Ad (wo)men

I’ve been in the advertising and design industry since high school, and twenty years into this rodeo, I’ve learned that clients have a fantasy about agency life. There is a belief that “creatives” work in an environment that is supremely intelligent, sexy, fun, surprising, and slightly magical. No cubes, no TPS reports, no “grind.” They think that agencies are full of  misfits, artists, and heavy drinkers. Everyone is one step ahead of fashion trends, and none of us vacation because we’re too busy traveling.

I love that fantasy (even if I don’t live in it), and I want to dress the part as much as clients want me to – clients don’t want their high priced agency to pitch a million dollar campaign wearing khakis and polo shirts. I’m happy to play the part sartorially.

I’ve broken it down into a few easy guidelines. All of this and more can be found on my Pinterest Designing Women Board!

The Hair

Your hair should never look overtly glamorous or sexy. It should have a distinct style without looking like you spend hours in front of the mirror. The fantasy: You are too busy sketching to deal with mousse, but too obsessed with beauty to have janky roots.

Serious but creative. Seriously creative.

The Face

Absolutely no glitter or shimmer. If you have obvious plastic surgery, you lose credibility. I think that a bold, matte red lip does well in a client meeting (make sure there isn’t any on your teeth.) Feel free to wear glasses. I love a tortoise shell rim. Avoid whimsy. Embrace urban edge.

Designing woman, Linda Rodin

The Accessories

You have to have a great watch. If you have a dumb watch, don’t wear it to a meeting. Just check the time by looking at your iPhone. Beyond that, stick to one or two statement pieces. I break the jewelry zones into even/odd pairings –  earrings = 1, necklace = 2, bracelet = 3, rings = 4. Wear 1 and 3 – big earrings and a great bracelet, OR 2 and 4 – a statement necklace and a cocktail ring.  Your jewelry doesn’t have to be expensive, but it should look like it is. Anything that can’t be found at the mall gets bonus points.

Kendra Scott cocktail ring $48.97

this bracelet was on Polyvore at some point. Can't find it now

Kate Spade Gumdrop earrings in black $38

Gold dipped black bead necklace - etsy for $30.99

The Outfit

Beware overt trends. If you are trendy, the client will assume that you are pitching trendy solutions – Remember when the iPod came out and everything was i_____? like iSocks and iDonuts. and then everyone realized that iDogFood was stupid? Trend-following agencies were to blame. Clients won’t trust you if you come in wearing an outfit straight out of a Limited Express window. Your outfit has to look intentional, curated, tailored, surprising, and flattering. It should combine classic and modern pieces. Your outfit is a metaphor for your pitch.

Seen on

You don't have to wear black (yes you do.)

The Shoes and handbag

You can wear jeans, a black turtleneck and a pair of diamond stud earrings, but your shoes need to kill it. I don’t care if they are converse or Jimmy Choos, they need to be well curated and stylish. Your shoes inform the client about your approach to design. Don’t wear dumpy, frumpy, square toed, chunky heeled “i give up shoes” ever. I would rather that you went barefoot and let the client think you were one of those hard drinking eccentric agency misfits. You’ve got a fantasy to live up to, ladies, and it starts with your feet. Your bag should be streamlined and chic. It should fit your laptop, and that’s it. No fringy, jangly, slouchy bags.

Topshop velvet laceup shoes. $58

Rachel Roy Lacina $110

Final Thoughts

My instinct when I need “Agency Gal” clothes is to go to Anthropologie, but I want to go on record – Anthropologie can be kind of a jerk. the fit of their clothes is awful, and it’s expensive. They have lots of great options that don’t look “off the rack” – but I rarely find something there that is cut to flatter.

I know I’ve got lots of Agency Gals who are kind enough to read this blog, so I’d love for you to weigh in! Comments await!


About dhanamura

When I was ten years old, I owned a mustard yellow sequined dress that I got at a garage sale. I stuffed it with rolled tube socks so that I would look more glamorous. That year I also got my first bottle of Chanel No. 5. I felt beautiful in my room, in that dress, smelling like Chanel. What you wear matters. It makes you feel things... or helps you to express things you already feel. Your feet aren't firmly planted on the ground, they are crammed into a pair of shoes. Love those shoes, or take them off.

5 responses to “Ad (wo)men

  1. Wow.. never really gave it that much thought.. but i love the way you broke it down. I could see that being my style..

  2. Morgan Graham

    Soooo… when will clothing/appearance become a budget line item in our contracts?! 😉

    I love this post, and completely agree with all of the above. My challenge? Attempting to look the part on a budget with San Diego restrictions. To say the least, we suck in what San Fran, NY, and other big agency cities excel – style. I often find myself stuck at stores like Banana and Express that lack soul for creativity but provide the “professional” tone.

    I have been desiring to go on a hunt for more boutiques in the area (and yes, am to blame for not doing so yet). But I counter the argument for visiting boutiques in that many items I have bought at said boutiques don’t last. And they’re not even cheap items! A $100 sweater that I adored and felt would be a great staple piece for winter ended up pilling terribly – worse than something from Forever 21! But I won’t give up… they offer the unique pieces that make an agency woman’s wardrobe sing.

    Dammit! Now I want to go shopping. But in the meantime I suppose I’ll rely on my short ‘do to keep the creative edge…

    (P.S. Who does Anthropologie size their clothes for? And am also in love with cuffs at the moment!)

    • dhanamura

      I think it could be line itemed under Client Fantasy Fulfillment. No tax, though! You are right about San Diego- it’s a Big Brand Town. Banana Republic is great for building a neutral palette that you can make interesting with styling and accessories. I kind of love Francesca’s Collections at Fashion Valley. It’s a chain, but they have great accessories that are really inexpensive. I’m also intrigued by the idea of reclaiming fashion from the mall – What can you do with the stuff you have access to to really make it your own? Maybe instead of a great boutique, you just need an amazing tailor? And you are right- boutiques don’t have the economy of scale that department and chain stores have, so they generally have to charge about 50% more than their bigger competitors. If you find a boutique that specializes in local goods, then give that a shot. There’s no reason to pay 50% more for something made in China, but if it’s made in Encinitas, then it’s great to support local artists. And of course, etsy!

  3. Love love love this post. I would like to know what defines a great watch.

    Like this?

    Also… I love the Topshop velvet laceup shoes. Holy crap, I need these.

    Can I tell you I had my benefits meeting today and I could spot the marketing man from a mile away? Unbelievably tall gay man with fabulous hair, a slim black sweater and great skin.

    Oh… and the fashion issues in the office are unbearable… trouser socks with slingbacks. Gag.

    • dhanamura

      Hm. What defines a great watch… Right now I can’t do much better than the definition for porn is – “I know it when I see it.” but one rule of thumb that I can give is that I think it’s a watch that makes a strong statement. I don’t actually love the anne klein watch that you sent with your comment. I feel like it was trying to pretend it has diamonds. I added a bunch of watches to the Designing Women Pinterest board – and I can post some on the blog soon too.

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