Social Skills: How to Behave Yourself in Public

By Letitia Baldrige, with Lafe Low
Tue, January 01, 2002

CIO — You may know your business when it comes to technology, but are you sure you know what’s appropriate dress for the office these days? Whether it’s proper to encourage your dinner guests to order a first course? What to do when you’ve forgotten the name of someone whose name you should certainly not have forgotten?

Social situations can be fraught with peril, and even people with the finest manners can use a refresher from time to time. Let’s begin with your look.


One simply can’t ignore one’s dress and appearance. Contrary to popular opinion, the business dress code is becoming increasingly strict as the economy continues to struggle. CIOs have to look crisp and professional.

One must always dress according to one’s age, position and body type. For a woman, her figure should determine what she wears. If your arms, for example, are not all they should be, don’t wear sleeveless dresses. Women beyond cheerleader age should not wear skirts above the knee. Midriffs should not be exposed no matter how good one’s figure. Modesty is always in fashion.

Men have it a bit easier because they’re just choosing between different suits and ties. Still, men should look around at their peers and clients, and then try to dress better than everyone else. If you’re uncertain of your own taste, pick someone in your company who is a really sharp dresser. Tell him, "Let me take you to lunch at a nice restaurant, then come with me to Saks and help me pick out some clothes." Clothing is expensive. It’s best to have just a few high-quality pieces.

For casual days, there are certain acceptable ways to dress down. For men, a blue blazer with an open-necked blue, white or pink oxford cloth shirt and gray or tan gabardine slacks is a very nice casual look. A red or blue tie should be close by so that one can put it on quickly in case an important client or the CEO drops by. Those young gentlemen in the dotcom business wearing stained khakis and polo shirts with corporate logos are so 1999.

Some people believe they can wear their running shoes to the office. They are wrong. Wear a nice pair of Loafers and save the running shoes for running. Keep your sandals in the closet until the weekend as well. Feet are not attractive, and wearing sandals with socks is for tourists, not businesspeople.


When it’s time for dinner at a restaurant with colleagues and clients, think ahead about who will sit next to whom. Sadly, that’s rarely done in business today. The host of the dinner should tell everyone where to sit. That relieves the guests of having to make awkward decisions. And when told to sit, everyone should do just that. Anyone who gets up and goes table-hopping shows tremendous rudeness to others.

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