Business attire – a tough dress code
There is no dress code as tricky as business attire. The University of Alaska Fairbanks Collegiate Society of Women Engineers invited me to talk about Dress for Success within the framework of their guest lecture series. When preparing my talk I came across very interesting things about work appropriate dressing in various fields that I will share with you over the next weeks on Wednesdays. The outfit in this post is what I wore when giving the talk, and not an example of an outfit for women engineers. Recall I am not an engineer.
Dress code varies among engineering fields
While the dress code varies among fields when doing the actual engineering work, it nails down to a quite similar dress code when interviewing for the position (getting in) and meeting with clients. Meeting the dress code is so important that many top notch engineering schools even devote a web page and some even have a pinterest board about what to wear for a job interview! However, when looking at the suggestions the women outfits are pretty boring. Wearing such a cookie cutter outfit may also convey the message that the wearer is not creative. The latter is not a promotional bell ringer for a job that is all about creation – engineering.
Dress codes are about expectations
Historically and still today, dress code is all about expectations. Engineering is a field that is still dominated by men. The customers have an expectation regarding the engineering firm and their employees. Such they actually expect a guy to show up in a suit, shirt, polished shoes, leather briefcase and a tie looking like a business man as the engineering work is the product the firm sells.
On average, about 70% of the engineering work is meeting and working with clients. Most women engineers I know, either work in some state, government, academia, clothing or food related fields. In these fields, client contact is relatively lower than on average in engineering.
Now how can women engineers meet the dress code to get a job?
Try to get eye contact without wearing pumps
A tailored suit is a great option. Swap the pointy toe pumps that usually are worn with a suit for oxfords with a heel not higher than 1 inch (2.5 cm) as that height still allows climbing a ladder if you have to during an interview. Wedges are a safer alternative and allow to give you more height than low heel oxfords. You want to be eye height with the guys.
Convey the message of being serious with your accessories
A pearl necklace is a woman’s tie. Make sure the length is short enough to not get caught in some machinery (that’s why male engineers wear the tie holders). Get a men’s watch. It conveys the message that meeting deadlines and being on time is high priority for you. Cuff your sleeves. It is more stylish and conveys the message that you are ready to get your hands dirty, i.e. to do the job. Get a big structured leather tote that can hold a laptop, iPad and a folder. It indicates that you are willing to take work home to get the job done. If your field is about going outside very often, you may even have the appropriate shoes in the tote.
Wear clothes that allow you to climb
Go with neutrals for the suit, shoes and leather tote. Express your style by the choice of the blouse or shirt. No see-thru please. A turtleneck in silk or cashmere is a good alternative to a button down shirt or blouse in cold climate regions. Wear a classic coat that is short enough to not hinder you picking up something or when you have to climb. A pea-coat was designed – or should I say engineered – for climbing. Wear nude non-opaque socks or socks matching the colors of the suit or shoes.
If you are more a skirt kind of gal choose, a skirt that is wide enough to move like a straight skirt with a slit in the back. Steer clear away from side or front slits as they show too much leg when you sit. Moreover, make sure that the skirt does not ride up when you sit. It should still reach to your knees when sitting. Wide or too long skirts can get caught in moving equipment. Thus, they are inappropriate. Wear bikers or shorts underneath your skirt so there is no embarrassing sight when you climb equipment or a ladder. Check that they won’t show when you sit. In winter, opaque tights are a great option in cold climate regions.
Have a hair-do suitable for hard hats
If you have long hair, style it in such a way that a hard hat still will fit and when you take it off again your hair doesn’t look like Brigitte Bardot’s famous bedhead.
Do you work in a male dominated field? What are your dress code challenges? I am curious.
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When you like this post, and want more tips and tricks to dress for all kind of dressing situations in midlife you may also want to buy my book “How to Dress for Success in Midlife”. Now also available as e-book.
Photos: G. Kramm
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