I worked in a technology company as a software development intern. At the end of the internship, my manager praised me for my technical and communication skills, however, he said I should pay more attention to what I wear.

He said that although our company has a very casual dress code, I still shouldn't dress like I'm in college because I look way too young and not professional enough. I have to admit that I didn't pay attention to what I wore during the internship. I was lazy and just wore the same clothes as I did in college.

There are a lot of reasons I don't like "professional clothing", mostly because I prefer Asian style clothes which tend to make girls look younger and cuter. Most importantly, I don't want to spend money and time on maintaining clothes, and most professional clothing needs a lot of maintenance. I'm too busy/lazy to hand wash and iron my clothes everyday, or send clothes for dry cleaning. And you can't really wear these clothes at non-work occasions, so they waste a lot of space.

I really want get promoted and be recognized as a capable engineer which means if people judge others by clothing in workplace, I have to accept the rules of the game.

I am very professional and ambitious about my programming career, and don't want my taste in clothing to hinder it. Do people actually take the dress code that seriously in the software industry?

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    How certain are you that guys where you did your internship aren't given the same lecture?
    – JB King
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 8:47
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    I think we are starting to need a sense of what you are actually wearing here to answer this one well. What are cute clothes to you? Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 14:17
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    Did you manager actually say you shouldn't wear dresses? Or it is your interpretation of his words (as you mentioned s.o. else wear dresses)? Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 14:27
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    Are you sure he was telling you that because he didn't like your dress code, or because he was worried others wouldn't like it? For all I can tell, he might've been giving you the advice for your own sake (i.e. so you can be taken seriously in the future by other people) rather than for the company's sake.
    – user541686
    Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 2:27
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    The question is, will you be evaluated on the possibility of client interaction? If so you might be shooting yourself in the foot. I would tend to wear geeky fun tee shirts, until I realized I was being passed over for not being presentable to clients, it was not that I would not have dressed up if required, it was that my bosses just couldn't think of me in a suit.
    – kleineg
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 15:17

14 Answers 14


Most people have said to just lay low and do what your manager suggested. I will give a different perspective from my understanding of feminism:

The (perceived) problem is that women are not accepted as capable programmers because they don't fit the stereotype. The dilemma is, do we dress the way the stereotype dictates, or do we dress like ourselves? If we do the former, we show that women can also fit the stereotype, if we do the latter, we show that women do not have to fit the stereotype to be capable.

  • Which one is more revolutionary for society as a whole?
  • Which one is more difficult?
  • Which one is more likely to benefit the individual directly?
  • Which one is radical and which one is a baby step?

I don't have the answers to these question, but it's not obvious to me that wearing clothes you don't want in order to fit it, is going to make it easier for the women after you to be accepted. It may make it easier for you as an individual.

I suggest getting a female mentor to ask her this question. Maybe pick up a copy of Lean In and read through it with critical eyes. Please do not take to heart any of the advice going to the direction "change yourself to appease the company" especially since you have options and could take your pick of jobs and office cultures.

Now, to answer the question in bold, "do people take taste in clothing seriously in the computer science industry", some do, and some don't (a lot of answers highlight this already) and it's a good idea to ask beforehand, and also several people, so that one person's preference/bias (which may or may not be the case with your manager) does not get to influence you completely. There is also the flipside of this - some people also take into account your energy as a person, and this may be muted or altered if you are in clothes you don't want to be in, but naturally there is a balance to be found between personal expression & fitting in with a company culture. In my experience with startups and Google, clothes don't matter as long as you don't face clients. Especially at Google you can be as quirky as you want, and change haircolor every week. :)

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    The OP chose the answer they wanted to hear, and not the one that the most people think is correct. Women and men alike, we all have to make sacrifices to conform to the social construct of professionalism that previous generations have created. I don't agree with it. But within reason, conforming shows that you are a team player and more serious about doing your job by the standards of the team than flaunting your identity. On the clock, which one should take priority? Commented Apr 2, 2022 at 4:56

I have been a software engineer for 30+ years, and a woman for longer than that, so I can assure you it really matters. If you want to be treated the same as the men - who are still the majority - then try and look like them; if this means smart jeans and ironed shirt then that's just part of the job. If you want to be taken seriously, then look serious. Sorry. If you just want to look cute then you will be treated like a bimbo. We have had a long succession of female interns, and the ones they want to keep are not the ones in stiletto heels or corsage tops. As a matter of fact the older men in particular hate the giggly cuties in mini-skirts, because they stop the younger men from working, and cause rivalry and mating rituals.

