I got to thinking about my appearance a while ago which is something I don't do too often. My whole life I've never cared to do much more than put on jeans and a t-shirt and go about my business. I usually have a beard and wear my hair long. I've always worked jobs where this is acceptable (touche Mr Guidance Councellor!) and in fact it often kind of helps peoples' expectations of you if you already look like a carpenter or a roadie or whatever. It has mostly proved that the people I've worked for either haven't judged me by my cover, or that they have and were either correct in their assumptions or I proved them wrong. Yeah, I'm the guy in the Motörhead shirt at your church event, but I'm just in the back making it sound great so whatever. You can make all the arguments you want about professional appearance, but ten seconds of talking to some schween of a sound guy in a tie will have you looking around for the guy in cargo shorts who actually knows what the heck he's talking about.
That said, I've had it work out pretty well to look a bit imposing. It's said that guys with beards appear less happy, and are generally perceived to be a little bit sinister. Long hair, earrings, tattoos, black clothing with skulls on it, these things have always been the tell tale signs of a rebel. With musicians and promoters of a somewhat sinister nature approaching me all the time, it goes a little better for me if they don't realize right away that I'm about to become their best friend. I like to have the opportunity to put someone a little on edge and wait to see if they're going to be a jerk. If they're not, it only takes a few seconds of talking to me to find out that I'm friendly and getting ready to help them have a great show.
I've even taken it a step farther. I'm a little bit Scottish and when I heard about a rigging crew that wore kilts to the gig I jumped right on it. My partner and I wear the kilt all summer and besides keeping you way cooler than shorts, it's a heck of a way to gain the respect of those around you. Not only does it tend to generate smiles among the patrons, but if you happen to get into a dispute with someone and they start to get agitated that's when the intimidation factor kicks in. I'm 6'2" (1.9m) tall and weigh 163 pounds (74 kilo) fully dressed and soaking wet. It's all manner of fun to watch as someone who thinks they're going to push around this bean-pole sound guy have the realization dawn on them that they're getting into an altercation with a guy in a kilt. Yeah, that guy's wearing what basically amounts to a skirt, in public, and he's not bothered by it. There may in fact be a glint of ancient Scottish warriors in his eyes and maybe I should go double check my rider before this goes any farther...
There's all kinds of things you can do to generate a little healthy respect that aren't quite so intimidating. After all, not every gig can handle a kilted sound guy, or one with a bone through his nose or whatever. One of my favorite examples is walking into a venue and shouting, "Hey! Where's the house sound guy?" and having a girl answer. Right way I'm on my guard because honestly, I instantly figure that any woman in a job like that is likely very much on her game and at least twice as tough as any guy in the same position. So, all you female engineers, you've got that going for you.
But really, what it all comes down to is, it's just nice to work in an industry where you can pretty much dress how you want and do your job. I run into people in suits and people in hemp fiber shorts. It takes all kinds and there's generally a spirit of working together on most gigs, no matter what clothes people are wearing or how big the holes in their ears. If there's a little intimidation involved it's really only superficial. For me, the intimidating thing is running into someone who's vastly more experienced than I am. Luckily, they usually share the same ideals of working together and making the gig great.
So that's that my fellow Brethren of the Knob and Fader. Hit the comments section and throw in your own ideas.