Brand Names: "Real Vs. Corporate" -- another viewpoint

Yesterday, Christina Binkley wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal about young people’s work attire, and how entrepreneurial environments and particularly 20-somethings are embracing creative wardrobes.  The article focused heavily on big brand-names and how they are a critical part of expression.  Binkley elaborated in this podcast, and shared that she talked with young people about why they make the choices they do.

Today, Hamilton Nolan from Gawker responded, and was up-in-arms about the generalizations made (Chuck Taylors = surfer), and poor representation of this young (and successful) generation.

Binkley has a very valid point that the brands and clothing selected by individuals speak strongly to personality, with personality being integral part of establishing a company culture and work environment.  While a buttoned up look may convey professionalism and enable employees to feel more empowered (everyone knows someone who will say “I just feel better and more powerful in a suit”), employees at smaller companies are finding other ways to express confidence, and their inner self.  More liberal style choices are common today, and using style as a form of expression is no longer relegated only to weekends.

Creative work environments are even being embraced by retailers.  Take “work desinations” Banana Republic or J.Crew for example.  Five to ten years ago, you’d see many more traditional button down shirts and black pants as part of their selection, where they are now skewing toward patterned choices, and items with a unique or novel twist.  They’re realizing that young men and women are desiring to express some personality and flair while in the workplace too.  Binkley hit it on the head with “…young people say their mix-and-match style offers them more versatility and creativity than the old uniform did.”

Binkley shared, “In a way, their aesthetic represents a new kind of uniform — one heavily dependent on corporate labels.”   I personally take a different tack here — I’d venture to state that often subculture/smaller labels hold even more cache for young generations than mainstream brands.  Young people seem to enjoy expressing their style through independent labels or smaller brands such as Mike & Chris, Penguin, Black Halo, Sky, Goldenbleu, Kooba, 18th Amendment, etc.  The brand identification is often not evident to the naked eye, and these items are not logo-filled.  In this way, 20-somethings are embracing brands but because of a unique style expression, more so than a way to convey status.

In the podcast, Binkley shared that she asked young people whether they forecast their style changing/evolving as they mature and reach the age of the current Boomers.  Surprisingly, they voiced that their style likely would become more status-quo as they grow up.  I found this point particularly interesting, as it seems that relaxed workplace style choices could have more lasting impact than just a passing life-stage choice.

Binkley’s most controversial quote “Their choices among brand-name items are meant to communicate substance,” really set Gawker off.  By changing the slant to be less strongly focused on brand names specifically, and instead reflecting how young people intentionally choose specific *style choices *to best represent and convey themselves in the workplace is a point Nolan would perhaps agree with — and be proud of.