Some background:

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. -- Jenny D

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. -- RedSonja

Often I am the only female in a team, I've been lucky enough to study and work with decent male programmers who fully recognize my technical capability and treat me equally when I chose to maintain female characteristics on appearance.

I don't know who I'll meet in my soon starting full time career. It might be the safest and smartest strategy to wear like males around me. I know I'm a good programmer and want to get promotions quickly. But the cost is also high: I would wear what I don't like, and give up beautiful clothes which make me happy and confident everyday. Fashion is a genuine interest just as programming.

The 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? -- Caroline A

How does appearance affect other people's recognition of one's technical skill? How would appearance affect one's career in general?

(I'm not asking specifically about MY taste in this question; I can work on my taste. I'm asking about how to deal with the stereotype. Or should I put it this way: if I dress like people from HR department, how would that affect my career?)

  • 1
    I edited your question to remove some of the commentary and focus it on what you are asking. I think this is a good question and do not want to see it closed but it was attracting close votes (I suspect because of the commentary and attitude the question had).
    – enderland
    Jul 16, 2014 at 11:54
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    I voted to reopen as after my edits this question is 100% on topic here.
    – enderland
    Jul 16, 2014 at 15:45
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    Perhaps we can address this better in The Water Cooler.
    – user9158
    Jul 17, 2014 at 5:08
  • I think you're getting too worked up on the feminist connotations here. As many of the answers have said, it depends on the company culture. In my workplace, a fortune100 bank, the implementation manager wears a summer dress to work whilst I have to wear a suit in the 35c weather. She also baked me a delicious cake. Point is, no one gives a damn, but maybe the peeps in your office do. The problem here is cultural, which is a high-level manager thing, and not some vague notion of gender oppression. Aug 4, 2014 at 13:56

7 Answers 7


Since this is about appearance and skill, I'm going to focus on broaded skills, not just technical.

Imagine you are a clothing designer for Nike, in fact the best designer that Nike has ever hired, whose designs make up the vast majority of sales and profit. Your manager loves you, except for the fact that you only wear Reebok clothes. Now, they don't mind this because you work so hard, but its really hard to take you to meetings to present your work because your image and the image of the company don't quite fit.

So instead of taking you to meetings where you can present your own work your manager insists your time is more valuable designing clothes, not going to meetings.

So what are the implications?

  • You never get to take full credit for your work because you don't get to personally showcase it.
  • You don't get to network with other staff because you are hidden away, which means as people move around, you never get known, so if a higher-paid position opens up in another department or company you might not hear about it, or might not have anyone who can be a referee, just your boss, who probably likes having you just where you are, hidden and giving them all the credit.
  • You don't get the opportunity to lead because while you might not, others do dress to match their managers. And the last thing management wants is the Nike design team all wearing Reebok.
  • You'll eventually stagnate and be seen as a liability, because all of the above have meant you haven't learnt any new skills, you haven't networked and haven't been seen. So one day your manager goes, "you know what, these designs are a bit stale" and because you haven't taken the steps to grow, they might see you not as the top-notch designer, but as a bit of a liability who isn't performing as well as they were.

At the end of the day you should dress appropriately to match your peers.

  • Work at Nike, wear Nike, not Reebok.
  • Work in Silicon Valley, wear casual clothes - this can be jeans and shirt, a tidy dress or skirt, etc...
  • Work in big business, wear smart casual clothes.
  • Work in a bank or for a law firm, wear a suit or formal skirt and blouse and wear it well.

At the end of the day wear what your peers are, because the people competing for your job are and while you might act the part, they look the part too and that is a skill as much as anything.

  • 2
    How does Nike benefit when the talented Reebok wearer chooses to vote with their feet and decamp to Reebok at the first opportunity? Nike loses three times. Nike loses once because Nike has lost an asset. Nike loses a second time because Reebok now has this asset. And Nike loses a third time because Reebok's asset now has a personal motivation for going after Nike and inflict as much grief on Nike as they can. Wall Street firms did not loosen their dress code out of the goodness of their hearts - It is because too much talent was turning their backs on them. Jul 17, 2014 at 10:31
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    @VietnhiPhuvan This is a meant to be an analogy. In reality, everyone wears Nike, and the the Reebok-wearing designer isn't as good or vital as they think they are.
    – user9158
    Jul 17, 2014 at 10:37
  • Well, you just made a critical change to your narrative/analogy. Jul 17, 2014 at 10:42
  • This promotes homogeneity, which is contrary to development culture. Development is based on unique inspirations people have, thus any form of uniqueness should be promoted.
    – paul23
    Mar 27, 2019 at 1:52

How does your (specific) dress appear to others?

None of the dresses (from your other question here and at this link) strike me as close to business casual or otherwise professional clothing.

If you work in the United States at least, be ready to have people find that specific choice in clothing to be unprofessional.

From your other question:

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.

Your boss more or less had the exact same impression.

How will this affect you?

How would her appearance affect other's recognition of her technical skill? How would her appearance affect her career in general

I've linked my answer here often because it applies in so many situations. This is another of them. It doesn't matter what your technical skill is, if you present yourself as a cutesy young person you will be perceived this way.

