Wise up, dress well, get smart

In certain trades, a suit and tie are essential for doing business. But not in media, where a meeting is just as likely to be conducted in jeans and T-shirts. But should we all be suited and booted for work?


Let’s face it, there are some professions which attract badly dressed people.

Television (almost everyone below chief exec level, and sometimes even the top dogs themselves); radio (in particular, local radio, in fact, especially local radio); certain (younger) areas of the advertising industry; arty people (those who like dressing up like Jake & Dinos Chapman – the only Britart double act with two straight men).

And the internet: in my experience, most men who have ever had anything to do with the internet dress like total buffoons.

A few years ago, GQ was misguidedly involved in some sort of external internet project that was meant to enhance our brand, prolong its relevance to those readers we had in Clerkenwell (ie, the boffins working for the internet company) and generally make us all feel cool and trendy and modern.

We were told this was something that we couldn’t possibly afford to ignore and, like a bunch of blind fools, we believed them.

This project involved me making half a dozen trips to Hoxton, where I would sit in a small, minimalist room surrounded by five or six shaven-headed men in their early 30s who all seemed to look like Jake and Dinos Chapman.

They all had that weird combination of goatee and stubble; they all wore billowing camouflage chinos and humungous training shoes; and they all wore dirty, unkempt Tshirts with “amusing” slogans on them such as “You’re either online or offline”; “I’m an email she-male” and “Kiss my mouse”.

Anyway, I would sit in this room, drinking ice-cold frapaccino, nodding along to all this bunk about start-up funds, VC databases, operational planning and burn rates being discussed by a bunch of men dressed up like children.

I mean, how can you take a man who wears over-sized day-glo training shoes seriously? Especially when he’s got a sneer that would put Kevin the Teenager to shame? And the thing that compounded my horror was the fact that I was dressed like a stockbroker.

I was wearing a Richard James lightweight pinstripe suit, a pair of bench-made, chisel-toed Gucci brogues, ridiculously expensive cashmere socks, a high-collared Interno 8 shirt, gold Cartier cufflinks and a woven harlequinpatterned tie by Duchamp.

The Hoxton i-bods probably thought I looked like some sort of City tight-ass, but then that was really the point.

With me, it’s always been the point. Even back in the days of Taboo, Leigh Bowery’s infamous den of iniquity, I would squeeze through the pink fake fur and patent leather bovver boots in a tailor-made three-piece suit (admittedly it may have been made of scarlet mohair, but you get my drift).

In the bowels of an establishment which has become renowned as the most debauched British nightclub of all time – and let me tell you it was; I was there every night for a year and the goings-on would have shocked Satan himself – I thought the cool thing to do was to dress as though I were going to a cocktail party.

And I still do.

The point of dressing well is to confound people. I’m not talking about dressing up like an 18th century fop – just amping things up a bit. For years, the accepted way of confounding people’s expectations has been to rebel – to wear long hair when short hair is cool, to wear flares when drainpipes are all the rage.

So what’s clever about slouching around with a goatee, a smelly T-shirt and a bad attitude? If you’re the only one doing it then there’s a possibility you’re going to be noticed; but if you look like everyone else… then you look like everyone else.

Do I take conventionally-dressed men more seriously? Probably. But not exclusively.

The GQ office does not have a prescriptive dress code, not at all, and you are as likely to see someone walking around in a stripy polo shirt and jeans as you are a navy blue Savile Row suit. And I think that’s the way it should be. If we all looked like stockbrokers then we’d look staid and boring.

And if we all had funny haircuts and wore denims with weird seams then we’d look like we all worked on Dazed & Confused. Instead, we’ve got a healthy mix. All I ask is that the staff dress with style, regardless of what they’re wearing.

Do I care what people wear to work? Not especially. Do I care how they dress for work? Absolutely.

Dylan Jones is editor of GQ


Picture the scene: it’s 1996 and we’re in what was Capital Radio’s “Rocking Tower”, The Verve’s Bitter Sweet Symphony provides the soundtrack to the summer. It’s a balmy 20 degrees in the office, but we’re tugging violently at our Ben Sherman collars because we haven’t yet reached the agreed temperature (22°C) at which our esteemed senior management had decreed we could remove our mandatory ties.

OK, things have hopefully changed now, but I think that my experience eight years ago probably scarred me for life, making me a staunch advocate of the adoption of a more relaxed dress code.

I’ve since hopped over the fence to an agency, but I still have a real empathy for those poor reps whose employers insist on making them don a suit in the hope that this will, in some way, sway us simple-minded agency folk into being more receptive to what is clearly supposed to be a more “professional” operation.

Walk into the bar at PHD at any point (during the day) and you’re faced with a sea of meetings taking place between two rival factions – the suited and booted media owner looking a little awkward and out of place, and the jeans and trainers-clad planner/buyer who’s probably got the upper hand because they’re on their home turf and in a more relaxed frame of mind.

There’s nothing weirder than strolling past a meeting where a rep from some youth title or dance station is having to sell the virtues of Boy George’s latest offering in a suit and tie. If ever there could be a worse example of “living your brand”, I’d like to see it.

It’s been a long-accepted rule that our Evisu-clad colleagues in the creative world get to don whatever urban classics they so wish, and, to some extent, the same is true of the world of sponsorship and promotions. It seems that if you can in any way claim to work in a “creative” role, you get more autonomy in your clothing decisions.

I can’t believe that this is because there’s a management concern about these guys slipping with a chunky marker or accidentally spray-mounting their ties to their lapels; it’s because they realise that a suit doesn’t make or break a good idea.

Clearly, there are going to be times when we have to smarten up a little; after all, even outside the office we tailor our dress to specific situations. But this isn’t the 18th century, we’re not Mr Darcys or Mr Wickhams, we don’t wake up in the morning and don our top hats and tails.

Apart from a few “exclusive” notable exceptions, the workplace would seem to be the last bastion of these outdated social mores.

It’s the 21st century, people need to be given more responsibility to make their own clothing decisions; after all, it would be pretty obvi- ous, pretty quickly if someone really wasn’t getting it. The first time they turned up to a key new business meeting in their comfiest tracky bottoms and their free Granada Plus Columbo T-shirt would probably be their last.

If you know your clients and their business well, you’ll be fully aware of the stature of who you’re meeting, the tone of the proceedings and the formality of the situation; it should be up to you to match your personal presentation to these variables. If you’re not sure about a particular client, play safe, go smart. It really is that simple.

We’ve all heard the arguments against the relaxation of a dress code – “we had dressdown Fridays and people just took the piss” or “our staff are ambassadors for our business”.

Half-hearted attempts like “dress down Fridays” are always doomed to fail as staff are effectively being encouraged to “go casual” even if that day’s events require something more formal. At least one major media owner had to scrap this system because its policy stated that if you had external meetings on Friday, you had to wear a suit; not surprisingly, call rates dropped to zero on Fridays.

Those who use the “ambassadorial” argument need to seriously consider what they want from their staff. Do they want a group of people dressed in Ciro Citterio’s finest while churning out predictable garbage, or would they rather have a group of individuals with minds of their own and the ability to demonstrate their worth through the contribution they make? After all, as a casually-dressed man once said: “If honor be your clothing, the suit will last a lifetime; but if clothing be your honour, it will soon be worn threadbare”.

Dave Roberts is head of radio at PHD Drum

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