Functional Frock: A Dress Fit for a Lambda Lady

Do I want to look geeky or girly today?

It’s the question I face every morning when I peer into my wardrobe. I pick out a cute dress or a programming-themed T-shirt — and in the latter case perhaps slip on my binary watch — and then get on with the rest of my day.

The trouble is, sometimes I don’t want to be forced to choose; I want to express both my geekiness and my femininity in the one outfit.

It was this desire that prompted me to start scouring the web for geeky dresses. However, to my chagrin, I didn’t find much that appealed to me. I spotted a few phenomenal Cosplay outfits, but they weren’t really my style, or the sort of thing I could wear to work without raising eyebrows.

Frustrated, I started searching for custom dress manufacturers. Again, the results were pretty disappointing. While dozens of vendors will let you create a custom T-shirt, websites offering dresses or skirts for which you can select the style and material are few and far between. I couldn’t find any offering a choice of style and the option to supply your own fabric design.

I did, however, find several websites offering custom material at a reasonable price. Determined to get my hands on a work-appropriate girl geek dress, I started dreaming up plans to learn to sew. A few minutes later I came to my senses and decided the easiest way to get what I wanted this decade was to find a dressmaker on Etsy who would happily use custom fabric.

My time spent swing dancing has given me a deep appreciation for all things vintage (1940s/1950s), so I searched for someone creating vintage-inspired couture and found the woman who would finally make my girl geek dress dream a reality, Tracy McElfresh of the aptly named Custom Dress Shop.

I designed my material print in Inkscape and uploaded the SVG to Spoonflower; it features six spirals of Haskell code expressing sorting algorithms (quick, merge, selection, bubble, insertion and cocktail) encircling a lambda, on a purple background, of course (I may be a little obsessed with purple, as anyone who has seen my hair recently will know).

I figured out the best way to size and print the design (a half-drop makes a layout that is not perfectly symmetrical look much better!) and had the fabric shipped to my wonderful dressmaker, Tracy. Within a few weeks she had created my functional frock, as well as a skirt made from the same material.

I’m not sure how unusual I am to have wanted this dress — software engineering women are a minority and of course everyone has different preferences on what they like to wear — but there may well be a market for this sort of custom girl-geekwear. At the very least, I think there would be demand for a website offering completely custom dresses (not necessarily geeky ones — any custom print) at a reasonable price. It wasn’t cheap to produce my dress, so if there are any entrepreneurs out there who would like to streamline the manufacturing process, I’d be delighted to be a product tester.

Here are some pictures of my dress and skirt from when they were being made, as well as the final results. I’m sure they’re not to everyone’s taste but I’m pretty happy with how they turned out. I don’t think having this new girl-geekwear will really make my morning wardrobe decision-making all that much easier (taking a long time to get ready is my prerogative as a woman, right :) ?), but it’s nice to have them there. Now I have an option for those days when I want to show the world I’m proud to be both a vintage-dress-loving woman and a computer geek. 

Lambda Dress and Skirt

Lambda Dress and Skirt

Lambda Dress and Skirt

Lambda Dress and Skirt

Lambda Dress and Skirt

Lambda Dress and Skirt

Lambda Dress and Skirt

Lambda Dress and Skirt

Lambda Dress and Skirt

Lambda Dress and Skirt