Geek Women & Image

Always interesting blog The Hathor Legacy (about female characters in fiction and media) sent me on an interesting surfing journey today via their “Links of Great Interest.” I ended up at the fabulous new (to me) Geek Feminism Blog, reading a series of posts on Clothes and Geek Feminism.

The question is, professionally and personally, how do we as geeky women have to dress to fit in? And, as a follow-on, do we have to follow some unwritten dress code? The string of articles I’m referencing suggest that women might need to dress in a deliberately unfeminine and minimally businesslike manner to gain acceptance as a geek in the workplace.

I self-identify as a woman and a geek, and as so many other things as well. I’m creative, a bit of a nonconformist, a SF/fantasy fan, a traveler and an active person. My IT workplace has no dress code, other than business casual – very casual – and we spiff it up when we’re facing customers.

I have never found that I have to dress down, dress androgynously, for acceptance. I do think that an extreme pre-occupation with shoes, clothes and makeup would be counterproductive. Some worry about dressing like a manager vs. dressing like a hands on technical or knowledge worker – I’m not certain whether that can be a good thing or a bad thing. Still, I can wear feminine styles, colors, prints, skirts and heels as long as I’m able to do my job effectively.

Jeri SkirtDressing in flattering clothing is especially important to me because I’m a larger woman. I’m, err, Amazonian. Statuesque. I’ll never be small, although I can and do strive for healthy and fit. Presenting myself to the world with good grooming and in carefully chosen, attractive, appropriate attire is part of maintaining my self-esteem, of accepting myself and caring for myself on a daily basis.

I did make a conscious decision many years ago to dress in a more feminine style in the workplace. It’s who I am. While I enjoy the camaraderie of my male professional friends very much, I do not want to dress like nor be one of the guys. There’s a difference and it’s a very entertaining part of life.

This is not to be confused with excessively provocative or sexual attire in the workplace. One of my friends mentioned this a couple of months ago in a comment thread, and honestly, it had never occurred to me. I dress for my own pleasure and comfort, not to attract or repel others’ attention. Still, very low-cut, tight or sheer clothing is out of line and tremendously distracting in any professional setting, geeky or not. It’s quite possible to dress like a woman without dressing like a whore.

What about you – do you dress down to be accepted as a geek? Do you feel that there is a dress code for management “suits” and another for geeks? Or do you do your own thing, comfortable in your presentation, and the heck with what anyone thinks?

And men, weigh in here too. Do you notice what women wear as it pertains to professional credibility? Would you listen to a woman in a pink fuzzy sweater as readily as one wearing a black shirt with a flash drive on a lanyard?

8 Responses to “Geek Women & Image”

  1. Random Michelle Says:

    Wait! I thought the whole point of being a geek was NOT having a dress code, and NOT giving a rats patootie about dressing to fit in?

    I work with users, so I am supposed to dress nicely and semi-professionally, however, I have a lot of leeway in my “dress code.” My preference is to dress in black and white, with a colorful scarf thrown in if I need to give a presentation. Because I feel comfortable dressed in this manner. As far as I’m concerned, that’s what being a geek is–being comfortable in my own skin and clothing without having to worry what anyone else thinks.

    I am who I am, and if someone thinks I don’t dress geeky enough, that is THEIR problem, not mine.

  2. Janiece Says:

    Hm. Interesting.

    Since I’m V.O. full time, I wear shorts and T’s. Or jeans and T’s. Or on really cold days, sweats and T’s. But I suspect that’s not what you meant.

    However, when I had to go into an office every day, it appeared that the engineering staff dressed in a slightly less formal manner than the account managers. The women engineers dressed slightly less girly than the women account managers, the men engineers wore dockers and the men account managers wore slacks, for example. All of us were in sales, though, so we tended to dress more formally than business casual attire.

    Now, when I see customers or attend a conference, I tend to dress half-way between business casual and business formal. I like heels, but only if they’re comfortable and allow me to walk for a reasonable distance (Fluevog’s FTW!). My skirts are longer now that I’m in my 40′s, but I prefer slacks.

    I just realized – none of the above addresses my geek cred. Do I even GET geek cred, since I work in sales?

  3. Jeri Says:

    Michelle, you’ve put your finger on it more accurately than I have – I’ve always thought the geek ‘culture’, if there is one, is all about supporting individuality and nonconformity, being comfortable and being truly ourselves.

    Janiece, we’ve discussed this before: you don’t work *in* sales, you support sales with your awesome technical chops. ;)

  4. Carol Elaine Says:

    I work at one of the geekiest places on earth, where there doesn’t seem to be an actual dress code (I’ve seen anything from slacks, dress shirt and tie to shorts, flip flops and t-shirt). But as a secretary for a program office manager, I am expected by my boss to present a professional appearance, so I do. Plus it’s how I feel comfortable in the workplace. I like blazers because I look good in them. I usually wear pants, but even when I wear jeans I dress them up with a nice top and shoes. I wear flats most of the time, but only because my ankles aren’t happy otherwise.

