50/50 Post: He’s in jeans. She’s in business drag. What’s behind the difference for freelancers?

mowhawk profiles. original image courtesy of stock.xchng® I’ve written about the attire of a writer before, so I won’t rehash that here. What’s on my mind this time is the difference between my clothing and that of the guys I’m seeing at my in-person client meetings lately. It’s the same in each time:

  • We’re both freelancers.
  • He’s the designer. I’m the copywriter.
  • Clients hired us to improve the look, feel and sound of their marketing communications.
  • I’m wearing dressy business casual.
  • He’s wearing jeans and t-shirt.

Am I missing the point of being a freelancer? When I’m getting dressed for an in-person client meeting, I try to dress appropriately for the business. If an ad agency is the client—and it’s a first-time meeting—I choose an outfit with the end client in mind. I know the agency will be thinking about the impression I might make on their client.

ponytail profiles. original image courtesy of stock.xchng®I’ve noticed this with other women freelancers. I’ll see them in a pants and a cardigan; no jeans or t-shirts at the clients’ offices. Yet, in the same meeting, I never see the client bat an eye at the guys’ attire. But I’m not convinced that I would get the same reaction.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not judging the guys. Nope. I’m asking this: is there a double standard for male and female freelancers? Or, could the difference be that he’s the designer and she’s the copywriter? Are designers considered more “creative” and potentially less conventional than a copywriting?

Maybe it’s just me. And I’m open to that. For someone who wanted to ditch the cubicle life and associated pressures, I certainly seem to care what others think of my “image,” when what I’m ostensibly being hired for is my way with words.

Now it’s your turn! Like my other 50/50 posts, this is where you share your opinions and experiences. Have you noticed a difference between what freelancers wear based on gender? Could I be placing too much emphasis on attire? What do you wear to client meetings? Please share in the comments.

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18 thoughts on “50/50 Post: He’s in jeans. She’s in business drag. What’s behind the difference for freelancers?

  1. Like the rest of you working at home, I enjoy the times when I get to dress up for client meetings in the outside world. It makes me feel more business like, although I know that clothes don’t really make a difference.

  2. This is so interesting. I’m thinking about the times when I’ve gone to initial client meetings–ad agencies mostly–in biz casual attire and the person I was meeting with was in sneakers and jeans (guy or girl…and not even on casual Friday!). Still, I’d rather be a bit overdressed than not, especially at the first meeting.

  3. What an interesting post, Jesaka. I’m with Jennifer M: I conduct so much business online these days, while wearing sweats or pjs, that I’m delighted to put on what constitutes glam gear (don’t get too excited, we’re talking regular clothes) in my book when I have the chance to meet someone face-to-face.

    Of course, if I’m interviewing a farmer, say, I don’t head out to the fields in heels. It’s all about wearing the appropriate attire for the occasion, right?

  4. Thanks again for all the comments. This is exactly the type of discussion I hoping this post would spark.

    @Alexandra ~ Interesting observation at Muse & the Marketplace! I think you might be on to something with the Anderson Cooper reference. Even Dr. Sanja Gupta has been on camera in a similar jeans, t-shirt, jacket outfit.

    @marthaandme ~ This is exactly what I wondered! Most of the creative guys I know wear jeans almost every day. I know your husband’s right about people wondering if a “creative” is good enough if dressed too conservatively. I met with a woman who’s an information architect yesterday and wasn’t surprised to see her in jeans. Since that’s such a male-dominated space, I could see where she could be seen as “not good enough” by being too dressy.

    @Natalia ~ I’m with you on the regional thing. Since I just started working with local Denver clients, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Seattle was casual, but with more of an edge. Denver’s pretty casual, though I think you see more people in outdoor & yoga gear than in sky-high heels for work.

    @Sheryl~ Sometimes it is nice to shed the comfy sweats/ yoga pants and wear an actual outfit. Some of my clothing goes many months without leaving the closet.

    @Kristen~ I wonder if jeans are cool for a creative guy but the creative women are expected to be more fashionable. Even if I were to wear jeans, I’d probably wear something fun and pretty on top, not a t-shirt. Guys are in a tough place — too much “out-there” dressing and it can be *not* about being a professional creative, but about people questioning your sexuality.

    @Amy ~ you have a good point. Being comfortable is important — a favorite outfit that you know looks & feels great can give you a confidence boost (which might be needed when you’re meeting with a prospective client).

    @Alisa ~ you make two really excellent points with the appropriate attire (i.e., gym wear for personal trainer) and t-shirts looking different on women. Even though the women I met yesterday were sporting jeans, they were wearing feminine-cut jersey or silk tops. I like your philosophy of treating such meetings as a special occasion.

  5. I hardly ever get out of the office, so I somewhat welcome the opportunity to swap my yoga pants (my usual uniform) for nicer clothes. It’s sort of like a special occasion. I do the same whenever my husband and I have a date night.

    Occasionally I’ve had clients where a dress up look would have seemed out of place. For instance, when I’ve written for personal trainers, I’ve shown up in gym attire, which usually comes in handy when they want to use me as the guinea pig.

    I do think that, for whatever reason, a guy can more easily pull of the jeans and a T shirt thing than a woman can. I don’t know if this is a bias or if it’s has more to do with body shape. It doesn’t look quite as messy on them. T shirts look like PJs on women. I guess it has something to do with the breasts? Not sure.

