at many places these days. If in doubt, ask or go by a day earlier and observe.

    Of course, I live in the southwest which is notoriously more casual than some other parts of the U.S. So, this may vary by location.
    .-= Laura Spencer´s last blog ..Is Blogging Journalism? =-.

    1. Phil Avatar

      A rule I learned a long time ago (don’t remember source), you’re always better up if your a little too dressed up than too dressed down. A guy can always remove a tie. Think of what a lawyer would wear. You are no less professional. Of course, if you’re going to be in anenvironment where business attire just doesn’t work (covering a state fair in the country, meeting a client at a beach, or something), then dress appropriately, but always a little “up” from what you might think is passable.

    2. Phil Avatar

      Another comment: I go back far enough that we had to wear a suit in high school (freshman year, dress code relaxed after that, though I took on a job that required a tie while still in HS).

      1. Laura Spencer Avatar

        Phil, I’ve seen old movies and T.V. shows and I know that a suit and tie used to be pretty much the norm for men. A dress was pretty much required for women.

        I, for one, am glad to see the atmosphere a little bit more comfortable.
        .-= Laura Spencer´s last blog ..Is Blogging Journalism? =-.

  4. Steph Auteri Avatar

    When I’m working from home, I make the effort to change out of the pjs, but I don’t go wild. I’m also lucky enough to work part-time at a web magazine where the dress code is quite casual. I’ve never been good at pulling off corporate attire. But if I’m attending a networking event, collecting business cards at a conference, or some such thing, I always make the effort to ramp it up to (at least) business casual. I’m a professional. Of course I should look the part!
    .-= Steph Auteri´s last blog ..Help Me Make Career Coaching for Word Nerds Awesome(r)! =-.

    1. Laura Spencer Avatar

      Thanks for that Stephanie,

      Making your own dress code is definitely a perk of freelancing. (One that I enjoy too, I might add.)

      As you point out, if you’re going somewhere in a professional it’s a good idea to make sure that your appearance is professional.
      .-= Laura Spencer´s last blog ..Is Blogging Journalism? =-.

  5. LIsa Avatar

    Business casual is a tricky concept, especially if you’re working with a small business or a non-profit. Of course, it’s easier if you’re a guy: you wear a suit and tie, and then remove jacket and tie if they’re overkill! As a woman, I tend to wear something black and simple, and then add a piece of “creative” jewelry. The black and simple says “competent,” the jewelry says “creative.”


    1. Laura Spencer Avatar

      Lisa, That’s sounds like an excellent plan. Depending on what you choose, it could fit in almost any business environment.
      .-= Laura Spencer´s last blog ..Is Blogging Journalism? =-.

  6. Marla Markman Avatar
    Marla Markman

    Thank you for posting this, Laura. I constantly struggle with this since in my heart, I’m a barefoot momma. But wherever I go, even if it’s just a quick in-and-out to pick up a manuscript from the client, I strive to look professional. In one industry group I belong to, most of the members come dressed down, but I still force myself to dress up since I’m representing my company. But as soon as I get home, I immediately strip down to my bare feet and jeans again!

    1. Laura Spencer Avatar

      Well put!

      When you’re at a company you’re representing your business.

      Who wants to wear shoes at home.
      .-= Laura Spencer´s last blog ..Is Blogging Journalism? =-.

  7. allena Avatar

    I adore adore adore clothes & dressing up occasionally (although I equally adore my standard freelance writing outfit of sweats n tee). So when I do have client meetings, I find dressing up to be one of the best parts.
    .-= allena´s last blog ..5 Easy Ledes =-.

  8. Issa Avatar

    Hi Laura, I’m glad you brought up this topic. Most of us who have been freelancing full-time for years have simply become too comfy with the way we dress. Sometimes, it’s like a rebel inside saying ” Hey, I’m not part of the usual workforce and I’m proud of it. ” Freelancers love working int their pajamas but I think, one must dress-to-kill when attending power meetings with a client. It shows your respect for them as well. Whenever I meet clients face-to-face, I go for neutral colors with what I wear and I show a hint of my individuality with the accessories I carry/wear ( scarf, bag, shoes, eyeglasses, etc ). Less is more for me and I love dressing like a savvy, urban chic.
    .-= Issa´s last blog ..Setting Work Boundaries as a Freelancer =-.

  9. Laura Spencer Avatar

    Allena–Dressing up can be fun for sure. Having a client meeting also provides a great excuse for shopping for new clothes. 😉

    Thanks Issa, I think you’re so right. If you show up at a client meeting and you look sloppy that either says something about you or something about how you feel about the client, or both. Classic pieces and neutral colors are usually a good investment for the business wardrobe.

    Just imagine how much money we’d have to spend and how large our business wardrobe would have to be if we went to an office every day…
    .-= Laura Spencer´s last blog ..Is Blogging Journalism? =-.

  10. Marlene MacIsaac Avatar

    I would prefer to wear nice dark jeans with a blazer and nice boots or dress shoes, but if it’s a first-time meeting I wear slacks and a blouse and a blazer and nice shoes. Yuk. If the client appears to be casual then the next time I’ll do the jeans and blazer combo. If it’s a networking event, no jeans. You never know who you might meet.
    .-= Marlene MacIsaac´s last blog ..Writer’s Block – Time to Get Creative! =-.

    1. Laura Spencer Avatar

      Thanks Marlene!

      I’d say that if your attire matches the attire in your client’s office, you’re probably okay.

      It sounds like you’ve given some thought to this and set up some guidelines for yourself to ensure that you make a good first impression.
      .-= Laura Spencer´s last blog ..Is Blogging Journalism? =-.

  11. Nolan Wilson Avatar

    How you dress really depends on the client. But, it is always important to be overly cautious and wear business attire on the first in person meeting

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