Travel with style

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Business travellers need to look the part, and if not that, certainly be comfortable in their business attire. Kate Kennedy takes a look at some of the current trends in business travel clothing, and also consults some of the experts, before passing on a few tips for both businessmen and women.

It’s true to say that the business environment is relaxing slightly in its approach to the business wardrobe. Men who routinely wore suits every day of the week, now often conduct business in less formal slacks and blazers. But is this okay for the business traveller? Can you attend a meeting with a client or customer in his or her office in your chinos, and retain your authority?

The suit is still seen as the acceptable attire in the business world, especially during tough economic times, where individuals need to present a modicum of discipline while reflecting self respect, particularly when the job environment is as competitive as it is now.

“We are seeing a growing demand for made-to-measure suits,” says Marc Vogelzang from Johannesburg-based Khaliques, which specialises in business suits and expert tailoring. “They are setting the alpha male apart from the scruffy rest. Well-cut shirts and natural fabrics are also increasing in popularity.”

Philipp Dreyer, owner of Alexander Fine Attire, a made-to-measure suit manufacturer in the Johannesburg CBD, agrees. “Thanks to TV shows like Mad Men and Suits, I see classic tailoring making a comeback,” he says. “There is a move away from the metro-sexual look. It’s becoming more about a masculine appearance.”

“You need to project a professional image that is in keeping with the needs of your clients and customers,” says Sue Matthew, Director of SMAT Clothing. “A power suit will always be taken more seriously than a pair of jeans, no matter how much you dress them up.”

Look the part

But how do you step off the plane and into the boardroom without having to change clothes?

“First, put on a good shirt, one made from breathable cotton,” says Dreyer. “With good, high-twisted cotton, wrinkling is not that much of an issue. Don’t wear your jacket on the plane or in a car. Rather fold it inside-out and lay it flat in the overhead storage locker or on the seat. The lining is always easier to clean up.”

“I would travel in slacks and a comfortable blouse, and slip on a tailored jacket just before my meeting,” says Matthew. “Wear a pair of comfortable flat shoes for the journey, but keep your heels close at hand.”

According to Dreyer, a fabric with a small amount of stretch is a good choice for a travelling suit. “A bit of lycra (up to 5%) is allowed. The weave of the fabric is also important, as it influences how much the fabric will wrinkle. Herringbone and gabardine, for example, offer more stability to a suit,” he says. 

Be comfortable

The question of how to be comfortable in your work wardrobe is answered by tailoring. If a garment fits you well – if it doesn’t pull across the shoulders, or gape or bugle inappropriately – you will automatically feel more comfortable. And when you’re not worried about your jacket being too short or your pants dragging on the ground, you’re able to concentrate on more important matters. If you buy off the rack, take the time to have your pants properly hemmed – some stores have an in-house tailoring servicing which you should make full use of.

Fabrics that breathe, generally offer more comfort than stifling ones, and here’s where you go natural – wool, linen, silk, cotton. Breathable fabrics are a good choice for regular travellers into Africa – temperatures tend to soar and clothes that allow air to reach the skin will help keep you cool. These fabrics wear better, they can withstand the occasional bleaching to restore colours, and they still offer years of life. 

Make it your own

With everyone wearing a similar basic outfit, it’s the accessories that will make a suit your own. Women have a wider range of items to choose from – necklaces, earrings, bracelets and bangles, rings and even shoes and hairdos. Men have fewer options – ties and tie pins, cufflinks, and handkerchiefs can all reflect a part of your personality. And if you choose to buy your suit from somewhere like Alexander Fine Attire, you can personalise the lining of your jacket – a loud, patterned fabric that speaks to your wild side, or something more classic and muted if that’s more “you”.

“It’s the beauty of what we do,” says Dreyer. “Not only do we measure and make the pants and jacket to fit you, we are able to turn it into a statement of what you’d like the world to see.

The life of a suit

Since about 80% of the cost of a suit is made up by the jacket, the longer lasting piece, it makes sense to have one made to fit you well, and then buy two or more pairs of pants to match. This extends the life of your suit, as once the pants are no longer wearable, the jacket becomes more or less obsolete.

“I always advise clients to buy enough fabric from the bale from which his jacket is cut, to make at least one more pair of pants in the future,” says Dreyer. “That way they can be sure the items will match.”

Part of Alexander Fine Attire’s service includes computer plotting of measurements, which ensures that, once the fit is perfect, items can be easily reproduced. “If we have your measurements and you know what fabrics and colours you want, you don’t even have to come in – we’ll send your order off to you as soon as it’s ready,” says Dreyer.

It sounds prohibitively expensive, having your suit made, but it needn’t be. If chosen with an experienced eye, good fabric doesn’t have to cost a fortune. And if you get advice on how to dress, a few well-made items can go a long way.

“We can create four outfits from two pairs of pants, a waistcoat and a jacket,” says Dreyer. “With a tasteful collection of shirts, ties and shoes, you can have a different outfit almost every day of the week.”

