You can’t tell a toff from an oik this afternoon

Nobody’s wearing a suit in Canterbury today.

I’m writing at a cafe table on the High Street and watching a steady procession of what appear to be holidaymakers. But surely not every passer-by is on hols right now. Some of them must be at work – like me, for heaven’s sake – and taking a quick break.

You’d expect the occasional accountant, solicitor, dentist or heart specialist to stroll by as they pop out for a quick fag. Maybe they are doing that, and I’m not spotting them because they’ve changed into beachwear before leaving the office.

So what do you wear to work in a heat wave?  One thing’s certain. T-shirts, vests, shorts, cut-off jeans and flip flops play havoc with the visual class system. Normally, you can pick out your actual toff from your average oik without much difficulty. At the moment, I’m not sure whether that bloke over there is a car thief or the Archbishop of Canterbury (the eyebrows used to be a giveaway, but things have changed around here).

Despite climate change, we’re still not used to proper summers in the UK. As a result, once the temperature rises, we – and let’s face it, I’m talking males here – resort to seaside postcard wear. Yet in Athens, or Rome, or Nice, or Venice, professional chaps wear suits throughout the heat of the day and still manage to look cool, stylish, and capable of selling you a house or handling your divorce. Only the holidaymaking visitors wear holiday gear.

The fact is, your clothes have a big effect on the way other people see you. One hot day I spent ten minutes remonstrating with a railway official over an incorrect platform announcement which caused me to miss my train. I delivered my argument indignantly and authoritatively – all right, pompously – and expected him to wilt in submission. He didn’t. I was wearing baggy, below-the-knee shorts, a string vest and a Foreign Legion sun hat. Something told against me.

Which brings me to the vexed question of advertising agency wear. There was a time when account handlers were known as suits and creatives were known as those awkward sods in t-shirts and jeans. Now you can’t tell the difference. Not that the creatives have started wearing suits. It’s the account handlers who’ve gone the other way.

Once, the client could enjoy the frisson of a meeting with the executive on the right, besuited, respectable and businesslike, and the creative on the left, all ripped jeans, no socks and naughty language. Perfect combination. You were getting something properly strategic and dangerously provocative all in one. Now it’s permanently dress-down Friday and both sides are wearing the same, rather than contrasting, uniforms.

To the outsider it suggests the same kind of thinking, which is disastrous. You don’t want account handlers thinking like creatives. And you don’t want creatives thinking like account handlers. Where’s the productive tension in that?

OK, I’m talking about perception here. But superficial as it is, it’s the arena we work in. We strive to influence the way our readers, viewers and listeners grasp things. So here’s a new proposition for clients to accept, and for advertising agency staff to follow:

From now on all creatives should start dressing up, while all account handlers should carry on dressing further down. In other words, all creatives should start wearing suits, and all account handlers should be naked. It’s the only logical way to go. And on a day like today, we’d be able to tell the account handlers from the mere holidaymakers.



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