Style or Swagger?

bry“It’s all about the detail”

This could be a comment about media planning, or advertising.  Strategy is fine, but its nothing without the detail.

But in fact this what Bryan Ferry said to me about men’s tailoring.  Ferry, a pop star and fashion icon, first came to my attention when he was on Top of the Pops as lead singer of Roxy Music in a blue leather suit.

I met him, years later, when I was a plus one on a trip to Paris where Mark Edwards was interviewing him for the coolest magazine of its era, Arena.  The interview ran late, I wangled myself an invite to dinner, and Ferry, who could not have been more charming to this interloper, explained men’s fashion to me, of which he is an icon of course.

Ferry has always worn outfits to stand out.  So too has Tabboo! – a multi-disciplinary artist whose works are in MoMA and who became famous as part of New York City’s drag scene in the 1980s.  Tabboo! dresses as a “Manifesto for life”.  He says: “Most part everybody now wears sweatshirts or gymwear, even to fancy events.  I’m the one dressed to the nines.  To the twelves! The fifteens!  They say what are you all dressed up for?  My answer is, today.  This could be the last day of my life and this is how I’m living.”

Of course, many people stopped dressing for work when they began working from home.  Not so GroupM Emea CEO Demet Ikiler, who told me, on the Connected Podcast, that she’s been getting ready for work every morning whether she has been going to the office or not during lockdown.  She’s been dressing for herself.

We’re in transition back to real life meetings.  How is this affecting what people wear?  Will the casual fashion common to many when working from home remain pre-eminent or will dressing up for the office return?

In my first conference in real life this year, there was a big divide between how the women on stage dressed versus many (but not all) of the men.  Many of the men on stage were in very casual clothes, worn in jeans and trainers.  Most of the women were dressed to those nines and fifteens.  I commented to the chair of my session that one reason for having more women on stage is that you could count on them to dress up.  Ellie Edwards Scott, co-founder of the Advisory Collective, replied:  “Ah but those men on stage don’t feel that they need to dress up – they have the power.”

I don’t know if this is the case.  I do know the difference was stark.   And if Ferry’s main lesson about men’s clothing was it’s all about the detail, this wasn’t evident at this event.

There may be other reasons for the difference.  Another wise commentator said she thought that the casual look was meant to project youthful trendiness, not power.  Certainly, men’s clothing is traditionally a uniform – from the pinstripes of the business world of the last century to the frayed jeans and casual sweatshirts of today, it may all be about fitting in.

As a woman in business perhaps it is crucial to stand out still, and this may be also true for other groups that are under-represented in senior leadership.  Either way, it will be true that there’s more diversity in dress as well as diversity of thinking if women and other groups are represented on stage at conferences as well as in business.



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