Headed to China? Dress for Success (with Body Language to Match)

Have you ever heard that saying, “the clothes make the man?” As a child I used to scoff when someone dared to challenge my obviously superior fashion sense (if my mother knew so much about clothes then why didn’t she have an awesome Power Puff Girls shirt?). I hated sayings like this, but as an adult I get it. In the business world what you wear send a message to the people you deal with, and you want to make sure what your clothing is communicating is helping your cause.

Image 6Problems with proper attire tend to arise when doing business abroad; what seems appropriate in one country might make you seem flippant or glib in another. The same goes for body language, if your clothes speak your intent, then your body language is seen as an indicator of how you operate. Is your look too flashy in a country that favors modesty? Are you distracting your colleagues by over gesticulating? These are questing you need to ask yourself, and if you’re traveling to China, these are questions I plan to answer for you.

What to Wear

Subtle, neutral colors are the norm in China. Don’t wear anything flashy or too trendy, it might make you seem pretentious. Instead, try to build your wardrobe around classic and conservative looks.

Women should take care to avoid “putting themselves on display”. Even if you wouldn’t be caught dead in your home country without your heels, try to avoid wearing them in China during business proceedings. The same goes for any flashy jewelry or outfits. Avoid showing too much skin; I don’t just mean low cut tops and dresses, but also consider your sleeve length.

How to Wear it

Body language is incredibly important, not just in foreign business deals, but in everyday life. Just try having a serious conversation with someone while intermittently glancing at your watch or hands; no matter how attentive you are to the other person they will assume you aren’t really interested. Actions speak louder than words, and the last thing you want to do is negate what you’re saying verbally by distracting or insulting your Chinese hosts with your body language.

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Try to avoid

  • Broad hand gestures: Chinese people tend not to gesticulate as much as some other cultures and you might be inadvertently distracting your new business partners.
  • Pointing: If you want to gesture to something, use your whole hand. In the same vein as this, if you want to beckon someone, don’t hold your hand palm side up and curl your finger or fingers toward yourself. Instead, turn your hand palm side down and curl your fingers toward yourself in a scratching motion.
  • Personal contact: Bowing or nodding is the generally accepted greeting. You may be offered a handshake every now and then, but don’t initiate it. Otherwise, you might make people uncomfortable if you act too familiarly with them, especially members of the opposite sex. So, no matter what you’re used to at home, try to keep your hands to yourself.

Don’t let your clothes and body do all the talking; instead, why not contact us for information on Chinese language courses? Or, if you’ve been practicing with your phrasebook and think you’ve got a handle on the basics, try taking our Language Level Test to see how well your skills measure up. You’ll be saying ni hao in no time.