Recently, I attended a technology networking event in Birmingham. I am very used to the format of these ‘corporate tech’ style meet-ups. They are full of consultants; high-value start-ups and scale-ups; and potential investors. I don’t find them as enjoyable as the ‘creative tech’ meet-ups which are often more relaxed and usually more diverse.
Not unexpectedly, I was the only woman in the room so inevitably I was asked to pose for the promotion photo. All of the other chosen networkers were corporately dressed in suits and one of my fellow photo selectees looked me up and down commenting that I was ‘dressed for tech’. I looked down at my clothes thinking I was dressed just as I normally would: burgundy leather skirt above the knee; black boots; and a black jumper.
In the moment I smiled having nothing else to offer; but afterwards my mind raced with thoughts. “What does it mean to be dressed for tech?” I wondered, as I asked myself if I was intentionally making a statement with my clothes that night and other nights like it. Was I making it obvious I was different knowing the rest of the room would be suited? Was I tempting people to pigeon-hole me and then be unpleasantly surprised when I had been under-estimated? I thought of the story in The Apple Revolution where IBM allow the ‘hippies in flip-flops’ free access to their R&D department, from which Apple take their pick of their rival’s ideas and talent. I thought also of my female friend’s horrified face when I told her I wore leggings and a jumper to a Regional Board Meeting. Used to the corporate world herself, she was aghast that I would choose not to look ‘professional’ while still expecting to be viewed as such.
So why did I wear the leather skirt to the corporate tech meet-up? And the leggings to the corporate Board Meeting? What am I wanting my clothes to say about me? I was at a recent female only networking event where a fellow businesswoman remarked that she had to feel ‘brave to wear leopard print’. The other women we were with didn’t seem to understand but I totally got it. My clothes say nothing about my ability to perform and everything about my mood. I have clothes I wear when I want to feel comforted (not just comfortable) and clothes when I want to feel bold. I know how I want to feel when I wake up in the morning and choose accordingly. It’s certainly influenced by what I have planned that day but how I feel, or want to feel, carries far greater weight. Leggings when I need comfort; leather when I want boldness.
And now I have my answer when I am next told I am ‘dressed for tech’ or ‘dressed to kill’ or ‘dressed for anything’: I am dressed for me.