For five years I wore khakis and a button-down shirt, open at the collar, with no tie. I got along with everyone, which was my job, and was mistaken for management wherever I went because I learned early on to walk with intention and assess everything I came up against with attention to detail.
Then I got a job in marketing and communications, and put on a tie.
My last week at the old job, I wore the tie along with the same uniform shirt I had for the previous five years. Starbucks barristas began treating me with retaliative scorn, and my customers divorced themselves from me fairly swiftly. I had, by adopting a symbol of formality, become something they could not properly associate with a retailer, much less one with tattoos and a bright smile.
Now, however, I wear a shirt and tie (I’m at my desk too much of the day to bother with a sport coat) and it helps me to fit in and raise the bar at the office. It makes sense, it’s the proper arena for attention to professional details.
In the mall, shirts and ties belong to customers, not salespeople.
Brian Levy, who was president of InterTan (RadioShack Canada’s parent company years back) famously said “The guy with the shiniest shoes sells the most.” It feels like a true statement, and might apply quite well to actual sales, but retailing is the wrong arena for that level of professional decorum. Or, at least it is now, because it’s no longer expected. And when you’re in customer service, managing expectation is a big deal.
What does this have to do with blogging?
Like any print communication, the frame has as much merit as the gallery. I’ve been experimenting with themes over the last few weeks as I develop a new one for this site, and doing some research on the visual and user experience aspects of well known blogs, and unfortunately it feels like many sites, themes and presentations fall into a number of predictable categories.
The Golf Shirt – You’ve got to love this one. Just like a gas station attendant or lowly clerk, the golf shirt class is the lowest common denominator of the blogging world. Whether it’s the default wordpress theme or a Thesis basic install, the Golf Shirt stands out for one reason; it’s the minimum possible effort made to fit into the most categories available. It’s always out of the box. And it’s disappointing.
The Elegant Pink Buttondown (with optional patterned scarf) – I used to have one of these. Dark, artsy, the kind of site design you just know is backed by a struggling writer spending his evenings in a coffee shop nursing a latte, reading Kafka over a pair of teeny tiny sunglasses – when it’s dark out. Unfortunately, unless that’s the feel you’re going for and the material you’re writing backs it up, this is going overboard, and is totally unnecessary. Besides, dark backgrounds with insufficient contrast create usability issues, which can alienate readers.
The Three-Piece Suit – This is where the tie comes in, and it’s where the most consideration goes. Professionals with custom-build Thesis deployments, high power pundits and marketers who know exactly what it takes to get information into anyone’s hands in a language they understand. This is the kind of blog worth blogging about.
But how do you choose?
I know, it looks like I’m being a downer and oversimplifying. Chris Brogan’s blog is a three-piece, but he never wears them. It still fits. Justin Kownacki wears sweater-vests, but his blog has a golf shirt on. Mine used to be the pink buttondown, but eventually will be a suit-lacking-a-jacket, because that’s where I am and it fits. Seth Godin’s blog – hell, shirt and jeans. And sneakers.
Which one of these guys has the shiniest shoes?
If you answered at all, you answered wrong. The point is, your look – whether it’s a golf shirt or a tuxedo – has to suit the work you’re doing and the environment you’re doing it in. Blogs wearing ties make sense for marketers, but if you write about comic books, the pink buttondown is probably your best friend. Or even a graphic tee-shirt and jeans.
At the end of the day, your audience has to be able to identify you before you get the chance to speak. Otherwise you just end up looking like a slump, or a suit.
Photo by JCardinal18.