Whether you work for a firm with mainly corporate clients, you’re a freelancer who meets with agencies and clients, or you’re part of an edgy digital agency, how you dress says a lot about your personality.
Like it or not, attire can speak volumes about your business persona, too.
Many people who work in creative industries such as advertising, PR, or digital like to push the fashion envelope. After all, people hire creative types for their great ideas—so should they dress the part?
“Not always,” says fashion blogger Leesa Butler, principal of Divine Lab, in Toronto. “Try not to be ‘that person’ whose attire becomes part of the everyday conversation in the office; it only leads to distraction. You don’t want your attire to speak more loudly than you do.”
True. But when you’re standing in front of your closet, with one eye on your watch and the other holding a cup of coffee, choosing the right outfit can prove challenging.
Here are six “what to wear” rules for people in PR and other creative industries:
Feel comfortable in your clothes. Your clothes should reflect your true self—don’t pretend. Just because you think you’re the next Mark Zuckerberg, doesn’t mean that hoodies and Adidas flip-flops are for you. You should feel comfortable in what you wear. Clients and co-workers will notice if you’re a sartorial con artist.
Dress to impress on the job hunt. If you’re looking for a full-time opportunity, err on the side of caution. Step it up a bit with something slightly more formal that shows a dash of personality, but nothing that overwhelms the situation. For men, it might mean colorful socks or a pocket square for your sports coat or suit jacket. For women, it might be how you choose to accessorize your outfit. That said …
Accessorize carefully. Some say the ability to accessorize is what separates us from animals. Leesa Butler said it also has the ability to overwhelm. “One day I wore these fabulous bangles that seem to take a life of their own,” she recalled. “They would rattle incessantly. In the middle of a corporate meeting, I quickly realized what a distraction they were and took them off immediately.”
Fit the culture. Butler said she once worked at an agency with a casual environment, in which they always dressed fashion forward when meeting a client. Why? “Because that’s why the client chose us—they liked that as part of our package,” she explained. Former beauty executive Jenny Frankel said the same thing works on the client side. “I always read the environment of my agency,” she said. “If they had a more relaxed dress code, then I would dress accordingly.”
Follow the leader. Barbara Laidlaw, senior vice president and partner at Fleishman Hillard in New York, suggested employees take a cue from their boss when attending client meetings. “If he or she is normally business casual in the office, but wears a suit or other more formal attire when visiting certain clients, do the same,” she said. “No one has ever been looked down upon for dressing up a bit or dressing slightly more conservatively.”
Dress your age. If you’re the “veteran”—that is, older than 25—in your office environment, you don’t need to dress down to fit in. But do dress your age. For men, that could mean a sports jacket or suit with an open collar. For women, it can be tempting to have fun—but not too much. If your teenage daughter is a mini, please don’t assume you can pull off the same look. Even if you do have legs like Heidi Klum. Oh, and guys, lose the flip-flops. They’re for the beach, or a public shower, not the office. “In most offices, your wardrobe should absolutely not be the same as you wear to the beach on weekends,” said Laidlaw.
Have you ever worked with someone who was a fashion disaster? Dish in the comments section.
Elissa Freeman is a contributing writer to PR Daily.com