How to dress for success

Smarta found itself chatting with one of the UK's top property CEOs a couple of days ago, about a rebranding exercise his firm had undertaken in recent years. During the process of selecting which branding agency would carry out the work, he had noticed something funny about the way they were all dressed. Each of the five teams that pitched to him came with the same set of indenti-kit marketing-executive looks - like a Village People of the creative industries.

One exec in any given agency would invariably turn up in a plush city-friendly suit. A colleague would be Mr or Ms Laidback de Cool: jeans, slogan T-shirt and white trainers. A third would sport a hairstyle that could be conveyed only by some manic charade-esque gesticulating around the general head area.

It's sartorial spread-betting. Making sure that you cover off all the possible options of how the person you're pitching to might want you to look.

And it's not a bad idea, in theory. The problem is that if the other four agencies pitching do precisely the same thing you look a bit transparent. There is also, surely, some irony in the fact that brand agencies decide to cater for what any number of people might want to see, rather than being decisive about how they want to portray themselves and reigning it in in a more uniform way. That they choose not to present themselves as a brand, through the way they dress.

Perhaps that sounds superficial and contrived - that a business should demonstrate its values through the way it clothes itself. But stuff like that really does matter. If you turn up to the bank to ask for £80,000, you better make damn sure you look like the kind of person who can handle £80,000 responsibly. That doesn't mean blowing your startup capital on a Rolex, but it does mean investing in a well-tailored suit.

And while the suit may feel boring, it's a business staple. It shows you respect the person you're meeting. Pretty important if that's a potential investor or client. Creative industries have slightly more leeway, of course, and in the end the work is what matters. But starting off on the right well-shod foot will make that first meeting go a hell of a lot smoother than if you're the only person wearing a T-shirt in a room full of Versaci-clad angels. In short: if in doubt, wear a suit.

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