Dressing for business is more than a fashion statement. What you wear sends a message to your clients.

“It’s all about credibility,” says Anne Sowden, image specialist with Toronto-based Here’s Looking at You Image Consulting. “If you take care of your appearance, the message you’re sending to your clients or potential clients is: ‘I’m concerned about my personal details [and] I’m really going to pay attention to the details in your investments’.”

Sowden offers these tips for maintaining the right appearance both inside and outside the office:

> Look your best every day
Always be ready to meet a client.

Just because you don’t have any meetings planned with clients doesn’t mean you should come to the office in casual attire, Sowden says. You might get called unexpectedly to meet a client, or a prospect might drop in uninvited.

You don’t have to be in a full, matching suit, Sowden says. But wearing dress pants — or a skirt for women — with a well-fitting jacket is important to maintaining a professional image.

> Find the right fit
Even the most appropriate attire won’t look professional if it’s too short, too tight or too baggy.

Have your clothes altered for a perfect fit, Sowden says. Or, if you have put on a little extra weight, don’t be afraid to go a size up.

> For men …
Making a great impression is all about having the right suit — with or without a tie.

If you’re not wearing a suit, go for a coordinated pants-and-jacket combo. Make sure your dress shirt fits just right. If you want to go less formal, forgo the tie.

When choosing a suit, Sowden says, focus on the fabric and stay away from stripes and checks. A plain navy, black, charcoal grey or brown suit will remain in fashion longer than a pattern that may become dated quickly.

> For women …
While women may have a few more options when it comes to office attire, you still need to pay attention to the basics.

Start with two or three suits, Sowden suggests, with either pants or skirts. Then, mix and match a variety of separates.

Accessories can be used as a statement — for example, a bright-red bag paired with a black suit. Just be careful not to mix too many colours.

> A word about shoes
The perfect ensemble can be ruined by the wrong shoes.

Your shoes, Sowden says, should be clean, polished and in good shape. Make sure the heels are not worn down. For women who wear high heels, check to make sure the leather or fabric isn’t peeling away from the heel.