#229 In which our hero considers his choice of footwear and what affect it may have upon his career, part II.
Couple of agencies ago, my Creative Director was a real jackass. To be fair, he was a good Art Director, but a suck-ass CD. Just a terrible manager. When I first spoke with him, he told that he hadn’t yet fired the guy I would be replacing. He wanted to make sure he had a new writer lined up (me) before he let the guy go. Which seemed a little underhanded to me, but it’s the way of the world, I guess. We met at a coffee shop for our first interview. Later, he brought me into the agency after hours, when everyone else was gone. He made me an offer, I accepted. Since I had been unemployed in advertising for more than a year, I was anxious for my first day to come.
Now, since I never saw anyone else at the agency, nor did my new boss mention anything about a dress code, I assumed I could wear my usual attire: jeans, t-shirt and sneakers. But when I arrived for my first day, he nearly crapped his pants when he saw me. “I’d hate for you to make a bad impression on your first day,” he explained. “Could you maybe go home and wear something more business casual?” Being my first day, what am I going to say?
So I go home and change. Which is completely ridiculous, of course. This guy should have grown some balls and just said, oops, my bad. I should have told you about the dress code. Well, you’ll know what to wear tomorrow, huh? Instead I’m gone for an hour and a half, since this place wasn’t exactly close to my house.
Here’s the point to this story: when I got back, he pulled me aside and said this: “I’ll give you some advice. If you want to go anywhere in this agency, you should try to dress more like an account executive, and less like a creative.”
Again, being my first day, I nodded along. But inside I was thinking this: fuck THAT.
Now, I know I’m spoiled in this regard, but I’ve been lucky enough to work in an industry full of misfits and eccentrics. Generally speaking, no-one would bat an eye if you were to wear shorts and flip-flops year-round. Most agencies put a premium on creativity, and embrace the concept that you need to feel comfortable to be at your best, creatively speaking. Dress codes are generally only enforced when you’re meeting a client (and even then I tend to wear jeans, albeit nice jeans).
However, I have worked in agencies (two of them, to be exact) that have a dress code. Other than the above-mentioned business casual, I worked at an in-house shop where I had to wear a tie every day. That sucked.
I don’t know if being allowed to wear jeans and sneakers really makes me more creative, but I certainly resent it when told I can’t. I’ve been fiercely anti-dress code all my life. In fact, when I first moved up here to work at a (dress code-free) agency, I put all my ties in a box labeled “NEVER TO BE WORN AGAIN.” Which proved not to be true, but anyway.
So, maybe you can understand why I feel like a sell-out being that I haven’t worn my sneakers to work in a week.
Like I wrote yesterday, I’ve been giving my career a hard think. I’d like to stay at this agency (and make more money), progress my career (and make more money) and maybe even create a little job security for myself (and make more money). And while opportunities may be few and far in-between, they still exist. So when management is talking in their star chamber about how they want to create a new position in the creative department, I want my name to be the first that comes to mind.
So, I’ve been trying to act the part. I mean, this is part of my job, and it comes naturally to me to be vocal in brainstorm meeting, and present to the client well and to write good copy (the part that doesn’t necessarily come naturally is to be patient and kind with dull-witted account executives. But I’ve been working on that. Honestly, the AEs from my first agency up here wouldn’t know me now).
That said, I don’t think it’s a bad thing to try to look the part, too.
Not that I’m going to stop wearing jeans. I’m comfortable in jeans, so I don’t see them going away anytime soon. But I have been wearing dress shoes. But, “dress shoes” is maybe not the right term… these are Doc Martens, so they’re still cool. Right? I’m cool, right?
Yeah? No? Hello?
Anyway, what all this boils down to is that I’m trying to be more professional in all aspects of my job.
In the not-so-far past, I might have equated being “professional” with being a jackass. Mostly because the word “professional” is often used by non-creatives as a codeword for wearing a tie, not rocking the boat and kissing the client’s ass. All of which I’ve done before, and will certainly do again--but I don’t make a habit out of it.
But I’ve started to become more thoughtful about my job… and, I dunno, maybe I’m not selling out as much as facing reality. Advertising is all about appearances, and the people who work in the field certainly aren’t exempt from that. Not only that, but dressing more professionally (ugh, I hate even typing that) puts my head in a different place. I’m not just going to an office and screwing around for eight hours, I’m working on my career. And if I do that every day, every month, every year, someone is bound to notice. And that, one hopes, will pay off in the end.
Because when management starts casting around for the next manager or whatever, I don’t want there to be any discussion about how I don’t fit the part, or how they’re unsure if I could successfully tackle a new role; I want them to say, “Craig’s the perfect candidate for this position. Hell, he’s already doing it in everything but title.”
And then they back up the dumptruck full of cash.