I’ve got some general questions regarding dress code…
I’ve never been terribly observant regarding fashion matters, but it seems to me that male geeks can get away with a much sloppier wardrobe than female geeks. Is that just my impression or have others noticed anything similar?
What’s considered a suitable professional wardrobe for front-line geek feminists trying to be taken seriously?
“…I suggest that manners and etiquette, like language and fashion, are fundamental means of communication and self-expression. And, as with language and fashion, manners and etiquette adapt effortlessly to social change.” John Morgan, introduction to Debrett’s New Guide to Etiquette and Modern Manners, 2001.
On the heels (no pun intended) of my post about girls, stereotyping and the colour pink (‘Does It Mean A Thing If It â€˜Ainâ€™t Got Pink Bling? Gender Differences, Toys And The Psychology Of Color‘) – apparently Barbie’s now an engineer? Sign Of The Times: Barbieâ€™s A Tech Geek:
Mattel put the selection of Barbieâ€™s 125th career in the hands of online voters for the first time… To create an authentic look for techie Barbie, designers worked with the Society of Women Engineers and the National Academy of Engineering to develop the wardrobe and accessories for the doll. She wears a binary code patterned T-shirt and is equipped with the latest gadgets including a smart phone, Bluetooth headset and laptop travel bag.
It’s interesting that they have the endorsement of the Society of Women Engineers and National Academy of Engineering in the creation (as I look at the doll, I notice that the article forgot to also mention the vibrant pink high-heels, laptop-logo and glasses – what, no contact lenses?).
I guess I’m in favor of changes to a doll which has traditionally perpetuated a rather narrow-portrayal of women – and yet it’s still limited by its portrayal of ‘geek-chic’. The blog post title says ‘Barbie as Tech-Geek’ – why not Barbie as educated or technical-savvy? Why is one of the most popular dolls on the planet (arguably, the most popular) – still posed on her toes and biologically impossible?
And what on earth does it mean to be ‘geek-chic’ anyway? Apart from sounding rather nifty when you say it aloud?
I’m going to see if, by responding to this question by a reader, I can address not only how to be taken seriously as a ‘front-line geek feminist’ – but also how to maintain a standard of comfort that is (quite frankly) essential to a woman who has plenty of ‘geeky’ passions that occupy her time and keep her on her biologically-accurate toes.
Despite the adage ‘never judge a book by its cover’ – we do. Some companies do have a written dress code, some rules are unwritten and we follow the lead of senior management when considering building our wardrobe.
We’re not dolls. But we’re can’t ignore that there are eyes upon us that ponder ‘Maybe I can be like her one day – and doesn’t it look fine to be her?’
I should point out (and I snapped my fingers with a ‘jinx!’, as another question submitted quoted this exact same study!) that we cannot ignore the influence of environmental factors for both men and women, who are interested in choosing technical-related fields as a career – ‘Of girls and geeks: Environment may be why women don’t like computer science‘:
“These studies suggest objects such as science fiction books and Star Trek posters communicate whether or not a person belongs in an environment. “Instead of trying to change the women who do not relate to the stereotype, our research suggests that changing the image of computer science so that more women feel they fit in the field will go a long way to recruiting them into computer science,” said Cheryan.
“We want to attract more people to computer science. The stereotype is not as alienating to men as women, but it still affects them as well. A lot of men may also be choosing to not enter the field because of the stereotype. We need to broaden the image of the field so both women and men feel more welcome. In workplaces and universities we can do this by changing the way offices, hallways and labs look. The media can also play a role by updating the image of computer science. It would be nice for computer scientists in movies and television to be typical people, not only computer geeks.”
While this clearly refers to the office environment in terms of the image it portrays… what of the image we portray?
My job has had a rather odd byproduct over the years – I’ve ended up collecting a few etiquette guides. One that I’m particularly fond of is ‘Debrett’s Guide’, simply because one of the key points they make is the idea that manners involves ‘making everyone comfortable‘. I have taught for the last decade in all-female schools, which have annual ‘etiquette’ classes for students before they attend the graduation ball. The lecturers for the session talk about how they have advised on functions attended by royalty, red-carpet and dinner parties, what is correct address, how to use cutlery and even the right way to interact with others.
Students are intrigued. Even if they choose to not attend the ball, they ask questions about behaviour and expected standards at formal events. What is paramount? Respect for fellow attendees – ‘even the Queen has in mind that the rule is to make everyone feel as included as possible, and that also means the way you dress and act’.
Maybe it’s old-fashioned, outdated, a remnant of a best-forgotten era… but I think I learned something from the experience that I carry with me in my professional life.
You have to be comfortable. There is no point in being distracted from the important things in your life by a impractical item of clothing that has you pulling or tugging. But it’s vital, in my opinion, to make other people comfortable about how you dress as well – to make a statement about how you should be viewed in a symbolic fashion via – fashion.
I personally view ‘geek-chic’ as standing up for your priority to be polished both professionally and in the way you present yourself.
Firstly, there’s the notion of the ‘capsule wardrobe’ – which depend entirely on your lifestyle. In essence, it’s the idea of having a handful of items that are fairly easy to dress up or dress down. It’s dependent on cost, it’s dependent on how far you’re willing to search for items and you shouldn’t feel as if you’re limited to just plain colours or styles just because they’re ‘in fashion’ or ‘they’re safe’.
