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Corporate or creative attire: what’s your style (and does it matter)?

Corporate or creative attire - what’s your style (and does it matter)?

There’s a menswear shop in my home town that proclaims out the front: ‘well-dressed men are more successful’. It’s always bothered me.

Bernie Madoff was well-dressed, and very successful for a long time, but he’ll see out his twilight years in jail after masterminding that Ponzi scheme now considered one of the United States’ largest financial frauds.

Rajat Gupta, the former Goldman Sachs board member, also looks like a million dollars every time I see him, but he, too, is looking at a lengthy stint in the clink after being busted for insider trading.

Conversely, have you ever seen some of the kit Steve Jobs used to knock about in before he adopted those scarecrow jeans and that black turtleneck, and became one of the most successful businessmen in the world? And what about Mark Zuckerburg? He wouldn’t be welcome in many shopping centres wearing that hoodie he’s so fond of, and I read an article shortly before Facebook’s recent IPO that his eschewing of corporate attire was making investors ‘nervous’.

I know fashion goes in cycles, and I’m aware too that no matter how much we might say we’re not into fashion, the truth is that fashion is most definitely into us; but since when do the clothes we wear make us successful?

I think well-dressed men and women can create a perception of being successful, and perceptions are of course important and useful. After all, we make assumptions based on our perception of things; but how often are our assumptions incorrect?

I’m a believer that clothes don’t make the man or woman (however, they can certainly help), but I’ve always found the different styles of dress stereotypically prescribed to certain industries or professions very interesting to observe. Just like professional services firms and the legal profession supposedly love suits, the advertising and creative sectors supposedly love anything but. A ‘suit’, as many will know, is in fact an agency term for account service specialists used to differentiate them from the creative arm of the agency.

In advertising, many get up very, very early in the morning and spend a few hours getting ready so they can arrive at work looking like they’ve just rolled out of bed. As one successful Art Director friend said to me once, “it’s very expensive to look this cheap, Tim”. I believe him.

Many of us are conditioned to think success means looking a certain way, and this is marketing doing its job very well over many decades. If you were to line up a creative director and a homeless fellow in a suit next to each other on the street and ask passers-by who was the most successful, I’d be surprised if most didn’t point at the suit.

It’s arguably human nature for all of us to look at the clothes one is wearing and think we know something about the wearer. However human nature isn’t always right, and what you’re wearing of course only tells a very small part of the overall story.

In the interview scenario, this is especially true. When I used to interview freelance creatives on a daily basis, most would rock up in whatever they were comfortable in, which, for the kind of roles we were sourcing for (predominantly agency and studio-based), was entirely appropriate.

I realised that what many creatives wore was a reflection of their creativity, while for others, it just didn’t matter. What there was a general understanding of, however, was that the portfolio, and the quality of work within it, was the ultimate indication of talent, not the kit.

But there were another few cases where dapper men and women strolled in, and looked the part; in fact, they looked fantastic. But guess what? The skill level and attitude didn’t match the threads. They had all the gear, but no (or little) idea.

I don’t think well-dressed men or women are more successful, but I can buy in to the belief, to an extent, that more successful men or women can afford to be better dressed. We’re all naked from the day of birth; clothing can create a perception, sure, but if that perception isn’t subsequently matched by talent, then it won’t matter what you’re wearing.

Surely it’s what’s inside that counts; what do you think?

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