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What should a graphic designer wear?

As freelance graphic designers we enjoy a lot of freedom; the freedom to work from home – in a comfortable environment, the freedom to work the hours that are suitable for us and the freedom to decline projects that we think just aren’t right for us.

One freedom I particularly enjoy, which I’ve never really noticed until now, is the freedom to wear what we want. From working at home in your favourite jogging bottoms or your fluffy pj’s to meeting clients in jeans and Led Zeppelin t-shirts, we have the choice to present ourselves as we see fit.

I usually dress quite smart, particularly if I am meeting a client (especially if it’s for the first time). It’s often the norm to find graphic designers, photographers and artists in a more casual dress code and I believe it is acceptable due to the creative industry we are in. I don’t think it compromises our professionalism or work ethic. I love the Mac vs PC adverts and think the difference in dress demonstrates the difference between a “creative” and “non creative” excellently.

Mac vs PC

However, do you ever feel under pressure to dress a little more quirky or colourful due to your job title? I was recently off to meet a client for the first time and looked at my outfit and thought I looked a little dull and I needed something to show I was a “creative”. Everyone has heard of wearing a bright tie in an interview to make them stand out from all the other candidates, so do you think that as a graphic designer you are under pressure to make a statement with what you wear? If so what happens when you get this wrong? Could it do more harm than good?

Overall I think it is a practical choice to work in something comfortable rather than having to sit in a stiff suit for eight hours a day. And when it comes to meeting clients I believe there is no right or wrong in our industry it all depends on how you prefer to be seen.

So what do you think? Do you think that as a graphic designer it is perfectly acceptable to dress down? Or do you think this damages the industry and makes us appear too relaxed and casual? Have you ever felt the need to dress a little quirky to define your role as a stereotypical designer?

Posted by Lu

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Posted on Wednesday, October 15th, 2008 at 9:15 am
Posted In Freelancing, Graphic Design | Tags: ,

22 Responses to “What should a graphic designer wear?”

  • For several years I’ve had long(ish) hair and a big bushy beard. One day the VP of Marketing for one of my bigger clients came up to me and said, “James, you look like you’re homeless.” To which I immediately replied, “I’m simply projecting an image of creativity.” He laughed, and never bothered me about my appearance again.

    I’ve found that if I dress in clothing that suits my personality I end up getting more clients than if I dress in conventional business clothing. Maybe it’s because I’m more relaxed and thus more confident; maybe clients are looking for a certain level of creativity in whom they hire and thus skip over the guy who showed up in a suit. Who knows. All I know is, I’m glad I can wear jeans, vans, a ripped up vintage jacket, not shave, and still get business.

    Thanks again, for another great article.

  • I think some clients like and almost expect that designers will dress casually or differently. In the past I’ve been along to meetings at quite stuffy corporate offices where the clients will come in in their suits and there’s almost a look of jealously in their eyes that you more smart casual with abit of personality! Or is that just me reading to much into those eyes? :-)

    I think wearing what you want is one of the perks of the job!

  • lu says:

    Hi James,

    Glad you liked the article! Perfect scenario, thanks for sharing. I do agree that dressing in clothing you feel comfortable in allows you to feel more confident as you are able to be yourself and don’t have to pretend to be anyone else.

    Hi Gareth

    I do think that people expect designers to dress differently, which I hope they find refreshing and as you mention it allows us to show a bit of personality.

    Thank you both for your thoughts.


  • Courtney says:

    I have always enjoyed dressing in business attire to go to work or other places that allow me to. When I get my Graphic Design degree, I will love to know that I am a white collar worker, so dressing down would give me a big sense of pride in my career.

  • hey!
    thanks for writing this! it really helped my essay!

  • I don’t dress quirky, but I do tend to wear fashion clothes at any business meetings rather than suit type outfits.

    I love fashion and as a freelancer I feel I can wear what I darn well please, lol :)

    I think it’s prudent to dress smartly for a meeting and not to be actively scruffy as this may give the wrong impression of professionalism, but I think that aside from that a designer should wear what they want to wear – even if that is a suit.

