Don’t Wear Gortex to Dinner in D.C.

This is a guest post by blogger Abby Reph.

If you were going on a trip overseas, you might research the cultural etiquette of your destination — give a gift in Japan, don’t use your left hand when eating in India, kiss twice in France.  You might not realize that traveling domestically will entail cultural differences in etiquette as well.

For your next journey to the East Coast (primarily New York City, Boston and Washington, D.C.), use this guide to prepare for the change of scene.

Attire – The difference in formal attire for the East Coast and West Coast is pronounced.  At most places of business in the Northwest, it is perfectly acceptable to wear jeans and a sweater or knit shirt.  If you are attending a meeting in a city in the Northeast, however, you need to be in business wear: black or gray slacks, a dress shirt and a tie or jacket.  For the ladies, dress pants or a skirt and heels are most appropriate.  No need to be dull, however; feel free to add a punch of color or stylish accessory.

For social occasions, you will find that people definitely dress to go out.  Simply going to dinner on the East Coast is akin to dressing for a special occasion on the West Coast.  Heels and dresses are common, overcoats and polished shoes are the norm.  Don’t get caught walking into a restaurant in your Northface fleece jacket.  This is particularly true for attending musicals, operas, or shows on Broadway – cocktail dresses and suits are appropriate. 

Alacrity – Walk faster.  People in D.C. and New York walk with purpose, and they have little patience for those engaged in chipper conversation, walking shoulder-to-shoulder.  On an escalator, this is especially important: stand to the right so the speed walkers can pass you on the left. 

Accomplishments – People on the East Coast place a large emphasis not just on education, but on the rank of schools they attend.  If you are looking for a job in the Northeast and did not attend an Ivy League School or one that would be instantly recognizable by an East Coaster, it is better to highlight your accomplishments.  Discussing the capital you raised or the grant you wrote will take you further than telling someone you went to the University of Washington (despite being respected, it likely won’t impress someone who went to Columbia or Harvard).

Altar Awareness – Seattle is the least-churched city in the United States; as a result, we are largely uninformed about the practices of popular religions (we understand Christmas, but that’s about it). In the Northeast, traditional religious celebrations are much more common. Do a little Wikipedia-ing prior to your business trip to brush up on the major Jewish, Catholic and Muslim holidays to ensure you don’t ask someone on a Wednesday in February why they have ash on their forehead (Catholics make up 40% of the population of NYC). You also wouldn’t want to schedule a meeting on Rosh Hashanah with your Jewish clients (who make up 5% of the population in D.C.).

Attitude – People in major East Coast cities tend not to be super friendly and engaging with people they don’t know. They aren’t being rude; this is just their manner and you shouldn’t take it personally. Being overly friendly or chatty can be a turnoff if you do not have a business or personal relationship.

Remember to be gracious when those you are visiting aren’t very familiar with the Northwest. In my experience, many East Coasters have not visited Seattle, and don’t know much about it (apart from those lovely weather stereotypes). Take the opportunity to share about Seattle’s casual but hard-working attitude and the incredible art and music scene we enjoy.  You never know, one day you may be playing host to an East Coaster in the Emerald City.


Abby Reph posts her thoughts on etiquette, current events and the delightful absurdities of life at She lives with her husband in Kirkland, Washington.

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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>

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