10 Tips on How to Dress for Success in Freelancing

Two freelancers met at a coffee shop. The first freelancer was wearing a blazer, a nice shirt, and clean, well-fitting jeans. The other freelancer was wearing frayed sweatpants and a t-shirt and had her hair piled sloppily on her head. When the second freelancer left to use the restroom, another customer complimented the first freelancer—for being so nice to a homeless person!

This is a true story that I heard in a presentation by my colleague Alisa Bonsignore called “If Looks Can Kill… Your Career.” Alisa is a freelance writer, strategist, and speaker who clarifies complex ideas.

Dress for Success to Impress Clients and Colleagues

How freelancers dress when networking and meeting clients or colleagues matters—a lot—whether you’re meeting people in person or online. “Within the first few seconds of meeting, people form opinions about you based on your appearance. By learning how to project the appropriate visual image and style, you can achieve a positive and lasting impression that will promote success,” says Michelle T. Sterling, an image consultant and founder of Global Image Group, an image-consulting business in New York City.

Many freelancers don’t dress for success and miss out on making that all-important positive first impression.

Alicia agrees. “Freelancers, work-at-home professionals and other non-corporate types have enough stigmas to overcome. People think we’re sitting at home watching HGTV or Dr. Oz all day long. They think we work from the kitchen table. They think we nap in the afternoon,” says Alicia in We Need To Talk About Your Pants. “Please, let’s not feed into that stereotype by looking like we’ve just rolled out of bed.”

Boost Your Confidence and Performance

“When you look better, you feel better. If you choose clothing and accessories that fit you well, suit your industry and lifestyle, and make you feel good, this will automatically increase your self-esteem,” says Jacqueline Whitmore in 6 Actions You Can Take Every Day to Build Your Self-Confidence.  Whitmore is founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach, a business-etiquette training company.

More self-esteem makes networking—which is hard for most freelancers—easier.

Need more reason to dress for freelance success? Research shows that what you wear can affect your performance, says Matthew Hutson in Dress for Success: How Clothes Influence Our Performance.  “. . . a growing body of research suggests that there is something biological happening when we put on a snazzy outfit and feel like a new person.”

Get more tips on networking

The Ultimate Guide to Networking for Freelancers

Here are 10 tips on tips how to dress for success in person and virtually.

Tips on How to Dress for Success In Person

You don’t usually need to wear a suit and pantyhose (ladies) or a suit and a tie (guys), but you do need to look professional and polished. Here are 6 tips on dressing for freelance success.

1. Think about where you are and who you’re with.

In the U.S., casual clothing is more accepted on the West Coast than on the East Coast. Be more conservative at a national conference than, for example, at a local meeting in California.

Dress like your target clients. “If you’re meeting clients, adapt your dress for the clients’ comfort and culture, not your own,” says Whitmore.

Business casual works for most networking events as long as your target clients aren’t conservative.

But I’d stay away from jeans, which many experts say are okay for business casual. And follow the “rules” of business casual. Here are some of those rules.

“Clothing that works well for the beach, yard work, dance clubs, exercise sessions, and sports contests may not be appropriate for a professional appearance at work,” says Susan Heithfield, in Dress for Work Success: A Sample Business Casual Dress Code.

I’d go further and say these clothes are definitely not appropriate in a business setting.

Don’t show:

  • Cleavage
  • Too much of your back, chest, stomach, or feet
  • Your underwear

2. Choose the right colors.

Certain colors can help you project the right image and stand out in a crowd. Here’s what some colors mean:

  • Yellow = positivity
  • Blue = trustworthy
  • Red = assertiveness

Bright colors also help you stand out in a crowd.

3. Wear a conversation starter.

An interesting accessory gives people something to comment on and helps you stand out in a crowd.

“Don’t be afraid to let your personality shine in your accessories. Bold jewelry or a colorful tie can be a focal point and a good conversation starter,” says Whitmore.

4. Be wary of trends.

The latest fashion trend may be inappropriate for business. “Classic clothing, if worn properly, looks appropriate and dependable. This is what business attire is supposed to be,” says Sterling.

Show your personality through your accessories and the colors you wear, not your entire outfit.

5. Invest in great shoes.

Shoes are the most important accessory, says Whitmore. “Good-looking, polished shoes help convey your professional image and attention to detail.” Don’t wear beach sandals!

6. Look polished.

Make sure your clothes are clean and neat. Never wear wrinkled, torn, or frayed clothes.

4 Tips on How to Dress for Success Virtually

Dressing for success in virtual networking is different than dressing for in-person networking.

7. Focus on your shirt, hair, and any accessories.

Only your head and shoulders or a little more shows on camera. So focus on what people will see.

8. Choose the right color shirt.

The color of your shirt is important. Solid colors are best and there should be some contrast with your background so you don’t blend in with it. Patterns, especially things like stripes and plaids, can look really bad on camera.

Experts have different opinions about which colors are best. Some experts say neutrals or soft blues are best. Others say bright colors work. Choose a shirt that looks good on you and is comfortable.

9. Pay attention to your hair.

Make sure your hair looks neat, since your head is prominent in virtual networking.

10. Keep jewelry simple and tasteful.

If you wear jewelry, keep it simple and tasteful. Sparkling jewelry that may look great in person is glaring virtually.

Dress for Your Success

“You can have anything you want if you dress for it,” says Edith Head, who won eight Academy Awards for her costume design. Dressing for success will help you build a steady, high-income freelance business.

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Learn More About How to Dress for Success

From The Mighty Marketer:

Ultimate Guide to Networking for Freelancers

12 Ways to Make Networking Events Amazing, Not Scary

Other Resources:

Jacqueline Whitmore, 6 Actions You Can Take Every Day to Build Your Self-Confidence

Matthew Hutson, Dress for Success: How Clothes Influence Our Performance

Alisa Bonsignore, We Need To Talk About Your Pants

Susan Heithfield, Dress for Work Success: A Sample Business Casual Dress Code