I don’t often talk about my non-blogging career because for the most part, this blog covers fashion and travel. I never felt like anyone would be interested in my corporate career commentaries. As I’ve talked to more of what I’m calling “corporate bloggers” (women like myself that have a foot in the corporate world and also the fashion realm), we all seem to be in the same status quo boat.
Let me start with an anecdote. The summer before I started my job in tech, I went shopping. I had heard all about the Mark Zuckerberg clones that wore a uniform of t-shirts, jeans, sneakers, and sweatshirts. I’ve always had the motto that you should dress for the role you want, not the role you have. I was determined to at least err on the side of professional. Over the course of a few months, my closet started filling up with kitten heels, well-structured fashionable blazers, and tailored pants that all said professional without being lawyer-accountant stuffy. My first day of work I was so proud of my look. It was a searsucker “suit” that said fun, but ready for business. Let’s just say that after my second week, the half of my closet that I so carefully put together started collecting dust. Why? Well, the tech status quo.
I saw the stares of people probably thinking “what is she wearing?” and the double glances as I walked to the break room for coffee. I wasn’t falling in line with the status quo, and already as already a minority in the tech world, my clothing was making me feel very Elle-Woods-starts-her-internship-at-the-law-firm uncomfortable. Let me put it bluntly – I felt like I was stupid or that I gave off an air of stupidity for caring about my appearance. It was like I showed up to a school with a uniform and was wearing all wrong everything. I’d only meant my clothing to represent the respect I had for the profession, which obviously didn’t translate. So of course, I pulled out my jeans, and didn’t feel comfortable wearing more than a cardigan.
Here’s the thing, I feel like there’s a double standard. If you nestle too much into the tech uniform, that puts you in the camp of being a slob. One time I threw my hair into a pony tail and skipped the makeup since I was running late. Let me tell you, three people asked me if I was feeling okay.
Let me pause and say I have met so many women that have shared the same experiences in the industry. This isn’t limited to one company – this is happening at the start ups, at the Googles, the Amazons, the Microsofts. There’s a double standard that you need to conform, but not conform too much. It’s confusing and honestly frustrating, because men never have to deal with this problem. No one is going to think “he can’t do his job because he’s too dressed up/dressed down.”
I’ve had coffee with women afraid of dressing up for the office because they’re afraid of being seen as narcissistic or stupid. But they’re also afraid of trying to be a man in a world that is mostly men. (The average tech company has 30% women and 70% men). I know because I have been one of those woman. As the month’s have gone by, I have slowly started returning to the other side of my closet because I have had a realization. As women we need to empower each other. We need to break the status quo. But not only that, it’s silly trying to be a knockoff of something that is already saturated in the market. It’s like walking into the Chanel store and trying to trick the salespeople into thinking that your YSL cross body is the exact same as the Chanel quilted caviar bag. Like LOL no. They’re both great bags, but you can’t pretend to be something you’re not. Back to breaking the status quo.
In order to do that, you need to be yourself. You need to take ownership of being a powerful woman. We are unique, and we were hired to be unique individuals, and not conform to the herd. We should wear what makes us feel beautiful and strong without concerning ourselves with what others might think. At the end of the day, your great work speaks for itself, am I right? It takes one woman to make a difference. One woman that says, I’m going to wear heels today. I’m going to wear a nice blouse. I can almost guarantee that others will stand with you.
So, I will admit. There are days where I throw on an oversized sweater and my Nike Frees because I know it’s going to be a long day and I have too much to do to be concerned with what I’m wearing. But on most days I try to revisit the part of my closet that I’ve so carefully curated. And I will say, I have had women that I don’t even know at the office come up to me and compliment me. I like to take that as a nod from them in agreement – that slowly, but surely we can break through the status quo one brooch or blazer at a time.
This post has been created in collaboration with Pinup Darling, an online women’s boutique. Photography courtesy of Karya Schanilec Photography
Have you experienced this? What are your thoughts on the topic?