|Wearing the Computer Science "uniform."|
"Deciding what to wear to interviews is a real challenge," she had told me. "My advisor knows what the male faculty candidates should wear, but for me he had no clue."
Indeed, professional dress is a difficult problem for women, especially those in male-dominated fields. As psychologist Virginia Valian writes in Why So Slow?, men have a professional "uniform," but women are always "marked." While men's clothing is intended to help men blend in, women's clothing is intended to help women stand out.
|Stands out in CS.|
"She just doesn't... look like one of us."
"How can you take someone seriously when they are wearing heels?"
And so I came to understand that in order not to have my clothes jeopardize my chances of being taken seriously during my own interviews, I needed to forget how I was taught to "look professional" and instead solve a difficult constraint satisfaction problem. I needed to somehow achieve man-level blending in without looking like I was blatantly cross-dressing (which, I've been told, would also make me stand out). This was a particularly difficult problem for me because I am fairly particular about what is "my style" and my style is not particularly mainstream.
|What an MIT professor typically looks like.|
"People should remember you, not your clothes."
"Never, under any circumstances, wear a skirt."
"Wear exactly what a man would, but the female version."
What I found more helpful was asking women who had been on the job market (thanks, Claire Le Goues, Raluca Ada Popa, and Franzi Roesner) what they wore. (To my relief, none of them told me to dress like a man--and in fact described outfits that sounded relatively feminine.) Claire taught me about the general idea of coordinated separates. Claire taught me that it's okay to repeat pants. Claire gave tips about modesty (nothing too form-fitting; avoid displaying skin). Claire alleviated many of my concerns by telling me it was all right to wear the "exact same outfit" for every interview. (Thanks, Claire, for being a more senior female academic in Computer Science and also my friend.)
|At an event with AtlanticLIVE.|
|Keynoting a conference in Vegas.|
|Outfit is versatile; good also for cutting cake.|
|My other professional outfit.|
|Looking professorly with my former professor.|
- What you wear matters.
- Male mentors don't always give the most helpful fashion advice.
- It's possible to wear clothes you like that are also professional, even if you are a woman.