As part of my Media Training courses, I often talk about how we look. Especially on zoom calls, people can get distracted by visual things: unusual books on the shelves behind you, odd ornaments that your flatmates have placed in full view on a windowsill, your cat, your fringe that you have cut yourself too enthusiastically, wayward wisps of hair, blobs of mascara that have escaped down your cheek… And your clothes, of course.
Nowadays, people wear different things to work. Even office jobs can be quite casual: jeans, trainers, hoodies etc. Not everyone needs to wear a suit or look like an accountant. Only about half of senior businessmen wear ties, in my experience, unless it’s for a very formal presentation.
So, what to wear?
Look at the photo I have posted of myself. I quite often wear this dress for work (I have 3, in different colours). I look like a businesswoman, I would say. But businesswomen also wear trackpants, sneakers, T-shirts – depending on their industry and nationality. I have just got into the Danish series The Killing (just the 14 years late, I know) and some of the MPs wear jeans. Jeans! My Swedish husband shrugs, “It’s Denmark”. Nothing to see here.
I always tell my trainees: wear what suits your industry, your brand. If you’re a farmer, you’ll wear wellies and a waxed jacket. If you’re Harry Styles, you’ll wear a yellow 3-piece suit, a mauve chiffon scarf and pearls. If you’re an IT bod, you’ll wear comfortable leisurewear. But for speaking to the media, colleagues on zoom calls, the press, clients, just go one notch smarter (the hoodie without stains, the cardie without holes). And dress for the job you want, not necessarily the job you have. If you want to be the CEO, but you’re actually Head of Housekeeping, dress smart (but also so you can still do your job, right?)
I am conscious that I come across as a massive dinosaur when speaking to younger clients, because they DO dress more casually. And they’re used to accepting everyone as they come, no matter how they’re dressed – pink wigs, facial piercings, tattoos, frayed clothes, festival bracelets etc. In comparison, I am a bit judgey! But first impressions do count. So yes, you might be dressed like a hungover rock star and STILL be the Operations Manager, but it helps if you look like what you are. People recognise you as someone in charge, and respect your authority.
In the creative industries, of course, anything goes – all sorts of fabulous looks. But that fits the sector, the culture – everyone dresses to express themselves, so it’s OK. Just don’t try it if you’re a barrister, in the military, or working in any of the more conservative indutries. If you’re a footman at the palace, and want to sport a green Mohawk, the Queen may not be amused.