Don’t cover your head. Do cover your nipples. Don’t wear a tight skirt or baggy pants. Those jeans are ripped, that shirt is too low-cut. That outfit is too fancy, we wear hoodies and sneakers here. Don’t wear a hoodie, wear a button-up and khakis. Why are you hobbling around on those high heels? Don’t dye your hair. Don’t show your roots. Don’t go gray. Get a manicure, your nails don’t look good. Don’t wear those stiletto nails. That color’s too bright, your earrings are too big.
It’s distracting. It’s unprofessional. It’s sloppy. It’s slutty. It’s uptight. It’s not how we want you to look.
If you follow our rules then you won’t get into trouble. If you don’t, well, you were asking for it, whatever it is.
We’re supposed to believe this, but it isn’t true.
I started out in software engineering wearing hoodies and jeans and clogs.
The t-shirts at the tech conferences only came in men’s sizes, except for the ones made special for the booth babes. Those were tight and had deep v-necks.
I was once interviewed, in an office (in the beforetimes, many years ago now) by a man who was not wearing his shoes. His feet were bare. I thought “can I also take off my shoes?” I did not.
I don’t remember when or why I started to dress up at work. (Some vague memory of a “Formal Fridays” event at some past workplace.) I blew right through business casual but never made it to business formal. Instead I swerved left, performing high femme, ending up eventually at a style I came to call ‘Tech Dominatrix’ which featured a lot of leather, including my signature boots. I didn’t fit in, obviously, but I didn’t care anymore. Other femme-presenting people might show up in yoga pants and sweatshirts; I showed up in a silk dress and stilettos. Take it or leave it, y’all.
Of course over the course of the pandemic clothing got loopier, for everyone. In December 2020 I tweeted
Luxury invalid was silk pajamas1 and beautiful robes, in bed, on zoom, from sheer exhaustion (throw a scarf on over your silk robe and you look better dressed than everyone else on the call, guaranteed); femme fatale was as wild as I could get: sequins, tiaras, sky high stilettos, lingerie as outerwear, glitter, feathers, faux fur, every kind of froth. I had nowhere to go but my roof but damn was I gonna give the neighbors a show.
Bras became obviously optional, forevermore. Sir: if my nipples make you uncomfortable then perhaps you should turn up the heat. Sir: yes, my breasts are no longer perky, I nursed children with them. Sir: if you were forced to wear a band and wires and padding on your chest merely to appear professional you too might find yourself setting a bra on fire with lighter fluid, in a trashcan, although it appears that however many times a woman sets a bra on fire we will still be expected to wear bras.
To look professional.
Fuck looking professional. The world is in absolute crisis all of the time now and I have a lot of people who need me and a lot of shit to get done, and looking professional has fallen off the list of things I care about. Sir: I’ll put a bra on for me, for my own reasons, but never again because my nipples might distract you.
They'd say I hustled
Put in the work
They wouldn't shake their heads and question how much of this I deserve
What I was wearing
If I was rude
Could all be separated from my good ideas and power moves?
Oh, how about that #infosecbikini freakout. A woman who worked in infosec posted a bikini pic of herself to twitter, since she was at the beach and people on twitter sometimes post pics of themselves where they are at. A zillion trolls scolded her for being Unprofessional, and then we all rushed in, even those of us who only follow women in infosec and aren’t actually ourselves in infosec, to post our own bikini pics in solidarity.
Three weeks out from that tweet, though, I wonder: do I even work in tech now? What do I work in? What, pray tell, do I even do with my time these days?
I’m working in limbo, I guess. I’m in a liminal state. I’m writing articles about running good 1-on -1s and I’m submitting talk proposals about debugging product teams. I’m working on my splits and filming myself practicing crow pose on my roof in platform boots. I’m running numbers on what it might look like to monetize my Instagram account. I’m drafting a book proposal about how my decades of severe mental illness have perfectly prepared me for life in a world in which there is a new apocalypse every day (and you can too!). I’m on LinkedIn talking about Foucault and Anna Akhmatova.