We've got plenty of interns to choose from, so we don't need to keep ones we don't care for, that includes slobs, bores, troublemakers, and yes, sexy pussycats.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Jane S
    Commented Jul 14, 2018 at 22:54
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    "Rivalry and mating rituals" You have a talent for words... This is probably the most useful answer here. Not the one OP liked, but the one that will help anyone (man/or women) in the office. Dress for work, don't dress to make a statement.
    – Questor
    Commented May 25, 2023 at 20:38

Yes, it's hard and unfair. It's also true.

The guys wearing jeans and t-shirts look like a common stereotype of a developer. That's why they "get away with it". You, on the other hand, are a woman which means that you already don't match the stereotype. The more you deviate from it the harder it will be for you to get people to take you seriously as a developer. This is especially true if your normal style is coded as "girl clothes" rather than "woman clothes".

Yes, this is hard and unfair and it sucks. It's still true.

When I started out as a sysadmin in my mid-20's, my standard work wear was black jeans and t-shirt, often with a leather vest or a jeans shirt or something else to tone down the secondary female characteristics. In effect, I did my best to downplay my femininity and get as close as possible to what the men in the office wore. Not the other women, because they were admin staff and so not taken seriously by the other sysadmins. (Yes, this also sucks, and is unfair, and also true.)

Now, with nearly two decades of experience, I still find that when I'm in a new environment I do best to go back to basics the first time I meet a new client or a new group of techs. It's black jeans, t-shirt, though nowadays since I'm a senior consultant I'll top it up with a decent jacket rather than a jeans shirt. I've found that it significantly reduces the amount of time until people accept that I actually know my job. Once I'm established I can go back to wearing something more matching my own style, which will usually be a top+skirt or a dress.

So my advice for you when you start out is to go for the same type of clothing as the male techies - jeans and t-shirt if that's what they're wearing, or a closeish approximation thereof. If you don't want to wear trousers, wear a skirt that's in the same style range as jeans - not formal, definitely not short. If you don't want to wear a t-shirt, wear some other top but not too "girlish". Look for materials and styles that don't require ironing - most of mine don't; they're either meant to look crinkly or I just let them hang-dry and that's sufficient.

You don't need to look like the bosses of your company, and you're allowed to have your own style, but the more your style deviates from that of your coworkers, the less accepted you'll be. Again - unfair, hard, - and true.

The more established you are, the more you can flout those norms. You're not there yet.

I'd also like to point you at a great place to get help and advice from other women in tech - the Anita Borg institute has a mailing list called Systers which I've found very helpful. You're very welcome to join!

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    This is basically what I was going to answer. I still wear make up and jewellery and paint my nails, but I wear a tshirt and jeans just because it's easier and people take less time to accept you! Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 15:09
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    There is also a practical aspect - during the last couple of months I had to crawl under my desk several times pulling cables around. Wouldn't feel very comfortable doing this in a short skirt. Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 16:21
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    @WoJ That doesn't only apply to dress style. Being "out" as any form of minority is a lot easier once you're established. I do use my status to push those boundaries, to make it easier for younger people to have a wider range of approved behaviour/dress/lifestyle, but I wouldn't advise or expect anybody to start fighting the boundaries at the same time as they're just starting to establish themselves.
    – Jenny D
    Commented Jul 17, 2014 at 7:58
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    @LegoStormtroopr It depends on the environment. I've been in more than one situation where the "black jeans and T-shirt" is code for "the person who knows what they're talking about" while "business casual" is code for "boss", and suit+tie is code for "salesperson, don't believe a word they say" :-)
    – Jenny D
    Commented Jul 17, 2014 at 8:00
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    @JennyD: totally agree. The subject was on dress code, thus my comment. I remember once hiring someone for a director-equivalent position who was coming to the office in a suit, because of a perceived need to "look good" (in a positive sense) but it was obvious he felt very uncomfortable. I was wearing jeans and t-shirts and told him that he is absolutely free to wear a suit if he really wants to, there is strictly no discrimination on people wearing suits, etc :) I had a chat with him some time ago (10 years after the fact) and he reminded me that day.
    – WoJ
    Commented Jul 17, 2014 at 8:04

