Why I dress the way I do
When I began my entrepreneurial journey back in 2014 I had to make drastic changes and took on the mentality of delayed gratification to reach my goals. I had to simplify my wardrobe so I could easily pack everything and travel around the world with 1 backpack and 1 suitcase. This was heart-breaking at first, because, prior to my current look: black tights, long-sleeve black zip up, Nike shoes, hair styled up in big bun with a sparkly hair ban, I had a nice wardrobe, full of all types of dresses, shoes, skirts, and experimented in all types of hair styles. Many of you don't know, I LOVE beautiful dresses (some women love shoes, purses, makeup, I am a dress gal), but this lifestyle and attachment to clothes had to go. I had bigger ambitions, and I kept in mind that there will always be beautiful dresses to buy. And besides, experiences are far better investments than material possessions.
Dress code in the tech community
So how did I develop this "uniform" and "neutral" look? Well, I drew inspiration from men like Steve Jobs who had a simplistic, uniform look, that enabled him not to think about what he wore everyday, and focus all his energy in his work. Odd, to draw inspiration from men, but in the startup & tech ecosystem, mostly full of men, I observed that it didn't really matter how you dress, but what you accomplished is what really mattered (this only applies to men, so sexist I know!). For women, no matter what industry we work in, how we look we'll always be judged. So, I decided that my look had to be consistent, sporty, attractive, and deflect my physique so people would focus on my face and hair. And that is how the uniform was born, because everywhere I go, whether it's to networking events, travelling for holiday or business, walking the streets of Bangkok, the first thing people look at when they see me, is my hair... then my face...and then my hair again :)
What I learned as a female entrepreneur and my advice
If you read my blog post "If you're going to start a business in a foreign land...marry a local" I outline the advantages and challenges that women have as entrepreneurs, but emphasise that women cannot (and should not) do business like men, especially in Asia. Why? In my experience , most male entrepreneurs I've met marry local women (a big advantage) and women simply don't have that advantage (okay rare cases I've seen Western women with local men here in Thailand, but they are unicorns), next, living in Thailand and travelling the Asian continent, western feminism hasn't really reached and/or not accepted in this part of the world, given that family life and traditional roles for men and women, still dominate many elements of society. Of course, there are women that I met who are very well educated (attended university or boarding school in the West), play a dominant role in their family business (manages the money) and work as professionals in banks, law firms, government, and small business owners....BUT, these women come from middle-class to wealthy families (feminism only works for privileged women, and the clever few). And, despite their professional, academic, and financial accomplishments, family and society pressures women (a lot more than men) to get married (into a good family of course), have children, and always present themselves as beautiful, poignant, feminine women.
What does this have to do with female entrepreneurship? Well, as an American woman my "uniform" and "look as neutral as possible" look has put me out of balance. When I go to networking and startup events (75% are men) this look works...to an extent, but I do have a life outside my work and I've gotten so used to being neutral and in uniform I've nearly lost touch with my most valuable asset as a female entrepreneur: my femininity. Now, what exactly does that mean? Well, many western women grow up hearing: work hard, go to university, be independent, girls can do whatever boys can do, take time discover who you are, date and figure out what you want, etc. And I think, if you are not of a certain **class** (upper middle class to wealthy) this message is very misleading and can have long-term consequences on your overall happiness . (hear me out!).
1. No one can accomplish anything alone, everyone has some kind of help (in the case for many male entrepreneurs it's their mentors, advisors, "old boys club" and wives) and for women we need more than our girlfriends, it's also important to have mentors, advisors, women professional network, and a partner to help, which leads to my next point.
2. Being in a good relationship (married or serious boyfriend/girlfriend) is good for business and for your happiness, even "Lean In" writer and COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg said: "The most important career decision a person can make is who they marry." Having supportive friends is great, but not good enough. Who you share your life with will definitely influence your professional life. For me, I've been incredibly fortunate to have a partner that was very supportive, I could tap into his professional network, believed and practiced equality in our relationship, and worked in hi-tech so he gave me sound advice on the technical side of my business.
3. Lastly, it's important to not let your work, success, and material possessions define you. For me, I'm more than "Blair the entrepreneur" that does a million things, travels and bounce around the world, I love to read, drink tea, do Pilates, be active in my community, and spend time with my friends.
I won't go any further, but I really think there needs to be balance, and if your a female entrepreneur it's good to use all the resources and people in your life that will help you achieve your goals. Most importantly, it's good to have a "female touch" to your business, that is your biggest advantage!
So over the last few weeks I've decided to balance out my uniform and embrace my feminine business side, by purchasing a few dresses and jewellery (something I haven't done years), transitioned to a friendship with my partner, and currently preparing for my next big move (plan to live a few months out of Thailand).
As always, thank you for reading!