CorporateQ: Formal Fridays at a NYC Ad Agency

Note: This is the second in an on-going series that focuses upon how masculine-of-center queers are bringing their dapper selves to the workplace.

Susan: Thanks for making time for this. I’m eager to hear about how you adapt your style to the workplace. But before we get to that, how long has each of you identified as a dapperQ and how would you describe your sense of style?

Nina (left) and Shayna (right).

Shayna: There is nothing I love more than men’s fashion tailored for a women’s body. A handsomely beautiful woman, there’s just nothing like it! The ability to defy idealistic social norms though androgynous (aka dapper) fashion truly is an art. I personally identify as androgynous and have identified this way for over two years.

Nina: I would say I started identifying as dapper/queer maybe two or three years ago. And I’d call my style put-together-casual? I love wearing jeans and t-shirts but not looking like a slob.

Susan: Tell me about where you work and how that influences how you dress for work?

Nina: We work in advertising industry – nothing where it’s really men in suits/women in dresses. It’s not super corporate, but it’s still an office where you have to look somewhat together.

Shayna: On a day-to-day basis, the office is a creative space with a laid-back dress code. Most days we come to work wearing t-shits and jeans, but on Fridays at Barbarian Group we have the option to partake in “Formal Fridays.” It’s a play on the typical “Casual Friday” considering everyday is casual. The motto around here is “It’s gonna be awesome!” Simply put, we work somewhere “awesome” where we can be self-expressive and dapper.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

Nina: I spent a good nine months interviewing in various places before landing at The Barbarian Group just over a year ago.  My general interview wear was a button up, silk scarf, and khakis. And it’s strange because that would likely be considered super casual for a cis-man but seemed reasonable for me. I think that for me, I would look so wholly uncomfortable in a dress or any “women’s” wear that that feeling would come across in an interview. I like to think that clothes don’t necessarily define who you are, but rather act as a way to accentuate your confidence. I feel confident in a button up and a scarf or some sort of neck wear, and that confidence comes through when I feel comfortable. I can’t really say if what I wore to other interviews was too casual or not, but I didn’t get those jobs, so their (dapper) loss!

It wasn’t until my interviews with Barbarian that I felt confident enough to wear a tie in, and that’s definitely the best I felt.

Formal Friday at Barbarian Group with Nina, Shayna with co-workers
Formal Friday at Barbarian Group with Nina, Shayna with co-workers

Susan: How about you, Shayna? What were you clothes like for the interview process? Did you adapt your style to the type of agency or job for which you were interviewing?

Shayna: When I initially interviewed for my position, I was nervous to dress as masculine as I normally do. After months of professional rejection, mostly due to my appearance, I decided to accommodate social norms. It wasn’t until I was hired and began working with Nina, that I felt comfortable expressing my dapperQesque nature in the work place.

Susan: I can’t even remember who it was but when I was talking to someone in a digital firm and telling them about dapperQ, they told me that there aren’t may dapperQ’s in the ad industry. His take — I’m pretty sure it was a gay man — was that image and style is an essential piece of being hired, retained and advanced in such a competitive industry. And that HR may want want their teams to include the sort of panache that dapperQs could bring to a team but that they can’t necessarily find them. What are your thoughts on that?

Nina: I think that first part is a pretty male-centric way of thinking. That, “surely it’s just what I wore,” and not, “maybe they see me as under-qualified for some other reason.” As a queer/non-male/person-of-color I’ve basically assumed that I’m just perceived as under-qualified as soon as I walked in the door. And in interviewing for nine months, I wasn’t exactly reassured that I was worth much – and that’s not even to begin to say anything about my clothes. I 100% agree that there aren’t very many dapperQ’s in the ad industry (hence why Shayna and I became friends in about 24 hours),or any other industry for that matter. And that’s obviously an issue of personal politics, interests, and general privilege. But I wouldn’t say, by any means, that Barbarian’s HR goes out of its way to hire minorities with the sole purpose of diversifying the team here. I think they simply hire who’s smart, qualified and driven, and who fits the company culture.

Shayna: I agree. As I mentioned, I suffered professional rejection time and time again mostly due to my appearance. As an account executive, a large majority of my position entails client facing and communication. Many agencies claim to be progressive and forward thinking, but are afraid to truly support that notion. Account executives are the faces of a company and many companies prefer the “safe hire”. I’m proud to be a Barbarian not only because they took a risk in hiring me, but also their progressive thinking is evident in the work they produce.

Susan: So it sounds to me like dressing dapper, at least in a creative agency based in NYC, isn’t impeding your professional success. In fact, it may actually be contributing to it.

Nina: Working in the ad industry, and in a company the size of Barbarian, typically means a much more creative and welcoming environment for LGBTQ folks. Our CEO has complimented my neckwear and I got a cute bowtie from my boss for my birthday. I think The Barbarian Group, and mid-sized creative offices in general, can be super welcoming with dapper-dressing-queer-folks.

Shayna: My dapperQ appearance provides insight into my attention to detail and creative abilities. There’s something oddly satisfying about receiving compliments on my tie from a male superior. Makes me believe I can teach them a thing or two, fashion included.

Susan: Much luck to you two. Thanks for taking time to share a little about your journey.

If you are interested in being profiled, please write to [email protected] re: CorporateQ. Give us a few paragraphs describing your experience and include a photo or two if you can.  We are also interested in hearing stories of those of you whose location, industry or circumstances would never allow you to dress in a gender nonconforming manner and we can keep your experience anonymous.

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