Style Files: Dress to the nines

Fashion columnist Claire Boston on what we can learn from Justin Bieber’s overalls

It’s been less than a week since Justin Bieber donned overalls and a backward hat to meet Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, but his unfortunate outfit choice, apparently as scandalous as Nixon's big flub, already has its own moniker: Overalls-gate.

I could aimlessly bash JBiebs’ crappy taste, but it’s all already been said. Instead, I think there’s a larger lesson in Overallsgate that is important to keep in mind: if you’re required to dress for an occasion, be extremely careful with your wardrobe choices.

It’s easy to underestimate how much clothing can matter. But when it comes to first impressions, presentation is everything. How you dress is a huge part of how people see you. In an ideal world, people wouldn’t make snap judgments based on appearance. But as long as they do, it’s important to make sure your clothing sends the right message.

When in doubt, it’s always better to be overdressed. The consequences are minimal -— I doubt you regretted the last time you found yourself to be the best-dressed person in the room. Even if you really do feel too formal, it’s far easier to dress down something fancy than it is to dress up something casual.

If you’re unsure about how to dress for an event, adding just a few items to your bag will allow you to easily dress yourself down. Those tiny foldable flats take up barely any bag space and could come in handy if you discover sparkly heels were the wrong call for the evening. A sweater is another nice staple to keep in your car, but not just to keep you warm. Throw it on over your silky cocktail dress to instantly take the formality down a notch or two.

Underdressing is a far bigger faux pas than overdressing, so it’s unfortunate that it’s much trickier to make your jeans pass as business attire. Keeping extra jewelry on hand can be a good way to add a bit of class to an otherwise informal outfit, but it’s probably a good idea to keep it classic and conservative in style. As much fun as the costume jewelry section of Forever 21 can be, that bedazzled owl necklace probably isn’t the key to elevating your outfit.

Since it’s unlikely you’re keeping spare formalwear in your car, concentrate on the details of your outfit if you find yourself underdressed. Biebs could have easily taken off his hat and bothered to strap his overalls before his photo op. It wouldn’t have fixed his situation, but it might have given the blogosphere a little less to ridicule.

Small improvements to your outfit -- whether you brush some wrinkles out of your shirt or use some Tide to Go on a stain -- can go a long way in improving your overall look.

No matter what you try, sometimes it’s clear you’re still not dressed correctly. The real secret to making up for when you’re underdressed lies in how you carry yourself in social situations. You’ll have to use your attitude to say what your clothing cannot, so introducing yourself professionally becomes even more important. If you’re wearing a T-shirt to a job interview, make sure you can compensate with a firm handshake and articulate answers to every question.

From here, we can see where Bieber went wrong. In one of his pictures with Harper, he’s slouching, making a thumbs-up sign and looking far too nonchalant given the occasion. If Biebs couldn’t impress Harper with his outfit, it would have been nice if his demeanor made up for it -— with some better posture and a more serious face, he could have at least created the illusion he cared about the meeting.

When you’re not sure about appropriate attire, it’s never a bad idea to get advice from others. Run outfits by your friends, and don’t be afraid to contact the host of a party if you have a question about the dress code. But when in doubt, dress up. And no matter the circumstances, there’s really no occasion in which a backward baseball cap is a good call.

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