A Master Thesis: A Woman in Tech Public Speaking Dress Code

On Twitter Linda Lawton asked the question

So as a woman in tech public speaking. What is the dress code? Do you go janes and a nerdy t-shirt? or all dolled up and making a point that you are a woman who knows her stuff? or something in the middle?


I responded with my usual bluntness of:

Wear what ever the fuck you want, but remember to find a place for the lapel battery pack. […]

Me on Twitter

and ended up with me writing a rather hastly put togetehr list of things to consider. I still stand by my original point.

There are things to consider and it is 100% up to you how you take this advice. Over time, you will work out what works and doesn’t work for you. Nothing written here is set in stone. I probably forgot a bunch too.

My list of things to keep in mind:

  • You will need to be on stage, in front a bunch of semi strangers, being comfortable is one thing, dressing to have confidence is another. You can have both. You should demand nothing else but both.
  • People sometimes use their time in front of peopel to make a statement, what ever that may be. You can choose to do that as long as it doesn’t break any event COC rules.
  • Bright lights can make a top see through, so underwear colour choices are real. Try watching previous videos of the stage you will be at to get a feeling for how the space is set up.
  • If you have to travel, consider how much effort it is to iron. The effort to iron once you get somewhere, for me, is too much.
  • Think about the spacing and angle between the stage and the first row of chairs. Short dresses will become shorter in particular angles.
  • The weather indoors and outdoors of a venue can be completely different. Add a number of bodies in the track and the rooms can get stuffy. Layers are your friends. I’m best friends with my red cardigan.
  • Some people will judge you for not shaving your legs/armpits, most won’t. This is not because you are a woman in tech public speaking. This is society norms being dicks with people’s heads. Ignorance is bliss. Anyone who questions you on your personal choices of shaving can simply fuck off.
  • Wear footwear that make you happy. What ever outfit you want to wear, you should put it on yourself and have a smile on your face. If it doesn’t find something else. For some people it means wearing heels, others its boots, and others its flip flops.

    For me, my true happy point is barefoot. I’ve twisted my ankle enough times to not give a shit about my feet being exposed. Its the lease likely way that I will twist my ankle on stage
  • Jewlery – If you decide to wear earrings, then be mindful of how much noise they make. If they make any noise, the lapel mic will pick it all up every time you move your head or arms. It is the worse.

    The AV people will probably ask you to take them out if they look even slightly jangly.

    Bypass the pain and pick non-jangly earrings and braclets etc.

    In fact, i would go as far as no braclets for me because well, i’ll end up playing with them and knowing my luck one will just fly off into someone’s face. hehe.
  • Have pockets. Not the shitty pockets that you can’t put anything in. A pocket that actually can carry stuff in.

    Getting your favourite outfit to have proper pockets is worth every penny!

    I have a dress which can hold my mobile phone, packet of tissues, a bottle of water, the lapel battery pack and my clicker in two pockets.

    If you are adding pockets:
    • Be mindful of the material of the clothes vs the amount of weight you can shove in the pockets. There is no point of making big pockets if the material can’t withstand the weight from all the rubbish that we end up filling it with. We don’t want to ruin your clothes.
    • Add zips to close the pockets. That way if you fancy jumping up and down on the stage for what ever reason ( yes I’ve done this ) nothing will fall out of them.
    • Some clothes don’t suit adding pockets too which is annoying and it will end up ruining the shape of the dress on you. I have a skirt this happened to. I am forever sad.
  • Know where the bathroom is. I have a weak bladder. Clearing my bladder before the talk is real. Have underwear that can withstand a leak or two too if you end up laughing along too hard with the audiance. This shit is real for women. There is no shame in it.
  • I can end up drinking some water and pouring water down my top. Not done this on stage yet, but it will happen one day. It happens enough at home. So I avoid tops that will look horrific if slightly wet. This all boils down to admitting how clumsey i am at life and mitigating as many of these so I am comprehensiable on stage.
  • Jeans are great. I’m just too forgetful about packing a belt.
  • Shirts and me are not friends. I wish we were. I always find to have a boob hole and the button sometimes pop. Imagine that on stage? If you don’t have that problem please tell me how you fix it. I wish i could be friends with shirts. Then again, they need ironing and that’s effort I rarely bother with.
  • Bright light and makeup. I am not a makeup person really. I went through a phrase of wearing makeup when i went on stage. I admire anyone who can do makeup and not worry all day long about having it smuge. More recently I’ve settled to barely makeup. This is really just chapstick and face powder.

