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Industry Dress Code: Thinking outside the cubicle

By on May 9, 2014

After working at a bar for 5 years to put myself through school, I knew that my barmaid attire was too provocative for my new career (even though, compared to my colleagues at the bar, I was considered tame). It was time for a makeover so I looked into what professionals have to say about appropriate attire for the workplace. Here are some suggestions from me and from the pros.

The interview

These guidelines apply to the entire meeting and events industry; planners and suppliers, experienced and novice alike. Overall, I would describe the industry as a conservative business climate with a twist, while we are not classified as “suits”, there are times when a suit is the best plan, i.e. a job interview.  Even if it is an informal work environment, it is preferable to be overdressed rather than underdressed.

Consider a navy suit; this works great. (see more on colours later.) Pay attention to fit; shoulders should not extend beyond the lining and the cuff should stop halfway between your wrist and the top of your hand. You should be able to move comfortably. Observe these things when buying a suit; the rest can be tailored.

Tips for women include a coordinated blouse, moderate shoes, limited jewelry, neat, professional hairstyle, tan or light hosiery, sparse makeup and perfume and manicured nails. For men, there is nothing like a white collared shirt, so if you have one, rock it! A conservative tie, dark socks, professional shoes, limited jewelry; trimmed, clean nails with very little aftershave are also basics to consider. Top it off with a slick briefcase and the odds are in your favour.

That’s not to say that all bets are off when you leave the interview room. In this industry, you are constantly meeting new people, looking for new contracts and scouting to fill positions. That said, however, a suit only wardrobe can be tiresome and taxing on the wallet, which brings us to our next topic: day to day dressing.

Day to day

Stay professional, but again, professional does not only equal suits. A pencil skirt, dress, pants and jacket are all good options when paired well. Don’t fall into a style rut. If your company does require a suit, you can mix it up and show personality through your shoes, but stay away from open toe and sky high heels.  Pinpoint what you are trying to say in your position. Whether it’s approachable, authoritative, or knowledgeable, translate that into your day to day. Never show undergarment straps. This seems obvious, but you would be surprised at how many people I see sporting a racy number when they sit down.


I recently discovered that colours affect us more than we know.  My go to colour was always black, but depending on who you are meeting, black can come off as aloof and distant. Look into colour psychology, or do as I did and watch the online course by great courses on “How colors affect you”. Grey is the colour of neutrality and is ideal for conflict situations such as negotiating. Blue elicits trust but still asserts authority which is great for interviews. Bright colours are OK in moderation – a scarf or top can add nice punch – but too much of a good thing could be interpreted as aggressiveness or be distracting. One big faux pas is wearing pale pink (shame, it’s one of my favorites!) as it is too innocent and will hinder your ability to get your point across.


As Canadians, we experience all four seasons, which does not mean you should abandon your professional sophistication during a heat wave. Do not wear flip flops, tanks or shorts unless they are long business shorts. If it is hot, you can look into linen button ups or breathable materials. I walk everywhere, and Montreal winters can be unfriendly. One of the best tips I ever got was to layer underneath – not just on top. Check out Unigo’s Heat Tech; it is light and warm and can be worn under almost anything. Not only does it conduct heat with its proprietary fabric, it is also affordable and machine washable! Bring on the snow!


Glenn Duncan, Vice President of Ottawa Tourism said: “I had someone teach me long ago, you should always dress like you are dressing for the next job you want.” In other words, don’t be complacent about the way you dress; put in the effort and people will notice. Think long term and don’t let your job title hold you back from dressing like you’re a big shot, which may very well be the difference that gets you noticed. He also said: “It’s important that we in the Tourism industry lead the way in showcasing how fun and professional our industry is. There are times to be formal and times to be a bit more playful and funky.” Ottawa tourism certainly has mastered the funky/professional balance; their trademark at industry events is sharp. corporate formal wear with their trademark bright red shoes. – Glenn Duncan, Vice President, Sales, OTTAWA TOURISM


Cody Chomiak from Tourism Winnipeg is no stranger to presentations and  conferences, which is what prompted me to ask him to share his tips. “Whenever I attend a conference or summit, I always look at the type of event and who will be there to decide how formally to dress. In tourism, I think we have a bit more freedom with our fashion, since we’re in a fun industry. If you wear Jeans, make sure they’re a high-end brand with no rips, a dark wash, and paired with a blazer, tie and dress shoes. If you are wearing a suit, make sure it’s nicely cut and paired with something colourful—when you’re meeting new people you want to stand out and be remembered. And most importantly, have some fun with it.” – Cody Chomiak, TOURISM WINNIPEG



“Dress for success every day on the job, because you never know who you’ll run into. When dressing for networking luncheons, I find that dark colours create a perception of authority while lighter hues project friendliness and warmth. Know your audience and tailor accordingly.” – Jacqui Benear, Tourism Vancouver’s director of Sales, Meetings & Conventions, U.S.


First of all I dislike the term “dress code” because it means we have to work within boundaries. It simply should mean “should you veer off the road too far you can always come back to this”. However, some people feel more comfortable with boundaries.  Some key points I have always kept in the back of my head when getting ready for a cocktail event:

  1. Dress code means this is how everyone else will be dressing.
  2. Too Short: there is such a thing and people should pay attention. It is the business world and you may have to sit down at some point.
  3. Your Brand. How you dress speaks volumes about you. How would you like to remembered? As someone who takes pride in what they do.
  4. Carry yourself proud- Stand tall and shoulders back,  Baby!
  5. Stand out.  Don’t blend in – use colour, shoes and accessories. Make a statement!
  6. Seasons. Dress for the season. Winter is winter and open toe shoes should wait. It is a business event.
  7. PLEASE keep your shoes on, even if they are uncomfortable. Walking around in bare feet is not professional. Remember better shoes next time!
  8. Feel Fabulous! Most important: how you feel is how people see you.
  9. Plan- think in advance and try it on the week before just in case.


If you consider some of these, the outfit will pick you. We are professionals, but in a very entertaining industry, so get creative and remember to add a little “SASS” to the “CLASS” Jennifer Holly, Business Development Director Canada, TRAVEL ALBERTA


My mother always told me to “dress for success”.  I listened and learned from those words.  Recently I had the opportunity to attend the CSAE Holiday Reception and Dinner, with clients and partners from Tourism Kingston.  It being a business function, it’s hard to know what to wear.  Fortunately, the evening was themed – Glamour Gatsby. After some wardrobe deliberation, I ended up with a glittery gold dress with appropriate lines and cut, and traditional black patent shoes.  Your image has the power to affect people emotionally and intellectually, projecting that you do or do not have the confidence and professional potential to be successful.  Always dress the way that you want to be seen: serious, professional, upward bound and ready to entertain clients. –Connie Markle, Conference and Trade Travel Manager, TOURISM KINGSTON.

Now that you’ve heard from the pros, it’s time to head out and get your wardrobe. Happy shopping!


Amber Jackson.

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