Does young and funky dressing cut it in the corporate world?

If you own your own business and are moving from smaller clients to work with corporate clients, do you have to change your fashionable, youthful aesthetic? By Jackie O’Fee.

I’ve recently been asked to work with a business owner in a creative field. He’s young, successful and driven and he’s been steadily growing his business over a number of years.
More recently he has moved away from smaller clients to work with some of New Zealand’s biggest and he’s feeling both conflicted and challenged in his work wardrobe.
Previously, he’s been comfortable in a fashionable, but very youthful, aesthetic of bleached-out, drop-crotch jeans, tee shirts and trainers but he has wondered if, because he was now meeting some of his new clients in a corporate setting, was this the right thing to do?
His dilemma (and the reason he reached out to me for help) is that although clients know he is a creative and it is his own business, he is unsure if he needs to dress more like they do.
Added to these questions is the fact that he has developed a reputation with his standard of work to the point that these organisations are coming to him, not the other way around.
I remember once receiving a referral for a self-employed professional partner for some work my own business was undertaking with the disclaimer “you have to get past the way she dresses but she’s actually really good.”
 When I met with the recommended person, I tried very hard to get past her personal presentation but after a couple of meetings I simply couldn’t see myself doing business with her.
Admittedly, I am possibly more sensitive to such things than most and my main disquiet was that I was wondered if she would be able to understand my business well enough to represent it.
You know what? I imagine that she too possibly felt that as she owned her own business and people were coming to her, then she was able to dress however she liked – and of course, she could.
So, if it’s your business and you’re good at what you do, do you need to dress for your clients – and does that mean that you will lose a sense of who you are?
I believe this is one of those areas where you may need to take a step into your client’s world but to do so in a way that still reflects your world and who you are. One of the strongest needs we all have as humans is to grow and learn, if we’re not doing that we can stagnate and fade away.
If this is an area you struggle with, I encourage you to think of having to change your wardrobe as a growing and learning experience. You may be amazed at what new doors and pathways open ahead of you. Being stuck on “This is who I am, I’m good at what I do, take it or leave it” may not serve you in the business world, but being curious and open to new possibilities will.
That doesn’t mean you need to dress the same as your clients, but it may mean you need to think a little bit harder about what you wear to meet with them.
What that means for my young creative is we are looking at getting him a great jacket. He can throw that on over his tees, jeans and trainers and will still look cool. This should mean he is able to stay true to who he is sartorially but in a world of suits it’s a nod to their traditions and boundaries.
We also talked about how he could wear his ‘wedding shirt’ with his jeans but under his more casual jackets. It’s a way to mix up his look, to give him the cool and casual aesthetic he feels familiar with but to also take his overall presentation up a notch.  I’m excited to see how much fun we’ll have making a discernible impact in his wardrobe choices that he still enjoys wearing.   M
Jackie O’Fee is the owner of personal style consultancy Signature Style. She works with both individuals and organisations.

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