And I’m helping my kids get ready for their first years of high school and college while helping my husband navigate some mysterious medical issues while enduring an ongoing anxiety attack that could be caused by any number of things but is probably just July, because that is always my July, a long overheated disaster of a month marked by hysteria, exhaustion, nightmares, generalized terror.
July is always an apocalyptic month for me, one of the many minor apocalypses I suffer through regularly and would like to write a book about.
I don’t know what field I work in right now, and I certainly don’t know how I’m expected to dress while working in it.
I dunno, does this catsuit make me look stupid?
I bought a custom suit in New York in June. I don’t need a custom suit, and I have no idea what I’ll do with it when it arrives. There is no occasion in my life that is appropriate for a custom suit. But, I also do not have any occasions appropriate for sequins, or feathers, or ball gowns or tiaras, and that has not stopped me from wearing those things. Onward, sartorially speaking, into a world where I get to wear whatever I want for whatever reason I want to.
Go check out what Lil Nas X is doing in this regard; it’s incredible.
This is not a game any of us can win.
There was a time that I worked at a place with some men who really hated me. They were powerful men. I didn’t really understand why they hated me. Another woman at the company told me why. “You show it off, but you don’t let them have it.”
A while back I wrote a little parable and posted it on Instagram with this pic:
I thought y’all might find it relevant, so I’m reprinting it here. Please note that it is only a parable, and that any resemblance to actual events or people is completely unintentional.
Here, let me tell you a story:
Once, I worked for a very handsy man. This was a while back. Everyone knew he was handsy.
I was wearing red faux leather pants one day in the office. He sat down next to me and put his hand on my thigh. Are those leather? he asked, with his hand on my thigh. Men are always asking if something is leather while touching your body that you did not give them permission to touch.
At a holiday party the man leaned in close as we stood by the oysters and told me how sexy I was. I did nothing. You know this story.
Later, when I no longer worked for the man, I went for a drink with him, to “catch up”.
Why did you do that? asked my child, at dinner, the night I was telling them this story.
“I wanted to see what would happen,” I said.
Nothing happened. The man did not tell me I was sexy and he did not touch my body.
What should I learn from this? asked my child.
You should learn, I said, that the man no longer found me sexy because I no longer worked for him. You should learn that it didn’t matter at all whether I wore leather pants or did not wear leather pants.
This is only one of the reasons I show myself to you now, in leather, a little or a lot.
Do not mistake me for someone who cares about what you desire.
I serve my own needs here, not yours.
You play stupid games, you win stupid prizes
I’m too old to play stupid games. I’m tired of trying to figure out how much skin showing or loud fashion might quietly make me unemployable. I am an embodied being and a creative person, and I will wear or not wear what works for me and what I want. The illusion that the hoodie and jeans would make me fit in was always an illusion. The illusion that the leather pants were my problem was also always an illusion.
I look to the savvy businesswomen of the music industry for my inspiration. Dolly Parton, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Cardi B. They’re smart women making smart business decisions, while wearing sequins, while wearing thigh high boots, while wearing skintight suits, and sometimes while wearing nothing at all.
I’m still offering office hours for women and non-binary folk in software development who want career or engineering management advice, sign up here.
If you would like me to write or speak or teach or consult about engineering leadership, mental illness, or boots, just smash that reply button and ask, or slide into my twitter DMs, or email me at email@example.com.
If you would like to hire me full-time to lead your engineering team or some part of it, please check back in September; I’m on hiatus from full-time employment. You can find current updates on my availability at www.amynewell.com.
If you like my instagram and would like to collaborate on creative projects (yes I model, style, and do all my own photography, and am open to collabs as a photographer, a model, or a stylist), let’s talk! More info over at www.amywearsboots.com
If you like my writing and want to pay me to write my memoir/handbook for living, tentatively titled Many Minor Apocalypses, definitely get in touch because that’s probably the thing I’m supposed to be doing right now. Just smash that reply button and ask, or slide into my twitter DMs, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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it’s pathetic how I can never manage to actually generate referral links for things so I earn money from my clothing obsessions. I know that my influence has caused many people to buy lunya clothing yet somehow I have made no money out of this. I will be fixing all this this summer because I need to diversify my income streams.