What Public Servants Can Learn from the Royal Wedding

 Like so many readers, my fascinator was at the cleaners, my Rolls was in the shop, so I was forced to watch the royal wedding on the tellie like a mere commoner. Rising at 4 AM to fix my cucumber sandwiches and earl grey, I thought about what lessons were in store for public servants. It is a long way from Windsor Castle to city hall. Still, public relations at any level depend on how well the individuals involved play their roles on their own respective stages.

Decoding the Details – The Royal Wedding

Every last detail of the royal wedding is subject to analysis for good reason. Clothes, gestures and decorations can all be platforms for salient but unspoken messages.

Some of these messages were very straightforward. Meghan’s veil had each of the 53 official flowers from Commonwealth countries embroidered on it, to mark her husband’s  appointment as Commonwealth Youth Ambassador.

Others, however, were  delightfully subversive. When the Duchess of Sussex decided to walk herself partway down the isle, it was seen as a feminist statement that no modern woman needs to be given away, because she is her own agent. Likewise, media speculation held that her choice of Clare Waight Keller to design her dress, the first female artistic director at Givency, was another win for feminine independence. Even the lemon elderberry cake,  a gentle tweak in tradition, suggested this couple will not tow the age old lines of protocol without carving a new path or two of their own.

On the other hand, a fashion faux pas can send things askew. Kate’s pale yellow outfit, which appeared ivory on camera, brought her accusations of trying to upstage the bride.

Impression Management

Sociologist Erving Goffman made a career out of studying impression management, which, in part, entails the use of props and other indirect communication to craft the images that make up our public personas. It can work for organizations as well as individuals. There has been a push for governments at all levels to be perceived as more exciting, and thus more engaging to their constituencies. Advice is usually focused on improving branding at the institutional level. However, it would be a mistake to overlook the personal angle, for it is equally important.

Indeed, one of the most popular of all public figures, Lady Diana, was brilliant at impression management. Her fashion sense was an extension of her personality. When she was on international tours, she would often incorporate an element from the country she was visiting into her wardrobe to connect with her hosts. She famously eclipsed her husband’s affair without saying a word. She simply stepped out of her car in that magnificent revenge dress. Charles and Camilla who?

Impression Management for the Rest of Us

So how can average folk use props to our advantage even if we are not staging a royal wedding? You don’t need the wealth or figure of an international superstar. Contrary to the old school mentality, no one needs to survive on dehydrated celery chips and kale juice fumes so they can rattle around in haute couture. Professional politicians may use image consultants,  but here is some down-to-earth advice. Embrace your joie de vivre and the panache will follow.

Find Your Signature Style

There may be an unofficial government uniform, but you can still let your own personality radiate through. Consistently use accessories and colors that bring you joy. Happy people generate charisma.

Share on Social Media

It is probably safe to assume most readers don’t have armies of paparazzi following them around, analyzing their every move. Generate your own PR once in awhile, especially if your fashion sense overlaps with your social causes – that fair trade tie or that organic cotton scarf.

Atmosphere Counts

Too many government offices still look like poster children for bureaucracy. Plants, art and color can all elevate the mood of  visitors and help them enjoy their experiences. There are many creative ways to spruce up surroundings even if redecorating is not in the budget.

Keep it Real

Impression management is a modern necessity for those in the public eye.  As important as it has become, however, it can only go so far. Let us not forget that two of our most beloved first ladies, Eleanor Roosevelt and Barbara Bush, were never considered style icons. The key to their success was authenticity. The most sophisticated fashion sense alone will not make a true leader. A stylist can make us chic, but only our hearts can make us shine. In the words of Bishop Michael Curry, “Imagine governments and nations where love is the way…that is a new heaven, a new earth, a new world, a new human family…”

Further Reading

Without endorsing the site itself, here is an article that offers practical advice: “How to Find Your Personal Style and Why It Matters”

Sherie Sanders is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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Rick Pfautz

What a great article! Having gone to boarding school (HS) for a year in England, and being something of an Anglophile, I too was up – maybe not at 4:00 am, but close – to watch the ceremony. I was initially discouraged because some of the reporting focused on how the British public couldn’t be bothered and there was a general ennui with whole affair (if you’ll pardon the phrase). Well, au contraire! It was beautiful and the Brits loved it. As you so accurately state, the key to their success (and anyone’s) was and is authenticity. Staying true to oneself. Easier said than done as we play out our perfect lives on FB. I expect the new Princess will have some challenges along those lines as she lives out her new life on the Public stage.