Recently I met with a friend in the ad biz. Over drinks he told me that the recession has knocked out quite a few people in the agencies. What was of particular interest to me was the type of people being let go. At one agency here in Toronto the ratio of account people to creatives is something like 10 to 1.
Which is why it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to get a suit, even if the unspoken rule at your office is never to wear one. When it’s about keeping your job, it helps not to stand out as the un-presentable, sloppy dude. At the very least having a suit will make you more difficult to spot when they send security to round up the scruffy creatives in t-shirts and stained jeans. You may even be able to run off a few resumes or lock an account person in the closet and steal his identity before they catch you. You could also sell a few more ideas and thus avoid getting fired in the first place.
For years we’ve assumed the ‘suit’ to be the purview of accounts people, we even call them such on a bad day. The truth is clients with BofCs and MBAs are trained to judge people based on their attire. They may dress like Ed Hardy or wear Affliction t-shirts on the weekends, but to them the blazer and trouser are the mark of someone serious about getting things done during business hours.
Historically the suit has also been a privilege. For the longest time it was the mark of professionals who didn’t have to work with their hands. It meant you could afford expensive clothing and didn’t have to worry about getting them dirty on a daily basis.
In the same way creative teams in this industry are expected to work creatively to a set of guidelines (make the client shine, avoid offending the target, make sense to consumers), sartorially I find it far more impressive to see someone subtly express themselves to a dress code than loudly wear a really cool t-shirt to a black-tie event.
Apparently I’m not the only one, agencies who dress like Mad Men (great finale last night) seem to have a better time acquiring and attaining business than those who don’t. And Don Draper is a good example of somebody who buttons up while expressing himself. From his battle-ship suit to his creative tie to his armored cufflinks, he’s a man so well put together and so definitive in his style that no client doubts Don understands the importance of appearances.
So what does someone raised in a world that’s only recently come back to the almighty jacket do? A few ideas:
1. Avoid wearing black during the day, avoid wearing brown at night
2. Fit is everything.
3. Break it up–jeans with jacket, trousers with sweaters, vests with t-shirts and other colors–then…
4. Bring it all together if the situation warrants, or if you just feel like it
5. Socks are actually an accessory, never wear white ones.
In a business where ideas are notoriously difficult to sell and clients don’t often believe you actually know anything, showing that you can dress at least as well or better than they can will make them wonder what else you can do better, too. Most of us splurge on watches, sneakers, glasses and gadgets while completely neglecting the other 75% of our bodies. Tighter-fitting, better-looking clothing may feel uncomfortable at first, but you probably cried when you were first swaddled, too. And now you wouldn’t imagine going in public without fabric armor.
Plus you get at least two more pockets on your torso, and who doesn’t love pockets?
Get a good suit, and wear the hell out of it.