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Poll: Wearing a suit when pitching
15 points by websirnik on Sept 15, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 27 comments
Does wearing a suit gives you more credibility when pitching to investors and b2b customers?
83 points
62 points
Yes, only to customers
6 points
Yes, only to investors
4 points

Before answering that question, you have to answer two other questions. 1) Do you own a suit that actually really fits and 2) are you comfortable wearing it. If the answer to those two questions isn't "Yes", then skip the suit. Clean jeans without holes, a plain t-shirt, without obscure band names or sarcastic slogans, black leather shoes and a jacket will make you look far better dressed than badly fitting suit that makes you feel uncomfortable.

Which is context dependent. If I rocked up to any UK client I've known in the alternative outfit you've highlighted, I'd expect some decidedly odd looks. Replace the t-shirt with a shirt and possibly tweak the shoes a bit and we might be getting somewhere, but still....

Which is why, to be honest, I still favour suits - their universality. Other dress codes require a far greater cultural insight to properly judge, both regionally and of the client culture, yet in almost any practical context we're likely to find ourselves within IT, a suit works as a starting point. If your suit isn't comfortable and don't fit then you've found a bad suit; find a better one, which can still be from an ordinary high street retailer and be cheaper than you'd expect.

Genuine question: that look sounds good to me, and I understand the requirements for the jeans, t-shirt and shoes, but how do I pick out a jacket that suits it (pun not intended, I mean I want a jacket that fits. Damm.)

If you don't feel you understand fashion combinations (and I don't claim to be a world authority myself, as would be apparent if you could see me right now): spend some time deliberately watching others' choices. Wander round shopping centres and other such locations. Watch people-driven rather than subject-driven TV. What are they wearing? Who looks ridiculous? Who stands out as confidently dressed and projects the image you want? Who just blends in to the crowd?

If it were me searching my wardrobe... Hmm, the pinstriped jacket is clearly out ;-) Black designer suit - no, too harsh/loud and I'd look like the cleaners had mangled the trousers so I had to grab jeans as the only available alternative. Grey slim cut suit - again, too harsh, plus I can't visualise the tonal combination working with the softish blue jeans (think loose fitting casual, not 501s) and plain white t-shirt I've also picked out, or another clothing scheme it'd work with. Softer black jacket (I can't think how to describe the fabric but it's on the moleskin-felt spectrum), OK, that'll work - it's plain enough that it doesn't look out of place with the rest, it's smart enough that it's making an effort to lift it. But, if it were me, I'd be wearing a nice plain casual shirt instead of a t-shirt.

On the fit:

- the sleeve length should be to your hand when your hand is bent back 90 degrees. It can be slightly shorter for a casual jacket.

- there should not be any bunching or lifting on the area under the collar at the back when you stand upright normally. This one is very common.

- it should not be too tight anywhere when buttoned. You should be able to clench your shoulders and arms with your arms out in front without it pulling under your armpits or pulling too much across the shoulders.

Honestly, I think fuck you that you couldn't be bothered to pop down to target and show you can compromise. Your work now has to be 15% better than your competitor who showed up in a suit.

My rule for customer facing interaction: when talking to a customer or client, always be one notch more 'formal' than they are. If they are in t-shirts and jeans, then a collared shirt with no tie is ideal. If they are in collared shirts, then put on a tie and jacket. If they are wearing suits, so should you.

Investors are a totally different beast. In my opinion, most of them aren't going to be too concerned about how you dress other than judging if you present yourself well to your customers/clients (see above).

Yes, on the condition that you own a halfway decent (not £40 from a supermarket) suit and you're comfortable wearing it. I do and am, and always have - it's a sign of taking the other party seriously, to my mind. If it proves laughably formal (never has but I can imagine the environment where it would), removing both jacket and tie leaves a decent compromise almost anywhere.

On the other hand, I've known others (though surprisingly few) who couldn't look less comfortable and at home in a suit if you cut anatomically unfortunate holes in it and poured in itching powder. For them it's clearly a net loss, but I think many people unnecessarily put themselves in that group.

Once I saw an episode of the UK version of 'Dragons Den'. A couple of guys pitched some adventure sports equipment they had built and one of the investors, Peter Jones, told them off for not wearing suits to do the pitch and refused to invest in them.

After watching that, I developed the following opinion:

Any time somebody is evaluating you (for investment, for a job etc) they are going to have an idea in their head of what they want. They will put you through a filtering process and decide whether or not to let you through.

What most people don't consider is that the filter is not just there to help the decison maker, it's there to help them too. You get to present yourself however you want so you can choose the inputs to the filter.

If you don't want to have an investor who would think your choice of clothing is important, don't wear a suit. If you don't want to work somewhere that chooses to interview people based on the amount of bullshit in their CV, don't put bullshit in yours, and so on.

edit: I forgot to address the question with regards to customers. In that case the answer seems to be "whatever the customer expects" since you presumably don't want to put a barrier in the way of them buying your stuff.

Peter Jones would not have invested regardless of what whey wore. The lack of a suit was the excuse to easily dismiss the pitch. Investors simply care about ideas and how much revenue can be generated from the idea plain and simple.

