Do suits decrease creativity?
15th February 2017
When it comes to what to wear in PR these days, there are plenty of options. But having too much choice can be confusing, so what should you wear to look original without scaring off the horses, not to mention your clients? To make life more simple, remember there are some rules you should follow, as there is definitely a dress code in PR. Deborah Saw, senior partner at agency Newgate Comms, explains: “Yes I know those of us who works in the creative industries think we have our own individual style, but we really don’t. Look around. A subconscious message goes out to women in PR in early December, ‘wear black opaque tights.’ Another is transmitted to men every Thursday night, ‘can’t go wrong with jeans and the white shirt.’”
This doesn’t mean you can’t show some individuality, but don’t go too wild. Saw says: “Not everyone is confident enough to break the tribal norms, but let me share the findings of a university experiment which suggests that people judge slight deviations from the norm as positive because they suggest that the individual is powerful enough to ‘risk the social costs’ of such outrageous behaviour. So go on wear that electric blue shirt, express yourself, even if it’s with the pink and orange socks.”
The PR dress code
Once you recognise that there is a dress code in PR, you need to pinpoint what it is for the sector you are working in. Even if you are in one of the more ‘creative’ sectors, you cannot throw on any old pair of jeans. Sarah Samways, account director at agency Notts PR, says: “Whilst some consumer-facing agencies may operate a more casual dress code than say financial PR firms, there has to be a reasonable limit to what is deemed acceptable. Would you want a client to see you in ripped jeans, an old T-shirt and your gym trainers? No? Then don’t go to work dressed like that.”
Even on days when you aren’t going go to see any clients, you should maintain the right image. As Samways says: “There is a degree of flexibility if you’re scheduled to be in the office all day, but do bear in mind a client may call an urgent meeting, or even pop into the office as they’re passing by. As PR consultants we’re selling a service to clients who need to utilise our expertise. We need to look professional and at the same time reflect the culture of the agency we’re working in and the clients we’re working with.”
Those that work with more conservatively dressed clients, for instance in public affairs, may be more limited in their choices, but this does not mean being uncomfortable – there is certainly no pressure in PR for women to wear high heels these days for example. If you want to fit in, whilst standing out, the secret is to pinpoint what the acceptable uniform is, and then add your own individual twist. But ties and earrings that light up should only be worn at Christmas please!
What I wear for work
Simon Turton, founder of agency Opera PR, describes what the best-dressed men in PR wear these days and suggests that mustard jeans look better than you might think: "We work in a creative arena, so we should not be afraid to show this in how we dress. Some can carry off the black suit/black T-shirt combo, but this is potentially straying (sartorially) into the world of architecture and design. Jeans and jackets can work, but be careful of going too Clarkson. The bow tie is also a stylish option, again, but only for those who can wear them with confidence, but I think for most men the suit will continue to be the go-to outfit.
“That said, you can still make a statement that lets people know that you’re in a creative arena, whilst maintaining an air of authority, especially when pitching for new business. For most new business situations I go for a darker suit in the winter months and lighter suit for summer, co-ordinated with a pink/mauve/yellow shirts – always with cufflinks – no tie and stylish socks (but, never featuring pictures, cartoons or words). For more relaxed situations – perhaps an update meeting – I will often wear a sports jacket, shirt with cufflinks and smart casual trousers and sometimes mustard-coloured jeans (which look better than they sound).
“Irrespective of what you wear you – men, again – need to make sure your shoes match the outfit and that they’re clean. Too many men ignore their footwear, which can let down a whole outfit and could undermine your credibility. It’s all about attention to detail and making an effort. I think if your outfit is stylish, considered and purposeful, it is likely that this will be reflected in your work. First impressions still count.”
Amanda Moulson, general manager of communications agency Access Emanate, believes times have changed when it comes to what you wear in PR, particularly, but not exclusively, for women: “As a girl in the 80s, I was raised under the adage ‘dress for the job you want, not that one you have.’ I imagined my ‘grown-up’ self in a power suit, walking to work in trainers and ditching them under the desk for a pair of heels to further assert professionalism, dominance and, depending on brand, pay grade.
“My how the times have changed – and not just for women. Business dress transformed into business casual. We started dress-down Fridays. Eventually it all morphed into a casual norm and suits were relegated to client meetings. At the same time, fashion changed for women. We abandoned the hallmarks of femininity for more gender-neutral wardrobe items: flatter shoes, looser trousers, denim. Now comfort is key with self-expression (via creativity and trends) closely behind. And why not? Creativity thrives in comfortable spaces.
“Consider the theory that humans became creative when they discovered fire, as once rested in the warm glow, relaxed to see in the dark, they made time for new ideas. If that’s true, does it serve us to wear stiff fabrics, constrictive buttons and too-tight shoes? More importantly, as we seek to diversify our work spaces with people from different colours, creeds and classes, isn’t a one-size-fits-all corporate look antithetical to the longer game? Finally, the evolution of our casual workwear ultimately reflects what we hope to offer our clients and employees: comfortable and harmonious environments with underlying creativity and trends that make us modern, authentic and fun. I think there’s more power in that than a power suit.”