Does your attire matter in the PR business?

Just because Joan Rivers and Ryan Seacrest aren’t asking which designer you’re wearing, it doesn’t mean you’re not being judged. But should it matter?

In my 15-plus-year career, I’ve worked in the following environments:

• Conservative accounting and consulting firm
• Conservative health care system.
• Small, boutique PR firm
• Mid-size media company
• Small not-for-profit
• Small, private, family-owned business

Each environment had a distinct dress code.

For instance, I frequently wore jeans with holes on non-client-facing days at the PR firm. At the accounting firm, a dress shirt and tie were standard fare. Meanwhile, khakis and a sweater were par for the course at the health care system.

As a solo consultant, my dress code depends on the day’s agenda.

On days when I’m meeting with clients, it’s usually a jacket and jeans or dress pants (or a suit on some occasions). On those days when I don’t meet with clients, it can be as casual as shorts and my Homer Simpson slippers. (Oh, you think I’m kidding?)

Recently, I’ve been thinking more about the dress code. I have an urge to dress more casually for client meetings—even the ones for which I know it’s probably not the best idea. I find myself asking that one basic question:

Does what you wear really matter?

Sure, if you’re meeting with the CEO of a conservative health care company you can’t show up in a jacket, jeans, and some Pumas. The CEO will never get past the Pumas; she’ll never take you seriously.

Then again, shouldn’t that CEO be considering my ideas, not my getup?

Social norms suggest that we need to dress and act a certain way when we’re in a meeting with the senior-level administrators of a publicly held firm. Yet, social norms also reward innovation and excellence—and neither one depends on whether I wear Pumas or Cole Haans.

What do you think? Does what you wear to work matter?

Arik C. Hanson is the principal of ACH Communications, a digital communications consultancy. He blogs at Communications Conversations, where a version of this story originally appeared.


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