When I was hired as a postdoc, one of the first things my boss said to me was, “If you are a postdoc, dress like a postdoc!” I don’t think she meant I dress awkwardly, I think she was telling me a very true phenomenon in Engineering.
People give respects to male authority figures even if they don’t wear a suit and tie. Women authority figures have to dress the part.
My postdoc mentor later told me of stories she experienced in the department. Her male co-workers talked in the office about (or should I just use the word gossip) how she dressed. BUT HOW SHE DRESSED SHOULD NOT MATTER! The school of course wants more money and students, but somehow how she dressed become a topic of interest in the office. It is not her ability to get funded more than her counterparts or her way of teaching students well, it’s the way she dressed. Another female professor had to dress up everyday until she got tenured.
Do guys know how much work that is? First of all, women are supposed to put on different things everyday, guys just have to put a collard shirt, dress pants, dress shoes. Same dress pants and shoes day after day? No problem. Women have to have a variety of dress pants and shoes and shirts and jackets, or she will seem “unfit” for her role. (Same thing applies when women don’t shave, they would seem “untidy”, whereas when guys don’t, they are fine, even “ruggedly cool”.)
Her advice to me was just her experience. She is trying to warn me about the reality of the matter. If I want to be the role, dress like the role, because men will judge my performance by my appearance. At this day and age, for women to break the glass ceiling, ironically, they have to cater to men’s eyes first.