  6. It’s got to be what’s comfortable for you in that particular situation. If you’re happy to dress a little smarter because you feel more comfortable making that impression on the client then it’s worthwhile doing it.

    I don’t think dressing smarter or more casual than other people is right or wrong, if you’re being honest about what makes you happy in those circumstances.

    I’m a copywriter as well, and I like to dress a little smarter than round the house, but still in line with my personality. I’m a jacket, shirt, dark jeans and my trusty cowboy boots kinda girl. I’ve never lost out on a job for dressing like that, but figure that if I didn’t get a job based on my clothing, then our working personalities probably wouldn’t be suited either.

    Interesting debate! 🙂

  7. I’m with Marthaandme, my husband is in a creative industry and if he were to wear a suit to work, he’d actually damage his image. Jeans are business attire in his field. But having recently done some on-sight work at a marketing company I can tell you that everyone–men and women could wear jeans, but I noticed that more of the women tended to go a little dressier. Maybe, we just like to be a little dressier? But as others have pointed out, it’s all about the client so I think you’re wise to base your dress on what’s appropriate for the situation.

  8. I think it depends on who you are meeting with. Although I do tend to dress better than jeans for all my meetings, when I am meeting with an editor who I know well and I’m on a more friendly basis with, I tend to dress down more.
    And it’s tough to notice what guys do, since there are really so many more women in the writing business than there are men. (Or, I don’t get out enough to notice…)
    Truly, being stuck in my house most of the time makes me hungry for the excuse to get out of the sweats and actually put on some REAL clothes.

  9. I’m with Jennifer–I don’t often have in-person meetings, but when I do, I’m happy for the chance to dress up a bit. I like to get creative with my wardrobe and still look professional, so I usually go for the dressy/stylish look. It’s hard for me to say if there’s a difference between genders since the few times I’ve also met with a designer they’ve been female, and we’ve both been dressed in a similar fashion.

    One thing I have noticed though is that it’s also a regional thing. I just moved from Miami to Austin. Miami was a much dressier town–I wouldn’t even think about going to a networking event in jeans or flat shoes–but Austin is more laid back.

  10. Coincidentally, I had an on-site meeting in a trendy warehouse space today with two creative companies and the end client. I figured I could wear dark jeans and a “creative” top, but then I thought about the end client, known to be more conservative. So that’s who I dressed for–we were the only people not wearing jeans, but I still felt right about making the extra step to make a good impression on the client.

    @Jennifer~ You’re so right that it’s important for freelancers to take themselves seriously as business people. I was talking to someone today and he asked me how being paid as a freelancer worked. He said, “so you say you worked 10 hours and they pay you? They take your word for it?” It was a great reminder that the freelancer-client relationship needs to be built on trust. When you show up looking like a professional, you increase that trust.

    @Susan~ Even if your fashion retailer client didn’t tell you, I bet they appreciated that you looked stylish. One of the companies I wrote for (internally) had a pretty trendy population, which had an attitude against “stuffed suits.” Fortunately, it wasn’t too hard for others to figure that out. Knowing those nuances can go a long way.

    @Madison ~ I’ve pushed out some links to this blog post, so I’m hoping to get a few more comments and opinions! Like you, I’m very curious to read what people think.

    Thanks for sharing!

  11. I think there definitely is a double standard. My husband is CIO at a graphics communications firm and it is simly de rigeur for male “creative” types to dress this way. In fact, he says there is a reverse standard. If a creative type shows up looking too dressy, people question how good he can really be! That being said, there are not a lot of women in design or programming in our area – although there are a lot of women in copywriting. Those women do come dressed in business attire and it is expected. I do think people would look askance at a copywriter man in jeans, so it has more to do with the job than the gender, at least that’s my impression.

  12. I went to Muse & the Marketplace this weekend. Mostly women writers, but a few men. The men were dressed in jeans. The women tended to be more elegant, casual suit, etc. Didn’t see one man in a suit. I think you’ve hit on something. But then, Anderson Cooper dresses in jeans now, with a sports jacket.

  13. Jesaka, I’m with you! I always try to dress up for in-person meetings. However, I used to do a lot of copywriting for a fashion retailer and when I went to their offices, my primary goal was to look stylish, like I was in the know, rather than looking too businessy. I think there’s a way to do that with dark jeans and not too much skin, but it totally depends on your audience. I wouldn’t rock the knee boots or the big earrings at a law firm or a bank, but I knew I’d look like right at home in this particular office. (And yes, there were graphic designers who wore that exact outfit you described to this company.)

  14. I don’t have any observations to add – I just wanted to sign up to get comment emails to see what others are saying 😉

  15. Jesaka, I TOTALLY agree with you about dressing appropriately for the client. I actually tend to dress up a bit no matter what (since my face to face meetings are so rare and I’m so happy to be having them! So much of what I do is virtual…)

    I haven’t noticed a gender bias/split but maybe that’s because I don’t know THAT many male freelancers? The ones I know, though, also tend to dress in business formal or casual clothing for work-related in-person meetings.

    I think it is very important that freelancers take themselves seriously as business people, and that their clients do as well. Hence the emphasis on dressing nicely.

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