    The chapstick to make sure my lips don’t stick together and are dry on stage.
    The face powder to mute some of the aweful shine i get from being in front of a bright light. Actors do this all day long, some simple translucent powder to mute the light a little bit on my forehead and that’s it.

The Lapel mic battery pack

The bane of my speaker exsistance. The only thing you really have to consider when picking outfits.

I have walked on stage with a big black jumper dress and a pair of leggings only to meet my joyful friend, the lapel battery pack. This above all else is something to think hard about.

If you go on stage, and there is a lapel mic. This is good. It means that you can keep your hands free and wave them around and use the clicker and gives you freedom of movement. It is your friend.

What isn’t your friend is the battery pack that the lapel mic always has. It usually has some crappy metal clip on the back and that needs to be attached to something.

Things I consider when dealing with where to put said battery pack

  • What ever I put the battery pack onto needs to not fuck my clothes up and stretch in it a wierd way. clipping it onto a flimsey t shirt is going to make it pull, and that isn’t always flattering.
  • Clipping it to your bra at front, top dependent, can mean having a wierd box shaped bungle on your chest. I don’t like it on me, i avoid.
  • Clipping it to your bra at the back means having bendy arms. I do not have bendy arms which means someone is going to help me with this. The likelyhood of there being a person i am comfortable to touch me so personally around ( remember we’re talking about random tech event ) at the exact moment I am getting mic-ed up is low. Do consider if you are willing to let a stranger help you.
  • Belts – Belts are great, but a belt and a battery pack – it depends. a fabric belt that you tie to yourself in a pretty bow might not withstand the weight and pull during the whole talk. A belt you use to keep your jeans up, that has a buckle is more likely. Get a belt hole puncher to punch a hole to make the belt fit better.
  • Pockets. I mentioend it before and i’ll mention it again. I love proper pockets. This my personal go to on all dresses since a belt doesn’t always make sense. And I’ve been known to plan to wear a belt and then forget because im ditsy as shit. Or i forget to pack one which i no better. See previous list for considerations of adding pockets to clothes.
  • Back of the top on the neck. That is great if you have a top that has a hem that can hold it’s shape. I happen to not have that option.

Once you have the battery pack clipped, then it’s a question of how to wire yourself.

  • From where ever, up your back, to the side you need the lapel mic to be on. I usually have a caridigan on top of my dress so i thread it between the cardigan and dress and over my shoulder to the correct side it needs to be on for the stage.

    Why over my shoulder rather than under my armpit? Because I have an amazing habit of catching wires and pulling on them accidently when i’m waving my arms around like a mad lady.
  • Where do you need the lapel mic to be on? The side that is closest to the centre of the stage. Why? Because when you turn your head to look at the screen behind you and keep talking, the mic will be in the right direction and you will keep talking into the mic instead of going quiet.

There’s probably more I’ve forgotten. I’ll update later.

There’s also a bunch of great responses and links from @LindaLawtonDK original tweet.

The reality is that some organiser has asked you to take the stage, whether than is a function room at pub for a local meetup or a big conference stage, the organisers asked you.

Wear what will help you enjoy your time, share your thoughts, at that event.

Thank you to Misty V. Decker‏ @MistyMVD for telling me I could write a master thesis on the subject and for Mother Of Code‏ @motherofcode telling me I should. Hope i did you both proud.