Molecular nutritionist Dr Emma Beckett recently posted a photo of herself on Twitter wearing a bright cotton dress emblazoned with a bold, cartoonish vegetable print.
"I've been told I need to dress more sensibly if I want to engage with industry," the scientist from the University of Newcastle tweeted. "We have an industry mixer on campus this afternoon ... So I'm wearing this, because what's more sensible than VEGETABLES!"
The tweet went viral within minutes, attracting almost 7000 likes. It was retweeted more than 200 times.
Meanwhile, the 35-year-old was inundated with hundreds of messages supporting her decision to thumb her nose at the idea she should consider dressing more sensibly if she wants to be taken more seriously by industry.
"Nah, I engage with people all the time in patterned clothes," wrote one fellow scientist, who posted a photo of herself wearing a cupcake dress. "Aced an interview in a space dress and spent the day at Parliament house in my brain dress! Loving your vegie dress."
"My dinosaur dress always breaks the ice in meetings," wrote another female medical professional, with an accompanying photo.
Dr Beckett's tweet clearly hit a nerve with hundreds of professional women - from researchers and scientists to lawyers and engineers - who are breaking down the traditional stereotypes of office attire and dressing to suit themselves, even in the most conservative of workplaces and sometimes in spite of "well-intentioned" advice to dress otherwise.
"Let's just say it's not the first time someone has told me to reconsider my work attire," says Dr Beckett, whose work wardrobe also includes a pastel donut dress, a pink avocado dress and a multi-coloured fruit salad dress.
"Early on in my career, I did bow to that pressure to look a certain way and fit a certain stereotype and it took me a while to find the confidence to dress the way I really wanted to," she says.
"Now when someone tells me to think about how I dress it just makes me more determined to be myself to the point where I've almost become a caricature of myself," she laughs.
Though she's quickly learned that stereotypes surrounding the way women dress are still deeply entrenched in some industries, including academia.
"I often get mistaken for a student," she says. "I had someone challenge me for parking in the staff car park recently and so I asked them why they thought I wasn't a staff member ... Clearly it was because of the way I dressed."
Despite working in what she calls a "conservative environment, Melbourne anaesthetist, Amar Singh, says she chooses to wear bright, bold outfits to work most days.
"When I was younger I certainly didn't have the confidence to dress the way I do at work now," she says. "I just wanted to fit in, I guess.
"But now I'm much more comfortable being myself and people just have to cope with it," she laughs.
And mostly they do.
"I do get the occasional comment from colleagues, along the lines of 'whoa, what are you wearing today?"
"But mostly I think the way I dress helps to put people at ease or gives them something to talk about. A lot of the patients I deal with are often feeling a little bit vulnerable or out of sorts so it's a bit of ice-breaker."
Software engineer, Rashmi Sivaramareddy, whose work wardrobe comprises jumpsuits, dresses and even boilersuits in bright, bold prints, says it is "empowering" to be free to dress for yourself in the workplace.
She believes attitudes to women's clothing at work is changing in some industries, but not all.
"I'm lucky that I currently work for a start-up and so no one cares what we wear to work as long as we get our work done," she says.
"However, I have worked for one of the big four banks previously where you really have to think twice about whether you can actually wear particular outfits to work."
"Now, I'm like, 'Yep I can wear this,' and it is empowering because it means you're entirely free to be yourself at work," she explains.
Julie Grierson, Newcastle University's deputy chief operating officer in Singapore, summed it up best when she responded to Dr Beckett's tweet about her controversial vegetable dress.
"The day a woman can walk into a boardroom and be looked at because of intellect, power, kindness and great leadership with no one noticing/caring what she is wearing is already here for some and on its way for the rest," she wrote.
Dr Beckett believes that day is still a little way off.
"I have to say, the positives I get from wearing my outfits, such as breaking the ice and engaging with people and standing out from the crowd definitely outweighs the negative comments," she says.
"But a lot of professional women are still expected to conform to a certain stereotype and so I feel it's important to show other women that they can be themselves at their place of work and that's why I'll keep dressing for me and no one else."
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