Why Geeks Should Care About Fashion

As a thirty-something male software engineer, one of the best things about looking for a new job is that I get to go shopping for interview clothes. And that’s what I did this weekend.

If you’ve not appreciated the joy of shopping for interview clothes, you’re missing out. And if you think that this joy is just for women… Well, you unfortunately may be right. Women have so many more clothing options. Not only can they wear anything a man can wear, they get to wear skirts, capris, dresses, and even stirrup pants. (But please, ladies, don’t do that.) And accessories! As a man, I can wear a ring and watch. If I want to be bad, I can wear a crucifix around my neck, or maybe a stud earring. If I want to be formal, I can wear a tie. But the girls get to play with jewelry, scarves, handbags, shoes, and just about everything else. And women can get away with colors and patterns that would just make us guys look gay. Yes, women get to have all the fun and creativity.

For many years I cared nothing about how I dressed. I had T-shirts, threadbare, full of holes, sometimes ripped under the armpit where I had outgrown them. I wore them to work, along with my ripped jeans. I hated clothes shopping, which was just as well, because I didn’t care what I wore. I worked for the same laid-back employer for 14 years, and during that time I rarely upgraded my wardrobe. A software developer and musician, I hated formality and hated to be put in a box and told what to do. And I’m still that way. My creativity is one of my greatest strengths. I love breaking the rules, stepping out of the box, doing my own thing for the betterment of mankind. But back then, I didn’t see any use for nice clothes except as a way to conform.

Then I got laid off. And I needed to go on job interviews. And suddenly it was important to look good. And I didn’t know the first thing about the subject.

One day, I was watching the Learning Channel, and I discovered a relatively new show, called What Not to Wear. I watched a few episodes, and I discovered something that surprised me that shouldn’t have. Fashion requires creativity, and choosing clothes requires engineering skills. What makes you look tall, or thin, or muscular? The answer is not arbitrary. It’s your clothes, and choosing clothes is an exercise in bringing out your strengths and managing your weaknesses. You can have an average body, but with the right clothes, you can make an impression that lasts. Or you can have a killer body, and with the right clothes, you can look like a potato.

But there was something else I noticed on What Not to Wear, and something I noticed in myself later. When someone wears dumpy clothes, he behaves like a dork. When someone wears good-fitting clothes that bring out his best, he behaves like a leader. Just changing your wardrobe will change your personality. (If you doubt it, I suggest you try it.) And as a creative type, one thing that gives me great joy is to go into a clothing store, identify some item that I wouldn’t be caught dead in, and putting it on. New colors, new patterns, new prints. It’s a new way to break out of the box.

Okay, there are limits. I refuse even to acknowledge those loose-fitting jeans that look like daddy’s clothes. But that’s because they hide a lot more than illicit weapons. They also hide your best features. Even if you look great under there, they make it look like you have something to hide, like you’re fat and flabby. And that’s how people will perceive you. When it comes to looking good, you can’t take the Fifth.

So, geeks of the world! Break out of the box! Throw away those bland, trashy, wrinkled, dorky, comfortable, old clothes. Show your true colors! You may be surprised yourself at the result.

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[…] Most jobs do not give you room to grow. Most jobs do not let you make a difference. Most jobs do not put you in initiative-driven teams working for good bosses that focus on results and let you be comfortable and fulfilled in your work. And most software engineering jobs do not expect you to sell your time; they expect you to sell your soul. […]

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