Want to wear a Hawaiian shirt to your board meeting in Silicon Valley? Be our guest. But in Dubai? Not so fast. Here’s how to dress appropriately where and when it matters.
At a meeting: In Dubai, women's pantsuits should be sheeny and glam; men's duds are buffed, black, and paired with slim ties.
On the street: The mall, not the street, is the social arena. In Dubai, girls in T-shirts (their shoulders covered out of respect and as a remedy against the freezing AC blasts) tote the latest Louis Vuittons. Carry a pashmina to cover up in case you find yourself in a traditional souk—although you'll see miniskirts and shorts, they're for people who know the city well enough to avoid ultra-conservative quarters. On men, reflective aviators abound, as do Gucci sandals.
At a party: Go glam to the gills: No Swarovski is too shiny and no Giuseppe Zanotti is too high. Men wear Y3 trainers and tailored blazers over graphic tees.
P.S. Put on clean socks if you're going to a local's house in Dubai—you'll leave your shoes at the door.
At a meeting: Israelis take pride in dressing down: Jeans are more common in Israel than jackets and ties, and business formal often means no more than a button-down and khaki pants. For women, skirts are better than trousers for meetings with religious colleagues. But in liberal Tel Aviv, anything goes—particularly trendy dresses from boutiques on Dizengoff and Shenkin streets.
On the street: It's South Beach style in resorty Eilat and Tel Aviv, where cotton shorts and tank tops are de rigueur during the hot summer months. Everywhere in Israel is fairly casual, but Jerusalem, Galilee, and Tiberias get colder winters and call for more conservative dress. In these places, long skirts are ideal for women, and everyone covers up at Jewish and Christian religious sites, with high necks and long sleeves.
At a party: Secular celebrations call for jeans and nice tops; for religious ceremonies or weddings, cover past the elbows and below the knees.
P.S. Far from frumpy, Israel's a burgeoning fashion hub: Lanvin's Alber Elbaz and designer Yigal Azroel hail from the Holy Land.
At a meeting Twenty years ago, "Chinese fashion" meant dark Mao pantsuit uniforms; in China today, work clothes are still homogenous suits and ties, even on the hottest summer days. Businesswomen go without makeup and jewelry, and everyone shies away from conspicuous consumption to show they're focused on the business at hand.
On the street: Arms, chest, and back should be covered, but "China is not puritanical," says Qin Herzberg, co-author of "China Survival Guide: How to Avoid Travel Troubles and Mortifying Mishaps". "Dressing unconventionally won't offend anyone. It's a question of presenting oneself in the best light." Although Chinese women wear conservative cuts, shirts are sometimes transparent, leaving the bra in full view.
At a party: Exaggerated styles and silhouettes by Comme des Garçons, Martin Margiela, and Yohji Yamamoto are currently hot (in a monochromatic palette, of course).
P.S. "Chinese women would be loath to wear any footwear without straps, because it shows too much of the foot," says Herzberg. "The style also reminds them of flip-flops, which are seen as cheap."
At a meeting: Hillary Clinton, you're in luck—pantsuits are okay anywhere in India; choose cotton or linen in summer, and accessorize with a colored scarf or dangly earrings to keep up with vividly dressed locals, who wear bold diaphanous saris to boardrooms in Bangalore and Mumbai. (Men, don't be afraid to wear color, too—you certainly won't feel out of place.)
On the street: Unless you're here to visit a Bollywood star, designer clothes aren't right for Indian city streets. A sari won't work, either: "Western women look silly because they can't wrap or tie it right," says Barbara Crossette, author of "India: Old Civilization in a New World". Instead, wear drawstring pants, leather toe sandals, and a nice cotton tee. Men can go super-comfy in a kurta, or knee-length tunic, usually worn with cotton or linen bottoms; the women's version is called a kameez.
At a party: Since beautiful silk is readily available, women commission local seamstresses to make sleek knee-length tunics with side slits and legging-like pants worn bunched at the ankles. But your jewels are what you'll really be judged by: "Indians have their jewelry made to order; no one buys off the shelf," Crossette says. Men wear short-sleeved button-downs, slacks, and loafers.
P.S. Sandals are easiest when touring, since you can slip them off quickly before entering temples. And a word to the wise: Ankle bracelets are out.
At a meeting: "The Japanese word for dress shirt, wai shatsu, comes from the English for 'white shirt,' which gives you an idea of the range of colors worn at work," says Dan Rosen, professor at Tokyo's Chuo Law School, who recommends basic black suits. In 2005, the government launched a Cool Biz initiative meant to lower AC costs by encouraging lighter work attire; it's been met with fierce resistance by the jacket-and-tie-loving Japanese working class.
On the street: For Tokyo youth, nothing's too studied or over-the-top, so the laissez-faire American norm is seen as slovenly. Women should wear heels, makeup, and a dose of frills, and men must be clean shaven and must spend time on their hair.
At a party: Agnès B. and Louis Vuitton are the easiest icebreakers, since the Japanese love labels—along with the stylish shapes by local designers like Yohji Yamamoto. No sweat suits, please!
P.S. Planning to shop in Japan? Note that Japanese sizes run significantly smaller than those in the States. If you wear a medium in the United States, a Japanese XL might be a squeeze.