Last month, my wife and I sailed from our comfy confines on Vashon Island to the mainland so that we could visit a dry cleaner, a foreign concept on the rock we live on.  I needed my suit pants dry cleaned ahead of a White House-related event in the fashion conservative District of Columbia. Since I am typically oblivious to the mechanisms that involve my own wardrobe, I had failed to notice anything odd about my pants until it was time to pick them up.

The owner of the dry cleaners, bless his heart, had thrown my pants away.

“Why?” I sputtered. “Did. You. Throw. Out. Ma pants?!”

To which this man simply stated that my wife must have accidentally washed them in a traditional washer and dryer before we brought them in and therefore, they were ruined. He fished them out of the trash for proof and sure enough, they were ruined. This was a Thursday. My travel date was the next Monday. That left me with no time to find a replacement pair – I’m a short dude and short dudes have to have their dress pants altered, which can take at least a week. And any replacements I might have employed had recently been sent to the thrift shop months ago – a collection of good fitting, but 90s styled slacks that my poor wife couldn’t stand to look at for one more second. The only problem with her ditching said wardrobe was that I hadn’t had time to replace it. And so…

The emperor’s PR rep has no clothes

Now, my closet is not bare of nice pants, just not those that match with a suit jacket. The night before I flew to D.C., I found an almost suitable khaki-ish replacement and packed it in my suitcase, though with considerable trepidation. Once on the plane though, I knew for sure the replacement pair was a sham and that I’d spend the next 36 hours stressing more over a pair of pants than the CEO’s meeting schedule the next day, the lunch interview with the Wall Street Journal, or his speaking engagements. We had already prepared for those in advance, on all sides. They were locked down and sealed tight. The only thing that could possibly derail this from being a successful trip was my pants.

And since the meetings took place as planned…

Many years ago a wise man by the name of Fred Hobbs gave me a piece of advice – always dress 10 percent better than those you are meeting with. In the tech world this is not difficult to achieve. You might meet with a CEO dressed in really expensive jeans and skate shoes, but at the end of the day they are just jeans and skate shoes. Or you might meet with a venture capitalist, in which case you’ll be lucky to share the same fashion airspace, a simple result of economics. That being said, if you play your fashion cards right, that VC might respect you for your attempts, rather than judge your brands. Or, you might end up running an event in D.C., where eight-tenths of the male population shop at Brooks Brothers, regardless of which side of the aisle they sit on.

The point is, like a banker, you need to know your customer (KYC) in order to be successful in PR, too. And in this instance, I’m only talking about the customer’s fashion sense. If you don’t know your customer from the PR/marketing side of the business, no amount of fashion advice will set you free, and that’s a completely separate conversation. I’m just talking fashion here. If you want to be embarrassed in front of a room full of people, step into said room as a CEO’s escort wearing the wrong pair of pants; a pair of pants that make you stand out from the BB crowd and a pair of pants you might hear about from that CEO post trip.

Final advice? KYC = know your customer’s fashion sense, and stay on top of it, regardless of whether or not you have kids and lost the concept of cool years ago. Don’t get lazy and force your spouse to handle important fashion matters for you – do what I recently had to do, and take advantage of a wardrobe consultant at Nordstrom. The investment is worth your time and money from a risk management perspective, and is an easy, but powerful visual way to show that you know, and respect your customer.