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I’m all for coders dressing however they want and anticipate an explosion of styles to where words like “dress” won’t pin it down enough (“kilt” either, nor “toga”).

In contrast, some codes of conduct around software world are full of warnings to not “sexualize” clothing, an implicit ban on “booth babes” (regardless of how much coding skills they have) and that’s actually sending a contrary signal to “dress however you like”.

Here in Portland the students stage a “Slut Walk” asserting the right to dress as they might in a science fiction or goth conference. “Don’t read anything into it, if I wear this bikini or studded collar to work” or whatever. I salute the attempt to remove all spin from clothing (other body art), good luck with that. All genders have something to gain from a multiplying wardrobe possibilities. I find men especially constrained by the suit and tie, and understand the “grunge” backlash here in the Silicon Forest, wear I live.

Wearing an anthropology hat, I’d say clothing is customarily used to send signals about identity, a lot like those stickies we add to badges at some conferences, saying “full stack” “big data” or whatever. Yes, confusing signals will be sent and/or received. Lets acknowledge these misunderstandings will occur, but then commit to the art of the double-take and reset.

Like, give me at least one chance to get it totally wrong, as when we meet I need to guess to some extent and do follow cues as I’ve learned them, as a part of the handshaking protocol.

I don’t ask for infinite patience, just allow me to be self-correcting over time (not an eternity, say an hour), if I read you wrong at first. Cut me some slack, in exchange for my willingness to backpedal and refocus.

It’s just as bad with tourists overseas, all dressed like slobs while touring esoteric sacred temples and monasteries. Who’s to figure out, just by looking, which are the professors of religion that have written a whole thesis on this very lineage?

Also, finally, remember your peers (of all shapes and size, gender and hue) who maybe wish to skate through a specific conference not talked to, not on the spot, maybe indeed lurking in the company of another. I’d like to be that person myself sometimes, the one eager to be a wall flower.

So by that reasoning, doesn’t it make sense that we leave the door open to a style of dress that says “I’m just lurking, and won’t take offense if you seem more attentive to the others”? I guess the bigger question is do we allow dress codes to serve as “codes” (a source of cues) in any sense. That’s why uniforms get invented sometimes, to suppress that dimension, leaving only “what matters” bars and badges. Might we have the best of both worlds: a very open dress code (closer to “anything goes” than not), that nevertheless has communicative power? Lets keep thinking about it.

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