Good Grooming: A Gentle Reminder

Sometimes a gentle reminder makes a world of difference. That can be particularly true of a businessperson’s attention to appearance and grooming. At its most fundamental, good grooming for both men and women focuses on being neat, clean, and odor-free. Make an effort to assess yourself against a grooming checklist on a regular basis.

Body odor and bad breath. Avoid these problems by showering daily, using a deodorant, and brushing often. How do you know if you have body odor or bad breath? The sniff test won’t work on yourself. As crazy as it sounds, if you’re not sure, consider asking a friend—someone you trust. Better to ask and know than not to know and discover your odor has been a problem.

Clothing. Neat, clean, ironed (or no-iron clothing), stain-free, and odor-free are important qualities regardless of casual or formal. If your clothes have a stain or grease spot, don’t wear them.

Scents. Cologne and perfume are great in your private life, but at work, tone it down or omit it altogether. Some workplaces have no scent policies.

For men:

Hair. Is yours washed regularly so it doesn’t look greasy? What about dandruff? If flakes appear on your shoulders, find a shampoo that helps eliminate or at least controls it. Unusual cuts may have worked in school, but in the workplace you should think in terms of a hairstyle that doesn’t call attention to itself.

Fingernails. Trimmed and clean are the goal. You can keep a nail trimmer in your desk drawer, but excuse yourself to the restroom before using it. And, needless to say, trimming toenails at your desk is simply unacceptable. If you’re a nail biter, actively try to stop. If you can’t stop, at least refrain from biting when in the presence of others.


Five o’clock shadow. A fast growing beard can be a problem if you have to attend a major evening event. Consider keeping a razor in your desk for those times when a touch-up is needed. Again, head to the restroom to shave and clean up after yourself.

Neck, eyebrow and ear hair. Best bet is to have them attended to at the same time you have your hair cut—which implies that you have your hair cut on a regular basis. Otherwise, you’ll need to do the trimming yourself.

For women:

Hair. Clean and neat are the watchwords. While length is up to you, keep hair from covering your eyes. Better to tuck it behind your ears or clip it back.

Makeup. Less is more. A heavy hand with eye makeup or using brilliant or unusual colors can draw attention to your make-up rather than to you. Save the drama for evening.

Fingernails. Trimmed and neat looks professional, with or without fingernail polish. Avoid decorative motifs and keep color choices in line within the conservatism of your workplace.

Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers’ questions in The Boston Sunday Globe’s weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of “The Etiquette Advantage in Business” and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book “Essential Manners For Men” was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of “Essential Manners for Couples,” “Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf,” and co-author of “A Wedding Like No Other.” Post is Emily Post’s great-grandson. His media appearances include “CBS Sunday Morning,” CBS’s “The Early Show,” NBC’s “Today,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and “Fox News.” Follow Post: @PeterLPost.


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