    If you are suit type, you’ll attract a ‘suit type of client’ and they will probably match your style better anyway.

    It’s best to be yourself really and if you feel comfortable and happy in a suit, I think you should wear a suit rather than try to ‘look creative’. As has been mentioned, you will perform better at any meeting if you feel comfortable in yourself.

    But it’s good that the business world accepts that designers like to dress in their own style and that doesn’t necessarily mean wearing a suit, and this is ‘acceptable’. We are very lucky that this is the culture.

    I would be surprised if many designers would want to wear a suit anyway – I would think that creative women especially (because we have so much more choice than men) would want to wear something more interesting than a bog standard business suit.

    A man may choose a suit as a smart option because they have little other choices for ‘smart’, but if a creative person, who is also likely interested in fashion, that man may want to trendy it up with some trainers as is a current fashion … it’s great that this would be deemed acceptable for a ‘creative type’.

    It’s a shame that the same flexibility is not afforded other industries isn’t it really – a creative nature is not the exclusive domain of designers after all.

  • lu says:

    Hi Courtney,

    I think being a graphic designer gives you the choice to either dress down or corporate, which you choose is up to you. I think this is the beauty of this industry.

    Hi Nicole,

    Glad we could help, hope you get a good grade! What was the title of the essay by the way?

    Hi Amanda,

    I agree there is a fine line between dressing scruffy and “creative” which can look unprofessional.

    I feel for the male species as I also think that there are so many more clothing options for women and so few for men. When Steve and I attend a meeting he usually wears the same sort of outfit whereas I have so much more choice.

    Thanks for commenting!


  • hi i am a graphic designer working in office and now planning to do freelance..as a office designer i still enjoy casual wear rather thn formal…even whn rules r they to wear formal i can change rules for myself all because i am designer not a marketing guy..hooo hoooo designer should enjoy wht they wear this will give more freedom to think more creative.

  • Lu says:

    I agree Tenzin, project your creativity through your attire!

  • Linda says:

    Our work is looking at making us go corporate and our target isn’t even necessarily corporate! As designers we are devastated. I enjoy being able to wear jeans or express myself or mood in a T-shirt or clothing. I really think so long as it’s not offensive then it shouldn’t matter what we wear, so long as we are getting our work done. Being comfortable at work is important, you are more productive, more positive and don’t feel constrained (as much). For important meeting we always dress appropriately anyway…. Let us wear our jeans!

  • Lu says:

    Hi Linda,

    I am sorry to hear you are being forced into corporate clothing. Being comfortable at work and being able to project creativity is important. If they wanted you to just dress a little more corporate for meetings I could understand that as jeans don’t exactly project professionalism, but for every day wear it seems a little over the top.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Nichole says:

    I’m a college student in the graphic design department, and some of my professors make us wear “dress up” clothing. By this I mean dress pants for girls, blouses, dress shoes (and if its an open toed shoe you must wear nylons) and your pants cant drag on the ground. I myself have never liked to wear dress cloths. When we started to do presentations i actually had to go out and buy dress clothes. I hated this because i felt like someone else. I felt fake. I hope when i graduate I’m able to work with someone who lets me dress a little more casual. My ideal work outfit would be a comfy pair of jeans, cute shoes, and a fashion top. It’s still a little dressy but its also comfy and creative, and most importantly me.

  • Courtney says:

    I understand that the graphic design profession allows us to dress comfortably. Dressing in corporate attire is something that I like to do and it’s fits me.

  • Stephanie says:

    I am a female designer in an industrial environment, so it’s DEFINITELY acceptable for us to be a bit casual, and I enjoy and agree with that freedom. However, how much is too much for a designer?

    I interviewed a woman trying to get hired into our design department, and she was wearing a t-shirt, with faded black/gray hooded zip-up sweatshirt. It looked like she hadn’t brushed her hair, and absolutely NO make-up. And you know what I thought the second I met her? “hell NO”. My thought was, if she’s a DESIGNER, and concerned with aesthetics, how could she be SO OBLIVIOUS to how she looks?… with NO concern for style or trends whatsoever. Also, when a client comes into to the office, and they take a little tour to the design department to see some work, could we justifiably introduce her to the client as a good designer? NO! The client’s opinion would probably be similar, if not more harsh, than mine.

