This question isn’t exactly part of the ask a geek feminist series, but it did appear in the comment thread for the ask a geek feminist question about how to dress, which I re-addressed from another perspective here.
How do you know that youâ€™re not taken less seriously as a woman technologist if you worry about your appearance and how you dress?
But I really do think geekdom works in our favour here because we as geeks tend to want to believe that appearance doesn’t matter. You might have to wear the geek uniform sometimes, or you might have to prove yourself intellectually when you start the job, but once you’re accepted, geeks are more likely to be forgiving/oblivious if you want to dress up some. (Remember some geeky accents like jewelry can work geek into your professional look, so you can be geeky and dress up if you want.)
But there are limits: you’re probably not going to get dinged for dressing well, but you will get dinged if you talk about it all the time, or you fail on the practical front and refuse to pick up a dusty router lest you muss your dry-clean-only blouse. It’s different for men in America, especially those working physical jobs, since US workmen need tough shoes if we want houses that won’t collapse in on our heads in the middle of the night at random. But for a girl, anything like fashion blogs at work? Also a no-no. Looking good is usually fine, obsessing over it when you could be obsessing over something more geeky… not so much. Just shrug and say you felt like dressing up; don’t tell your colleagues if you’re always spending hours at the mall searching for the perfect sweater.
Not everyone who sees you at work is necessarily going to be a fellow geek, and that’s where things can get messy. Others may judge you based on what they feel is appropriate business attire for women, not what they’re willing to let other geeks “get away with.” While it might not always influence how you’re perceived on a technical level, what you wear may impact other professional development.
If you’re one of few women in your group, you may find you stand out no matter what you do: even wearing the standard geek uniform isn’t going to help you fit in if it’s clear that you’re shorter/curvier/use the other washroom. This can be a curse, but it can also be a blessing: people aren’t going to expect that you look like all the others, so you don’t have to wear tech t-shirts every day. You may be able to choose and set the standard for women in your group, once you’ve decided what it should be. This gives you a unique chance to really set the tone for your professional dress.
Use your judgement and ask around: your age, location, company may all factor in not only to what you should wear, but also how different clothes will be perceived. But in my experience, there’s more flexibility for women’s appearance within geekdom than you might expect, maybe even more flexibility than the men have!