Lifehack: Business colours

Sunday 2 November 2008, 6.12pm HKT


Wear safe colours for business

The best advice is to watch the destination country’s TV newscasters and what they wear on the main evening news. Most TV stations have an Internet presence today.


Do not wear black when doing (new) business. Black is a funereal colour as well as a mark of the lower classes – even if ‘the other side’ wears it. Applies to men and women. Insurance people are the biggest offenders. Only funeral directors and judges are absolutely correct in wearing this colour.


No pink, lavender or purple on men. Americans are still coming to terms with these colours on men. OK for women.

White people doing business with blacks should dress more like a friendly, well-groomed college teacher.

Black people doing business with whites should dress in the classic ‘power’ wardrobe of upper-middle-class whites. (That’s the box the game came in, so get used to it…)

(Prejudices are not politically correct. Neither are the words ‘black’ and ‘white’ – but I’m not an American, I’m an outsider, so that’s another story …)

British Isles

Colour-wise, men can be more adventurous with their colours. But no brown suits on men. Pretty much anything goes for womenfolk. Women should dress five to 10 years younger than their age, depending on their weight and ‘fat’ content.

By the way, ‘foreign’ women (and especially those from Asia, which includes the Indian subcontinent) are expected to be wearing jewellery and have some makeup on at all times. Don’t know why, just is.

Continental Europe

Broadly speaking, Italians are the best dressed, ahead of the French and Spanish. The worst dressed in Europe are the Americans, followed by the British and Germans. Americans are the best tippers, so that compensates for the other shortfall.

‘Church dress’ rules apply in most churches and historic buildings, especially in Italy. Dress inappropriately, it’s bye-bye entry.

Main rule is to look smart, fashionable and ‘with it’ in an elegant way. Colour coordination is appreciated in a continent perfused with art and history: Europeans are apt to judge more adversely than other people if they sense a lack of it in you. Skinny men can dress up to 10 years younger, as should lithe women. Heftier folks dress their age, but fashionably.

In Italy, sitting in a side street bar is like a fashion show here. Dress to look rich. Many Italians don’t bother with fashion at all, but they almost all have style. They are not casual dressers, but their style may be casual.

In France, dress to look either refined and educated, or wild and ‘rad’. Your call.


Never ever wear a yellow shirt after 6pm in Russia – or risk getting beaten up by gangsters, passersby, little old ladies in babushkas, schoolchildren, winos, beggars and the police as a gay prostitute! You do not want to learn it the hard way …


Do not wear light blue or beige in the presence of Jewish people, especially if they are older than 60.


Strict dress code when dealing with Muslims, who are very sensitive especially to how women dress. Do not wear green or orange when seeing Muslims – green is the colour of Islam and they are jealous of it, and orange means death in many parts of the Middle East. (Remember the orange jumpsuits?)

Far Easterners

Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Malaysians, Singaporeans, Taiwanese and Thais have almost nil colour prejudices. Even so, avoid wearing all-white or all-black when seeing these people, especially older folks. Play it by ear with Far Easterners.

Of note, Hongkongers of all ages are almost completely westernised in their tastes, even if they don’t admit it to themselves. Frankly, you can almost wear fluffy hot pink in broad daylight and they wouldn’t bat an eyelid.

Better to be safe than sorry.

(Personal experiences as well as ideas from John T. Molloy’s Dress for Success, 1975 edition)

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