Cover image for Why I wear purple lipstick and code skirts

Why I wear purple lipstick and code skirts

geekgalgroks profile image Jenn ・2 min read

It started when I found a dress with the source code to Doom printed on it. I had to have that dress. I bought it and delighted in answering questions about the dress and the code. Piece by piece I built a wardrobe of code dresses, skirts, leggings, shoes, and t-shirts.

I use fashion to broadcast loudly that I am a woman in tech.

Using my wardrobe to signal to others

I use this wardrobe to normalize that a woman doesn't have to be in jeans and a black t-shirt to write and understand code. I wear code dresses and skirts when I present to show that it is okay to like dresses and code. I wear bright lipstick and eyeliner to say that makeup is allowed and it also makes my eyes and lips more visible to those in the back or attending remotely.

I make a point to wear some sort of code related item anytime I attend conferences and Meetups so I can be easily spotted. I answer questions about my earrings and purse every other week. I want people to realize they should not have to be "one of the boys" to be successful in tech, they should be able to be themselves.

Using my wardrobe as armor for myself

My style has been described as

Kicking in the door to announce I'm here and asking "Does anyone have a problem with that?"


Making space for me at the table.

I was often the only woman in a room full of men. I got used to stares and subtle jabs of "Do you really belong here?"

I started to wear brightly colored lipstick so people would look me in the face when I was talking. It also had the benefit of everyone in the office knowing who I was.

When I wore code t-shirts I changed their stares from me being the only woman in the room to "What code is that?".

Fashion gives me the strength to be myself and thrive in tech.

Posted on Nov 14 '18 by:

geekgalgroks profile



Jenn is a self taught web developer who specializes in usability and accessibility. She is easily spotted at conferences by her bright lipstick and various code dresses and t-shirts.


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We have this year's new lineup in the DEV shop dropping soon which could provide some nice additions along these lines. 😄


I do love my "Copy pasting from Stack Overflow" and "DEV" t-shirts....


I am legit so excited for this, Ben


You should do a deal with SpoonFlower and get tech-oriented fabrics made. T-shirts are great, but fabrics mean you can get stuff custom made.


The way you dress or whether or not you choose to wear makeup or anything else should not affect the way others perceive your abilities. With that said, I don't understand why anyone would feel weird being the only woman in the room or in the conference. It's not like being a woman is equal to being an alien. To me it sounds just as weird as somebody saying "it was weird being the only blue-eyed person in the conference when everybody else had brown eyes." The way I'd react to such a statement would be "um, okay... so what? Who cares about your eye color?"


I mean, I agree that the way you dress should not affect the way others perceive your abilities, but it does.

Have you ever been the only woman or nonbinary person in a conference? Or in a meeting where all the guys in the room suddenly start making jokes about women and domestic labor? It's not fun. I love that Jenn is making an intentional choice to change the feel of the room.


I have actually not ever been in a conference to be honest. But I'm often the only female-bodied person at work or amongst a group of friends. I rarely notice unless somebody points it out. If the others are being assholes about it (e.g. cracking jokes about domestic labor) then I don't think it's an issue of "being the only woman in the room" but rather of "being the only sensible persoon amongst assholes". It could be women that are the assholes so gender is not very relevant.

I am so glad for you that that has been your experience. However, the “both sides”ing here isn’t super accurate. If women are assholes, they are statistically less likely to be in positions of power to enact their bad opinions against you, and in my experience, groups of men, even who are well meaning non-assholes, can get thoughtless and downright mean in their rhetoric when they don’t realize they’re perpetuating a sexist belief or harmful joke.

I’ve generally found it helpful in my life not to view people as assholes, or think that cruelty is an immutable fact of their person. It’s usually because they’re unaware of a power differential, or an unquestioned belief. Increasing the visibility of underrepresented groups in tech helps counteract those unquestioned beliefs and make the space more liveable for everyone.


You can live your life on "shoulds" ...but the outcomes are likely to not be great if you don't also acknowledge reality.

First impressions will always be a thing. That said, assuming your first-impression isn't so off-putting that you don't get the opportunity to perform, you can leave an indelible mark. Sometimes, such a mark can make it easier for those who come later to not have to worry so much about "can I present myself as myself and still feel comfortable".