I voted to wear for suits for investors, although I've never worn one to a meeting with either a client or an investor. It's just something I've always wanted to do, wear a suit in everyday life. Just never had the need.

I've engaged and closed over $200k worth of investments for various projects I've worked on over the years, and it's never been an issue what attire I've worn to a meeting. I've even had several investors told me they liked that I wore a T-shirt and didn't wear a "monkey suit" to the meeting. "Leave it to the people that have to," they told me. I suppose I can agree with that. :)

It depends on whether you normally are comfortable wearing a suit.

If it makes you feel uncomfortable or gives you a 'dressed up monkey' feeling then better dress for your own comfort.

If you are used to wearing suits, look good in one and feel more confident then by all means wear a suit.

Pitching is all about confidence, anything that helps your confidence is good.

To follow that then, at the same time you're practicing your pitch, work on your physical presentation as well. That could very well meaning getting consultations if wardrobe style doesn't come naturally to you or buying a suit and wearing it to other events to let it grow on you.

I have to sit through a lot of presentations from companies selling technology products - if the technical presenter is too slick and comfortable looking in a suit I probably assume that they don't really know what they are talking about as they probably spend their time on the road giving presentations rather than actually delivering value.

Being strong technically and having a good story as to how you have delivered value to previous customers and how you plan to deliver value to us is infinitely more important than how you are dressed.

[Edit: the best part of presentations is always to watch the face of the technical person when the sales person is giving their presentation - in my experience "real" technical folks don't have a poker face.]

> they probably spend their time on the road giving presentations rather than actually delivering value.

The two are not mutually exclusive.

I agree, you can't apply this as a rule, but in my experience (unfortunately) it's often the case.

From what I've seen, a typical 'assault team' consists of: 'account manager' (usually clueless), 'sales manager' (same) and a 'technical person' (varies). There's hardly anything interesting coming out of the former two.

The 'techie' guy competence seems to be a function of a company size. The smaller the company, the better his/her pitch would be and more useful information you'd get out of him. If the company is large, they tend to send 'technical sales' chap, who usually knows a bit or two, but largely delivers 'I'll have to check this with our technical team and come back to you on this'.

Bear in mind, this is my largely technical POV. YMMV.

Yeah, as far as I can see one of the biggest competitive advantages that smaller companies have is that they can actually wheel out the core technical talent in pre-sales scenarios.

Depends. I know a guy who works sometimes at Amazon and sometimes in the investment banking world. He dresses down for Amazon and suits up for bankers.

So, it depends on your audience. There's no one answer.

I agree. Pitching investors and selling to b2b customers is two very different situations.

I answered Yes, but it's better to do some research about the audience and their style. Even in large organizations the styles can vary greatly. In my experience substance trumps style in most cases. If you choose to wear a suit, make sure it looks absolutely schmick!

It is best to play it safe. You can never go wrong with a suit. But if you are underdressed, it may work against you. These meetings are not the place to make a statement about life style. They are just meetings. As the saying goes: When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

I don't agree with that. A suit is not playing it safe, while say clean jeans and a nice shirt (not a t-shirt) is playing it safe, if you usually wear jeans and a t-shirt. I'm in the gaming industry and pitching with a suit would just be wrong, it would give a suck-up look. You don't believe in your company enough so you have to mask it by wearing a suit?

There is no correlation between wearing a suit and one's lack of self-esteem, trust to his company or whatever. Dressing up does not make you less confident (or more confident for that matter). By that logic, homeless people with shabby clothes must have the highest self esteem among all of us. There is a proper attire for every social event. For example, if you go to the beach you are expected to wear a swimsuit while you are swimming. Wearing a suit while swimming would be ridiculous. Doctors are expected to wear a white apron in the presence of patients. It would be weird if they still wear the apron in bed. Similarly, if you are having a first time business meeting with anyone, the safest way to play it is to wear a suit. It is the universally accepted dress code for meetings. Then, depending on the personality of the people you are meeting with, you can dress down in the next meetings.

In the Valley? Jeans and a t-shirt is fine if you are a geek.


you look like a monkey willing to dance for change if you wear a suit but are clearly uncomfortable. wear whatever makes you most comfortable.

i once met a vc in a bar, when he came up to me and asked how i had managed to monopolize all of the beautiful women in the bar. at the time, i believe i was wearing eyeliner and clearly intoxicated.

i met the guy a week or two later, wearing torn jeans, a leather jacket, several rather elaborate rings, and a t-shirt that said 'proud to be awesome,' because that's the kind of clothes i normally wore at the time, and i didn't really think about what he'd think of it. we talked for a while and he gave me a hookup for a cto gig, i think largely because i made it evident how self confident i am.

Last time I wore a suit was at a funeral in 1992. I've not used one at all since, which includes for job interviews, a couple of pitches, business meetings, formal events and a presentation or two.

I find it's more important to be an honest representation of yourself rather than be wrapped in a layer of turd polish. Also if you are judged on your appearance over your skills and/or product, then you really don't want to work with the other party.

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