You got that look.

It is often said that a designer/art director/anyone that works in the creative department is not seen as a professional. Not like lawyers, accountants, auditors, marketing, doctors, etc.

In some ways, that “not-a-professional” image was reinforced by us.

Many of the studios/agencies have their offices in commercial buildings, which house a variety of firms. For instance, our studio is at an office block that also includes a dozen of law and accounting firms, IT consultancies, marketing and trading offices, property reps, and hordes of Prudential agents. In the same lobby, I could count probably four more companies that are involved in the creative business.

Every time I step into the lift I would like to observe the people who join me, and guess what they do.

The woman with lots of files is probably from the law/accounting company.

The man in a white shirt with a laptop bag is probably involved in IT maintenance.

Or maybe he’s a salesman who constantly has to show some PowerPoint slides.

The uncle in the short sleeve shirt who carries a stack of colour proofs could be the account servicing guy from that agency on floor 8.

And then, there are those who are casually-cladded in t-shirt and jeans, caps and sneakers. The spiky hair plumpish guy with an earring, bling-bling belt and Nike sneakers. The skinny guy with a cap and a pair of jeans which hasn’t been washed for 365 days. The group of mandarin chit-chatting young girls forever with t-shirts that are either sloganized or vector-artified.

It’s so easy to spot a designer.

I remember the first day when I naively reported to work in an ad agency. I didn’t know the dress code – I was briefed it was supposed to be “smart casual”. I went with a long sleeve shirt, nicely tucked in a pair of slacks, with proper shoes. Like an office worker reporting for duty.

I was horribly out of place.

One of my early colleagues then taught me to come in an attire that is “like how you would normally wear when going for a movie in a shopping mall.” Not overdressed and not like an accountant, a lawyer, or a salesman.

I guess that defines how we dress for work.

But, I always wonder what do corporate clients think when they meet designers. Especially if it is an initial briefing where the first interaction is made.

A friend heading an ad agency said that for a similar identity job, clients are naturally willing to pay good money to an ad agency as compared to a designer. He claimed that this is because the ad agencies sell themselves better. When an ad agency visits the client for the first time, it is represented by the accounts servicing man/woman who appears in formal attire, speaks fluent and persuasive English, armed with a sales kit consisting of an outline of those agency-branded proprietary 180/360 branding tools, loaded with jargons and big words. Whereas the designer appears in his t-shirt and jeans and his hastily assembled portfolio of jobs, with a prima donna attitude that says “I am good, very good, and I do beautiful works”.

As a client, it’s easier to trust the professional than the artist.

Maybe the “watching a movie in a mall” dress code has to be revised to score the first time impression points. Or perhaps the creatives should start wearing proper attire to work, to change the public perception and to gain some public respect for the profession we are in.

But I will still be in my studio tomorrow, t-shirt and jeans. And I am reluctant to give up this official dress code of the creative industry.