Myth: When meeting with politicians and lobbying, what matters is your message and not what you wear.
Truth: What you wear does matter. I know this is a little late because the NORPAC Mission to Washington already happened, but someone suggested I cover this topic anyway. If we have to do this again next year, we’ll be prepared. By the way, to all those of you who went with NORPAC, don’t worry; you all dressed just fine with no glaring mistakes.
Most of us do not spend a lot of time with politicians unless we already know them personally outside of that world. But there are times when we do need to meet the politicians and talk to them about the issues that are important to us. You might think the focus should be on the issues and that what you wear doesn’t matter. Well, think again.
From me, you get the truth.
Whether you like it or not, your appearance always makes a statement all by itself. You need to make sure that statement is the correct one. That correct statement is the one that you genuinely want to make. In general, you want that statement to be “I’m healthy, active, and enjoying all the good things in my life.” To me, that’s a given. Then the context will dictate what you add to that statement. When meeting with politicians to talk about important issues, you want to add: “I respect you and your work and I need you to take these issues seriously.”
How do you make that statement with your appearance?
In general, you need an overall look that would be appropriate for a formal or semi-formal workplace or for Shabbat.
For the men it’s easy. A suit jacket, matching dress trousers, and a crisp button-down shirt, aka a suit, is fail-safe. My team leader for the NORPAC mission advised against wearing separates, and I would’ve disagreed if I hadn’t known what he meant. He meant that a sports jacket with trousers was not formal enough for this and I agree. But if your suit consists of a suit jacket from one rack and matching dress trousers from another rack, that’s fine, especially if pre-coordinated suits give you trouble.
Your jacket and trousers should be dark and neutral. Black, navy, and charcoal are best. Mid-tone neutrals are not good here, but neither are the lighter neutrals. Dark neutrals offer the most formal look. Your shirt should be white, off-white, or a muted pastel. If your style is more creative or edgy, then it’s okay if your shirt is in a secondary neutral, but it shouldn’t be too bright. A subtle print, like a pinstripe, is okay, but solid is best. A tie is not an absolute must, but it’s good. If you don’t wear a tie, make sure your shirt is neat with only the top collar unbuttoned. A colored or patterned tie is fine, especially if your shirt is solid.
For the women there are more options. A jacket and coordinating skirt is fine, but you may also wear a button-down (as I did) or a cardigan with a shell. It’s best to layer that way because layering adds polish and depth. But if you’re in summer heat, it’s okay to wear just one top and then add a necklace or oblong scarf to give that layered look without the extra top. A dress is also a good option as long as it’s not too dramatic. It can be a dress you’d wear to work or to shul on Shabbat, but not something you’d wear to a wedding.
For your base outfit, it’s best to avoid bright colors. Classic neutrals work best, but secondary neutrals can work well too. As usual, try to stick with the same value (lightness or darkness) head to toe because that gives you a long flattering line. It’s good to add bright colors in your underpinning and accessories. You could even do a bold print there. Keep those brights near your face so they draw attention there. But remember to not overdo it. Among other things, too much jewelry never comes off right and it’s bad here.
For everyone, fit and flattery are crucial here. If your clothes do not fit you properly and flatter you, you’ll look sloppy and that comes off disrespectful. You need to make a statement of respect and that means you must appear neat and polished. Make sure the colors near your face, whether it’s a shirt and tie for the men or the underpinning and accessories for the women, flatter your coloring. You need to appear healthy and vigorous.
You will likely be doing a lot of walking, so your shoes need to be comfortable shoes that allow for that. There are thicker-soled loafers out there that look polished and neat but that also allow for walking, and those are fine. Ladies, you don’t need to wear your regular Shabbat shoes, but it’s best to wear shoes with a little lift in the heel so you still get that extra support and height. Sneakers with socks are too casual for this, and while you could carry your real shoes and change for the meetings, it’s too cumbersome.
Gentlemen, if you wear facial hair, make sure it’s neat and trimmed. Otherwise, make sure you shave no more than 1-2 days before the meeting. On your head you can wear a simple kippah. A solid one is great, but a kippah srugah with an abstract Israeli pattern on it is fine too. Even if you might otherwise wear a hat, you’ll need to remove it for the meetings.
Ladies, a basic face of makeup is an absolute must here. Just even out your skin, conceal as needed, define your eyes, and add subtle color to cheeks and lips. Do not go beyond that; you want to appear healthy and polished and not overdone. If you’re wearing hair (your own or a sheitel), make sure it’s clean, neat, and flattering. Curly hair need not be straightened, but if you’re worried that it may appear too wild, just put it up in a bun or twist (curly hair does that quickly and easily and holds well). It is okay to wear a non-sheitel covering for this especially if you’re like me and you’re not comfortable in a sheitel, but keep it simple. A small-brimmed hat, beret, or mitpachat are all good options. While solid is best, a subtle print is fine, especially if the base color coordinates with your base outfit.
Whether you’re lobbying for Eretz Yisrael or for other issues, your goal is to command respect. When you dress just right, you’ll be halfway there even before you bring up the issues. Hatzlachah.