The startup founder or employee’s uniform of jeans, t-shirt, and sneakers is easy, cheap, comfortable and, if you’re like Mark Zuckerberg, an automatic choice made each morning that helps maximise brain space for life’s more important decisions.
Explaining in 2014 the t-shirt he wore each day, Zuckerberg said, “I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community.
“I’m in this really lucky position, where I get to wake up every day and help serve more than a billion people. And I feel like I’m not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life.”
Fair play to Zuckerberg – he is worth more than US$77 billion, after all – but developing a style beyond the usual startup uniform doesn’t mean wasting time on the silly or frivolous.
This is the lesson Kim Trinh, the head of public relations and marketing at Brisbane coworking community River City Labs, has been teaching members over the last few months.
With a background in the fashion industry, Trinh has naturally always taken notice of an individual’s personal style; coming into River City Labs said she was quick to notice the distinct individual styles within the space and pushed to know more about the personalities behind them.
“I loved coming into River City Labs and connecting with the community by not asking about their work but instead, where have they been on the weekend? What do they like to do in their spare time? Where are their favourite places to eat and shop, what do they like to watch, what’s their favourite music, and general updates on relationship or dating life,” Trinh said.
Over time this led to members asking Trinh for tips and advice on new hairstyles, or what someone should wear to a meeting, a pitch, or out socially, and she was only too happy to oblige.
“I think it’s important to put the effort in the way you look and dress. I believe it’s important to look after yourself on the inside and outside…paying attention and putting effort into the way you look can be positive for your self esteem and confidence,” she said.
“First impressions count, especially when you don’t know someone and you meet them for the first time, whether it’s in a personal or professional setting. When you don’t know someone, the only details you have about them are from what you see, and then everything else comes after.”
Trinh believes Tom Ford’s famous quote that “dressing well is a form of good manners” holds true, particularly in a professional setting.
“I think it’s a form of ‘good manners’ to think about where you’re going, the environment, and the people you’ll be around. Sometimes it’s not always about you, but also manners in acknowledging to your host or client at the venue or meeting that you have put effort, beyond just by your attendance, into meeting with them or attending their event.”
Here the idea for a series of workshops, ‘Style Guide’, was born, with Trinh seeing a clear gap.
“[I recognised] how many of the startup guys spend so much of their time focused on work that they lose sense of time in other areas of their life. The ‘school of life’ stuff is important, things such as social and professional etiquette, dining and lunch meeting ideas, how to dress for the occasion,” she said.
With support from the River City Labs team, Trinh got the initiative going. It began with a lunchtime ‘grooming session’ featuring three speakers – a barber who came in to chat about hairstyles and grooming, and Trinh and a River City Labs member speaking about fashion and styling tips.
“Following on from the session, I made appointments for the guys to visit the barber and for me to accompany them to the appointment giving them support and styling advice. This – the change – was a big step for some of the guys,” Trinh said.
However, the change didn’t have to be drastic; Trinh said it’s important to recognise one’s own personal tastes and work them into current or classic styles and trends.
“You can still wear the startup t-shirt and jeans and sneakers, but the attention to the smaller details such as, either tucking the shirt in or wearing a cardigan over it, or choosing the right fit in your jeans or pants is important. Fit in clothes for your body type is very important,” she said.
The ‘Style Guide Shopabout’ saw Trinh take 10 guys on a full day’s shopping trip, where they could shop for winter, update their wardrobe, and simply have their eyes opened to the latest styles and trends and try on things that, while still suited to their personal and style, they wouldn’t normally think about.
Starting at the lower end of the price spectrum and moving to the higher end through the day, Trinh would give a brief history of each store, and what kind of audience and style they specialised in.
“I addressed topics about the importance of fit and spending within their budget, and highlighted key styles, showing them how to look for key details when it came to a pant or shirt design…it comes down to communicating comfortably with them and being honest in my opinions and style tips.” she said.
“Many of the guys spend so much time in the startup space that they don’t know where to go to find out about the fashion options.”
Rather than being apprehensive, Trinh said River City Labs members were eager to take part as word spread and she had to cap attendance at 10 participants; those who did attend then made the most of it.
“My favourite part was seeing their body language and confidence lift and change when they came out of the changing rooms and the encouragement and compliments they gave each other whenever they came out of the change room in a new style,” she said.
“It was great to see them buying new things and how much they felt at ease in asking me about what to buy or not buy. Afterwards it was great to see the guys taking on some of my style tips and applying it to their everyday wear. The change it brought about in the way they walked and talked was also positive to see.”
With the first outing a success, Trinh now runs a private chat channel where she shares style inspiration and tips for members and provides advice.
She is also planning another Shopabout trip to help members update their spring and summer wardrobes, with a session for women also in the pipeline, as well as an outing focused on getting members out into new social settings and restaurants and bars they might not usually visit.
Image: Kim Trinh and the Shopabout participants. Source: Supplied.