The Business Traveller’s Wardrobe
Packing for business travel isn’t always an easy process, as Samantha du Chenne found out when she packed her bags and embarked on a journey to discover the most efficient and sensible way to ensure she looked good on arrival.
With issues to consider such as space limitations, jam-packed schedules and rigid timelines, packing for a business trip is often more daunting than doable. Even more so when you’re travelling into Africa, where cultural customs, climate and protocol make matters somewhat more complicated.
According to Julian Fuller, Head of Menswear at UK retailer Debenhams, the key thing to remember is that you’re not going on holiday – so packing light and making sure you bring only the essentials is the first step to packing successfully.
Kim Berell, personal stylist and fashion consultant at the Fashion Office advises women travellers to pack lightweight cotton fabrics that don’t crease easily. “It’s also a good idea to pack clothing that is easy to layer,” she says. “Always include a cardigan or lightweight knit in case the weather gets cooler – a pashmina always comes in handy for ladies.”
T.M. Lewin’s John Francomb has devised a failsafe way for men to pack for business travel – one which allows you to pick up and travel at a moment’s notice. “Consider how long you’ll be there, why you’re going and what the dress code is, and pack accordingly. I advise packing one suit, with four shirts (one of which should be white), ties and cuff links. You should always remember to pack a white t-shirt, as this can be worn as an undershirt or with jeans in the evening. One pair of shoes should be suitable for smart or casual wear.”
Francomb advises folding shirts into plastic packets, with their coordinating ties and cufflinks, so that they are ready for wear as they are unpacked. Remember that you can make use of the hotel’s laundry service, so there is no need to pack a shirt for every day. “Shoes are packed at the bottom of the suitcase with socks packed inside the shoes. Shirts go on top so they do not get crushed. I like to wear my suit jacket with my travelling clothes to save it from being packed in the suitcase. It’s a good idea to invest in a good quality set of luggage and leave all the essentials such as hair dryers and travel adaptors inside the bag, ready for the next trip,” he says.
Business travellers to Africa should remember not to treat it as one large country. Each country on the continent has different cultures and customs. Indeed, many of the countries in northernAfricafollow the Islamic faith. Business discussions in this part of the world are conducted indirectly, generosity is lavish and conservative dress for both males and females will be appreciated by your hosts.
Women in particular need to ensure that they do not wear tight or revealing clothing – shoulders and knees should be covered at all times. “Some countries are more ‘Westernised’ than others, so it’s a good idea to do your research before you leave,” says Berell. “For example, while you need not wear a head scarf inEgypt, it still wouldn’t be appropriate to wear shorts or a miniskirt either. In other Muslim countries, women are required to cover their heads, so you’ll need to bring a scarf or pashmina for this purpose. If you’re unsure, ask the colleagues you will be meeting there and always err on the side of caution. Dressing more formally is advisable – men in a suit and tie and women in an elegant dress or suit, with their knees, shoulders and collarbones covered,” she continues.
If you do have time for sightseeing, Berell cautions both ladies and gentlemen to dress in a manner that is respectful to the local culture. “Women should always dress more moderately so as not to attract unwelcome attention, especially when travelling alone. Choose blouses with sleeves, knee-length walking shorts or Capri pants. A bag with a shoulder strap or a body bag is the best solution to keep your hands free, as well as to discourage pick pocketing. If you are visiting a mosque or place of worship, you’ll need to adhere to tradition, for example by removing your shoes or donning a head scarf,” she continues.
“It’s important to do your homework before the trip,” concurs Marc Vogelzang, marketing spokesperson for South African men’s outfitters Khaliques. “When you’re packing, consider factors such as how long you’re there for, what the weather will be like and the purpose and importance of the trip. Of course, equally important is researching the protocols and local customs.”
Vogelzang points out that most countries these days have relaxed the necessity of donning a tie. “A suit and smart open-necked shirt should suffice,” he adds.
“Your suit needs to look elegant – there is nothing worse than looking as if you’ve just come off a plane – even if you have,” laughs Fuller. “It’s a good idea to invest in a travel suit for this purpose, or a luxury yarn such as mohair, which will keep you crease free and looking professional.”
“In warmer African climates, linen makes a good choice. The fabric does crease, but this is an intentional look and one which works well for more relaxed meetings – such as an outdoor luncheon meeting,” Fuller continues.
Layering clothes is recommended for African winters, as while the mornings are cold, it may warm up as the day progresses. Vogelzang suggests fabrics such as pure wool or lamb’s wool, as well as a cashmere sweater for cooler evenings. Matthew Rochester of T.M. Lewin adds that suits in merino wool are cool in the warmer seasons, due to the natural breathability and moisture absorption of the wool.
“Pure cotton shirts and chinos are suitable for more relaxed meetings in warmer climates – for example if you work in the mining or engineering industry. On the other hand, if you have a job in a more formal sector such as finance, you may find that a suit and tie and for women, a business suit, will be required,” says Vogelzang.
For Fuller, the golden rule when it comes to shirts is simple – natural fibres. In addition, plain colours or simple designs are the way to go. “Print is a strong trend in shirts at the moment,” he continues.
He adds that these days it’s perfectly acceptable not to wear a tie. “That said, if you do wear one, make it look as though you want to be wearing it. Consider the design – plain colours, simple stripes or conversational designs work best. You also need to pay attention to the width of the blade of the tie – around 6.5cm is ideal, as you don’t want your tie to look ‘skinny’. And of course the knot of the tie is all important – personally I like a ‘four in hand’ – it’s smart, quick and gives a tie-dimple to add an elegant touch to a well-put-together outfit.”
While Berell agrees that international trends suggest that corporate clothing has become more relaxed, she points out that some countries inAfricaremain conservative in the way they dress. Again, researching the country and speaking to colleagues will help you to achieve the correct level of formality.
“A new trend that is showing through in textiles is the addition of lycra content to many fabrics, including linen and cotton,” she reports. “This allows clothing to have more stretch, creating more comfort and less creasing when travelling. Another trend that has come about as a result of the current economic situation is the ability of our wardrobes to flow from casual to smart and even into formal, by tweaking and adding shoes and accessories to basics that change and upscale the look.”
Although space is an issue and packing light is advisable, it’s also important to ensure that you have packed ‘flexible’ items – pieces that can be mixed and matched yet still look smart. “I suggest a combination of seasonal business suits and shirts, as well as lounge shirts or short-sleeved shirts, which can be teamed with jeans or chinos and a coat or jacket,” advises Vogelzang. “Pack comfortable shoes,” he emphasises, adding that an additional pair of running shoes can also serve as footwear with jeans in a more casual environment. “I would also advise that one should pack shoes that work equally well in a formal or casual environment, as weight is so often a consideration with business travel.”
“There’s a rumour that a good pair of black shoes will go with everything,” says Fuller. “I disagree. For me, a pair of brown brogues is a more sophisticated option that works well with a black suit, but is equally good with brown or navy.”
“Of course, you can always get into the spirit of things and be adventurous by wearing traditional clothing,’ says Berell. “One client who travels frequently to Mali, Sierra Leone and Senegal has found this to be the perfect solution to dressing for formal meetings. Beautiful West African outfits can be purchased from local stores – they are inexpensive, available in an array of colours and prints, and can provide a great option for appearing both formal and mindful of local traditions.”
Something to bear in mind, when you next find yourself packing for that work trip to an African country you know little about. Go the extra mile and purchase something local on arrival – it may just prove the difference between missing out on that big deal and signing on the dotted line.