No. The dress code depends entirely on the company culture.

Some companies are very strict about the dress code, especially the ones where developers are collocated with salesmen and other people who may interact with the customers. I would expect old, big companies to be like that, but there are many exceptions.

Other companies understand that making the dress code strict will reduce their chances to hire the best developers, and would allow you to dress as casual as you want to, or to express your creativity or personality through your clothes if you want to. I would expect creativity/design/graphics/arts-oriented start-ups to be in this category, but again, exceptions exist.

Also, company culture may change over time. For example, in 1970, most if not all developers at IBM wore suits and ties. But then, things changed:

A dark (or gray) suit, white shirt, and a "sincere" tie was the public uniform for IBM employees for most of the 20th century. During IBM's management transformation in the 1990s, CEO Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. relaxed these codes, normalizing the dress and behavior of IBM employees to resemble their counterparts in other large technology companies. Since then IBM's dress code is business casual although employees often wear business suits during client meetings.

More importantly, consider two points:

  1. Dress code subject may be extremely important for your boss/manager, much more important than for you to spend your personal time to maintain a less casual look. I personally know a few bosses who will fire someone because he/she refuses to follow the dress code, even if he/she is the most talented engineer in the company.

    You may find it stupid, and I do, but still, remember that some care much more about the image of their company rather than the actual value this company produces.

  2. It makes sense to have a dress code independently of company image: it helps people focusing on you as a professional rather than on how you look. This is one of the reasons why barristers and judges have strict dress code, I was told in law school. This is also why it's better to wear the same thing as everybody else during a meeting: you're not here to show how creative you are, but to bring something to the discussion.

    Would it encompass the daily job of a developer? It depends. I'm against forcing people to follow any particular dress code (even if I'm often wearing ones myself), because I know that it will annoy some of the talented people who should be annoyed as less as possible. On the other hand, in some mostly male teams, some women's clothes can indeed be a large distraction.

Finally, you may also be interested in Pirates of Silicon Valley movie. Aside the story of the birth of two giants—Apple and Microsoft, this movie shows extremely well the dress code aspects which, surprisingly, didn't change that much in thirty years. The part where Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were searching for funds and were treated like children by businessmen and bankers is quite illustrative: those people simply won't imagine discussing any business with long-haired, bearded, casually dressed young people, no matter what it was about.

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    ummm, I worked in different research labs for IBM (US and Germany) and neither of them had a "business casual" dress code. Dress code seemed to be "whatever you like" - I saw IBM fellows without shoes (or birkenstock) and with horrible hawaiian shirts all the time. Business casual/suits is the dresscode only for the consultants or other people working with clients directly.
    – dirkk
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 12:03
  • IBM Research is more bohemian/academic than the rest of IBM, which does tend toward the "business casual" convention. Of course these days business casual includes chinos and a respectable shirt. "Strut your stuff on your own time. Sex is forbidden on company property and furniture."
    – keshlam
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 15:05
  • (Whups, correcting that last quote. It should be "... company time and furniture." From a new-hire briefing in the 1980's.
    – keshlam
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 18:56
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    A late mentor of mine worked at an IBM research lab in the mid-60s. He said the researchers had no enforceable dress code, but worked at night. During the day IBM filled the lab with attractive, well-dressed, well-groomed actors to look busy at the chalkboards and equipment so the executives could show them off to clients. Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 19:21
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    “Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were searching for funds and were treated like children by businessmen and bankers” — of course, Jobs was still wearing jeans and New Balance when Apple was making billions every quarter. Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 19:37

As people have already commented this is largely down to the company you're based at. I've worked at companies where shorts and T-shirts are normal summer wear and others where I've been expected to wear shirt/trousers.

