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How to Dress for Success on the Road

Even if you're riding in coach, dress like you belong in first class.
Editorial Assistant, Editors
July 11, 2012

On your way to a business conference? Chances are, the last thing you're thinking about is what you're wearing. When you're shuffling from place to place or rushing to catch a flight (did you remember your business cards?), getting a great outfit together is low on your priority list. But it might make more of a difference than you think—after all, books are judged by their covers more often than we'd like to admit. No matter how impressive your credentials may be, no one wants to do business with a slob—or worse—someone who doesn't know their own suit size.

Don't risk making a bad impression on a potential investor or partner with a clumsy sartorial choice. Worried about packing your whole closet? Our style experts and business travel gurus weigh in on some efficient and easy choices for your carry-on, so you can get to where you're going in style—and get down to business.

Commit to One Color

There's no need to pack every shade of the rainbow when you're traveling. Sticking to one color scheme—usually black or brown for the professional—will keep your packing efficient, but also open up your style choices when it comes to accesorizing. "Start off by deciding if you're going with black or brown, this will help reduce the amount of shoes and handbags you bring, says says Los Angeles-based fashion blogger Sydne Summer. "Then, use tops and jewelry, which are smaller items, to mix up your outfits."

The same holds true for gentlemen. OPEN Forum contributor Barry Moltz swears by wearing a dark suit that's easy to match when he's on the road. "When I go on multiple location trips, I bring one suit with multiple matching ties," he says.

Look Smart

When you log enough frequent flier miles to earn elite status, you can start to get lazy. But Moltz advises to resist the urge. He travels up to 100,000 miles a year, but never strays from his suit. "We all look better dressed up," he says.

Looking put together doesn't mean you have to sacrifice comfort. According to Kristin Booker, editor of the blog Fashion.Style.Beauty (and who spent six years "practically living on an airplane"), the trick is layering. To avoid the on-flight chill, she packs a lightweight wool sweater and an oversized scarf. Once she's off the plane and en route to a meeting, she whips out her secret weapon. "I carry a blazer or suit jacket with me so I can just toss the lightweight top layer and scarf, don the jacket and look instantly pulled together," she says.

Keep It Simple

Our experts suggest sticking to the classics—like blazers, trousers and pencil skirts for women. If you're looking to stand out from the crowd, a few accessories will do the trick. An understated tie clip or a piece of trendy jewelry can go a long way. "Add a neon statement necklace to a gray work dress or layer a colorful scarf under a blazer," suggests Summer, who travels frequently to New York City for work. "You really only need one key piece per outfit."

"Go simple and breathable when you fly," Booker says. "Ladies, travel is not the time to experiment with wrap sweaters, maxi dresses or strapless anything." Resist the urge to overpack. As Moltz suggests, you can get a reversible belt, with one brown side and one black, so you only need to travel with one.

Don't Forget the Essentials

Before you zip up that carry-on, our experts suggest slipping in these essentials:

An extra outfit. "Just in case you need to stay longer or spill something on your blazer, an extra outfit can work wonders," says Summer. "I usually bring a classic jersey dress that I roll up. It doesn't take up too much room and has come in handy numerous times."

Emergency supplies. Traveling comes with unexpected surprises. "Become friends with those little hotel mending kits and stain remover pens—they will save your life when a hem rips or you have a fashion emergency," Booker suggests. To defend yourself against unwanted creases, bring a hand steamer to crisp up your outfit on the go, says Moltz.

The extras. Be sure to carry a pen with you, so you're able to save time and fill out customs forms while still on the plane. To freshen up, dryer sheets can prevent static and refresh the scent of your clothing; they also don't take up much room. Booker also swears by plastic freezer bags, which can be used to store anything from dirty clothes and toiletries to business cards.

What are your go-to outfits for business travel?

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