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Newbie Advice: GDC Fashion Update

February 1, 2008

One of the more common questions I am asked is this: “What should I wear to GDC?” The easy answer is this: casual clothes or business casual. Jeans and a decent shirt.

Good clothes make people feel confident, and for many, the need for confidence when interviewing with dozens of different companies at GDC is paramount. On guys, I personally like a buttoned shirt that’s not tucked in and a nice pair of pants that’s in keeping with actual fashion from this decade (high waist = no). On women, it’s pretty much the same thing. Understand that I’m not an editor for GQ, though. However, I’ve been a developer for 26 years, so that has to count for something. Random anecdote: I did have to buy an entirely new wardrobe when I started teaching at SCAD. As a game developer, I owned nothing which qualified as purely “professional”. I had jeans, good jeans, worn out but very comfortable jeans and several varieties of black pants. There’s a reason “GDC Fashion Update” sounds like an oxymoron.

One of the easiest ways to figure out what to wear at GDC is to look at pictures of people at GDC.

There are four distinct fashions types:

  • The Suits: these are business execs or marketing people or people who didn’t know what to wear. They are actually referred to as “The Suits”. If you are Suit, that’s hip. You make the industry go ’round. While suits might look out of place, these people probably do have a very important meeting at GDC, and don’t want to risk looking like they don’t care.
  • The Eccentrics: They are there. They have their own unique fashion style, and like the suits, it’s hip. You have to be able to carry it off, though.
  • The Developers: These are the people dressed like I note above. Casual or business casual. This allows for a huge range of fashion choices.
  • The Statements: These are the people who decided that after spending $5K to get to GDC in search of a job, they would make the following fashion choice – a tee-shirt which reads “F*ck you, you f*cking f*cker,” minus the stars, of course. I’m not advocating people become drones or become something they’re not. If this is you, man, have at it. Consider, though, that stuff like this could potentially be offensive to people you’re interviewing with or make them uncomfortable. Is this risk/reward balanced to you? “If they don’t like it, I don’t want them to hire me.” Okay then. Good luck with that. Personally, I’ve never been one to put a tee-shirt before financial stability.

The show is in San Francisco, which means that you will need to bring a jacket, too. Also, wear super comfortable shoes. Doc Marten’s have been my choice for the last few years.

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. February 1, 2008 8:10 am

    Thanks for these constant streams of advice, glad I found your site πŸ™‚

    I note the “comfortable shoes”, I might grab a new pair to go in, since my trainers are wearing out. I’ve never tried Doc Martens or similar boots though.

    And I’ll probably be taking a few t-shirts rather then an entire suitcase full of shirts, as my preference for daywear (evening stuff is a bit different).

    And I’m astonished there is anyone wearing stupid T-shirts with really poor messages on them. I think “The Statements” is a good term for them, since honestly they usually don’t have anything worth stating that can be read off a t-shirt πŸ™‚

    One quick question; do you know how warm it is inside the Moscone center? As in, is it worth bringing a coat, since it is Feburary and not that warm outside.

  2. February 1, 2008 8:20 am

    @Andrew – I don’t recall ever being cold in the Moscone Center. I usually wear a sweater over whatever I’m wearing, tho. Also, on Doc Marten’s – they’re only perfectly comfortable *after* they’ve been broken in some. GDC’s not the place to break ’em in. πŸ™‚

  3. February 1, 2008 10:04 am

    In defense of people who wear outlandish and sometimes offensive t-shirts it really is just about the person. I am heavily influenced by music, in particular the metal genre, and because of that fact my shirts tend to have blood, skulls and severed heads on them. But if you are wearing a shirt just because you want other people to see you in it, that is silly and I’ll agree with the notion you are putting a statement above financial stability. Definitely isn’t about the shirt though, never really was.

    You are likely to either see in a black Pittsburgh Steelers t-shirt, a black t-shirt related to music in some way(usually heavy metal), or a black hoodie with jeans or cargo pants. Why? Because thats what I own and its what I like. It isn’t putting a shirt above financial stability, it is putting yourself and honesty above financial stability. If I can’t be myself and honest I tend to get uncomfortable. Dishonesty has proven in my short life experience to come back to haunt you, so I strive to represent myself and my ideas in a fashion that is as honest as possible.

    Now if I was representing a organization or a company it would be a totally different story. Then you are not representing yourself, you are representing the organization/company and therefore you have the responsibility to represent THEM in a honest way.

  4. February 1, 2008 10:41 am

    @Thomas – none of the things you mentioned would be likely to bother people. It’s when people wear things that are blatantly offensive. It might be perfectly true to them, but it can also be inconsiderate to others. The latter is more what people care about, I think.

  5. February 1, 2008 10:54 am

    Thanks, I’ll probably take a jackety-thing or a jumper for indoors and use my coat for my touristy things at the weekends, where the wind will make it cold πŸ™‚

    And I think t-shirts are fine, but when you have a stupid phrase which simply offends people because, to be honest, you obviously are saying it, it’s not the best thing to do in the presence of a large group of people who might not get the reference/think the same thing. Goes for any conference/convention/group gathering really.

  6. February 1, 2008 11:05 am

    It is endlessly confusing to me that words can be more offensive than imagery. I just don’t get it, and I probably never will. Words are just that, words.

  7. February 1, 2008 11:38 am

    @ThomasJLKastner: Words are very powerful. Don’t underestimate that. Just think about the words that came out of Dr. Martin Luther King and how they impact society, still.