Firstly the bad news, what you like to wear to work isn't always acceptable. You wouldn't expect a doctor to wear cute t-shirt, you'd expect them to be in a shirt and tie. You wouldn't expect a teacher to turn up to work wearing a band slogan.

In IT we're often very fortunate and are given a lot of freedom in your attire, however bear in many other professions don't have this freedom and your boss is well within his rights to ask you to appear a little more professional. We're all busy, we all put off the washing - these reasons won't cut it I'm afraid.

However, you're in a slightly different situation because of your gender and (I'm guessing) your ethnicity. You need to determine whether your manager's concerns are based on a disagreement of what's appropriate or because there are different standards for different members of the team.

There could be a number of reasons he's raised it

  • Cute and young may not be the image the company wants to portray
  • He may simply have a different opinion on what's appropriate for your age/gender
  • Are your outfits... distracting... for other members of the team?

My advice would be to look at what other women in the company are wearing (if there aren't any then look at your clients/peers etc). Perhaps pick something and ask your manager "I was looking at getting this for when we need to be a little smarter. What do you think?"

I'm not suggesting you change your style all the time but try and understand why this has been mentioned and realise that the vast majority of employees (including geeks) often have "work clothes".

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    I don't care what my MDs wear as long as they are qualified. In fact, I don't even care if they pierce their noses as long as they act like medical professionals. Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 10:54
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    Great example for the statement that there is no general dresscode per profession :-) "You wouldn't expect a doctor to wear cute t-shirt, you'd expect them to be in a shirt and tie." - I haven't ever seen a (medical) doctor in a shirt and a tie. If anything, the common element seems to be a white lab coat, and also: "You wouldn't expect a teacher to turn up to work wearing a band slogan." - Yes, I totally would and I have had various teachers like that. (Not saying your statements are wrong, this is just to underline that dress codes vary greatly by company and region.) Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 11:50
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    @jwg: not regardless no, it's easy to imagine extremes in which someone is dressing unreasonably and other extremes in which people are paying unhealthy attention to their colleagues' clothes. The problem is that it's difficult even for the experts to define and explain a clear line between the distracter behaving unreasonably, vs. the distractee behaving unreasonably. Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 14:07
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    @SteveJessop you are acting like it's an either/or, but there are two completely separate things. I would never go to work in my underwear. However if someone else in my workplace was in their underwear, it would still me a lapse of my professionalism for me to get distracted by that, of for me to behave inappropriately to that person.
    – jwg
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 14:35
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    You left out a 4th bullet point, likely the real reason. He is interested in giving advice that will further her career. Looking too young (whether you are a male or female, let alone looking too cute) gives less of a professional impression than looking more role appropriate. You may be young and extremely talented but if the first impression is "young" then you immediately are granted less "expertise" by many, if not most, people. Sure u can change their opinion, but you have to work at it. If you look appropriate you are given the expertise benefit of doubt and u have to work to lose it
    – Dunk
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 20:04

There's no universal dress code. Different companies, departments, and even individual managers will have ideas what they require. "Very casual dress code" might sound like it means "wear what you like", but it probably doesn't, it really means "dress a certain amount of scruffy". If you have no scruffy clothes, then strange as it sounds you might have to go out of your way to achieve that. It's just the way it is, managers want the workplace to look a certain way.

However the industry as a whole does have certain styles that it expects to see, and others that it doesn't. Jeans and T-shirt isn't just what many programmers happen to want to wear because they're used to dressing that way in college (and for that matter as children). It's also a specific style that's on the list of those expected, as is "business casual", but for example "evening formal wear" isn't, other than for certain events. If you happen to want to wear an unexpected style then you'll stand out, for better or worse.

