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How can I tell someone they're dressed inappropriately at work?
June 21, 2009 2:35 PM   Subscribe

An intern at work is dressing very inappropriately. Is there any way I can tell her nicely to tone it down?

I'm a male attorney at a law firm. We have a law clerk who's been with us since January and is a 2nd year law student. Since the beginning, she wears tops that plung down her neckline and put her breasts on display. I'm not a prude and I think a little cleavage is fun for everyone. But, this girl is taking it a bit far.

Since she's started working with us, she's always wortn tops that show a lot more cleavage than is work appropriate. It's gotten to where when I have a research assignment for her, I have to concentrate on her face rather than her breasts. The other associates (especially the females) have been making very disparaging comments about her lately, and I feel bad for her.

I wish I could go to the managing partner, but he's a perv and would probably prefer it if the clerk came in topless every day.

Is there a diplomatic way I can speak to this clerk and let her know that her attire isn't work appropriate?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (45 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Is there a woman in a management/senior position you could talk to who could perhaps speak with the intern? I think coming from you it'd be incredibly uncomfortable for you both; if there's another woman in the office this girl respects, that would be better.

If I were in this girl's position, I'd absolutely want to know. I'd be mortified, but I'd want to know so I could take corrective action. I hope you can find a way to diplomatically get this across to her.
posted by olinerd at 2:42 PM on June 21, 2009 [4 favorites]


Rather than making catty comments, why don't the female attorneys take it upon themselves to talk to this girl? We had the exact same problem with one of our summer interns, so we just had the least-embarrassed female attorney have a chat with her. The breast display stopped immediately.
posted by gatorae at 2:43 PM on June 21, 2009 [8 favorites]


You? Probably not. I know I'd be more comfortable about hearing it from a woman.

Other than that, making sure that it was just a professional word of advice. If she had to sign any sort of dress code policy, make it based off of that.

(Note: I once was caught wearing sneakers in front of my boss and supervisor-it was near the end of the day, and I had just finished changing shoes. The next morning, I got a friendly reminder asking me if I had signed the dress code in my email, with the dress code document attached. That's a bit too underhanded and passive-aggressive for my tastes.
posted by dinty_moore at 2:44 PM on June 21, 2009


She's been there for 5 months yet no-one has said her dress is not appropriate? On who's level of appropriateness are you judging this? I'm pretty surprised that if it is such an issue, it has been ignored from the very start.

However, you could casually let it slip that office talk is more about what she wears than her work, although your personal relationship with her will entirely depend on how well this dicussion goes. Basically, if she isn't a friend of yours and one whom you could have this discussion frankly with, it's none of your business and you shouldn't get involved. This is her supervisor's responsibility and you are leaving yourself wide open for an issue if she takes your comments badly.

Raise the issue with her supervisor. If they do nothing, then you need to ignore it. If her boss doesn't think it's enough of an issue to address, then it's not really something you can enforce.
posted by Brockles at 2:46 PM on June 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


I assume the firm has a dress code? Is he breaking it? If not, then I don't really see how it's an issue or a problem. "Inappropriate" by what standard?

it's gotten to where when I have a research assignment for her, I have to concentrate on her face rather than her breasts.

Um, I say this as a man who likes breasts and has snuck his fair share of peeks in his day, but it's your job to respect her as a woman and look her in the eye when you talk to her, regardless of what she's wearing.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:52 PM on June 21, 2009 [7 favorites]


She's an intern. She's there to learn. Apparently one of the things she needs to learn is what constitutes appropriate professional attire in a law firm of your type. Someone - and by someone I mean "a woman attorney" - should take exactly that approach with her. And the attitude should absolutely be one of trying to help this young woman, not tell her off or embarass her.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:00 PM on June 21, 2009 [18 favorites]


I wish I could go to the managing partner, but he's a perv

That's the real problem and why, after 5 months, she's still doing it. Have some senior female at the firm speak to her. There may be diplomatic way for you to do this, but as an attorney, you know it's possible for people to twist words. Don't put yourself in that situation.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:00 PM on June 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is it really such a problem for a male in a company to say to a woman, "Can you button one more of those buttons for me? You're making me uncomfortable right now"? It might help underscore for her that not all men desire to have titties around them, all the time. I'm a gay man, and have said this to women coworkers once or twice before, never with negative consequences. I never framed it as a sexuality issue... just said "you're making me uncomfortable."

