We recently learned from retailer David Hodgkins at David Wood Clothiers in Portland, Maine that one of his customers has an interesting take on style during quarantine. As it turns out, Steve Campbell also has a consulting company (pro-voke) that helps businesses through trying times. Here, we talk to Campbell about how to dress for, and how to survive, a pandemic.
Q: So, what’s your interesting take on quarantine style: now and for the future?
A: It occurred to me recently on a Zoom meeting of about 140 people, most of them men wearing light blue oxford shirts, that signature style has never been more important. Why not take the opportunity now, during this pandemic, to define yourself by how you dress? I believe Zoom meetings are 1/3 about the backdrop, 1/3 the face, and 1/3 what you wear. From whacky backdrops and Hawaiian shirts, it’s now evolved to ‘what the heck anything goes.’
I suggest that retailers promote neckties: not traditional ties worn tight around the neck but something textured, worn more loosely. This reflects a serious attitude toward work but also an ability to relax, like having a beer at the end of the day. We do a lot of executive coaching at pro-voke and clearly, what you wear greatly impacts how others perceive you. It helps to have a signature style that defines you, but it should be a signature, not a caricature. In addition to textured ties, I believe patterns will re-emerge: the right tartans and plaids look great on Zoom. (The wrong ones can bleed the screen and create a huge distraction!)
Q: You seem to love fashion: any advice to menswear retailers in these precarious times?
A: Let the product mix reflect the world view of the owner and know the stories behind each product. In Atlanta, I always shop at Sid Mashburn for its fabulous mix. Here in Portland, I love David Wood Clothiers. I can’t walk in there without buying something. In fact, last week it was 95 degrees with 100 percent humidity yet I left with a brand new beautiful shetland sweater. David knows my taste and always comes up with something special. His store is a mix of interesting things he’s gathered from all over, whether the coast of Maine or Florence, Italy.
A great store conveys intimacy: its essence is the face to face. The soul of a store can’t really be translated digitally: I don’t for a second believe the whole retail universe is moving online. When consumers shop for apparel online, a lot gets lost: the storytelling, the sentiment, the excitement of trying on that perfect linen shirt, or truly great-fitting jeans. How do you translate the intimacy of a conversation onto a screen? It’s possible, but it’s never quite the same.
Q: Let’s hear a little about pro-voke: what’s your mission and how are you helping companies during this pandemic?
A: We’re not exactly a marketing company or a branding company. We’re at the intersection of where culture, branding, and strategy come together. Our accounts include all kinds of companies from small businesses to large corporations: Toyota, TD Ameritrade, United Way, Peapod, and more.
In these tough times, most companies need to reinvent themselves. But they must first figure out which aspects of their business they need to hold on to: in a sense, what defines their soul. Then they need to not just make the changes but actually include their employees/vendors/customers in the change. Getting people involved in the process makes a big difference in the results. Anxiety becomes adrenaline. Ask your customers: what three or four words would they use to describe your brand? Take stock in their criticisms: is your sales team too formal? Too approachable? Value this feedback and act on it.
We started this company seven years ago to help companies and executives work through change and transition. With so much more to wrestle with these days, figuring it out becomes all the more rewarding.