Last week I got an email from a young engineer in need of wardrobe help. I was more than happy to offer some advice: 

 I came across your blog awhile ago, and was wondering if you could help me with a little problem. I’m about to start work at my first engineering internship in a major shipping company (and I’ll probably be working with the offshore division on design and building of rigs) and I’m not sure how to dress? While studying here in Cambridge, I tend to avoid heels for workshop, etc., but the dress code from the human resource manager sounds rather formal (shirt and pants at least I think). Would it be ok if I wore heels, or would it be more sensible to wear flats?

Would love any advice you have to give. I really like reading your blog – it is not easy to find female engineers here who care about things others would deem superficial. >.<

Jenny W
 

 
Here was my reply:
 
 
 

 

Hi Jenny W

Your concerns may seem frivolous to some, but this can be really daunting when starting a career. Or at least it was for me when I first started work a few months back! Your job sounds really exciting and it seems as though you’ll be getting experience in both a design office and on the site. These are two very different environments and require very different clothes.

Generally, on site there will be a set dress-code to ensure you’re protected. They may issue you with PPE (personal protective equipment) including overalls, a hard-hat, safety boots as well as goggles and gloves. If not, its advisable to wear closed, comfortable shoes, jeans and a shirt. Don’t take any chances in a dangerous environment- here you will unfortunately have to be practical! Some women on the plant however spice up their overalls with a brightly coloured head-scarf to protect their hair. I like pretty, tailored shirts, so at least when I take my jacket off indoors, I can still look and feel good.

On the other hand, when you are in the design offices or in meetings, don’t feel you need to keep up the drab appearance. Just because you sometimes wear overalls, don’t let go of your femininity altogether! When I’m at our Johannesburg design offices or visiting suppliers, I always dress in stylish, sophisticated, professional clothes and heels. A lot of women prefer to wear flats for comfort and in the engineering world, that’s acceptable, but I like dressing up. Heels make me feel tall and confident and it comes across as more professional too.
 In the end, you need to use your judgement to assess what is appropriate for the situation. In our project offices at the site, I wear comfortable pants and shoes that may sometimes have a slight heel, but my safety boots and hard-hat (yes – the pink one) are always close by in case I need to run to the plant to check something out.

My advice is to just trust yourself and have confidence. I a few short weeks you will ease in to a style that works for you and fits into your company, so don;t stress about it too much. Also don’t be afraid of being slightly daring and bringing some feminine flair to your workplace.Stay fabulous and update me on how it turns out in a few weeks.
Best,
Engineer-Chic
If you have any questions, send them along to engineer-chic1 at gmail dot com