    Also, we ended up hiring a poorly dressed man. He dresses like an elderly man… with messy hair, flannel tattered thrift store shirts, tapered leg faded jeans and loafers with no socks! And he think it’s STYLISH because it came from a thrift store… WHAT? I am embarrassed to introduce clients to him. He does not portray “designer”, so much as “fuddy-dud”. How can you trust someone who is so oblivious to the world around him to reach our customers with cutting-edge, trendy, hi-tech designs???

    I’m all for designers dressing eccentrically, and having a more bold style. But it think to say that a designer can pretty much wear what he or she wants with no consequences is not so accurate. Maybe they can, but it sure skews MY opinion of them.

  • I have to admit I’m probably one of those stereotypic designers and when I have to go to a networking event or meet client I personally sometimes make sure to wear something that will make me stand out from the crowd.

    I definitely avoid the suits. I think its down to what sort of graphic designer you are, our company isn’t really aimed at corporate so our brand reflects this in my clothes choice.

  • Sipho Ndloyi says:

    As as designer I am comfortable on jeans and casual shirt than formal shirts, and everybody always ask me why do i dress so as if I am not working in corporate world. I told them that I am preciseley free when I am in jeans as this represent my job description, but latey I find it hard to dress for my daily work and I do not feel comfortable at all.

    I do not want to dress like a admin/recretary while I am a Graphic Designer.

  • […] article by eightyone design discussed the dress code of a graphic designer and touched on the idea of dressing to stereotype […]

  • Ty says:

    This is just a personal choice but I’m a Graphic Design student and I think I would mainly wear a formal suit to the first interview. Like tie, dress shirt, dress pants, dress shoes. It’s all about pleasing the customer – so I think I would actually ask them what they prefer, but it’s a safe route to go. Somewhere in between. What could be the harm? If anything, it would show that we’re interested in them personally – which is what we’re there to do. But you don’t want to offend anyone on the first “date” and you can definitely do that with a full suit (i.e.; being too uptight). So I would wear like jeans, a plain colored t-shirt, and a suit jacket. Or maybe even slightly dressier with just a dress shirt, tie, and dress pants. I don’t think it truly matters that you wear a suit though, unless you’re in a business setting and they require you to wear something.

  • Ty says:

    Fashion doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. In fact, it looks bad sometimes if it is. But, I think style is important for a Graphic Designer and if you spend a little more money on your appearance, I think it could show that you’re dedicated a little more.

  • Yeah I’m not one to dress up all fancy. It’s not me. If I don’t feel like me, then what’s the point. So when I’m meeting a client, I go half way and dress a step up from my normal casual wear. This way I don’t look like a bum and I don’t feel like someone I’m not.

    The way I see it is if the client is going to not hire me because I’m not dressed like a wall street executive, then so be it. I want to work with people who want to work with me because they like my work and appreciate my expertise. That alone should show that I’m a professional, regardless of the way I look. This may be a poor business decision on my part but so be it.

  • Before opening my own business, I worked as a designer for a big corporate firm who had ten person marketing department. I knew I’d be the only “graphic designer” but reported to the Creative Director and the Marketing Director. So on that interview, I wore what my age and experience had told me. I worse a nicely pressed suit but did have a creative and interesting tie.

    Wow, I almost didn’t get the job because of my “appearance”. The son of the owner, my creative director, was a kid half my age and wore what I likened too pajama bottoms and a hoody. He had mohawk, a destain for my appearance and I assume age, and looked like he a punk rock kind of dude–which I later found out he was.

    I still dressed nicely every day I worked there, sure not a tie, but I wore nice pants and a polo or rugby but that’s because I look smashing in them. Luckily I got the job, but yeah being a creative its somehow inertially accepted these days to look a certain edgy way and even on an interview…but dang does it still make me nervous on how I should appear at an interview. Too dressed up and you’re too “stuffy”, too casual and you look look lazy or unmotivated. Its a tightrope problem for sure.

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