A colleague’s YouTube video has inspired this article. In it, he discusses the importance of the appearance and dress code for executive protection professionals.
Those of you who know me personally are aware that this topic is one of my soft spots. So, I have decided to share my view and knowledge of dressing with style and class. In other words, according to my standards.
Upon watching the fellow professional present the video I mentioned above, I was so pleased to see that we don’t only discuss our workouts, diets, and firearm training in our industry.
Nobody denies the importance and need of the hard skills set. However, in reality, when operating in an executive environment, more than 95% of the operational work depends on our soft skills, and part of those skills are our appearance and ability to dress with style.
Appearance and First Impressions Count
For all of us who operate in executive environments, it is crucial how we dress and present ourselves at networking events. And, in front of our colleagues and potential clients. All this has a direct impact on our branding and professional success.
There is one ancient saying: “Wherever you go, you will be first judged by your appearance, and only after that by your knowledge.”
According to Forbes magazine, our brains make a thousand computations during the first seven seconds we see someone. Are you trustworthy, confident, likable, or competent? Within seven seconds, people make up their minds about you, even though you probably haven’t even said hello.
Following this line of thought, if we don’t manage to make a good ― if not a great ― first impression, nobody will give us the chance to show our actual worth as we trade and operate in the highly competitive business environment.
Defining the Basics: the Perfect Dress Code
Before I go deeper into this topic, I would like to clear up two terms, style and classic. People use the two words widely, mainly in the fashion industry, but more and more in the business environment in recent years. The reason is that the flashier fashion trends challenge and push the old-fashioned classy business style.
Style. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the word style is a way of doing something, especially one that is typical of a person, group of people, place, or period. In our context, we will look at how we dress.
Classic. Using the same dictionary as a reference, classic means having a high quality or standard against which other things are judged. In our context, we will look at it as a classy way of dressing.
As we defined the meanings of the main terminology of this article, I am happy for us to move to the essence of the topic.
Why Everything Counts
In the video the colleague highlights that “everything counts” when we attend networking events, meet with potential clients, and establish our brand. I am 100% on the same opinion.
Hairstyle. As professionals in our trade, we customize our services towards the requirements and needs of our clients and principals. And our hairstyle shouldn’t be an exception.
When operating in executive settings, our principals will likely work in corporate environments, attend high-profile events, or be in the public eye.
Therefore, in the first instance, our hairstyle should be clean and tidy. I recommend a classic corporate-style haircut that is not too short, not too long, and you can’t go wrong regardless of the profile of your principal.
Why not too short? Not too short as we don’t want to stick out, we don’t want to look too assertive, and it may not fit with the profile of the principal.
Why not too long? Not too long as it is hard to maintain a good shape, especially after a long day. It will require the use of products to keep it tidy and the likelihood to look messy at the end of the day is high.
Grooming and manicure
Equally as the hairstyle, keeping your eyebrows, nose, ears, and facial hair neat is vital when operating in an executive environment. Looking untidy and scruffy can reflect poorly on the image of our principal for which we have a responsibility, as mentioned above.
As part of our job, we meet with many people, regardless if it is at networking events, business meetings, or just escorting our principal around his busy lifestyle.
We will meet people, and we will shake hands. Unmaintained, rough hands and dirty nails make a terrible first impression, especially if combined with a sloppy handshake. You could even say that a good manicure is an extended hand of your dress code.
There are two main dress codes in our trade: formal and smart casual. And I will share my opinion and standards for both styles. The dress code requirements are usually given in advance of the operation by the client or the principal. And it is obligatory.
Formal dress code. The formal dress code generally comprises a business-style suit, shirt, and tie. On many occasions, our clients will have specific requirements for the colors.
However, if not specified, try to stick to the standard business colors, such as navy blue, grey, or dark grey. The choice of the colors also depends on the season. For example, I recommend lighter shades during the summer and darker tones in wintertime.
When wearing a suit, the most important is to fit your body shape, not the brand or its price. Many of us can’t afford tailor-made suits, but that’s not an excuse to wear poorly fitted ones.
Always try to have the best buy for your budget. If you are not happy with the fit, please use a tailor to do the necessary correction according to your body shape. It will still be cheaper than the tailor-made ones, and you will look the part.
Smart casual. When we have requirements for a smart casual dress code as a standard, this entails smart jeans or chinos with:
- A shirt,
- A blazer, and
- Smart shoes.
The big emphasis here is on wearing smart jeans.
What do I mean under smart? Any jeans which are not skinny, not faded, nor ripped, and of a conservative color. The same applies to the chinos.
