Sunday, August 19, 2012

Dressing As You Please in Silicon Valley - or Not?

I have been off the Internet, and by that I mean really off, for the past several weeks. It took a few days of withdrawal symptoms before I realized that leaving it all aside for a while can be a good thing - in fact, unglueing from email opens up mental space for other things in the world of computing (as well as for eating a lot of cheese).

While enjoying the French countryside I also read a giant stack of research papers and interspersed them with reading the newspapers, scouring for articles about technology and computing.

I don't make a practice of reading the Style section. As a result, I almost missed a most interesting article hidden away in the International Herald Tribune. On my third pass through the paper I caught sight of this title "Sweeping aside fashion taboos in Silicon Valley". The subtitle: "Skirt or gravitas? Women gain confidence to dress as they please".

Several women Silicon Valley executives were interviewed about how they dress (one cannot help but wonder if it would be considered newsworthy to interview male executives about how they dress). The pervasive theme was that these women felt that they could, wanted to, and would, dress anyway they pleased, and that way often meant more traditionally feminine.

Although the claim was that the culture is changing, and less traditionally (20-something nerdy) male dress was becoming acceptable, there was still, even among these power women, a seeming need to justify themselves. One (Marissa Mayer) pointed out the similarities between fashion design and software/product design. Another (Gouw Ranzetta) "is quick to add" that ideas and skills matter more than a nice outfit.

On the flip side, why not talk about the relationship between software design and fashion design? Does this only seem odd because it is so traditionally *not* a topic of professional conversation in the  hi-tech world? I'm sure the fashion industry is becoming as computing-dependent as any other field and there could be interesting career paths for an up and coming computing professional. Does anyone out there know more about this?

The one thing that really nagged at me however, was the fact that virtually all of the executives interviewed for the article pointed out in one way or another that they had reached the point in their career where they could choose to dress as they want. So...what about all the women who are just starting out? Can they choose to dress as they please when that means not like the prototypical nerd or in a power-suit?

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