Why Women Should Ditch the Silicon Valley Dress Code
As an entrepreneur, one of the first things you try to figure out is who your audience is and how you can serve them to the best of your ability. In many ways, the same can be said for how women dress. I bring this up today because office dress codes, particularly in Silicon Valley, are more clearly defined for men than women. Mark Zuckerberg’s hoodie might have set the tone for men in tech, but the women of Silicon Valley are still trying to find their place.
Should women dress a certain way just to please those around them? My answer is no. If you’re a female engineer and dressing in a hoodie and jeans makes you feel more confident and comfortable in your job, then by all means, do it. And if you’re a female engineer and wearing a designer dress makes you feel more confident and comfortable in your job, then do it. If you’re like me (and many women I know), you’ll find that diversifying and personalizing your wardrobe to match your mood, comfort and audience, can be empowering all on its own.
I worked at Google googlin my 20s for four years prior to starting Brit + Co and wore jeans nearly every day, as did everyone else except for Marissa Mayer. I remember how much I admired her audacity to wear Oscar de la Renta to a place like Google, but I could never find the courage to do the same. In fact, I remember the one time I did chose to wear a dress, a colleague of mine commented, “Why are you so fancy today? Interviewing somewhere else?” Needless to say, I was afraid to step out of the mold.
If I could go back in time and give advice to myself when I was at Google, I would tell myself to stop caring about what other people thought and instead focuson finding my own personal style that made me feel like a more confident leader.
Once I started my own company, however, I finally felt comfortable with my personal style. I was free to experiment, and perhaps as a result of spending so many years in “casual” apparel while at Google, began wearing dresses and heels as often as possible. But I quickly realized this type of attire was not sustainable on a daily basis. Heels and dresses are nowhere near as comfortable as sneakers and jeans, and that’s the truth.
As I continued to experiment with different styles, I learned that I most enjoyed getting ‘dressed up’ when I could diversify the things I wore on a daily basis. In other words, I love getting creative with my wardrobe, but only when that creativity makes me feel more confident. And so I have three basic parameters when deciding on an outfit: mood, comfort, and audience.
Here’s one example. When I spoke at, TechCrunch Disrupt, a developer conference, I chose to wear a cheeky t-shirt that said “I Found This Shirt on Pinterest.” My other female panelists wore jeans and modest tops. I receivedtons of comments about how funny my shirt was (primarily from the developers in the audience) and how perfect it was for the event. I genuinely liked my outfit and was comfortable in it.
Now, compare that to what I wore to the Fashion Tech Forum, a prestigious conference held in New York comprised of fashion retailers and executives, and you’ll see a drastic difference. I’m dressed in a trendy Mara Hoffman jumpsuit and heels, and everyone on my panel is in designer duds as well. However, despite the drastic difference in attire, I’m still comfortable with what I’m wearing, I loved having an opportunity to get a little more dressed up.
Then there are board meetings, for which, I may toss on a blazer and button-down shirt. You could argue I’m conforming to dress for my audience, but in reality, this is an outfit that makes me feelmost confident as a CEO leading a meeting of that caliber. Sometimes, I’ll even add some personal flair by throwing on a colorful statement necklace. I’m not afraid of adding sparkle and color in front of my investors.
In fact, I distinctly remember a comment made to me when I was pitching investors for our recent Series B round of financing. I was taken aback when one of the female investors I met with commented on my black and white striped high heels. They were quirky, and I definitely thought twice about wearing them. I clearly stood out. Yet to my surprise, she began discussing with me the different types of heels she loved to buy, noting that shoes were one of her guilty pleasures. Wait. Did we just bond over high heels?
So whether it’s a silly t-shirt or a pair of striped heels, don’t be afraid to add some flair every now and then. Who knows, someone might just remember you (and invest in you) for it.