Please don't flame me if the majority opinion is different from this. I just don't see why it has to be a bigger issue than a simple request.
posted by hippybear at 3:01 PM on June 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


it's your job to respect her as a woman and look her in the eye when you talk to her, regardless of what she's wearing.
And it's her job not to display her breasts in an overt way in a business environment. I believe the poster merely means it's hard to keep his mind on business when his mind is preoccupied with "I-must-not-look-I-must-not-look".
posted by fish tick at 3:03 PM on June 21, 2009 [6 favorites]


it's your job to respect her as a woman and look her in the eye when you talk to her, regardless of what she's wearing.

This is absolutely true in most situations, but if this intern really does have her breasts hanging out of her shirt, then this is just absurd. I'm a straight woman and I find it nearly impossible to maintain eye contact when a woman is wearing an absurdly low-cut shirt. Women absolutely have the right to be treated as people, but they cannot complain about people staring at their breasts when they actively dress in a way that is designed to draw attention to their breasts.
posted by gatorae at 3:05 PM on June 21, 2009 [25 favorites]


I've been in this situation. I dropped a hint to the next female up her chain of command, and it stopped immediately.

I've also been in places where we went out a yearly "hey, it's summer, and we know it's hot out, but no flip-flops/tank-tops/shorts" dress code reminders as well.
posted by snickerdoodle at 3:12 PM on June 21, 2009


I believe you genuinely feel bad for this person, and want to help her. This is patently in contrast with your female colleagues, who seem NOT want to help her at all.

Unfortunately, if no one who is directly responsible for her is willing to say something, and none of the women in the office are willing to say something, you may have to accept that there's nothing you can do that would make things better, for anyone.

I don't think there's any way for you to officially approach anyone else in the office about this, without it getting back to her as "someone complained about the way you dress". Perhaps you can do this off the record with someone you trust who won't misinterpret your comments, but I think there's too much danger here for you, and her.
posted by danny the boy at 3:14 PM on June 21, 2009


Nthing the idea that it's probably a bad idea for you to do it, but absolutely a good idea for one of the female partners or associates to mention the issue.

In fact, an even better initial approach might be to make it a group email to ALL the interns/summer students. A simple email along the lines of "We understand that as interns you may not have the budget for a whole new wardrobe, and it is tempting to "dress down" in the summer months, but it is important to dress professionally at your level. There have been instances in which interns have been dressing perhaps more casually than they ought to, and we'd like to take this opportunity to remind you that a summer experience at BIGLAW FIRM is largely about learning how to function in a busy corporate legal environment, and part of this is learning to dress the part. If you have any questions regarding appropriate business attire, please contact X."

If she still doesn't get the hint after that, then you can have someone take her aside and tell her directly.
posted by modernnomad at 3:14 PM on June 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


It may ultimately prove to be the most diplomatic solution, but I have a really intense dislike for group e-mails that are meant not for the group but to target an individual. It combines the worst of all worlds. Random people who have Done No Wrong might begin to worry they've messed up; the person it's intended to reach out to might think it must be meant for someone else because if they were the problem someone would have told them; and while it has the appearance of being tactful, there are situations where Everyone Knows who the e-mail was really meant for, thus elevating the situation and the problem employee into the forefront of everyone's mind.

Discrete, private conversation from another female is the best option. If that isn't going to happen, then be sure you protect yourself if you decide to talk to her yourself. All it takes is one clumsy miscommunication to turn "Would you mind buttoning a few more buttons on your shirt? We can see a little more than you might think" on your part into "Oh my god, that guy made a creepy comment about my chest and I can totally see him looking down my shirt when he drops off paperwork now" on her part.
posted by Nonce at 3:42 PM on June 21, 2009 [4 favorites]


Is it really such a problem for a male in a company to say to a woman, "Can you button one more of those buttons for me? You're making me uncomfortable right now"?

