Dress to impress

Good or bad, we all make a visual impression, so its important to choose our clothes carefully, especially when pitching for work, says Hugh Pearman

Like all people with no clothes sense, I like to think that the idea of how we dress is all a bit superficial.

Unfortunately, this is not true and, in my heart, I know that, frankly, I need to get a lot smarter. Or, at least, get some clothes that are less than five years old. If they also happen to fit, that would be a bonus.

Clothes are incredibly important, not least for reinforcing the stereotypes we all have of people. Design types dress in a certain way, for instance. Or rather, they dress in one of two ways: creative or businesslike.

This was noted by the poet John Betjeman in the 1930s, when he worked for Architectural Review magazine. The creative ones in those days wore Tintin-like trousers, known as Plus Fours. The business types then, as now, wore a suit and tie.

The black polo neck may have superseded Plus Fours some time during the Beat era, but that’s irrelevant. The point is that anyone commissioning a designer, of any kind, is disappointed if they don’t dress the part, and it can easily make the difference between getting a job, or seeing it go to someone else. The only question is: exactly what part is it that they expect you to play?

The architect Sir Michael Hopkins has a good story about how he got his first big independent commission through clothes. Shortlisted to design a new storage building for East Anglian brewers Greene King, young Hopkins travelled to Bury St Edmunds the night before the interview. When he arrived, in office slob-around jeans, he realised he had forgotten to bring a change of clothes. So he went to the only gent’s outfitters he could find in town and bought the best they had – which meant a rural ensemble of tweed and moleskin. Thus improbably attired, he entered the Greene King boardroom the next day – to find everyone round the table dressed in near-identical rig. The job was his. His arch rival on the shortlist, Richard Rogers, probably never worked out what he’d done wrong.

It could have gone the other way, of course – the country gents of Greene King might equally well have been wanting someone kitted out as a metropolitan sophisticate. And there is always the possibility that Hopkins’ design ideas were just better, but you get the point. If you have a fair idea of the way your potential clients present themselves, then you can make a decision as to how you are going to relate to that. And what is the public’s view of what a designer should look like? I’m afraid that’s dictated by TV makeover shows – which means it lies somewhere between head girls Trinny and Susannah, and screaming queens Justin and Colin. The good news is that there has been no sighting of Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen for nigh on a year. But let’s not get into the whole thorny question of why design is presented the way it is on TV. What did you expect, given TV’s definition of the word ‘reality’?

Perhaps Rogers did learn from the Green King episode, after all. Around the same time, he landed the Lloyds of London building, dressed in an Yves St Laurent suit, bought for the occasion.

Rogers in a suit? It’s as unlikely as James Dyson, or Richard Branson. But that sartorial investment paid off handsomely.

I must learn from this, so now it’s down to me to decide what to buy next. Will it be an old leather jacket or sharp Savile Row suit?

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