    So, I don’t know if I have work geek cred, because what I do isn’t geeky of itself, but it sure deals with geeky subjects. But my clothes, while professional, are still definitely feminine, because that’s who I am: a girly girl who loves geeky things.

  5. Vince Says:

    Long ago and far away, when I worked in a corporate IT shop, suits, ties and dress shirts were required. Prior to that, I worked for a small outfit and no tie, suit, or even sport coat was required.

    Now, I wear what I want, making sure it’s clean and in good repair. No one cares, as long as I do my job.

    As for “geek” cred, I don’t dress for it, and don’t care. I wear what makes me comfortable and happy. My geek cred comes from my work history and skills. As for judging someones cred based on how they dress, clothes don’t make the person, at least in my world. Geek cred comes from skills and at least some ability to use those skills in the real world.

    This, of course, only applies in the work world. Geek in the non-work world has different standards for me, but again, how a person dresses has no bearing, at least for me.

  6. Anne C. Says:

    I think “geek” is becoming mainstream enough (look at the “geek” shows: Chuck, Big Bang Theory, etc.) that it’s much more self conscious now. Similarly to when “alternative” becomes mainstream. Now you have cool geek icons to emulate.

    Interestingly, at my office (which has a very liberal dress code — dress as you like, but spiff up for clients), women are much more likely to dress in the traditional office-wear, while the men wear coo-lots and flip flops. (I think it comes down to habitual privilege, with a big dose of cultural conditioning.) I dress as Jeri does, in a way that makes me feel happy, professional, confident, etc. I spent plenty of time in shapeless androgynous clothes when I was in high school, thankyouverymuch, and I don’t need more. For me (and I’m not saying this applies to others), it was a defensive mechanism. Plus, I had an experience early in my career (when I made a pittance, had no fashion sense, and no money for clothes) in which I was invited by a boss to attend a client-related something-or-other. I felt horribly embarrassed by the worn shoes and slouchy student-like clothes I was wearing. The boss didn’t say anything at all, bless him, but I was very self-conscious. My profession, while having its eccentrics, does present itself more formally than purely technical folks do.

    And I don’t self identify as a geek, since I’m too much a jack of all trades. I appreciate geeks intensely, however! :D

  7. Bill Says:

    My company has a dress code that is basically business casual. Luckily, being the local boss I can set a local code that is at least as high as the company code. For men it’s easy – dockers and a shirt with buttons is the minimum. For women I don’t know how to describe the equivalent. Help describing this would be appreciated.

    The real rule that I want people to live by is to be dressed as well as everyone else in the room. If that means a suit and tie, that’s what it means. If everyone else is in blue jeans then they should apply the minimum company standard.

    It may be old fashioned, but I want my team noticed for how they dress.

  8. WendyB_09 Says:

    My last corporate geek-job was, well, corporate. As we were in IT, we could get away with a bit – shirt & tie for the guys, suits or separates for the ladies. As we were part of a hospital & medical research facility, ladies were still expected to wear hosiery of some description. I kept a blazer on hand at all times, I was the one who got along with all the CEO & all the Veeps and usually got sent upstairs to triage issues.

    I stopped wearing the occassional skirt the day I walked into a co-workers office as she, in her very fitted skirt, was running cables for a new device and was ass-up under her desk. As I quickly shut her door, she wanted to know why. Well, sweetie, you don’t really want the CIO to see your lovely teal undies as he goes by. Oops.

    When we merged with a larger company, their IT was in Dockers & golf shirts, so we followed their rules. Still had to dress corporately if we were attending the board meetings, but we liked the casual comfort, especially when installing equipment.

    Fast forward to now. Although still a geek, I’ve been out of direct IT for nearly 10 years. Every job I’ve had since then has been business casual. Slacks, golf shirts, solid tees, turtlenecks in winter. As I take public transit, I stick with sturdy running shoes to protect my feet, take a change of shoes if sneakers won’t be appropriate. Always neat & clean & well repaired. I’m in the process now of replacing items that got worn out during last year’s un/underemployment.

    Interesting thing is I’ve been a paralegal for most of that time, a profession that traditionally is pretty formal business attire. We’re a very small firm – just the boss & me, so it’s only when we have to go to court that we “dress to impress.” Comfortable casual the rest of the time. The two attorneys we share space with frequently show up in golf-course ready shorts or jeans when they’re not meeting clients.

    I’ve been amused to note that even the massive law firm to the gods across the street has simplified support staff dress code these days. This is a firm that passed on me for an IT Trainer position a while back because I wore a (very dressy) pantsuit for my interview. Dept manager was very old school and required her “girls” to be in dresses, hose and heels at all times. Um…NO. Glad I didn’t get that job, I’d have hated it.