What happens if she can't? What if she's gained weight during law school and can't afford to buy new clothes (being an intern and all)? What if she's always had trouble finding clothes that fit and she's trying her best to navigate the divide between looking "good" and looking professional with the limited options she has? To assume that this issue can be fixed by a simple comment is to assume that the only reason she shows so much cleavage is because she actively wants to, and that might not be true. A woman's relationship with her body and her clothes is complicated, and plenty of men don't get it (you guys buy shirts IN PLASTIC BAGS, for goodness sakes). For a male co-worker, a manager no less, to project that this issue is totally about sex appeal, about her wanting to show off her breasts, could be naive. Tread cautiously.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:45 PM on June 21, 2009 [23 favorites]


For a male co-worker, a manager no less, to project that this issue is totally about sex appeal, about her wanting to show off her breasts, could be naive.

To be honest, that is not what I said, nor what I implied. But it is a good point, and one which I had not considered until you mentioned it.

(for the record, I buy my t-shirts at rock concerts, not in plastic bags)
posted by hippybear at 3:56 PM on June 21, 2009


ack, I mean, you make a good point about women and their clothes and how they fit.
posted by hippybear at 3:57 PM on June 21, 2009


When I was at FedEx part of the management training was practicing having the "You Stink" conversation with people. While it seemed ridiculous at the time, it was genuinely some of the best preparation I've ever had for having difficult conversations at work. The body odor/strong perfume conversation isn't that different from the inappropriate work attire conversation. My advice assumes she reports to you. If not, you should refer this to her manager. (Of course, that could be the perv partner. Then you'll need to do this yourself or have a female in the firm do it.)

- Have the conversation privately, specifically and directly. You may invite an HR person if you are worried about a harassment issue. Don't hint and hope she gets it. Don't send it around the office gossip wire.
- Discuss it as a workplace issue, not a personal preference. It's not, "I think your shirt is too revealing." Instead try, "Our office has a conservative dress code. You shirt is too revealing to be appropriate for this office."
- Be respectful, be but firm. If her outfit is truly inappropriate then send her home.
- Address the issue as soon as it happens. You've let this drag out which makes this more difficult. She's bound to be embarrassed because she's been inappropriate for months.
- Continue to treat the person professionally and respectfully. This will be as much of a hoopla as you make it. If you immediately resume your professional relationship she won't feel as awkward.
- The most important advice is to practice it first. Sit down with your wife, girlfriend, sister, or female friend and practice the conversation. Even now, if I need to have a difficult conversation I always do a practice run with someone. It's not enough to do it in your head. Actually have the conversation with someone else and get their feedback.
posted by 26.2 at 3:57 PM on June 21, 2009 [27 favorites]


I think it's silly to assume her clothes don't fit because she's poor and can't buy a new shirt that fits. You can by a camisole to wear under a shirt to cover cleavage for $5 at Target, so that's no excuse.

Anyway, I think that the solution many suggested of having a female attorney or staff person, or even HR or an office manager could go to her on this issue. It is much better than a male telling her. Honestly, for a male to ask, Can you button one more of those buttons for me? You're making me uncomfortable right now"?, would not only be awkward for everyone, it could be interpreted as an inappropriate comment.

If there is no woman in the office that can point her in the right direction, a memo to the entire staff with a reminder about the dress code would be the next best step, but don't assume she will get it and change her attire. We had a woman where I worked who wore tube tops with massive cleavage despite the fact that women were supposed to wear at minimum sleeveless shirts with wide straps. We have high turnover, so the dress code is reiterated every few months. Not until someone actually went to her personally did she start dressing more appropriately.
posted by ishotjr at 3:58 PM on June 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


TPS makes a good point. Also, bear in mind that she's new to this "dressing for work" thing, which is tricky for curvaceous women. Go to Banana Republic, go to Ann Taylor, you will see all manner of low cut blouses - but two women can buy the same top in their respective sizes and one will look demure and the other will read as "sexy" just because they have different bodies.

