Runway ready // Style Counsel

Business travel isn’t as glamorous as you think. But you can still dress like it is

By Emma Williamson

On Wednesday December 18th, 2013


So there I was on my first business trip, having dinner with lawyers in Boston and rocking a cool print dress, black jacket and heels, when one of them turned to me. “Next time, you don’t need to get so dressed up. Lawyers in Boston are more laid back than they are in Toronto.” Ouch. The next night, I chose jeans and a blazer — and fit in just fine.

Before my Boston trip, business travel always seemed so glamorous. Instead, I learned that business travel is like everything else in the practice of law: sexier on TV. You get frequent flyer points, but you don’t actually see the sights. Plus, packing is a challenge: you need to select business wear that’s professional, comfortable and versatile — and fits into your carry-on. Whether you’re wining and dining clients in South America or running a trial in Timmins, Ont., here are my tips for travelling in style.

Know your audience and schedule. Don’t attend a manufacturing plant tour in a teetering pair of heels or meet with private equity clients in New York City in jeans: know what you’ll be doing and with whom you’ll be doing it. Talk to colleagues and contacts in advance and tailor your choices accordingly.

Choose a colour scheme. In addition to helping you dress in the morning, this will ensure you avoid overpacking. Go for two neutrals and one colour — I love navy, cream and red. It’s unexpected, yet classic, and it’ll impress your American clients. Pair a navy skirt suit with a red blouse and nude pumps for the perfect combination of professional and pizzazz.

Accessorize in style. Compact and easy to pack, the accessory is the pièce de résistance of a smart travel wardrobe — switching up your jewellery can allow you to wear items like pants, skirts and jackets twice without anyone noticing. Wear simple, classic jewellery in transit — pearls, studs and watch — and tuck away a few statement necklaces to splash up outfits for night. An ample scarf can keep you warm on the plane and can double as a wrap for nights out. Inject style into traditional ensembles with bold shoes: try pointy pumps in cobalt or deep purple.

Dress down. Start with your outfit for the plane: sleek, comfortable pants; chic flats; a jersey top and structured topper such as a blazer with leather trim. Wear socks or nylons in anticipation of shoe removal at security. Toss in extra casual wear too: your trip may seem wall-to-wall business, but you’ll need something to throw on for grabbing a morning coffee and any hotel downtime. Go for comfy jeans and your cutest sweatshirt.

Keep it simple — and chic. Unless you practice fashion law (yes, there is such a thing!) or your business trip is to Fashion Week, err on the side of conservative. And when in doubt, always overdress. (Take that, Boston!) Pack your best and glide through security like you own the place. That’s glamorous in my books.

Also, check out our style advice for men’s business travel.

Photo: iStock