Small Business Professor: Suit yourself — you can never go wrong

Dear Professor Bruce: I am a budding entrepreneur and do not have a business wardrobe. However I will be meeting with banks and potential customers. What should I be looking for in business attire? I have a limited budget? Any suggestions?

Answer: Sharon Kornstein, certified image professional, of Image Design Consulting, has some great advice.

You want to be dressed appropriately especially when meeting people for the first time. The most important clothing you need to own is a good suit. This is an investment so don’t skimp on quality. Look for something in a dark neutral color such as navy blue, gray or black. Make sure it is tailored well for a proper fit. Wear it any time you are seeing someone for the first time and for any meetings regarding finances. The good news is that by switching around your shirt and tie (or blouse, depending on your gender) you can create a number of different looks. One suit is enough to start with. Reduce your limited budget by reducing quantity, not quality.

The next step is accessories. Again, focus on quality. A pair of black shoes will match any of the aforementioned suits. Buy at least one pair of professional looking black or brown shoes along with a matching belt.

Some other items you will need:

■ Watch — does not need to be expensive, designer quality. But it should be business like and not a sport watch.

Handbag, briefcase or portfolio bag. This should be leather, but does not need to be pricey. Focus on functionality rather than fancy logos or gimmicks.

■ Tie — Look for sales but do not skimp on quality. If you buy a few ties that match different outfits you will be set for a while.

■ Shirts/Blouses — a light colored shirt underneath your suit provides contrast and is the best bet for business. Buy three or four long-sleeved shirts in cotton or polyester (or silk for blouses)

■ Sport jacket or blazer. This is for that “second meeting” if you’re going business casual. A blue blazer or subtly patterned sport jacket is versatile enough to use for dining out, a business meeting or presentation. You can always take it off if you’re overdressed. Do not wear your suit jacket as a blazer.

Once you have the basics you can add as your budget permits: a neutral colored trench coat; separate pants or skirts; more shirts and tops; a vest, v-neck sweater or cardigan; a good winter coat.

People like to do business with those who already look successful. If you dress like you’ve already reached your goals you will get there that much sooner.

For further information, please visit

Bruce Freeman, The Small Business Professor, is president of ProLine Communications, a marketing and public relations firm in Livingston, N.J., and author of “Birthing the Elephant” (Ten Speed Press). E-mail questions to

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