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How well do the Swiss dress for success?

Author and consultant Christine Daborn believes class is something one can acquire (swissinfo)

As international travel and interaction increase, so does the importance of appearance – yet comprehensive guidelines on proper business dress are hard to find.

Christine Daborn, a consultant and author on "self-marketing", tells swissinfo how stylish the Swiss are – at home and abroad – and how they stand out.

Daborn, founder of Personal Identity, which motivates and grooms individuals for professional success, believes that although the Swiss have traditionally travelled and done a lot of business abroad, they are not always sure of the right thing to wear.

She says fashion faux pas are committed by men and women, business professionals and politicians – from too long jacket sleeves to too thick pinstripes.

Daborn also reflects on those businesswomen who dress too chic or colourfully and send out the wrong message in Switzerland. She wonders about the kind of impression this might have abroad.

swissinfo: The significant liberalisation of national dress habits means that many Swiss struggle to gauge more formal situations abroad. How does this show itself?

Christine Daborn: Swiss are seen abroad as a somewhat exotic race and something of a sartorial special case: "shirt-sleeved, comfortable, not particularly sharp". This is also how we evaluate ourselves.

swissinfo: To what extent is the national character reflected in what is worn?

C.D.: Swiss stress a lot more than other people about being overdressed – and indeed underdressed.

British understatement is seen in their refined reserve; Swiss understatement is seen in the fact that they consider elegance unSwiss or not particularly relevant.

swissinfo: Does it also show our democratic mentality? Is this why we find clothes that reflect a hierarchy rather dull, whereas elsewhere they have more prestige?

C.D.: This feeling is based on a misunderstanding. Professional appearance is a business tool not self-presentation. Internationally, it's less about who you are than what you do and what you represent.

This attitude hasn't made much ground in Switzerland – here people think appearance focuses on ego, individual discretion or subjective taste.

The Swiss are going to have to start talking more about the various signals given off by clothes - not only the business world, but also politicians. In politics, what one wears often reflects one's political persuasion, something that can easily lead to ridicule.

On television programmes the differences between the wardrobes of leftwing politicians are striking. In Germany it is exactly the same among the women in the Green Party. You can see immediately what type of person they are.

swissinfo: Why does it bother politicians if people can read meanings into what they wear?

C.D.: Anything showy is counterproductive. This is less so in the rest of Europe.

swissinfo: What is still considered acceptable in Switzerland but frowned upon abroad?

C.D.: Swiss men often go for short-sleeved shirts with suits – comfort takes precedence over what is correct. In Italy, where it's a lot hotter in summer, this would be unthinkable. For the Italians, who in other respects are usually prepared to make compromises, there's no excuse for a fashion faux pas.

swissinfo: In which countries are Swiss people harshly judged for what they wear?

C.D.: Definitely in southern Europe, the United States, Japan and China – but people make mistakes there too. If you speak in public, you should close your jacket – this includes women – but this is not always the case in those countries.

swissinfo: What is the situation regarding etiquette in Asia, where correct behaviour is often considered difficult to judge?

C.D.: In every country it is up to the visitor to conform to the host. In conservative countries it shows a lack of respect when women wear sleeveless tops or suit trousers. Suit trousers are formally a level below a traditional costume and therefore not suitable for official engagements.

swissinfo-interview: Alexander Künzle

In brief

"Clothes make the man" – so wrote Swiss author Gottfried Keller in the 19th century.

Dress codes nowadays are guidelines for a person's public or professional appearance.

Just because a tie is often not required in Switzerland, it does not mean the same goes in other countries.

Just because suit trousers on a woman are considered elegant in Switzerland, it does not mean the same is true in Asia.

Switzerland is different from other countries in that less attention is paid to etiquette.

Since young people are keenly aware of fashion but less so of the rules of correct behaviour, many companies have introduced dress guidelines.

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Key facts

Christine Daborn is a lawyer with management experience in the economy, culture and the public sector.
She is the founder of the Personal Identity consultancy and the author of several books.
Her bestseller, "Came, Saw and Conquered – Class is something you can learn", has appeared in three editions – with international dress codes – and also as a talking book.

end of infobox

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