Dressing for success has a variety of permutations

Agencies don't agree on what defines appropriate work attire. However, in an industry where presentation is key, dress code often reflects the nature of the industry the agency serves and its clients' corporate culture.

Agencies don't agree on what defines appropriate work attire. However, in an industry where presentation is key, dress code often reflects the nature of the industry the agency serves and its clients' corporate culture.

“Gone are the days of the corporate black suit every day,” says Julianna Richter, EVP and global client relationship manager at Edelman. Of the agency's move into “smart, business casual,” she adds, “The work force has become younger. With that, there's a flexibility to work from home... [and a flexibility in] dress code. The approach allows people to focus on what's important... so you're not so much worried about what everyone is wearing.”

Because it has offices both in the US and globally, she explains that it's important to balance a look between the market and local culture.

“London might be more creative than Chicago, which tends to be more conservative, but in the bigger markets, it's blending together,” Richter notes. “I would wear the same dress to a meeting in Chicago, London, or New York. [However], in some markets [such as Asia], you might dress more traditionally, especially with clients who are not multinational.”

Maria Rodriguez, president and owner of Vanguard PR, chooses not to impose a dress code. “Having [a family-oriented casual environment] instills closeness, friendships, teamwork, and it breaks down a barrier to communications,” she explains.

While “the advent of telecommuting” has created a more casual workforce, younger employees and interns come to the industry with work experience and know intuitively to dress in “nice slacks and button-downs,” she adds. But Vanguard's DC location means there's a uniform for meetings or press outreach around congressional briefings on Capitol Hill.

“It's dark suits, white shirts, super conservative,” Rodriguez says.

Such is not the case at fashion PR agency People's Revolution, where owner Kelly Cutrone encourages self-expression, even if that means “a kimono with toe socks.”

“For me, I have hundreds and millions of dollars of responsibility of people's brands on my shoulders,” she says. “When they hire us, they come to us for a certain type of energy.”

She updates her policy every season and often has to tell employees to change if they wear something too sexual, or remove a distracting piercing. Giving employees client designs helps her to reward good work and promote client brands when “working with celebrities in the office, or stylists, or magazine editors.” Every day, 30 to 40% of the staff takes advantage of this.

During fashion show productions, AEs must dress in all black, however.

“It always looks good... doesn't get dirty... and gives my team one consistent look across the board,” Cutrone says. Not only does it serve a practical purpose, but it also institutes self-confidence in being dressed appropriately,
she explains.

“A lot of times when young people come into fashion,” she adds, “what they think is fashionable and what is fashionable by industry terms are two completely different things.”

Key points:

A casual dress code promotes an ease of interaction at offices

At global meetings, individual dress should reflect the local culture

Wearing client designs is a promotional tool at fashion agencies

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