That said - if I'm reading you correctly, your office either doesn't have a dress code, or she isn't breaking it, and at any rate the boss doesn't have a problem with her clothes. You have a problem with her clothes because you find her body distracting - and I honestly do sympathize, but I don't see how you have the right to tell her how to dress just because you share an employer. Do not say anything to her about her body or her clothes or that you struggle not to stare - you could get yourself into enormous trouble that way. If I were you, I wouldn't complain about her to others either because I'd think that running the risk of looking like a perv is so much worse than just dealing with the fact that there's a hot girl in your office. But I'm not you.
posted by moxiedoll at 4:04 PM on June 21, 2009 [5 favorites]


I wish I could go to the managing partner, but he's a perv and would probably prefer it if the clerk came in topless every day.

"probably"? Doesn't sound like you know that for sure. Even if you're right, you should still bring it up with him or whoever else is in charge. Maybe he's a perv, but maybe he also knows that he should run the office in a way (within reason) that pleases everybody.
posted by randomstriker at 4:20 PM on June 21, 2009


Being somewhat overendowed in the chest department I'm just chiming in to reiterate moxiedoll's answer above. You have no idea how difficult it is to buy smart clothes if you have anything more than a C-cup, it's depressing, demoralising and sometimes frightening to have people tell you you look provocative when you're just wearing the same clothes as other women who look just fine. Especially button tops!

If this isn't the case you might also think about her age range and what she considers simply fashionable. Popular media encourages flesh shown as a fashion statement and she might not get that dressing professionally is different to dressing 'fashionably'.

Whatever the reason I agree that you need a female staff member to talk about this with her, preferably HR, but it should be informal and cheerful and done in the spirit of helpfulness rather than admonishment.
posted by freya_lamb at 4:31 PM on June 21, 2009 [5 favorites]


Do you have a human resources department? Drop them an anonymous note and have them speak to her about it.
posted by hooray at 4:38 PM on June 21, 2009


I don't care how stupid it seems-- for god's sake do get a woman to talk to her NOT a man, so NOT you. Helps if it's a senior woman but it doesn't really matter as long as it's a woman.
posted by emmatwofour at 4:46 PM on June 21, 2009


I've worked in law firms and legal departments for over 15 years now. In my experience, this would be handled by HR or, in the smaller firms/companies, the office manager.
posted by Majorita at 4:58 PM on June 21, 2009


Can send her email from a throwaway account -- and not do it from a work pc -- and be reasonably certain it will arrive in her work inbox?

Then something along the lines of the following might work, if you think (given the female associates disparaging her, and the perv boss) that otherwise no action will be taken:

"To: Soandso
Re: Unprofessional attire

I apologize for sending this email anonymously. A sober and conservative appearance is important for an attorney. Your attire at work is inappropriately low-cut and revealing. It has reached the point that associates have made disparaging remarks about your attire."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:23 PM on June 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Someone female needs to talk directly and privately to her. It's entirely possible to buy professional clothing that doesn't cling and gape, and to buy it at Goodwill if necessary. I've been doing it for years.
posted by PatoPata at 5:42 PM on June 21, 2009


send her email from a throwaway account (ROU_Xenophobe)

Do NOT do this. It's highly unprofessional. Way more unprofessional than wearing a revealing top. Go through HR or an office manager.
posted by ocherdraco at 5:45 PM on June 21, 2009 [6 favorites]


She's not responsible for your distraction. People come in all shapes and sizes, and there's no good reason for an adult to let him/herself relate to a body part, no matter how attractive, or grotesque, instead of to a person or colleague.

If there's a dress code, then whoever deals with that, presumably HR, should deal with it.

If there isn't or she's not actually in violation, then you're no more entitled to have her dress her breasts the way that best suits you are to tell her what kind of make up to wear, or than she is to have the office assistant reprimanded for overly broad shoulders.

In other words, deal with it. She hasn't invited you to interact with her body in a sexual way, so don't. Once upon a time, revealing ankles would have been risque. Presumably, you can deal with her ankles. So deal with her breasts too.

