In the early days of my design career, someone asked me what I did for a job. I confidently answered, "I'm a graphic designer." I received the following reply (along with a quizzical expression) "but you don't look like a designer!" Oh, great. We all have pre-conceived notions of what a designer would "look" like within an agency (perhaps something like the mood board below), but what about an Account Manager?
You may have heard the term "suits" used to describe client service professionals. This term was borne out of the golden age of advertising when creatives created and client service people schmoozed (think "Mad Men"). Those who held the client relationships were - typically - men who wore smart suits and polished shoes. As society's attitude toward work attire has softened, so has the dress code within agencies. Never-the-less, there still exists a debatable line between dressing to reflect the creative nature of an agency, and looking highly professional.
Here's another mood board for your client service consideration:
Deciding what to wear, as an Account Manager, is going to depend on a few factors that will differ depending on your individual agency, your clients and the country/culture that you work within, but here are some general guidelines.
Is your agency laid back and "business casual", or more formal "suit and tie"? Understanding your agency's culture should give you insight into what may be expected of you. At least, to begin with, be guided by what you see your colleagues wearing. In general it is better to be slightly over-dressed than under-dressed.
Typically, the higher your "rank" within your agency, the more professional your office clothing should be. For example, an Account Director who holds a senior, client-facing position may well dress more professionally than an Account Executive who is not yet client-facing.
Are you an Account Manager who has a goal to be an Account Director within a handful of years? Reflecting your ambition in your dress sense is a great way for management to start thinking of you (even sub-consciously) in a more senior role.
Account Managers are the main and visible link between agency and client. Not only are you the voice of your agency, you are also the image of your agency. Bet you didn't know that tidbit was in your job description!
“You have a responsibility to represent the company through your style. You’re the business card in that moment.”—Frank Muytjens, Head menswear designer at J.Crew
Aim to dress to the same level (or better) than your clients. If your client is from a highly professional industry (e.g. banking, insurance, real estate, law, etc) then you should look as though you can hold your own in your meetings.
If your client is from a not-so-professional industry, then aim your dress standard to match, or be slightly higher than, their own dress code. For example: dressing in a suit and tie when your client is in jeans and a t-shirt may come across as unrelatable and/or intimidating - try an open neck shirt (and ditch the jacket) instead.
A professional appearance is made up of more than just what you wear. It will also include personal hygiene, hair, skin, accessories and make-up. It's also worth remembering that "restrained" will win over "OTT" any day.
Some agencies have an all-the-time casual dress code; some allow their client service team to wear jeans; whilst other agencies have "casual Fridays". Is it OK for Account Managers join in the casual frivolities?
Whatever you choose to wear, think about it this way: if you were called out to a client meeting on one of your "casual" days, would your client think what you are wearing to be professional and appropriate? If you use that question as your benchmark, you won't go wrong.