Feature Blogger: Riley McGaff


I am very excited to post this feature piece by Riley McGaff, an extremely talented Seattle-based designer and insightful writer when it comes to style and professionalism in the world of graphic design. For more of his work and insight, check out his design website and his newly launched blog focusing on graphic design through a scientific lens.


As a recent graduate, I have read millions of articles and listened to hours of advice on how to have a successful interview in the graphic design industry. One thing that I have noticed that is quite a bit different from the hiring process in other industries is centered around clothes. As designers we have this culture around clothes. We, like many in the tech industry, are envisioned by others wearing jeans and graphic tees, and yet is that the truth? For some yes, but others no, but for all, we craft our appearance. What is it that graphic designers do? Graphic designers convey information from one source to the target audience through a multitude of methods, and clothes are no different. I don't mean to say that non-designers don't tailor the appearance, far from it, but graphic designers have the tools necessary to convey themselves to the world at large.

Be yourself, and use your clothes to show them even more about who you are.
 Photo by:  AIGA  

Photo by: AIGA 

I attended the AIGA Seattle Centennial Gala & Fellowship award ceremony at the Seattle Art Museum. On the event's page, casual cocktail attire was recommended, but many people didn't even know what that meant in terms of attire. From 3-piece suits, ties, bow ties, dresses, and high heels, all the way to frayed t-shirts, faded jeans and converse. Seeing all of the combinations next to each other was quite interesting. I was located on the suit and tie side. The reason I bring up this event, is because of the amount of influence that my outfit had over the way that my night went. 

Photo: (Left) Riley McGaff, (Right) Allison Wagner

Here is a quick run down of my outfit for that night:

  • Light gray sport coat
  • Light gray slacks
  • Dark teal dress shirt
  • White silk tie with onyx tie tack
  • White silk pocket square
  • Medium brown leather wing-tip oxfords

While picking out my outfit I honestly wasn't sure if it looked weird or interesting. It was bolder than I usually wear since I am an introvert when it comes to meeting new people, which added another level of uncertainty about wearing it. Yet it was probably one of my best decisions. Since this event was an amazing networking opportunity where I would meet many people, I wanted to stand out, look put together, but still look like a designer. 

In designer terms, the outfit had some good contrast, a good palette, and witheld it’s integrity from a distance, but had more details when looked at up close.

The second I entered the door, one of the volunteers checking people in literally stopped what she was doing, gave me a once over and said "Wow! You are bringing it tonight!" I counted at least four people that actually came up to me to give me a compliment on my outfit, and others who came up to me to network, later admitted to having wanted to see my outfit up close. One of the AIGA Seattle board members even stopped in his search for a fellow board member to tell me that he had seen me at the event a few times and each time thought of how dapper I looked. 

As a person of the quiet, unimposing, and meek wallflower history, this event made me realize how much impact a single outfit can have. It gave me the power to not have to approach as many people, but have people approach me.

2014 Seattle AIGA Gala. ©2014 Ian Spiers

Your clothes convey so much about yourself to the outside world. Whether your style is graphic tee and faded/ripped jeans, or slacks and blazers, wear whatever you are comfortable in. In an interview or networking you want to exude as much confidence as you have got, and if you are uncomfortable in a suit and tie, you will show that discomfort.

Be yourself. Go out and show the world who you are.
Allison WagnerComment