If your coworkers think you to be immature, cutesy, childish, etc, they will perceive your work and overall performance to be less than if they perceive you to be mature and professional. This will cause you to be less likely for promotions and career advancement as compared with someone who is "more professional" and thus perceived as more qualified.

This will sometimes not feel fair. In fact, appearing young can have a similar problem. But it's the way the world works.

  • 1
    I'd just like to point out that "mature and professional" isn't always the best target. Silicon Valley during the boom is a good example. Even today, when working at a startup, looking like you're a young upstart has a certain allure.
    – Telastyn
    Jul 16, 2014 at 14:35
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    There is a saying, "Dress for the job you want, not the job you have", ultimately the idea this tries to convey is those around will judge you by your appearance, that's just how it is. If you dress like a college kid, I'm going to see you as a college kid. Sure your actual performance is important, but the appearance will undermine it. Think for a moment if the president gave a speech about the debt crisis in tattered jeans and a vote for pedro shirt. What would you remember to greater detail the speech or dress. (Essentially if you want to be the boss, dress like you ARE the boss) Jul 16, 2014 at 14:41
  • @RualStorge I hope you want to be the CEO - Dress like the CEO and let's see how much ridicule you can take. Jul 17, 2014 at 0:08
  • I'm not asking about my taste.
    – F Z
    Jul 17, 2014 at 2:20
  • @VietnhiPhuvan Yeah, there is a threshold of where it goes from appropriate to inappropriate. A janitor wearing a 3000$ suit would be seen as not the brightest person to totally disconnected from reality. I would say perhaps the saying should be "Dress for the job you want next" (as far as CEO dress, those tend to be all over the board, you've got some who where suits worth over 12K, others wear Jeans and sweaters, others wear denim jackets. Hard to decide what "dressing like a CEO" would really even be... Jul 17, 2014 at 13:20

But the cost is also high: I would wear what I don't like, and give up beautiful clothes which make me happy and confident everyday. Fashion is a genuine interest just as programming.

We all have many interests.

We each need to learn if we are free to express those interests at work or not, and to what extent we are free to do so.

How does appearance affect other's recognition of technical skill? How would appearance affect her career in general?

In general, we each need to understand how to "fit in" within our company, industry, and role. That involves many normative aspects - the clothes we are expected to wear, the way we talk, the attentiveness to punctuality, how late we are expected to work, etc. - all of these have a mostly unwritten "standard" at each company. New employees must try to quickly understand and adapt to the norms. It can be a challenge, but that's part of the onboarding process.

In addition, these aspects of company culture are something to keep in mind as we interview at new companies. If freely expressing your fashion sense is very important to you, you need to seek out companies that would match, or at least tolerate your sense, within the role you are filling.

I work in software, but in the financial services sector. Here, the company is far more conservative than most others where I have worked. We are expected to wear "business casual". Looking around and observing others, it's not hard to see what people are expected to wear.

A few years back, we hired a young intern for a few months of data entry. She didn't catch on to (or intentionally chose to ignore) the unstated "dress code". She was viewed as a "young fashionista" (not my words, but the words of a female VP), and wasn't taken very seriously. It didn't matter a lot for her temp job. But had she applied for a permanent position, I'm not sure she would have been hired.

She expressed her interest in fashion, at the expense of being stereotyped. Fair or not fair - that happens.


For women specifically you have an issue that men do not have. Men have a spectrum of clothing available to them that looks something like this:

  • work with my hands fixing stuff, moving stuff, cleaning stuff: those dark green "janitor pants" or overalls or other hardwearing material, topped with a company shirt.
  • hanging out on the weekends: jeans and a t shirt
  • out on a special date: jeans or chinos/khakis and a collared shirt
  • business casual: jeans or chinos/khakis and a collared shirt or polo shirt
  • really laid back business: jeans and a t shirt
  • job interview: suit or business casual
  • wedding: suit or business casual
  • funeral: suit or business casual

Notice that many of the items are exactly the same. For women, they often are not. You have to decide about pants vs a dress, people care about the colours (a man can wear the same black suit to all suit occasions, a woman wearing a black dress to a wedding will be judged by some people to be wearing the wrong thing, ditto wearing a red dress to a funeral.) In addition, women's "date" clothing is often sexier and more "look at me!" than men's, making it inappropriate for use as business casual.

But on top of all that, there's another item on the list for women that I call "dressing like a secretary." Probably you don't have secretaries in your office these days, but the slot still exists: a young single woman who dresses very differently from those who do the billable work (be they lawyers, programmers, accountants, engineers or whatever.) Rightly or wrongly they are often perceived to be looking for a life partner and/or to be "set dressing" to look good for visitors, like having luxurious furniture. There is no male equivalent of this that I can see. It's really important to consider the possibility, when being told to dress "professionally", that you're being told not to look like office decoration. This just isn't an issue for men.

