Playing Dress-up: Networking
Networking is a necessary evil. Some people love the thrill of making professional connections and discovering new leads. Others find it tedious to have to be charming and gregarious when you’d rather be sitting alone at the end of a bar during happy hour.
Whether you love it or hate it, it’s a key part of your job hunt. Networking is your chance to turn yourself from a resume in a stack into a face. It’s your chance to find out about jobs that weren’t listed on Indeed dot com or Jobs ‘R Us. It’s your chance to charm your way into a professional clique.
Boy, I sure hope your outfit doesn’t get in the way.
Dressing for networking events isn’t the same as dressing for job interviews. For the latter, you know that they at least liked you enough, without knowing what you look like or how you dressed, to invite you into their office. Even if you show up in a burlap sack with an extension cord tied about your waist as a belt, you’d made a positive impression upon your prospective employers before they saw your ghastly appearance.
I urge you all to find your own networking brand.
There’s no such luck in networking. You won’t know most of the people at this happy hour get together, especially if you’re new on the networking circuit. You’re making first impressions, and your appearance is key to a good one.
Business casual is the smart play. Most networking events take place right after work, and most attendees are wearing the same garb they wore to work, so business casual attire gives you the illusion of someone who also came from a place of employment. Button-downs, skirts, chinos or even jeans—if that’s how you choose to live your life—won’t rub any of your potential employers or contacts the wrong way.
For those of you who’ve read my previous piece for Mathys+Potestio or been unfortunate enough to bump into me at a networking event, you’ll know that business casual isn’t really my jam, to use the parlance of our times. I performed a test for the purposes of this column to see if my sartorial advice was, in fact, solid.
I wore a charcoal suit, a blue contrast collar shirt and a bright red polka dot Canali tie to the Rosey Awards last month. People react differently to you when you’re wearing a suit. I received both compliments and raised eyebrows. I had little trouble getting into the VIP section, where I received the exact reaction I was looking for:
“You’ve gotta drop the Wall Street look, man. This is advertising. What does he look like to you?”
“He looks like a creative.”
My outfit created an immediate negative reaction from one executive, while also correctly identifying the department that I belong in. (Note to any creative directors reading this: please, for the love of God, hire me.)
But this exchange neither proves or disproves my point. Business casual won’t provoke such strong reactions, but it also won’t draw any attention to you whatsoever. As both an award-winning journalist and creative, being a well-dressed guy is my brand. I urge you all to find your own networking brand.
Examples from pop culture were difficult to find for this column—apparently, swapping business cards over drinks doesn’t make for compelling cinema—but here are how a few fictional characters dressed to impress.
The setup: Tess McGill and Jack Trainer need to meet with Trask to make sure this merger deal doesn’t go through. Problem is, the only opportunity is at his daughter’s wedding.
The looks: I don’t know the hard and fast rules about wearing white as a wedding guest—my gut says this could go over badly—but the dress suit is good for both business and drinks. Trainer is wearing the white shirt, charcoal suit and tie that would be acceptable at any place and any time.
Was the outfit successful? The bride and crowd didn’t seem to mind the color of Tess’ dress, and she walked the fine-line between being a wedding guest and a businessperson with aplomb. It was a indeed a very successful networking performance.
Mad Men – The California Party
The setup: Don Draper, Roger Sterling and Harry Crane are at a party in the Hollywood Hills with film producers, TV execs and other assorted important-to-meet Angelenos.
The looks: New Yorkers, especially in the 60s, have a very specific look to them. But wool suits and ties aren’t particularly comfortable in the southern California heat, nor is that conservative look feng shui with new and exciting California vibes. Mad Men gives us a nice snapshot at what these New Yorkers wear to try to fit in in the Golden State. With the oatmeal jacket, tie and more taupe-ish gray overall, Draper looks like a New Yorker on vacation. Between the brass-buttoned, double-breasted blazer, off-white chinos and ascot, Roger Sterling seems to envision California as being one big yacht club. Only Harry Crane actually fits in at this casual party.
Were the outfits successful? This really depends on how you gauge success. Sterling gets punched in the balls. Don nearly drowns. But neither of those outcomes are really the outfits’ fault. Harry fits in but this is his crowd as he exhibits more and more signs of late-stage assholery.
Dazed and Confused
The setup: It’s the night after the last day of school, and high school students are roaming the town to paddle the newly minted freshmen. Mitch (Wiley Wiggins) has already had his ass paddled back to the stone age. He’s also been invited out by Pink, one of the cool kids.
The look: This is Texas in 1976, so it’s not like Mitch has a wealth of options here. He’s changed from a black Adidas T-shirt into a long-sleeve Hawaiian shirt and jeans.
Was the outfit successful? Most of the high schoolers also changed into more stylish button up shirts for this exciting night of playing pinball and cruising for chicks. Mitch makes some buddies, buys a sixer despite being underage and gets to first (maybe even second) base with a sophomore. I’d say the night was an astounding success, and he owes it all to the Hawaiian shirt.
The setup: Bobby Bowfinger has a great script and now he needs a big-name star to get it made. It just so happens that Bowfinger knows where Jerry Renfro is having lunch.
The look: Between the bright plaid sport coat and pony tail, Bowfinger’s look isn’t so much “late-90s studio exec” as “aging man who never completely made it through his midlife crisis.” The black suit jacket he steals off the rack, however, does look much closer to studio exec. Tearing out the pony tail was another solid decision by Bowfinger.
Was the outfit successful? The outfit gave Bowfinger a better shot at being successful than his original one. It was still a disaster. Maybe it was the cord to Bowfinger’s “cell phone” slipping out of the sleeve of his jacket or maybe it was the script’s lackluster “Got ya suckaz!” catchphrase, but this was not successful networking.
John Locanthi is an all-purpose (and award-winning) writer of both editorial and advertorial content, primarily at Willamette Week. He has, for some reason, been paid to express his professional opinions on subjects ranging from fast food to opera.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.