As the Tech Industry Grows and Diversifies, Digital Agency Dress Codes Now Range ‘From Hobo to GQ’

Just don't be basic

When Andrea Bredau, managing director of talent at Huge, brings in job candidates, she tells them not to wear suits.

Take note, newly minted college grads winding down your summer vacations and looking to get a job in digital: You may need some cool, casual gear just to get in the door.

Bredau's notion is emblematic of tech-focused ad agencies, where the culture appears increasingly swayed by a relaxed relationship between office and work attire. It's come as you are, as you were, as I w-a-a-ant you to be … Yes, retro Nirvana T-shirts with the dead smiley face logo and random takes on grunge are welcomed, too.

"We see everything from Williamsburg hipster to casual pajama pants," Bredau explained. "There are often a lot of midriffs and tattoos."

Rich Guest, president of Tribal Worldwide North America, said, "We see it all—from hobo to GQ. And, that is OK because it is a leading indicator of the diversity in our team."

Here are four other things we learned about the current state of office attire at digital shops:

1. Some executives clearly do not dress up regularly, but others do.

Andrew Zolty, co-founder and chief creative officer at Brooklyn agency Breakfast, had a lot of funny things to say about how casual his office is. But, asked whether executives at his company dress up more than staffers do, he offered perhaps his best quip: "I think we're possibly worse dressed than the rest of the bunch."

On the same subject, Devin Desjarlais, marketing rep for Omelet, a Los Angeles shop, said, "Our co-founder [Ryan Fey] regularly dresses in baseball hats, old jeans and V-neck shirts. Our CEO [Don Kurz] can be seen in anything from a nice suit to polo shirts and jeans. It's really about what people are comfortable wearing, especially when it's 80 degrees outside and the beach is just down the street."

Indeed, interactive agencies aren't exactly auto-repair garages, machine shops or ice-cream parlors—workplaces where you absolutely should wear an old T-shirt because of the physically messy work. Many people, especially executives, dress up every day in order to both express their fashion sense and present themselves professionally.

"I love getting dressed up … always have," Guest said. "And, I've found that my distinctive color choices keep me top of mind with my bosses."

Bredau added, "Executives are not expected to dress up more than other staffers, but they tend to anyway."

2. Nearly every day is a casual Friday for staffers.

"Casual Friday" has become a business-world ritual in the last couple of decades. Do Zolty and his Breakfast team let their collective hair down any more than usual on Fridays?

"​Nope​," he riffed. "We look like crap every day, not just Friday."

Guest from Tribal largely agreed but in a decidedly more serious manner. "Days of the week don't seem to be correlated to people's outfits, but temperature definitely is correlated," he said. "We've actually seen some—freelancers—in short shorts and tank tops over the past few weeks."

What happened the night before also plays a role in people's wardrobe decisions, said Nikki DeFeo, group creative director at Firstborn. "Friday is sometimes more [casual] if a Thursday happy hour went a little longer than expected," she revealed. 

3. Agency peeps typically clean up for clients.

When asked about casual Fridays, Bredau brought up a good point about the realities of doing business: "Every day is fairly casual here at Huge, unless there's a special meeting or you're planning to be at a client's office all day." 

It's hardly surprising that wearing fancier duds for client meetings was a widely shared sentiment among those interviewed.

"We do scrub up for a client meeting, but we definitely maintain our personalities," DeFeo said. "There have been a couple of instances where someone dressed too 'come as you are' for a client meeting and were asked to go home or pick up something down the street."

She added that such employees were directed to keep those articles of clothing for the next client meeting.

At the same time, Zolty of Breakfast thinks unnaturally changing up one's style may not be the best sales pitch.

"We could have the top executives from a billion-dollar global company come in—you'd still find us in whatever we'd normally throw on that day," he said. "My barber once said to me, 'The more a barber tries to dress the part, the worse a haircut you're going to get.' I think this statement applies quite broadly to the creative industry."

4. It's kind of hard to be extreme these days.

Hey, this is a creative industry, so people aren't often going to be criticized for expressing themselves. But, we asked folks if anyone in their shops (without naming names, of course) had recently pushed the fashion envelope in a memorable way. 

"We actually have one employee who wears a pair of sneakers that double as roller skates," said Bredau of Huge. "However, this style isn't pushing the envelope—now everyone just wants a pair."

Guest from Tribal said, "I did say 'hobo' [before], right?"

Meanwhile, the Omelet crew keeps it real with a lot of jeans and tees.

"But when it comes to Halloween," said Desjarlais, "we've been known to break out our Corgi onesies."

Corgi onesie costume

There ya go—you're not going to see that at an accounting firm.

Lastly, here's one more comment from Zolty for the road about his company's lack of a dress code: "We do have a workshop where we require people to wear protective gear, but that's probably a bit outside the question."