The traditional blue or gray suit is still the best bet for men or women in making a good first impression in business, an image consulting firm for executives said Saturday.

Wearing the right suit, shined shoes, and a watch, having clean fingernails and a firm handshake can mean the difference between getting a new job, earning a promotion or completing a successful sales pitch, said Kaufman Professional Image Consultants, based in Philadelphia.Kaufman, in conjunction Kiwi Brands of Douglassville, Pa., a shoe care manufacturer, designed the "Image Index," a test to determine a person's potential for getting ahead in business.

"It's surprising to see how many people have a difficult time in applying basic principles of executive dress and good grooming when preparing for interviews or presentations," said Karen Kaufman.

The index lists 12 elements that make up a man or woman's overall image, including dress, grooming, handshake, eye contact and posture.

"The Image Index is designed to enable people to calculate their prospects for getting ahead in situations where first impressions are important," said Kiwi president Edward Collier.

A contrasting patterned or striped tie is a better choice for men than a solid or knit one. Women should not wear bow ties, heavy makeup or distracting jewelry. Both sexes benefit by wearing white, cotton shirts with suits, although women are not limited to suits.

"A dress and jacket can be very authoritative," Kaufman said.

From head to toe, a person should be well-groomed but steer away from the avant-garde in hairstyle and clothing.

Collier said people over 40, who are typically in charge of hiring or handing out promotions, shine their shoes, while people under 40 only shine their shoes occasionally, although shined shoes are a part of making a good first impression.