Overall, it just depends on the price you're willing to pay or even just risk.

Especially in my 20s, I played it close to the edge of acceptability. Fortunately, while some customers owned up to being skeptical of the big, inked, technocolor-haired dude in the cenobite-painted motorcycle jacket walking into their building, they also took it as a statement of self-confidence. One customer at a large financial-services firm even told me, "I figure that, looking like that, you either reeeeeally knew your stuff or I'd be kicking you off-site at the end of the day".


Haha that's a nice way of presenting yourself then. I hadn't given it much thought.


I go super glam when I talk at conferences, it makes me feel way more confident! I was the only woman speaker at a conference earlier this year 😡 and I wore a bright red romper. Totally agree with all of this!


So you are giving the term »dresscode« a whole new dimension with »code dress« ;)


That is downright brilliant!..

...stupid that it's something of a necessity for career survival right now...

...but brilliant!

What's that saying? "If you can't beat 'em, confuse 'em"? It works.


I got used to stares and subtle jabs of "Do you really belong here?"

Jerks... I have worked as CTO and team lead and if one of my people were to do that I would seriously consider firing him.
I had the pleasure to work with several developers who happened to be women and I cannot fathom what happens in the mind of someone to diminish another person for the sexual organ that person have. Kudos to you for finding a way to tackle that shit and all my support to you. If you ever want to come to Barcelona just know that here, woman developers, are not that rare.


You do belong! I love the way you're taking control of the things that are in your control. And how you gain strength and create awareness for you as a person and a coder not only as someone from that alien gender.

That makes me think about whole new ways of peer reviews! Everyone could wear his/her own code on his/her clothes. So, everyone can give advice on each other's code just there at the lunch table. Although, that will probably lead to weird puns. And people putting on jackets to increase code coverage. Forget what I just said! :D


I once got told I couldn't possibly be a developer because of my bright coral lipstick and the fact that I was wearing a romper :(. I wish I was making this up, but it was almost verbatim "You can't possibly be a developer." Me: "uh...why not?" Dude: "Well....look at you!"

I do makeup as a creative outlet and I absolutely love making statements with it. I love a bold lip or some colorful eyes.


Sounds awesome! Sad that it seems to be necessary, but nontheless it's great. Now I want a code-dress to - as a guy! Maybe as a scotish kilt?


If you're willing to spend, getting custom clothing made is usually quite doable. Not only can you get funky fabrics, the stuff you'll get will fit far better than off-the-rack. Plus, you'll leave an impression. Win-win, really.

SpoonFlower is a great place to start your search.


Reminds me of the 90s — when people knew "oh: must be a real tech-wizard to come rolling in here with all that ink and that 'not found in nature' hair color".

Even still, I get custom-made clothing to wear to work (we may be required to wear "business casual" but there's nothing in the handbook that says the long-sleeved, button-up shirts can't be eye-gouging patterns and/or colors). Then again, I'm lucky enough to be married to someone who's a very skillful clothier.

In general, more people need to step out from the "safety" of their choice in clothing, homes and cars. This world is far to "beige" and far to "HOA-friendly".


Haha, really love this. What a perfect way to make a statement. And yes! Women do belong in tech. Too bad there are not more; the best teams I worked on were mixed teams with men and women.

It /is/ a bit disappointing though, that there is no visible support of the aforementioned code dresses. Or - in other words - PICS OR IT DIDN'T HAPPEN!

(no offence Jenn, just a little josh)


I love this!! Especially “kicking in the door” and “making space at the table”. I love that you take what is traditionally viewed as feminine and use that as a tool to say I am female and I certainly belong here. I am woman, hear me roar!


Sounds like a nice outfit for a superhero! GG


When I wore code t-shirts I changed their stares from me being the only woman in the room to "What code is that?".

I absolutely love this. Such a good tactic!


A pair on WinSocks would be great for me, too.


What kind of reaction does that kind of clothing illicit? How do you react to criticism on your appearance?


It is good that you follow a strict dress code ;)


The strict dress code is your dress says "use strict" on it.


Beware of getting old and having to work places where the "business casual" look is required instead of cool tech companies.


Don't worry, I have dress pants that the pin stripe is actually morse code for "The future is female" on them. I can dress this way in any dress code.


There's a toooooon of wiggle-room in "business casual".