Also bear in mind that your manager raised it as you left the internship. It's his advice to you. If it was the dress code he required from you then he'd have mentioned it at the start. That's also why there's no inconsistency between him giving you this advice while being unconcerned about the dude in the dress. Maybe if he was in a position to give that dude career advice, he'd advise different clothes. Maybe he has given that advice and the dude chose to ignore it, we don't know. But your internship manager certainly is in a position to advise you what to wear, and for that matter how to act in the workplace in a whole bunch of different ways, because that's what internship managers do, they mentor you somewhat.

You should probably take what you were told at face value. You should pay some attention to what you wear to work, and you should decide how "young" and how "professional" you want to dress. He thinks you're dressing too young and not professional enough for your own good. He might be right or wrong, but that's for you to judge because he's not talking about merely meeting the dress code, he's talking tactics. Your safest bet in any workplace is to dress the same way slightly more experienced people in similar roles dress. In a software role this is unlikely to be expensive or difficult to maintain, but it's true that you might be hot in summer. If you're going to spend anything, then some lightweight trousers might be a good investment. If you want to progress swiftly to management, then as depressingly shallow as it sounds, dressing a bit more like the managers will probably help somewhat.

As you can see from another answer, if you look too "sexy" then some colleagues, both male and female, will assume that you're (a) stupid, (b) giggly, and (c) there to be exploited. I don't know whether or not your idea of "cute" matches their idea of "sexy", you might be safe on this score. But one of the first things you must do when you start paying attention to what you wear, is to figure that out, because regardless of how unfair (even unlawful) such prejudices are, they exist. You do not want to be slut-shamed in the workplace, because contempt (even though totally undeserved) is the opposite of respect.

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    I would boldface your last paragraph. Well said indeed. I will also point out that some of us are down on this kind of dress because we have been harmed by the women who do use their sexuality to get ahead. I don't think the OP is one of those people which is why her boss warned her away from appearing to be one.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 20:42
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    Good call on "If you want to progress swiftly to management, then as depressingly shallow as it sounds, dressing a bit more like the managers will probably help somewhat." That applies whether you are male or female. In our company, senior management always wear solid or lightly patterned long-sleeve button-down shirts. We're in St Louis, and it gets hot in the summer, but that's the way leadership dresses. Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 3:02
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    @AlanShutko: Leadership means setting the aircon to suit your wardrobe. Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 3:04

Others have said some great things, so I'll just address a few specifics from your post:

  1. Shorts, of almost any length, are not generally appropriate for white-collar jobs. Shorts that end just above the knee are generally accepted.
  2. Pretty dresses in the office? Sure - but again, some sundresses (strapless or spaghetti-strap) or dresses that end mid-thigh are not generally appropriate for white-collar jobs.

It's a double standard that in many offices (including the one where I work currently) men can wear shorter shorts (mid-thigh) and no one raises an eyebrow, though most people who do wear shorts wear longer ones. I do not see any men in my office who ever wear tank tops, even on the hottest days.

It is possible to find clothing that you like, that doesn't require special care, that is more universally considered office appropriate for business-casual environments. I know because I have closetsful - and it's the kind of stuff that I wear on my days off, as well as during the work week. Depending on the climate where you are, woven-cotton skirts - put in the washer on delicate cycle, hang dry in the shower - or closer-cut maxi dresses - usually knit jersey, wash-and-wear - are perfectly fine in warmer weather. Capri pants with either a rayon or knit top are also perfectly appropriate, and while they're not as easy to find, there are capri pants made of thinner materials (so that they're not so stiflingly warm.) There is a midpoint between "teenage summer gear" and "suit-and-tie corporate uniform." You just have to find where, in that range, you personally are happiest.

When the weather is cooler, I wear jeans and tee shirts quite often. I have to wear shirts made for men, because I have broad shoulders and a large chest, so "womens-cut" tees are too tight for me to feel comfortable in. I frequently rock the jeans-and-tee look, or the jeans-and-knit-top look. In summer, I switch to lighter fabrics. I don't do that to "fit in", I do it because jeans and tee shirts are comfortable. So are palazzo pants and cotton blouses - which is an example of what I wear in the summer.

