29 October, 2009

The clothes maketh the woman... or do they?

Today I attended a networking and mentoring lunch for women in the ICT industry. It was run in a joint effort by FITT and GGD.

I had an absolute ball. I had the chance to meet other women who work in the ICT industry - women who I may not otherwise have had the opportunity to meet. I was able to speak with women who had worked in ICT for a long time and had a lot of advice to offer, and others who were looking for advice. It was a great experience.

There was one topic that came up that did bring about some interesting conversation, and that got me thinking. I was asked if I was treated differently depending on what I wore. I had to respond in the negative - I've been treated the same at work whether I wear jeans, a suit or my boxing gear (if I'm working late after boxing)... but I have now been thinking about clothes all afternoon, and not in my usual "I want to buy this and this and this" way.

Disclaimer: I'm a girly girl when it comes to these sort of things. I like clothes. I like shoes. I like handbags. I like makeup and nail polish and... you get the idea.

When I get dressed in the morning, I wear what I feel like wearing. While there are times that I do dress to impress if I have an important meeting or function, I also try to tailor my outfit to the event and my personal style. If I don't feel comfortable in an outfit, I won't wear it. (With the exception of tight exercise clothes. While I hate hate hate them with a passion, they make boxing class much easier. So apologies to anyone who ever has to endure a boxing class with me.) My number one priority when dressing myself is me.

When it comes to dressing for the workplace... it's a tough gig. What's appropriate at some times or in some workplaces isn't appropriate in others. In the course of my career, I've had times when I've been told I dress too casually, too funky and too corporate - and sometimes it's been said by managers, sometimes by colleagues. I've taken it in my stride and moved on each time, changing my style where it's needed.

Should someone be judged and treated differently according to how they dress at work? First impressions do last, and there are definitely times where it's better to overdress than underdress (a job interview or meeting with an important client springs to mind)... but at the same time I don't respect anyone any less because they happen to be wearing jeans instead of a suit. I think someone's overall presentation and manner are far more important than the clothes on their back. (As someone who has had to attend important meetings in casual clothes thanks to last minute notice... I hope that other people think this too!)

I'd also like to say that I don't think it matters specifically what a woman wears for work, but I know I'd be wrong. I wish I didn't have to be. It's a fine line that we walk. Some items of clothing just seem to mark you as different amongst others. Is it fair? Not at all. While I haven't experienced direct issues as a result of the clothes I wear to work, I know that there are those who judge me and other women by the type of clothes we wear.

Personally, I'll keep dressing to please myself. As long as I feel I'm dressed appropriately and I feel good about it, I'm happy.