Does PR Have a Dresscode?

Back in the day, dressing for a PR job was easy - everyone had to wear suits. Or so I’m told, I’m too young to know 😛

Nowadays, it can be tricky getting work wear right. It has to be smart, but not too corporate. It has to show some flair, but not be too crazy. Like a lot of people in the modern age, I work in an office. I spend a large portion of my life on a swivel chair, beside a phone, looking at a computer screen.
I’m lucky enough that I have a creative job, but it still takes place in quite a coporate environment, albeit in the voluntary sector which is a little more “au casuale” than your average bank. This poses considerable difficulty for me when it comes to choosing what to wear every day. So much so that I almost wish I wore a uniform (almost).

In other quirky, arty workplaces you can get away with being a bit funky and casual. I’ve been in many a web design and advertising office in my time (for my sins) and they’re all sort of aspiring to be like Google’s Head Office. They have colourful pictures on the walls and “chill out zones” with big leather sofas. They have funky coffee machines and everyone has white MACs instead of geriatric PCs where you’re lucky to find yourself a clean mouse mat. In this kind of environment, one can afford to come to work in a flouncy pink dress if one wishes.

But if, like me, you work in PR but you work in-house, i.e. you work in amongst a much bigger organisation, you become torn between the creative world and the “real” world and it can be a minefield to fit in.

In the (many) years since graduation, I’ve made my way through this minefield in stages. The first stage was the “suit” stage where I was so excited to join the workforce and so keen to be taken seriously that I spent a clean fortune on suits and crisp, uncomfortable shirts to wear underneath them. I then learned that unless you drive a snazzy car to work with a VIP parking spot right next to the front door, suits are completely impractical. They get wet, they don’t keep you warm and the trousers wear out well before the jackets.

Stage two was the anti-feminism stage where I tried – and failed – to wear pencil skirts and stilettos in an effort to mark myself apart from the testosterone-fuelled sales environments I was in. I tripped over myself walking from the bus stop one morning, into a puddle, ending up soaked and sore. In front of a large group of workmen. And that was the end of that debacle.

Stage three was more requirement than choice when, upon joining a charity in my first management role, I was advised to dress down so as to not intimidate the clients who may well be feeling very nervous. It was all jeans and lumberjack shirts for a while. We even had Christmas jumper days during the festive season. I really rather liked that phase! But would I blame anyone important that came in for a meeting if they mistook me for the cleaner? Er, no.

In recent years, being older if not wiser, I found a new fail-safe – the tunic and leggings ensemble. One item, over the head, Bob’s your uncle!

But now that I fraternize more with the agency and freelance folk, I have to say I feel a tad inadequate. They’re all so glamorous! I look in wonder at their high heels and chiffon dresses and am amazed that they manage the same heavy lifting and running-around work that I do without ending up in A&E. However I recognise that they are selling their brand, their organisation, their creativity and business acumen. So, in an effort to make more of an effort, I’m keeping a Pinterest Board to look at what I wear to work and, if I can’t face heels all day, I can drive in my fluffy boots and change outside!

So how important is dress code in the Northern Ireland PR Industry? Am I the only one who finds it a minefield? And is there a gender gap; do the men struggle each morning as much as the ladies?!

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