Innovation blog: Dressed to impress?

Does your business have the right 'look'?

Do you have to wear a suit to succeed anymore? For start-ups and fledgling businesses looking to grow, it may even be detrimental – especially if you’re looking to engage with young people in that elusive Generation Z group.

Part of our work at the Innovation Centre has involved developing a YouTube channel aimed at encouraging more 14-19 year olds to learn about entrepreneurialism.

After conducting a fair bit of market research to help us better understand the preferences of this sector, we were surprised to see such a strong sound-bite emerging from focus groups that business is something done by people in suits; a uniform of dull colours which struck no chord with them.

Is that a false perception by today’s youth? Or something start-ups should factor in to how they present themselves to help them succeed in the current climate?

Getting business done involves making others comfortable around you. If you’re a start-up, you’ll often be more focused on running your business efficiently than what you look like. Does your business have a ‘look’? Most companies we encounter do and it’s a common effect of people working closely together.

Clusters of businesses in the eco, enviro, media and creative sectors, for example, often prefer a more relaxed workwear style. Suits are less common in these sectors – though the businesses we advise at Cornwall Innovation often tell us that they have a relaxed approach for employees in the office but dress up for meetings purely out of respect.

Sales trainers also tell businesses to mirror the client, so if you’re meeting a solicitor, it makes sense to wear a suit.

Few people wear the full suit otherwise these days, especially if they’re offering creative services, but our advice is to gauge the office look of those you’re visiting by having a good trawl of their website and photos in online news coverage.

Sometimes workwear is influenced by the geography of your location; here in the South West, it’s mainly only those working in professional services, such as accountants, bankers and solicitors, who still wear suits regularly.

Entrepreneurs – especially those in the media and creative sectors, which is often where innovative new start-ups emerge – are usually more casual and relaxed.

So is it a question of geography – or of generation? A colleague suggests the old school favour more formal business attire, and the new generation are happy to ditch the ties.

Given that more and more new companies are opting for comfort over corporate style, it’s therefore surprising that Generation Z still perceives the business world as being dressed in dull colours.

But it’s certainly something to consider before you set a dress code for your new business – particularly if you’re hoping to engage with young people.