Fit for broadcast - Monocle, Feb 2018
"Mom, are you wearing Daddy's clothes?"
The first time my young daughter saw me read the news at SVT, Sweden’s public service broadcaster, she couldn’t get her head around the fact that I was wearing a shirt and a blazer, with my hair tied back in a gala-worthy bun. Back then, in 2009, SVT had a very strict dress code for its news anchors, and while it has loosened somewhat, the basic principles are still the same. No bare arms, no see-through blouses, no black or white and no jewelry with symbols. Rapport, SVT’s flagship news show which airs at 7.30 every night and draws around a million viewers, requires all its anchors to wear a blazer. With its handy collar, it’s definitely the best piece of clothing to attach a microphone on. But the real reason behind the rule is to create a unified, credible look viewers can recognize even when the anchors change, and even more importantly, make sure the clothes are always tidy and never overshadow what is being said – the news.
With such strict rules, is there any room for creating a personal, recognizable style? The answer is yes, but it takes a bit of work and a good stylist. Most news anchors plan their outfits with a dedicated stylist who’s an expert in knowing what works in a studio setting. Certain patterns, such as stripes or dots, may start ”creeping” on camera and are thus off limits. Certain colors will clash with the colors in the studio background. White makes make your skin look grey, while black makes it look pale. (Navy blue, with its flattering softness yet strong character, must be the all-time favorite of all news readers.)
Men of course, have it easier than women – or harder, depending on how you look at it. The wardrobe choices for anchormen are pretty much limited to the traditional suit, shirt and tie, mostly in conservative combinations. All the more important, then, that the suit fits. Truthfully, nobody will probably bat an eye if a male news anchor does all his appearances in the same outfit for a year – as Australian news presenter Karl Stefanovic proved in 2014 by actually wearing the same navy blue suit day in and day out to work for 12 months. Facial hair, on the contrary, may provoke reactions. When Swedish TV4 anchor Anders Kraft premiered his moustache on television a few years ago, viewers called in to let the channel know it either “ruined their evening” or was “unbelievably stylish”.
Given all the rules and regulations, newsreaders can mostly play with the smaller details in their outfit. Some let their stylist do all the work, surrendering their style to the professionals. Personally, I found it more giving to be a part of the process. It’s a game of pushing the boundaries in order to introduce some personal elements in your style and perhaps having a subtle signum – defined shoulders, silky blouses, a dark red lip, a certain hairdo or perhaps a few color combinations you always wear. Having a defined style certainly helps an anchor create a personal brand, which is all-important in today’s crowded media space. Viewers like to meet a familiar face who has a personal, likeable touch. Your on-air brand, however, has as much or more to do with body language and voice as with clothes, which is why anchors also train with coaches to achieve a reliable, naturally authoritative manner and way of speaking.
In recent years, Swedish newsreaders have moved towards a more casual, warmer style, both in their style and in the way they deliver the news. The change is perhaps most visible in their hair. Ten years ago, some of my colleagues were still citing research which apparently showed that people trusted female newsreaders more if their hair was short or tied back, preferably fixed in place with generous helpings of hairspray. When I had my wavy hair down on air for the first time in 2010, some of them reacted negatively – but the viewers had nothing bad to say. These days, the strict buns and helmet hair are almost gone and natural hair rules the air.
Having said that, the world of television news styling is still full of unwritten rules, which, if you ever end up reading the news, your stylist will tell you. Flowers are for summer, cleavages should never be too deep and bright colors stay in the changing room if someone has passed away. Colors are significant, and wearing red, for instance, would feel inappropriate on the day a major strike had killed children in Syria. I was also advised against a red-white-blue combination as it reminded of the American flag and was too political. Luckily, as news are unexpected by nature, a change of clothes is only a few steps away should the planned outfit seem wrong in the last minute. If in doubt, anchors can always ask for help. At SVT those discussions mainly take place in the make-up room where stressed-out anchors walk in to consult stylists and colleagues on color combinations, fits and best ways to tie a pussy bow shirt (the answer, mostly, is to let the collar hang more like a men’s tie).
Mostly though, as professionals, presenters have a gut feeling for what works. In my experience, the most reliable choice, sure never to upset anyone, is a navy blue blazer and a white blouse. That’s what I chose for the evening news the day terrorists drove a truck into a crowd of people in Nice in the summer of 2016.
While clothes certainly are an important part of a news programme, they take up a very small part of an anchor’s day. Getting changed for the air doesn’t take much more than 10 minutes, which is also all the time busy journalists have to spare. If you and your stylist have done a good job, no more is needed. Ultimately, as with all style, two golden rules apply. Invest in quality and most importantly, make sure you feel comfortable in your skin – wear something you don’t feel is you, and it will show. Especially if you’re wearing it in front of a camera.