    Mainly, the gist of this is being respectful of your surroundings. You will be around a ton of people whom will look at your shirt and will read what it says. If it says something like, “I’m a Pro-crast-in-ator!” and you wear it because ‘that is who you are,’ then obviously the power of those words are going to have a nice downfall on your future.

    Heavy Metal Rock shirts have some really sweet designs. Images, as long as they stay away from pure realism can speak boldly for the artistic side of your mind.

  8. February 1, 2008 11:44 am

    @Thomas: You’ve never heard that the pen is mightier than the sword? (Note, the pen, not the paintbrush.)

    @Andrew: Personally, I bring some jeans, t-shirts and a light sweater or hoodie and I’m fine.

    @Brenda: How would you classify the Gamecock people that show up wearing chicken suits?

    Incidentally, I _didn’t_ modify my dress when I started teaching. I figure, if I’m teaching game development, I should be wearing what a game developer wears. When I teach a class in corporate finance or upper management, THEN I’ll wear a suit to class πŸ™‚

  9. February 1, 2008 12:15 pm

    It isn’t all about the words that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote down or spoke that had the message but rather the meaning he placed behind it and the emotion he expressed. That meaning came from within himself and really from within everyone who listened to it. I honestly notice a difference between reading a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speech and listening to him speak. It sounds good on paper, but it sounds a lot better when you hear it come from his mouth. Of course I wasn’t around to actually hear him speak it but recordings are available.

    And I agree that labeling yourself as a procrastinator would be detrimental to your career but I don’t think that message would be considered offensive. It is strange to me that people need to be protected against offensive content to begin with, especially adults. Be it on a t-shirt, on TV, on the radio or in a video game. I was under the impression this discussion was about the seven dirty words that society seems to fear. The only reason they hold any power or seemingly hold any power is because we are taught they are wrong. Why? I don’t understand why people need to be protected from words.

  10. February 1, 2008 12:34 pm

    @Ian – Right. There are actually 5 classes then. Chickens. I forgot that group of people. I think that could also go in the “statement” category. Also, we have a dress code here for profs, and nothing I owned worked. I found that endlessly amusing two years ago. πŸ™‚

  11. Greg Kramer permalink
    February 1, 2008 1:07 pm

    What do you make of Darius’ advice (http://tinysubversions.blogspot.com/2005/10/effective-networking-make-yourself_24.html) to consistently wear something distinctive (ie. his orange shirt) which is also reflected on his business card likeness? This, he posits, makes him more visually memorable in future encounters.

    While this doesn’t demand one wear a duck on one’s head, it does require a balance between professionalism and blandness. What do you make of this advice and has anyone tried this tactic? Distinctive facial hair? A monocle? Spats?

  12. February 1, 2008 1:27 pm

    @Greg – Darius’ networking advice is excellent. I constantly send people to his blog for one thing or another. Also, his orange shirts were completely memorable and made him stand out. The fact that he’s 6’2″ or more probably didn’t hurt either. Ernest Adams always has his tophat. He would look weird without it.

  13. February 1, 2008 6:38 pm

    @Greg – Something distinctive (and consistent) is probably a good thing, just so people will recognize you if they see you again. But distinctive doesn’t automatically mean eyesore, either πŸ™‚

    If you try to do something to make yourself physically distinctive, btw, there is a chance it can backfire. My first year at GDC, I think something like half the females I met had dyed streaks of their hair bright red. “Memorable” suddenly became forgettable, just because everyone had exactly the same idea!

    @Brenda – hmm, I wonder if SCAD has a dress code for people who teach online…

  14. The Quill permalink
    February 1, 2008 7:52 pm

    On San Francisco’s weather, i’d like to point out that february is raining season and well, you might want to keep that in mind for GDC.

    Although, it is California so cool breezes and sunny days can come at any time.

    This is my first GDC, needless to say I’m very excited about it. I am going to be CA though, so that means official T-shirt for me. Good advice though! πŸ™‚

  15. February 1, 2008 9:19 pm

    I’ll be careful to get an umbrella (perhaps a cheap one when I am there if/when it rains) since if the rain is anything near what UK weather is like, I’d best be prepared πŸ™‚

    And Iain, I’ll take your advice on board since it was what I was going to wear anyway πŸ˜‰ I looked over the pictures of others going – while a shirt might be okay, I only have long sleeved ones at the moment.

    On the subject of “Lecturer attire”, there are a few oddities in my computer science department, although none of them wear suits, one wears a kind of “sea captains jacket” – he was pretty laid back, in a “turn up at least 5 minutes late, regardless of when in the day the lecture is” kinda way. It’s the business school (boo! hiss!) which have The Suits, hehe. πŸ˜€

  16. October 11, 2011 9:05 pm

    Ahhhh, so much useful information!! – so firstly, Thank you!!

    I was just curious to know what you’d recommend females wearing? Same as the males? Or whether they should have a different dress code? (or, like stick to the t-shirt and jean combo if they are students).

    As bad as it sounds… my mum takes great pride in buying my clothes (vs me who despises clothes shopping), however the clothes are a much more designer-y, bright coloured girly and over-the-top then what the average developer would wear. Do you think it would intimidate people when trying to network, or would it come under the β€œeccentric” type?
    And if so, should I stick with what I got, or try and buy some more normal looking clothes?

    (If it relevent, I’m a maths and computer science student who generally carries around too much stuff like cameras and laptops… I’m also very awkward!)

    But yes – thank you once again! ^_^

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