Knowing and flawlessly executing all the dress codes of American society could easily be a part-time job: smart dress, casual dress, black tie, cocktail attire, tech casual, business formal, business professional … would you like me to continue? And somewhere between all of those codes lies the dress code of an advertising agency. Let’s call it ad attire.
Ad attire, I’ve found, encompasses a broad range of styles. From baseball-cap casual to classed-up client meeting – our outfits run the gamut. Navigating this environment as an entry-level employee and former-fashion-design-and-merchandising-major-turned-advertising-major can be exhilarating, and at times, baffling. So, listen up fellow grads. Here’s what you need to know:
First things first: Casual does not mean college casual. You can’t waltz into the office in your norts (Nike shorts), an extra-oversized tee that makes everyone question whether or not you’re wearing norts, and Chacos. Nor can you stroll in half-an-hour late wearing a bro tank and Chubbies Shorts. Those days are done, or at least reserved for the weekend. Cry your tears. Hold a ceremony. Do whatever you need to do. Personally, I was never a norts and tee kind of girl, so I threw a party knowing I would no longer be surrounded by possibly pants-less people. Woohoo! That being said, casual is given quite a bit of leash at Bozell. You’re rocking three-day hair and there’s no client meeting on the calendar? Sure, throw on a baseball cap! Concert tees? Absolutely. Jeans? Yep, and not just on Fridays. I. Am. So. Thankful.
Overall, though, you should look put together. And that – put together – is the backbone of ad attire. Casual, comfortable, capable and well-bathed. (This isn’t a tech start-up. Showers and colors other than grey are encouraged.) If you’re meeting a client, especially a new one, pull out the polish. It’s like a first date, it’s probably the best they’re ever going to see you look, so put on a good show.
Now, all of the above considered, I remain a firm believer in dressing for the position you want and not the position you have. Overused and cliché? Yes. But do it. Whether you like it or not, people perceive you based on how you present yourself. Play the part of someone who’s been around a few years, not the poor college kid they scooped up from campus five months ago. Emphasis on the poor college kid, you say? Valid argument. My best advice is to put yourself on a monthly budget and allot a small portion to building your work attire. Browse thrift and consignment stores for lightly used pieces. Invest in classics – tailored pants, neutral blouses, fitted button-ups, a camel-colored coat and classic shoes. If you already have the classics in your closet, take them to a tailor and have them fitted just for you. You’ll look expensive without sending your bank account into panic mode. Got it? Good.
I was once advised to never walk out my door if I wasn’t looking my best. While I wouldn’t take it quite that far – I still make grocery runs wearing yoga pants and Birkenstocks – I think the core sentiment is correct. Dress like you know what you’re doing and wear what makes you feel confident. How you dress affects how you feel, which directly affects how you perform. That’s a fact. (Okay, maybe not a fact, but my firmly-held personal belief.) This life stage, fellow grads, is the definition of faking it until you make it. So, go out there and dress like you own the place.