While away

To keep your suit looking good while away on business, especially if it’s been folded inside a suitcase, follow these tips from Dreyer:

  • Wool responds well to small amounts of moisture, so hang your suit in the bathroom after a hot shower. The steam helps to shape the wool and means it doesn’t need to be dry-cleaned too often.
  • When hanging pants in a post-shower bathroom, do so from the hem. Make sure the legs are folded along the crease, using a small clip to keep the material in place.

“It’s also a good idea to invest in a small travel steamer,” says Matthew. “That way you can get rid of wrinkles in your shirts or blouses just before getting dressed.”

Caring for your suit

Dry-cleaning is harsh on fabric, so don’t do it too often – the chemicals erode the glue used in the manufacture of a suit and weaken the fabric of your garments. A good wool suit can be steamed, rather than dry-cleaned, which is much gentler on the material. If you don’t have a steamer in your home, you can always employ Dreyer’s bathroom trick. If you’re unable, or unsure about how to treat stains at home with commercial stain removers, then yes, your suit requires a trip to the dry cleaners.

So, plenty to consider, when next you decide to update your business wardrobe and plot the lifespan of the garments you add to your collection. But, if you’re smart and follow the tips of our experts, it may not prove as expensive an exercise as you anticipate, and you could end up making a statement in the office, as you seek to climb that corporate ladder

Corporate uniforms

Uniforms offer employees a sense of belonging and present an identifiable, unified front to the outside world.

“Trends are evolving where, in the past, uniforms were very conservative and monochromic, without much in terms of tailoring,” says Melissa Dempster-Todd, Director of Sales and Marketing at Crowne Plaza Johannesburg – The Rosebank. “We are moving towards the introduction of bright colours and modern styles, with some individual influence.” 

Crowne Plaza Johannesburg – The Rosebank is a business travel-focused hotel in the trendy suburb of Rosebank, which is once again emerging as a place to see and be seen. The hotel has taken an interesting strategy decision, aligning itself with a prominent event on the Johannesburg social calendar – SA Fashion Week. 

“We understand the value of aligning our brand with strong brands like SA Fashion Week,” says Dempster-Todd. “It promotes local fashion designers and gives them an opportunity to showcase their talent, proving that South Africa can compete comfortably within the international market, while making their products available to our guests.” 

Travel into Africa

If you’re planning to travel into an Islamic African country, you’ll want to make sure you dress conservatively, especially if you’re a woman. Following the dress code in Muslim countries is a sign of respect, something you want to display towards the people with whom you’re doing business. Ladies, cover your arms and legs and opt for loose-fitting clothes where possible. Pack a pashmina or two (or something similar) in case you are expected to cover your head. The theory behind women covering themselves is rather interesting. Muslim women see it as a sign of respect for themselves – a man’s interest should be in their character and personality, not their body. By covering up, they’re forcing men to see them as more than physical beings.

Muslim countries in Africa

Algeria

Egypt

Gambia

Guinea

Libya

Mauritania

Morocco

Niger

Djibouti

Somalia

Tunisia

Africa is often rather formal – dark suits are the norm. It is also a much safer bet to over-dress, unless you’re absolutely certain of what is expected of you.

Packing advice

What two items of clothing should you pack for business travel?

“An extra shirt and a belt that matches your shoes,” says Dreyer.

“A power suit and a little black cocktail dress,” says Matthew.

“A well-cut, tailored suit with a change of shirt,” says Vogelzang.

“For ladies, definitely a pair of heels, and for men a fitted dress jacket,” says Dempster-Todd.

Other items to consider packing are: stain remover (many places sell travel-sized bottles), shoe wipes or polish, and a sewing kit with spare buttons – for emergencies. 

Bundle it

Ever heard of bundle packing? It’s a different way of filling your suitcase, essentially by layering your clothes and folding the arms of your shirts, jerseys and jackets over the top of the pile. Starting with any suit jackets laid face-down the bed, add the long-sleeved items face up, one at a time, alternating their orientation – one lining up the sleeves with the jacket, one in the opposite direction. Remember to smooth out the sleeves as you go, for minimal wrinkling. Then add the pants, folded only once as if they were on a hanger, keeping the pile as even as possible. Next come the short-sleeved shirts. Add items in descending order of size until you’ve added the underwear. Once the pile is complete transfer it carefully into a waiting, open suitcase. Fold the arms of the jerseys and shirts like petals of a flower over the top of the bundle, making sure everything is still smooth. Be careful not to pull anything too tightly – you don’t want anything to lose its shape while travelling. You’ll pack shoes, toiletries and other items around and on top of your clothes. Some people believe that this method of packing takes up less space than either folding or rolling your clothes, and helps to ensure you don’t forget anything behind, as you have to lay everything out before you begin the packing process.

Be prepared

You want to present your most professional front to the people with whom you are meeting – a little planning beforehand will ensure you always look your best. Give your clothes the quick once over and pull out items that require some attention – don’t be caught half way through your journey with wardrobe malfunctions. Secure buttons that are coming loose, stitch up hems that have come undone, apply stain remover to blemishes, polish shoes and possibly replace those pairs that are reaching their sell-by date. And if space allows, pack an additional outfit for an unforeseen function.