When we wear a smart casual outfit, we must make sure that we have only the shirt’s top button undone, not more. Otherwise, it looks too casual and unprofessional.
The choice of shirt is crucial for the overall professional look. Let’s start with the choice of the collar. As there are many types, I will touch only on the two most popular ones.
A wide collar or cutaway shirt is one of the most popular due to its balanced shape. It suits any face shape and can be worn either with or without a tie. However, in a formal setting, I recommend this type of collar to be worn with a wide tie with a double Windsor knot.
Narrow collar or moderate cutaway shirt is preferably worn with regular or thin width tie and a half Windsor knot. This type of collar fits people with long necks, as they are relatively high.
Always buy the fitting-sized shirt, as you must do the top button of your shirt, and you have to be comfortable with that. Of course, this doesn’t mean buying two sizes of a larger shirt and having a massive gap between the collar and your neck. It just does not look smart or stylish.
The following vital point when we are choosing a shirt is to fit our body type. For example, if you are very fit, you should go for a slim-fitted model, not for regular, as it will look too baggy on you.
Opposingly, if you don’t have a flat stomach, don’t go for fitted models. The first reason is that it will be uncomfortable. And secondly, your shirt will pull an open gap between the buttons.
A Few Extra Shirt Tips
When buying shirts, we must consider the color of our suit too. Ideally, they must match. If the suit is patterned, the shirt should be a plain, solid color and vice versa.
The material is significant for our comfort. Personally, I prefer and recommend cotton shirts, although they are more difficult to maintain. However, many brands now are selling non-iron cotton shirts at reasonable prices.
The last thing you must consider when you are buying a shirt is the length of the sleeves. You don’t want them to be too long or too short. Ideally, they will appear about 1.5-2 cm under the sleeves of your suit jacket.
It is essential for the professional to wear a cotton body-color vest under the shirt, regardless of the temperatures.
Why cotton T-shirt? Because it will keep all the sweat and unpleasant smells away from your shirt and principal. Thus, you will never face the embarrassment of the wet underarm patches if you need to take your jacket off.
Why body color? Because even under a white shirt, it will be invisible if you choose the right color for your skin.
Why V-shape? Because it will be entirely out of sight if you have your top button undone.
Ties are an essential component of the formal or business look. I prefer wide or standard width ties, as my knot of choice is a double Windsor.
The reason for this choice is that you can never go wrong with it, regardless of the occasion or environment. This knot, for me, is like the S class in vehicles. Always try to use a knot, which I recommend for the collar type. It makes a difference.
When the client or principal does not specify color, always use conservative business ties with no more than two colors, standard width. Don’t combine a striped tie with a striped shirt. It becomes too much.
If you really want to look classy and stylish, all your accessories need to match. So all the leathers, belts, shoes, watch strap, wallet, and business bag should be the same color.
I would go even further. Personally, I am trying to match my umbrellas too, or at least to have one with both main colors, black and brown, to fit all my outfits.
One of the most common style mistakes is to wear a tactical watch with a suit. So, make sure that all your accessories and jewelry are matching your current style.
Socks should match either the color of the shoes or the trousers. I found it easier to match them with the shoes as I wear only two colors of shoes: black and brown.
Always buy high-quality cotton socks, as we spend our days on our feet on many occasions, and if we don’t look after them, they will not look after us.
I think it is necessary to highlight the importance of comfortable shoes, especially in our line of work. Therefore, never go on an operation with brand new shoes. Always try to wear them at home first for at least two days to ensure that they will not kill your feet, as you will need them.
Shoes always need to be clean and ideally in good shape. Don’t wear loafers, as it doesn’t look professional. And in case of emergency, if you need to run, you might lose them. Wear shoes with laces. The laces should be black or brown, depending on the color of your shoes.
In Conclusion on Dress Code
Probably the most critical aspect of personal appearance is that it reveals how we feel about ourselves. Self-confidence is crucial for our personal branding and success. Well-groomed professionals look confident, even if they may not always feel that way.
Dressing for success is one of the first steps towards becoming a highly efficient and successful professional.
As professionals in the executive protection field, we must make it a habit to look presentable all the time and in any environment. First of all, for our satisfaction and, secondly, for the client we represent. Remember that your dress code is as necessary as are other aspects of your work.
I hope you found this article interesting and beneficial. However, I don’t claim that I’ve managed to cover the topic 100%, as it is so massive that we can write a book about it.
Thank you for reading, and please don’t hesitate to share your opinions on style in the comments underneath.
Radoslav Savkov BA, CPP, MSyI, M.ISRM
Oxford Protection Services
Freelance Security Consultant / Personal Protection Specialist