Monday, July 1, 2013

How To Not Become A Flasher

There are some days when you leave your home thinking you’re going to have a normal day of meetings and sitting in your office, working at your computer. On those days, you might think it a good idea to deviate from your usual fashion of practical business casual wear. On those days, you might think it a good idea to finally wear that flowy skirt or new dress. After all, even though you work as an engineer and frequently disregard your girlish impulses in order to fit in, you are a girl and it is socially acceptable to wear skirts and dresses once in a while. If you are like me, you will be thinking, ‘What could it hurt to wear a dress on such a drab work day?’ 

Let this be a warning from personal experience: Disregarding your better (more practical) judgment to satisfy your girlish needs is not a good idea. Inevitably, the day you choose to wear a dress is the day you will be faced with some emergency which requires you to take apart and reassemble a malfunctioning piece of equipment, visit a client site which requires that you wear a pair of gross/moldy coveralls over your clothes, or even climb through air conditioning ducts superspy-style to end a dangerous hostage situation. 

In all of these cases, your girlish impulse to wear a dress is a hindrance. If your job is anything like mine, you have a 100% chance of flashing your coworkers while reassembling that mischievously malfunctioning piece of equipment. And if you attempt to do your job while consciously trying to avoid flashing your coworkers, you’re going to do it awkwardly and inefficiently. This is one of my greatest examples of a lose-lose situation. Either you are subject to embarrassment in front of your coworkers or your reputation takes a blow because of your inefficiency, all because you decided to wear a dress. 

After having experienced this first-hand, I have defined a new rule for choosing my work attire: Do not wear dresses. Do not try to try to make a fashion statement. Do not try to overthrow the suppression that your workplace practicality has imposed. This is one of those moments where it is a good idea to suck it up and bear it. 

I now intend to put a sign on my closet which reads something like this:

"Oh you want to wear a dress? No you don't. Put it back and grab those pants. Flashing is reserved for sex offenders and camera bulbs.

And if you’re having a hard time choosing what to wear, my friend Vanessa has kindly already provided some advice on what footwear is appropriate in the workplace. 

Now, avoiding wearing girly clothing just because of some hypothetical, superlative situations may sound suppressive or even discriminatory against women. I, however, don’t consider my advice anti-women or anti-feminism. In fact, I consider this choice in attire to be helpful to gaining women respect and rights. 

The reality is that I’m an engineer AND a feminist, which means I tend to go about obtaining respect for women in a practical manner. In my mind, women shouldn’t demand respect just because they are women. They need to earn respect by doing respectable things. Flashing my coworkers in a 100% avoidable situation doesn’t gain me respect; it actually discredits me. My coworkers will think of me as that girl that tries to do a man’s job instead of as just a coworker doing an engineer’s job.

Alternatively, if I dress appropriately for the job, as a typical engineer would (in practical, reasonable attire because we engineers are practical people), then I will hopefully be thought of as an engineer first. My reputation won’t be degraded, I won’t be embarrassed, and I’ll still be on par with all my other coworkers. Being thought of as an engineer who happens to also be a woman shifts the paradigm toward people understanding that everyone is capable of being an engineer regardless of gender. 

After all, women deserve respect in the workplace, and I simply can’t get that if I’m flashing everyone. Plus, by going about this reasonably, I’m able to combat the notion that women are unfathomable, illogical, and flighty creatures.

I, at least, will be removing skirts and dresses from my work attire from now on.


  1. I can really relate to this post. There was one day that I was strongly considering wearing this cute work dress, and by mid day I ended up being strapped into a harness by a client. Could not have been more happy to be wearing pants that day. Engineering is a hands-on, unpredictable field, and it requires really practical clothing.

  2. I was wondering, would keeping a backup attire at the office/car work? That way if you do wear a dress, but plans for the day change, you can switch to pants/etc... I usually keep a spare shirt in my car, next to the spare towel, because you never know what might happen ;)

    1. Haha, I actually keep three changes of clothes in my desk drawer. Two protective-wear related changes, and one "oh snap I spilled coffee on myself" change. But yeah, I do know some women who change back and forth. It just seems impractical to have to change outfits multiple times a day. Also, I love that you keep a spare towel.

    2. Woah, that's a lot of spare clothes! But yeah, a towel is the most important item a Hitchhiker can carry. ;)

  3. Keep a pair of short-pants (athletic outerwear) handy. If you are wearing a dress or skirt, you can slip the shorts on underneath. It worked for us in grade school (knee-length skirts were the school uniform) when we wanted to swing upside-down from the monkey bars during recess.

    And a personal story: during my engineering internship I nearly always wore pants. The one day I decided to wear a skirt that summer was the day my supervisor announced, "Let's go look at the full-size mockup of the upper stage launch vehicle in the high bay." Timing was critical because we needed to pick one of the rare days that the machinist staff was not working on the mockup. We walked over and stood on the floor, pointing and discussing the different parts and procedures I was analyzing that session. At one point he suggested I climb the scaffold stairs and take a closer look at a specific check valve. He quickly added, "I will stand over here" and he moved well out of any underside-viewing angle. I climbed the five mesh stairs then held my somewhat-full kneelength skirt snug against my legs with one hand and gestured with the other as we continued discussing the valve in question. I was standing on a metal mesh platform. He made sure no one walked in range of seeing up my skirt. A very professional and considerate adjustment for the situation.

    1. Great advice, and interesting perspective! I often do things so that accommodations do not have to be made for me - but it is interesting to think about the fact that sometimes it isn't wrong for people to make sure that you are respected and fit in to you new environment.


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