And yes, it does suck that men seem to be able to get away with things that women can't in STEM; and that while people say that STEM needs more women, it's become a more, not less, hostile field - the hostility is just less overt, so women don't find out about it until they're further into the field. But this is how humans are (anything different from Us is not fully trusted.) Changing minds and attitudes is a slow process, like water eroding rocks. Recognize that these attitudes exist, figure out how you want to react to it and why, follow through and move on.

(And to answer your question about why cuteness tends to equal sexiness, at least in America: that's what happens when a Puritan-based culture/protestant work ethic meets the rush of full-bore capitalism: anything can be packaged and sold, and thus generate profit; anything that distracts from productivity is Not Good; womens' sexuality is commoditized even more so than mens'; and so women looking at all attractive, let alone desirable, is viewed with disdain because it distracts from productivity. Yes, it's irritating. And stupid. And circular thinking. And yes, there are lots of people, including many men, who do not think this way. But that's a whole other rant for a whole other site, and I won't go there because it'll be a huge essay.)

Edit: judging by your edits to your original question, the comments you added after various answers, and the answer you accepted, it sounds like the question you may have really wanted to ask is not "is there a dress code for women in the software industry" but "why is there an unwritten dress code for women in the software industry" - which is both a different question from the one you originally posted, and is also a question that needs to be asked. (Also note that men-as-a-group are subject to unwritten dress codes, even if those unwritten rules are not always as narrow for men as they are for us. Again: that's the way humans are. Go find a workplace where your co-workers will not judge you negatively on non-performance-based issues, or dress/act as you will and develop the skill of disregarding those negative opinions and comments.)

  • Ah, it is irritating, I can't imagine the nice people I worked with would think this way or get distracted by attractive female coworkers. But since I'm not a dude I can't really imagine how they feel like.
    – F Z
    Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 0:46
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    Yeah lacking of role model is actually a problem. There simply aren't enough young women to tell what's the culture is like. HR women dress pretty and female developers wear T-shirt and jeans. While the "tech girls are ugly" stereotype is already bad enough, why should we strengthen it? It would only scare more girls away.. I think
    – F Z
    Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 0:58
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    @FZhu A lot of people don't think that a woman wearing jeans and t-shirt equals "ugly". If you want to be allowed to wear what you like without nasty comments, surely that should also apply to styles you yourself don't like?
    – Jenny D
    Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 10:43
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    @JennyD Absolutely right, personal choice is key! Also, the OP states this in the original question - "Let's be frank, T-shirt and suits can look good on men, but they can hardly look good on women"
    – user9158
    Commented Jul 17, 2014 at 1:34
  • Sure, call it a double-standard if you will, but I assure you, that as a man I see many double-standards that go in the other direction as well. The man with a bright dress that FZhu saw at her workplace for instance. Would such a man be caught with the type of short dress she wears herself? Personally, I doubt that. Even such a man had the physique to pull off such a dress and look cute wearing it (which granted, can be pretty rare). I very much doubt that's the kind of dress that he'd select for himself during work. Commented Jul 17, 2014 at 12:35

Like it or not, your clothes convey a message about you. And in general, you want to be serious and harmonizing with the team rather than clashing with it. The good news is that most workplace environments accommodate a variety of comfortable, attractive and easy-to-maintain styles.

Based on what you said about yourself, you'd probably be safe in monochromatic or "pretty" patterned, knee-length summer dresses or skirts, whether your eventual work environment is casual or business casual. Many garments of this type do not need ironing or dry-cleaning and could double as solid choices in a college wardrobe. I suggest you check out Forever 21, J. Crew, Ann Taylor/Ann Taylor Loft, Talbots, Banana Republic, and similar styles in Macy's where you say you usually shop.

As a female software engineer working in one of the more formal technology groups (we wear business casual), I can say there's a fair amount of overlap between what I wear now and what I would wear in college.

