Womenswear in Academia.

I have been thinking a lot lately about what women wear in science and how it affects how we are perceived. There is the fact that I don’t think I conform to any “standardised” view of what scientists should wear especially when away from the field. I have also been reading a few other blog posts on it and the articles they have linked to as well. It got me thinking about how women are perceived in science and teaching and how we influence that (for better or worse) through what we wear.

Posts such as:


Where the authors talk about their changing styles or how they have been perceived for what they have worn. As well as how different studies and research has shown that their male counterparts are taken to be better teachers and better professors right off the bat.

“Classwork was graded and returned to students at the same time by both instructors. But the instructor students thought was male was given a 4.35 rating out of 5 (in promptness). The instructor students thought was female got a 3.55 rating.” Researcher Lillian MacNell in the Slate article.

I mean that is just nuts is it not? Losing over a point in evaluation because of gender bias!

It got me thinking and also a little worried…what is going to happen one day am I going to be taken less seriously, seen to have less authority and believed to be less efficient just because I am a female. Is the fact that I like to wear a dress and ballet flats as opposed to a power suit or the tried and trusted “uniform” of jeans and a t-shirt going to skew the way I am seen by colleagues and students. If I wear a new outfit everyday does that mean I won’t be taking my teaching or marking seriously (“she looks like she cares too much about her clothes, she wore a different dress every day!”)? I shouldn’t at all, but from the studies and accounts it looks like my future students will! It appears right now females can’t win even if we do conform to female or academic stereotypes of not! What about at the other end of the dress spectrum if I wore field clothes all the time or the same jeans and a t-shirt would the other extreme be taken, that I don’t care about my appearance so how could I care about my work or marking (maybe this is a stretch but, at this point it is not hard to believe). I don’t think how I or other women, and men for that matter, dress should affect peoples perceptions of our ability to do our job in an efficient and competent manner or be able to give the viewer an insight into our intelligence.

When I am in the field and on the boat I obviously dress appropriately for what I am doing. I look like your standard field biologist:

That's me looking pretty snazzy!

Neon is everyones colour!

Me On Adrianus

Layers and coffee! The standard biologists outfit! Photo: © Sacha Guggenheimer

Me On Adrianus 2 - Big Hair Don't Care

Big hair, don’t care! Photo: © Damien Morales

However, this is how I dress day to day away from the field. If I was in the lab, office or giving a talk I am pretty certain I would be rocking something along these lines:

Me At Kew

Why yes I do have two different animals printed on my attire! Photo: © Russell Charles Hall

Roses are red...

Roses are red…

Posey Posing!

Posey Posing!

It upsets me although, maybe it shouldn’t surprise me that even as I strive to become an accomplished scientist I will continue to be judged for the way that I dress. I have never asked so I am not sure how people (colleagues, peers and superiors) perceived me and what I wore when I meet them for the first time! I believe I win them over with my knowledge, wit and modesty but, when they first meet me in those first few moments do I come off as a less-serious or dedicated scientist and researcher because I like to wear tea dresses and cute (in my humble opinion) cardigans?!? I sure hope not.

I aim to continue to dress in a way that I am comfortable, I don’t want to conform to an expected style but, also wish to be judged for my work not my outfit. There seems to be a lot more thought that has to go into what woman in science wear then men. However, I feel at ease in a dress much more than I would in jeans and a t-shirt, something that wasn’t the case at 18, so I think I will stick to that comfort and subsequent confidence and hope that it wins over people more than any judgement on my attire!

I asked my partner what he thought of when asked what scientist wear and he said “khakis and a button down shirt”! My response was “Yes, but what about women?” and it turns out he meant for both genders. That’s not too far off what I wear in the field but, a huge hop, skip and jump from what I wear during downtime, at the office and if I was giving a talk but, he has known that from the outset!

What do you think? Are you a woman or a man in science, do you judge or feel judged for what you wear? It is a modern world out there but sometimes it feels like we are taking several steps back! Maybe by the time I am a teacher it won’t be an issue anymore.

You can also follow along on the Deep Blue Conversations Facebook Page. It is where I post articles related to marine conservation, share awesome stories as well as photos from the marine conservation and environmental world in general. Come on over and have a look!

4 thoughts on “Womenswear in Academia.

  1. I have been a “scientist” for 40 years and have always been judged on what I wear.
    In the early days of my career, even when purely a lab worker, a tie was mandatory for men but ladies were always at liberty to dress in what we now call “smart casual” even when they were in senior management positions.

    Not sure what khakis are but I’m a massive button down shirt fan and they are my “go to” outfit with chinos, these days. Ties only applicable when impressing visitors or government inspectors.

    These days (I do still occasionally do lab work) no one gives a flying #### what anyone wears (in industry) with jeans and superhero tshirts being the order of the day for both genders at the young end. Old buffers like me are still a little stuck in a more formal era.

    Much more important to be comfortable, whilst considering safety (no open toed sandals in the chemistry lab !!) than mithering about what other people think.


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  3. Yeah, I’m with Mike. Men are subject to expectations around dress as well. My poor husband has to wear a tie, dress shirt & suit to work everyday. He hates it (is hot & uncomfortable all the time), but he’s stuck, trapped by the conventions of masculine dress in his field. Clearly he thinks it’s worth subscribing to those expectations to stay employed and hopefully be promoted. Not an issue for feminism, just life.

    I’m sure women scientists are subject to stereotypes about their capabilities however, as you touch on briefly. It’s wrong that women are perceived by students as less capable, no matter what they’re wearing. That’s surely an issue for feminism. Unfortunately, this issue is trivialized when it is set beside your complaints about dress code.

    • Dear Marcy,

      Thank you for your comment. I would start by saying I don’t presume to talk about the pressure that men are under to dress a certain way (I do state however that “I don’t think how I or other women, and men for that matter, dress should affect peoples perceptions of our ability to do our job”). This post was specifically on women and how they dress and are perceived by their peers. I can not comment on how my male counterparts (or males in general) feel but at least for the most part, from reading around the web, they do not seem to come under the same pressure and strain that women do when considering how what they wear will be perceived first rather than their work. I am not talking here about wearing outlandish attire to work, that would deem one unemployable, I speak about women being judged no matter what they wear.

      I would say that I did not once complain about a ‘dress code’ I merely made comment on what is seen around me and how I feel which does not “trivialize” the matter but talks about it from a personal perspective. It is disheartening to see that women have come so far and achieved so much and yet can still be judged on appearance more than substance.

      Thank you for reading and checking out my blog.


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