(This is a blog post from Nikki Branzelle, Senior Stylist at Trunk Club in Washington, DC. I invited Nikki to write this post because, believe it or not, your appearance matters when you present! Trunk Club is not a financial sponsor of PolicyViz and the views here do not represent the views of Trunk Club.)

The number one thing I have to combat as a stylist in DC is the idea that what you wear to work doesn’t really matter. Over time, that “business casual” dress code slowly melts down to a pair of khakis you bought for the interview two years ago and a fire-sale shirt you bought on President’s Day weekend.

Then it comes time to present in front of an audience of peers, colleagues, or superiors, and that daily outfit is clearly not going to cut it. Allow me to help!

It’s all about your audience. And yes, there are rules you absolutely must follow if you’re going to speak to a group whose attention you want to command.

Rule number 1: You must be more dressed up than the most senior person you’re speaking to. Not AS dressed up. MORE dressed up.

Rule number 2: Pick the right colors. There is a psychology behind this. A gray suit or blazer reflects that you are personable and approachable while a navy blazer or suit reads more authoritative. Pinstripes, when added to either suit choice, adds an element of professionalism.

Rule number 3: Pick what makes you feel confident. Confidence will always show.

Rule number 4: Make sure you’re wearing the right size.

Guys, I’ve worked with hundreds of men including CEOs, partners, and lobbyists, and I can confidently tell you that the majority of men wear at least one size bigger than they should. You look taller, broader, and slimmer when you wear the right size. Not sure if you’re blazer fits properly? You should be able to shake hands in front of you using both hands. If you can lift your arms in a jumping jack, it’s too big.

Definite things to avoid:

  • Pleated pants. How are the 90s treating you?
  • Box pleats in shirts. The box pleat is the pleat between your shoulder blades that makes your shirt blouse out in the back.
  • Worn down shoes. This is a big one guys don’t think about. If we can see your blazer, your shirt, and your pants…we can see your shoes. The jig is up.

Ladies, you should fit the widest part of your body then tailor it down. Tailoring is something men accept as part of the shopping process, but can feel like an extra hassle to us. Because we have so many options of brands and stores, we assume those magically fitting pants on sale are just one store over transforming a quick trip for pants into a lifelong sport.

Which brings me to my last rule…

Rule number 5: Invest in staples and wear them. Where do I even begin? I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve heard made-up rules that usually sound something like, “I’d never pay more than X for a pair of pants.” My question to that is, over how many years? If you buy a pair of trousers that retail for $60, they WILL breakdown over time and you WILL need to replace them. You have to cut costs somewhere in the process of making them to sell them at that price. Let’s think about this over the course of 5 years. Option A is to buy one pair for $300 that fit you perfectly, travel well, are easy to care for, and stretch with you throughout the day but don’t stretch out. Option B is to buy a pair of $60 trousers every year for 5 years that don’t look AS good as the $300 pair but “are fine” because you made up this rule. Staples are like tires. You WILL use them. Even if it’s painful at first, you should probably get the good ones.

Here’s an easy list of basics you should probably tailor and/or feel comfortable investing in:


  • Black blazer
  • Navy blazer (Remember, navy and black goes together; see Chanel runways for proof.)
  • Black trousers
  • White blouse
  • Black pumps (pointed toe is more modern and elongating)


  • Navy suit and/or blazer
  • Gray suit and/or blazer
  • Navy trousers
  • Gray trousers
  • Brown dress shoes
  • White button down
  • Light blue button down

Also, if you buy it, wear it. You should wear the most expensive thing in your closet the most frequently.

Of course, every speaking engagement has different requirements, but this checklist will get you started. For more help or to schedule a shopping appointment, feel free to email me at NBranzelle@TrunkClub.com.