Female engineers also have the option to dress more like their male counterparts. I would wear a T-shirt and jeans to a T-shirt-and-jeans work environment, or the occasional pair of not-so-revealing shorts if I saw the men wearing shorts. I often wear a button-down and dress pants, the men's dress code in my office. And I don't think people care.


Is there a dress code for women in software industry?

It depends on each company's culture. If your boss tells you so, it may be a good sign to reconsider your clothing. If you are in doubt, you can ask your manager the questions 'Why?' and 'What clothes would be appropriate?', although I think you already understand what your manager means.

I've been in companies that require men and women to wear long sleeves everyday, and companies that have casual fridays (everyone can wear t-shirts, pants, rubber shoes), so it really depends on the company.

Do people actually take dress code that serious in software industry?

I can't speak for everyone, but if your skills have great promise, I doubt your choice of clothing would get in your way of getting promoted.


Whether people take dress code that serious obviously depends on the particular company. In your company they seem to care, although from your description I don't think they are THAT serious.

Consider this - your dressing style sends non-verbal messages to the others. In a new work environment this is the first information people get about you. They don't know you yet, have no idea about your professional abilities. Later on some of them will come to know you better but others, whose jobs don't interact with yours would still judge you by your looks. So even if there is no dress code at all, think what message you would like to send - "I am a cute girl", "I am a technology geek", "I want to stand out from the crowd and don't care what you think about this", "I want to blend in with the team", "I take myself too seriously" etc.

I am not sure what exactly "Asian style clothes" means but as you mentioned shorts - they can vary from very short shorts to Bermuda shorts for example. If there is no company policy that employees are not allowed to wear shorts at work, the later might be OK while the management could still frown upon the former as they would see them as too revealing/sexy/distracting other people. It is the same with the pretty dresses - there are all sorts of pretty dresses, some are appropriate for work, some are better left for the beach. And there are many options between cute girly clothes and a business suit.


I think there's good answers in this thread and you should probably dress more conservatively. I want to point out it doesn't means wear jeans and a t-shirt "like the guys." In a casual dress code, skirts or dresses / summer dresses are acceptable. You do need to be mindful of length / neckline however. The other answers are telling you to be more mindful of that; I'm adding this because I feel it needs to be said that the issue isn't forcing you to wear jeans instead of a dress. Dresses are fine; sounds like your dresses are not.

"Source" is working in a casual dress code coworking space.

  • may want to perform image search of "work dresses" and see how you feel about what comes up. Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 21:24
  • @La-comadreja that would be more professional / biz casual... OP wants casual.
    – user1084
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 21:27
  • some shade into casual. I also did a search for "summer dresses" and picking some that are well made and not so revealing should also work. Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 21:31
  • @La-comadreja okay, but now it's just begging the question since the question in the first place was which of those are work-appropriate.
    – user1084
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 21:32
  • 2
    I would search for Marissa Mayer, as the OP mentioned she likes her. And would stick to that type of dresses. Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 8:21

There are two kinds of dress codes...

1) There is the dress code that is for the outside world. If your company has any outsiders ever come in, this is probably the most important one. Here, how you dress is among of the most substantial aspects of marketing and branding of your company to others. Here, the fact is that what you think about attire and what your employer thinks about attire is irrelevant. The clothing of every employee is a marketing decision designed to appeal to the perceptions of the customers and clients, even if those perceptions are misguided. While some kinds of clothing convey formality or professionalism, it seems your issue relates to simply dressing in a way that makes you look young. The younger a person is, the less experienced they can be. Dressing young is dressing inexperienced. Therefore by dressing young, you may be hurting the aspect of the company's brand that tries to say they know what they are doing.

2) For companies that never have outsiders come in, the dress code is just about not offending others and not distracting others. In this way a guy with a ridiculously low cut shirt or a girl with a ridiculously short dress would both be potentially offending or distracting others. So would a person dressed up as a clown.

