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Attire for International Business Travel


When in Rome do as Romans do.

If you don’t know what Romans do to the last button or collar, play it safe and dress formal.
When you travel internationally, it pays to take greater care with your attire. You are meeting people of different culture or cultures and dressing right is your way of meeting them half way. When you dress as expected, there is a sense of a shared working relationship between you and your clients or partners. This is not the time to show your personality and uniqueness through attire.

Dress Code

Dress according to your industry norms. Highly formal attire for the financial and legal services firms without an inch of deviation and mid- to highly formal for other industries. The most you could deviate is to business casuals, we recommend Softly Tailored on our Style Scale, if you are from a creative industry.

Even with the business casuals, make sure you are neatly groomed and attired. Apply the no jeans, no T-shirt, no sneaker rule. It’s all well to dress down in your creative corner or in companies like Google, but when you are out meeting clients or partners, dress up or your First Impressions are in trouble and it can go steadily downhill from there.

What do you Pack?

For a two to three day visit, a single suit is enough with multiple matching trousers. Anything more than that, carry two jackets along. If there is a more casual, off-site meeting, pack a suit in lighter shade which will serve well for Softly Tailored attire. A wrinkle-free shirt for each day in cotton or wool, in lighter colors in keeping with the formal attire is necessary. Check for loose buttons before packing. An emergency sewing kit is a necessary travel accompaniment for the bad days when a button pops. If you don’t have one, the hotel can supply it if there isn’t one already in the bathroom.

Carry a tie for each day unless you are meeting a different set of people some of the days, since it is a highly visible way to show change in your clothing.

Pack your suits neatly so that they don’t crumple. The moment you reach the hotel, hang them up in the closet. Same goes for shirts too to ease the wrinkles. Most hotels provide an ironing board and iron. If the wrinkles are mild, take a go at it yourself. If they are too sharp, don’t spare the change, get them ironed by the hotel laundry.

Wear a watch, it shows you understand the importance of time. For women, pearls or a light chain, bracelet and ear rings are all you need.

A soft bag with straight lines that has multiple partitions for laptop, charger and other paraphernalia in addition to a fold for papers is necessary. Don’t forget your business cards, contact list with phones and addresses, and a GSM phone if possible.

Shoes & Socks

One pair of shoes is good enough. Slip-ons are easy to handle in airports where you will be asked to take off your shoes and belts during security check. But, check if it is heavy snow or monsoon weather when you are stepping into the country. If that is so, carry a spare pair of shoes. If your shoes get hopelessly wet, you may find it expensive to buy a pair once you are there. Carry a set of socks for each day. They don’t take up much space in your suitcase and it is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to fresh or smoking socks.

Cold Weather Essentials

Carry cream and lip balm. Cold weather aggravates dandruff so make sure you wash your hair regularly, if necessary every day. A casual jacket is necessary during travel, you might find the airport too cold for comfort. This applies even if you are going to the country in summer. Remember, their notion of summer is different from an Indian summer.

I was once told that the weather was quite warm in May on a trip across the USA. From cold in New York and Boston to cloudy cold in Michigan to fairly warm in LA, it was madness since I carried just a light jacket. I ended up buying a thicker one there.

Buildings and vehicles maintain warm temperatures, but the little time you spend in open air is another story. If you are traveling in winter, carry at least two sets of thermal innerwear, depending on your length of stay. Caps or hats, scarves and gloves are a must or you will shiver to the bone in the few minutes that you step out in the open air.

Casuals and Dinner Formals

Limit the casual clothes to a pair of jeans if you really want to carry one and a couple of T-shirts or tops, since it is a business trip. For the flight itself, khakhis are comfortable while giving you a groomed look.

Get an idea whether you would be invited to a dinner. If it is a post-meeting dinner party, your day’s clothes might be fine, but if you are expected to dress up, carry a set accordingly. For men, a slightly more casual attire in the choice of shirt and tie is safe enough. For women, an evening blouse and a skirt with flare, or dress pants themselves are fine.

What we have given are the general rules that stand you in good stead in most countries. For individual countries, a few specific rules are likely to apply. Check with your business colleagues if you can or with the hotel before you pack.

It pays to be safe than sorry when it comes to international travel.

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