How I find ways to express my offbeat self in my onbeat career

Guest post by Headdie
How I express my offbeat self in my onbeat career
Black & White Tuxedo Blazer from trouvaillevintageams

I’m a total Offbeater in an Onbeat career.

I’m the business interface and management for a group of engineers in Tech in the Silicon Valley. And unless you can break the sound barrier on amazing code, your work clothes had better be “business casual.” Since I am the business interface, I find myself even more pigeonholed into looking more “corporate” than I’d prefer. This is still more loose than “financial corporate,” but tougher than what my engineers can get away with.

I find little ways to express my offbeatness though…

It’s pops of personality, rather than the whole enchilada.

When having to look business appropriate, you can get away with one or two pieces that are expressive to you. A funky t-shirt with a blazer and slacks, or a cool scarf and jewelry, or fun pants/skirt, with a professional top and shoes.

How I express my offbeat self in my onbeat career
Long Sleeve Jacket from Friends Fashion
My favorite thing is expressive jewelry, I like big obnoxious pieces and generally wear them over more sedate clothes in the office. It also showcases those pieces in a way that invites conversation with you, rather than about you. I have found people like a little personality because otherwise, we all look like extras in the Devil Wears Prada Runway offices.

Also, if wilder hair is your jam, there are clip-in hair pieces and temporary color in every hue imaginable, so you can do crazy hair on the weekends/after work, and then have normal 9-5 hair on the weekdays.

I always tell my interns/mentorees (I mentor young women in Tech) that you have to remember that the people making the decisions on your future within the company are generally at least 10, but probably closer to 20+ years older than you. For them, certain styles and personal appearance items like tattoos represent something that doesn’t represent you as you’re on two different generational and even cultural wave lengths. So for you, it may represent individuality and your soul on your skin, and to them, it may represent something very negative. It’s not right, but it’s reality in some cases.

They’re hiring to fit the team culture as much as they are hiring for skills. And when we’re running the show, the next generation will have things that make us roll our eyes or think is negative, as they had in their generation.

So within the 9-5, don’t hide your personality, but test the waters before committing to all out demonstrations. It’s as much work finding your place in the company culture as the actual job.

How do YOU find ways to express your offbeat nature within the normies?

Comments on How I find ways to express my offbeat self in my onbeat career

  1. This article reminds me of a news story from years ago when NASA was testing the Space Shuttle Test Article, “Enterprise”. Naturally, most of the cast of Star Trek were there, and a reporter asked one of the NASA suits if he had ever watched Star Trek.

    (Now remember that this was the mid-70’s and NASA was about as buttoned-down and serious as you could get outside of the Defense or Intelligence departments…the easygoing quirkiness of SpaceX wouldn’t come for decades yet.)

    The NASA fellow smiled and flipped over his jacket lapel to reveal a button that said, “Closet Trekkie”.


    • Ha! I have joked for years that in a corporate environment, you might not be able to let your freak flag fly, but you can wear your freak flag lapel pin with pride.

      • Yes to pins, pins, pins!

        I use pin badges and brooches to enliven my work outfits, as well as a few pieces of fun jewellery. My husband and several friends in IT, Design and Admin jobs do the same. It may not translate to more formal environments but I find that accessorising also helps you feel like you’re wearing something different, even if it’s the same outfits you wear every week.

  2. I think this is all great for the beginning of your career, but I’m now at the 6 year marker, and for my 5 year anniversary I dyed my hair blue. Before that point, I had initially only allowed myself spooky jewelry at halloween, slooowly expanding it as I entered year 3. Now I’m the office quirky-manager and it’s been weirdly rewarding because I now set the vibe for other offbeat folks coming in that they can achieve and still be themselves! In other words, prove yourself, use subtle statement pieces, and once you’ve proved your worth, own it!

  3. I really like this article. I’ve worked in regulation/ policy, and the reality is that you have to conform to a certain type otherwise you just won’t progress in your career. The line is it ‘wouldn’t be appropriate’ to look too offbeat to board members or members of parliament. One of my previous managers said they flat out wouldn’t have hired someone with a nose ring or unnatural red hair. I’m fortunate in that I have years of experience under my belt now, and I really suss out the culture of a workplace and feel that if they cant deal with a bit of eccentricity, lets face it, I wouldn’t enjoy working there.

  4. Kind of surprised the writer is working in Silicon Valley & describes the dress code as seriously business casual. I’ve worked in the Valley for 20+ years (I’m almost 50), at very large, well-known tech companies & tiny startups (some went bust!), & the only people who wore anything serious were occasionally the lawyers. It’s a sea of T-shirts, jeans (shorts in summer), hoodies, flip-flops, & the like, not much different than what folks wear on the weekends. Engineers are the most casual, marketing is more stylish, product management & business development are a bit preppy. Bright colored hair & tattoos are randomly sprinkled among all levels, maybe not the C-suite, but everywhere else.

    Myself, I love to dress up & blogged my CorpGoth style for years tho’ I don’t keep up the pix anymore – Nobody blinked an eye at anything I wore.

    I do recommend going low-key for an interview — But once you know the company, let your freak flag fly 😉

    • I was thinking the same thing! Every tech startup I’ve worked at has had mostly people who look like they rolled out of bed and came to work (basketball shorts, hats, etc.) and only the C-suite dressed up, and pretty much did that only for external-facing big client meetings (like with huge car manufacturing groups). And even that was very rarely a suit, just business casual.
      That being said, Headdie THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for mentoring young women in tech. If it’s ok I’d love to follow you somewhere or connect. Much love for what you’re doing!

  5. Brooches/badges are a good way. One of my previous bosses told me not to wear too many to interviews. However, I said it gave you something to ask at the interview though didn’t it?

  6. Love this. I am a nurse and convinced myself for years that I had to fit in a certain box. Then after starting to work in Oncology I realized there was a need to brighten up my patient’s experiences so I started to loosen up more and added hot pink layers to my hair. Once I realized I had enough of a reputation to support myself I really started to come out of my shell more. I dreaded my hair right before I turned 30 and was hired into a corporate nursing job that same year. Since then I stopped covering my tattoos and even got one on my arm and ear. There was an OffBeat post years ago that has really stuck with me. It was about how to rent an apartment when you look like a weirdo and letting your good reputation lead you. I really took that to heart and have used it as a guide in lots of areas ever since.

  7. I used to feel this way but then realized while interviewing this past fall that if a company won’t hire me because I like to wear colorful dresses, then it’s not a company I want to be a part of. So I didn’t tone myself down when interviewing and landed at an awesome company who apparently lovingly coined me the nickname “Lemons” after my first interview after the lemon dress I wore. I am lucky in that all the jobs I’ve held have been fine with my choice of style (I am a retro pinup and I live in 50s style dresses), though my style is colorful it is NOT inappropriate so I’d be shocked if any company DID have a problem!

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