In the case of (1) you probably should dress in the way that expectations for your company set out otherwise you're not acting in the best interest of your company. Being a professional is about acting in the best interest of your company and many times (in time, money, clothing, etc.) that can lead to personal sacrifices. In the case of (2) you're probably in the clear. It doesn't sound like you are dressing all that inappropriate.

Since your manager praised you, it's probably not a huge deal. Maybe the advice was even about beyond that company but about as you go on after being an intern there. In the broader IT field, dress code is often formal and the "t-shirt to work" that you mention for guys is NOT the norm. Actually, in my work experience, men usually need to or do dress more formal than women do. Guys are also subject to formality that, as with your personal complaints, can be uncomfortable or pricey. When I was an intern I dressed casual (boots, jeans), now as a professional software developer I dress formal from head to toe. Until I got this job I never dressed that way so it was an adjustment. However, how you dress is important. Clients get more of a sense of professionalism. In meetings with executives and business people in my company I'm not "the guy in jeans". Also, the fact that you dress differently to work than you do at home shows that you actually care about the job enough to do things differently for it. Sacrifice shows dedication. ... When a guy has to wear a suit to work in the summer you can bet he's probably not comfortable haha.

Ideally people shouldn't have to care about all that, but the fact that they do means that it's a factor that is illogical to ignore.


IT is a serious business. Which means that "young, cute, and casual" are out.

Shorts NEVER belong in the office. (Unless you're a model or in some fashion related profession such as acting.) "Pretty" dresses also tend to give the wrong impression. You don't need to wear pants in the summer, but stick with "tailored" dresses or skirts that go well with blouses. Basically, what your mother might have worn to work.

T shirts and jeans, while "casual" by normal business standards, are considered "serious" by IT people. So you don't want to be MORE "casual" than others, but rather somewhat less. You want to look (and act) OLDER than you are. Which means dark, sober colors.

  • I have to disagree. It may be that your current place of work has stricter rules about dress codes, for example if you work for a consultancy and you spend some part of your day engaging with customers or otherwise representing the company, or if you work in an environment which requires certain safety clothing, such as system monitoring at a steel mill or something. But the rules will vary business to business, situation to situation and even person to person (a CEO may be expected to be more presentable than the programmer out back).
    – Robotnik
    Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 7:45
  • IT may be serious, but it's also full of young, cute and casual (that describes most of Silicon Valley).
    – DA.
    Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 17:54
  • 3
    There's also a bit of age discrimination in IT where it can serve one well to appear YOUNGER than they are.
    – DA.
    Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 17:55
  • @DA: Younger if you are 30 and want to look 25. But not if you're 22-23 looking 17-18. Actually, there's an "optimal" age, which I would peg at 25-27.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 18:01
  • 1
    -1. People wear shorts here. -1 because your post is not written on the same planet as any of the large finance corporation, tech startup, and coworking community I've worked on.
    – user1084
    Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 19:13

I went through four years of this. I got tired of Sally complaining to me about Joe not wearing underwear. That left me with the option of either confronting Joe or ignoring Sally. This actual situation was just one of many, with the names changed to protect the guilty.

In groups, I talked to everyone. I suggested that we would start having visitors, and no one should wear anything they wouldn't wear to shop, or to go to a restaurant. Naive me, I don't shop very much and I'm picky about restaurants. Nothing changed.

I then wrote up a formal dress code. Tops with collars and sleeves, shorts and skirts not above the knee, closed toe shoes (with socks). I also alluded to the underwear problem. Susie, who probably didn't own any underwear, confronted me about being "discriminatory". It's interesting that nobody ever complained about her.

I just started including how candidates dressed, and how comfortable they seemed wearing ties in my search criteria. It's awful, I know, and I probably lost some good people, and it didn't really help. It's just not a good use of my time to tell someone not to wear something like that (a tank top on an overweight male) again. Did I have to hire a clothing monitor? I finally solved my problem. I now run a pure virtual organization. Even my administrator works from home. I've got people who have worked with me for years that I've never seen. I get to judge them solely on their work.

If, where you work, the way you dress is more important than what you produce, vote the place a -1.

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