Looking your best, week after week, requires finding colours that will team happily together, making interesting combinations from a limited number of pieces and finding what suits you in terms of those. Using a mirror that you can see all of yourself in, assess what meets this criteria. Black may always be back – but so can be navy, camel, dark grey, khaki, beige and taupe, brown and dove grey. Patterns and designs are a great way of bringing these together in a more interesting way, but then, I’ve been known to spend more on t-shirts with logos, than shoes.
It essentially boils down to deciding:
1) What makes you comfortable? Your typical ‘range’ when it comes to clothing? Pick out three to four favorite items from your wardrobe that you’d wear to work and brainstorm variations.
For example, in my wardrobe – black pants, black boots, a buttoned-up long-sleeve shirt. I’m comfortable in these items – the pants are baggy enough to either keep me warm or cool in a variety of conditions. My boots – I can stand in these for hours and they keep my toes warm when getting to and when working in the office. The shirt covers my arms, it’s got a nice pattern on it and I can leave it buttoned or unbuttoned as I wish (it’s a man’s shirt, in fact).
So – what are some common factors? Obviously comfort. And then I realise that I do a lot more moving about than I realise in these items. I get public transport, I run to meetings, I’m moving through crowded rooms and although I’m sometimes at a desk, I don’t like to be kept limited by what I’m wearing when I have important things to get done.
Therefore – it’s not only warmth, but practicality. So why not skirts that are A-line, or long, with slits in them (I have few ‘tango-style’ dresses that do this) which allow me to move fast and unhindered when needed?I added bright tank tops and chemises under my long-sleeved shirts. I began looking at the boots I liked and started researching ones that could have a heel and yet were well constructed to handle my busy lifestyle and not hurt my feet.
Why a heel at all? Well, I’m a ballroom dancer and for me, being comfortable in heels helps me on the dance floor. I tend more towards retro-designs, as in the picture – ribbons as ties, patent leather that has a nice sheen. When you’re just after an added decoration to lift a look, consider items like scarves, or subversive decoration, such as jewelry by KissyFace, which features Carl Sagan on a broach.
I can’t be fussed with my hair that often – so I use colourful and interesting-looking headbands and bandannas to keep my hair back (and out of the way of my work). If I’m styling it long, I often use the classic chignon style and spike an interesting item like chopsticks, arty-looking pencils or even a stylus through it.
I look for sturdy, interesting handbags that can sensibly hold necessary items and avoid juggling too much technology by having an attractive laptop bag with compartments. I have three in everyday use – the basic handbag, one for portfolios and work-related items that are A4 size (usually I keep these in cardboard folders so I can tuck them in neatly) and the laptop bag. Note – interesting, useful handbag does not necessarily mean ‘has a fashion label’. I wear a coat with a good lining and is a larger size, as I know that I may have to put it on over other items and that it needs to be strong to put up with a few seasons wear.
More often than not, when I find I am just too comfortable with something – I have to recognise that a much loved item of clothing has indeed had its day and either dye it a different colour or find something similar and new. I’d rather be breaking in something new that I’m proud to wear, than hanging onto something fraying because I’m letting it dictate my look. It’s not doing either of us any favors!
2) What’s the message you’d like people to have about you if asked about your style?
I know that on occasion, I like it when people recognise that I support certain causes or groups, that I’m a fan of certain sites or shows – or even that I work for a particular company. So, I’ll wear short sleeve shirts with a long waistcoat or jacket – so the logo is obvious but I’ve subtly dressed up my overall appearance. I’m honest about what colours I like and if I can, I’ll add something that’s red or silver in some form (such as a watch-band, glasses-case, a hair-tie) in recognition of that.
If I’m wearing boots or shoes – they’re shined. If I’m asked to present on something, I have a jacket that I can throw over anything and it is recognisably more formal than my usual office wear – so people know that I’m representing my team. Shoe-polish, ironed shirts (or better, items that don’t wrinkle!), tucked-in shirts, replacing socks and stockings when they get holes in them (I keep a spare pair in my desk) are standards that I’d think could be maintained by anyone in my office – learn the settings on the washing machine / care instructions, it saves a lot of time on wear, tear and eventual cost!
I like to think that ‘polished’ is a message that people would have about both me and my work. Sometimes the neighborhood dry-cleaning place can help with that.
3) What’s your budget?
I’ll save up, I’ll use eBay and I’ll check out second-hand if need be (sales I usually avoid, as I more often than not make big mistakes!) – but I won’t settle for cheaper items with poorer quality material or colours or style that don’t suit me, just because everyone says ‘but an office needs a skirt-suit’. Quality is better than quantity – just as a man uses ties, pocket handkerchiefs and socks to change the ‘tone’ of an outfit, consider jewelery, socks and tights, hair ties and belts.
I was pushed into buying a cheap peppermint-coloured jacket and skirt when I first got a job, and it was never worn. I was told a certain hairstyle was ‘in’ and that high-heeled Mary Jane shoes were standard-fare. They’re not. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you must have something and put yourself out financially to ‘be in’.
I look for what I like and if I do think I’ll get significant wear out of something (and this doesn’t happen very often), I’ll buy two of an item and put one aside. I recently brought two nice, good quality cardigans from one particular label, in two different colours, for example, and plan to return for another when there’s a sale on in the store.
I wear my USB key on a attractive laynard or necklace and I cheer myself up by wearing the bowler hat on the way into work on occasion. Maybe I’m quirky that way, but for me, it’s a nod to an earlier version of Debrett’s, when bowler hats were often worn on the buses and trains heading to work.
Cheryan S, Plaut VC, Davies PG, & Steele CM (2009). Ambient belonging: how stereotypical cues impact gender participation in computer science. Journal of personality and social psychology, 97(6), 1045-60 PMID: 19968418