Personally, I don't care for fashion at all and wear clothes entirely for functional reasons. I have a large collection of black "dress pants" and single-colour blouses, and I pair them up for everything except the first two bullets above. I have an enormous quantity of free Tshirts from conferences, SE sites etc and I wear those with lightweight and light coloured pants in those first two cases. But if you love clothes and love experimenting with your looks, the place to do it is for your weekends and evenings. At the office, choose things that set the tone you want to set, which should be the same tone the other professionals are setting.

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    Those who think women in professions are not judged on what they wear might be interested in the UK coverage of a cabinet shuffle independent.co.uk/news/people/… and dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2693563/… Jul 16, 2014 at 14:20
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    While I agree that man in general have a smaller spectrum of clothing, I disagree only women are judged by their clothing. It would also be inappropriate for a man to wear a white suit to a funeral or a very colorful shirt for a business casual look. I would also say that a business casual look would be valid for a woman on almost all the cases you mention above - The problem is simply, that women have a broader and can therefore make more mistakes.
    – dirkk
    Jul 16, 2014 at 14:29
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    Yes this. If people think you are dressing to attract the other sex, they are far less likely to take you seriously as a professional woman. We might not like this but it is the way the world is. It is of course made worse by the experiences we have had with women who really were dressing to attract a man, usually one of power in the organization who could then promote them to a job they were not remotely qualified to do. Every sexy young thing who comes in looking like she is on a date will get judged as one of those type of women. In almost every company.
    – HLGEM
    Jul 16, 2014 at 17:43
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    @dirkk my point is more that there is no outfit for a woman that is considered appropriate at a wedding, a funeral, and a job interview. The boundaries of what is ok are smaller, and have less overlap. People quickly say "too severe", "too sexy/flirty/fun", "too sloppy" about women's choices, while men have very few no-nos and can get away with more. As well, they can easily copy another man in the office, while many women are the only woman at their level in the office, and may be judged for copying a woman above or below themselves. Jul 16, 2014 at 17:50

I work/have worked with many talented female co-workers, and been an interviewer also. Frankly, their appearance is low on the list of priorities, so long as they look professional, based on the standards of the particular company.

In general, IT workers are judged on their skills and more importantly their achievements rather than their appearance. Rather than worrying about how you should dress, consider what image you wish to project - it should be one of competence and skill.

I've worked with talented men & women who were appalling dressers, and people who looked sharp in a suit but couldn't ping localhost - clothes do not make the man or woman, and in a decent place to work you'll be judged on your merits, not your labels.

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    The problem is what the OP thinks is professional and what other people think is professional are different.
    – enderland
    Jul 16, 2014 at 12:02
  • @enderland the problem is she works at a company where people judge her skills based on her wardrobe.
    – DA.
    Jul 16, 2014 at 18:12
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    @DA. that's not reality works. If you show up to work wearing what most people, especially your colleagues, consider a skimpy or flirtatious dress (or something even more inappropriate) you will be judged based on it. Ditto to "childish" or "college" clothing. Cultural norms for acceptable clothing matter and WILL affect your career, even if they feel unfair. If you don't believe this try wearing a swimsuit to work in a "casual" work environment - as a man or woman - and see what your coworkers think.
    – enderland
    Jul 16, 2014 at 18:20
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    @DA Part of your job is dressing appropriately. If you dress down, then people will rightly judge you.
    – user9158
    Jul 17, 2014 at 2:54
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    So people shouldn't judge you if you come to work in dirty, or ill-fitting or offensive clothes? I'm afraid thats it how it works - nor should it. Putting effort into dressing well shows effort and professionalism.
    – user9158
    Jul 17, 2014 at 4:39

People judge books by their cover all the time. This is part of human nature. We're visual creatures and often judge others (fairly or unfairly) based on visual presentation.

In general, there's nothing specifically technical about this. It affects all roles and industries (again, fairly or unfairly).

  • "People judge books by their cover" Maybe that's why the covert art is usually so much better than the book. I can choose not to read books. But I do have to work with others regardless of how their choice of clothing. Their choice of clothing has no bearing on how good they are at what they are doing and how much cooperation they give. Jul 17, 2014 at 10:16
  • True that. I hate it but it's true Nov 30, 2017 at 20:02

In general, dress the way you want. Casual means just that, that you get to dress you want and that the only time you'll get a shocked look is if you put on a cocktail party dress or a pole dancing outfit. Same for men, by the way.

We're all pretty adaptable, we're all going to have to adjust to you as an incoming, so if there is anything mildly unusual about the way you dress, show what you've got, let's get the shock out of the way and get on with the business. At the end of the day, it's the quality of the work, how much of a resource you are to the team - you may be entry-level, you may not know a thing but if you are helpful, it's fantastic -and how well you interact with the team and how much the team loves interacting with you, even if at times, you make a stand and tell us stuff that we don't want to hear :)

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    @JoeStrazzere Any manager who presumes to take exception to my camo t-shirt, my BDU pants amt my SWAT boots - that manager is going to have to look for another crack systems reliability engineer in short order. I hope that it was worth it to that manager to make a stand. What I wear is my business and my personal business. NOBODY tells me what to wear. Unless that nobody can tell me that I represent the company to our clients and customers. Jul 16, 2014 at 12:58

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