Your best chance for taking this on is to change fashions. I'm all for that. I think it's not great that powerful men are all covered up while women are uncovered - I would love for fashion to be more egalitarian.
posted by Salamandrous at 6:42 PM on June 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


Assuming this young woman is just big-breasted and not just wearing shirts cut to there, it would be particularly helpful, IMHO, if there is a woman in the office who might struggle with the same issues who could speak to her and at the same time provide her with ideas about what to do about the issue. Because, while it may be "ntirely possible to buy professional clothing that doesn't cling and gape," it's very hard to do that if you have big boobs. I hope that you can find a sympathetic, helpful female to speak to her.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:47 PM on June 21, 2009


it's your job to respect her as a woman and look her in the eye when you talk to her, regardless of what she's wearing.

Honestly, I'm a straight woman and *I* find it hard not to have my eyes drawn by excess cleavage. Not necessarily a sexual thing, it's just a hell of a distraction.
posted by Billegible at 7:10 PM on June 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


I think it would be much better for HR to speak with her than another attorney. It's HR's job to deal with this sort of issue.
posted by insectosaurus at 8:13 PM on June 21, 2009


Do NOT do this. It's highly unprofessional. Way more unprofessional than wearing a revealing top. Go through HR or an office manager.

I don't disagree, but I read the anonymous situation as being a bit of a Kobayashi Maru:

This poor schmuck is making a bit of a fool out of herself to the detriment of her career. Assuming the lingo in the post works like I think it does, the other non-partner lawyers are now making disparaging remarks about her. Presumably in some detectable connection to her appearance, or it wouldn't have been brought up in the question.

Anonymous can't address the issue himself without appearing to be a giant perv.

Anonymous can't go the boss, who he considers to be a giant perv.

Implicitly, anonymous can't ask female lawyers reliably since those would be the same female associates who are now publicly deriding her. Even if there are others who are not, the environment seems now very hostile to her, so bringing it up with anyone bears some risk for anonymous.

If there is an HR or office manager that is sufficiently independent from the perv boss, that's obviously the way to go.

But if there isn't -- if whatever HR/office management there is lives under the managing partner's thumb -- and anonymous feels some need to to something other than keep silent until she's fired, what would you suggest he do?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:20 PM on June 21, 2009


If people around the office are making disparaging comments about it, she needs to know. While it's a damn shame that people are so superficial, it's still important to know the image that one is giving off and how it's being interpreted. If you can go through a sympathetic female coworker, it would probably be best, but it otherwise should be possible to say it not as a personal problem for you, but as a professional problem for her.
posted by Schismatic at 8:25 PM on June 21, 2009


But if there isn't -- if whatever HR/office management there is lives under the managing partner's thumb -- and anonymous feels some need to to something other than keep silent until she's fired, what would you suggest he do? (ROU_Xenophobe)

Okay, fine—if all of those things are true, the anonymous method is acceptable as a last ditch effort, if it truly is the only possible thing to do. But it seems unlikely to me that absolutely all these pathways are closed to him.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:31 PM on June 21, 2009


...I assume the firm has a dress code? Is he breaking it? If not, then I don't really see how it's an issue or a problem. "Inappropriate" by what standard?
...
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:52 PM on June 21 [4 favorites +] [!]

Don't be absurd. It's a law firm, she's a future lawyer. It is inappropriate by the standards of American lawyers. A profession that she has chosen for whatever ungodly reason to join. I mean seriously? Have you got internet hippie syndrome?


...
If there's a dress code, then whoever deals with that, presumably HR, should deal with it.

If there isn't or she's not actually in violation, then you're no more entitled to have her dress her breasts the way that best suits you are to tell her what kind of make up to wear, or than she is to have the office assistant reprimanded for overly broad shoulders.
...
Your best chance for taking this on is to change fashions. I'm all for that. I think it's not great that powerful men are all covered up while women are uncovered - I would love for fashion to be more egalitarian.
posted by Salamandrous at 2:42 AM on June 22 [1 favorite +] [!]


Also, this. Ridiculous. Now, I'm not a lawyer and I wouldn't care to be one, but if I were a 2nd yr law student then chances are that my career as a lawyer would be important to me. Certainly I would want to know if I was breaching the unwritten rules of dress at my workplace, especially as those rules are similar in pretty much every other American law firm.

What needs to happen is that another woman in the organisation should talk to her about this, not because they're a soul-less minion of the patriarchy, but because this will negatively influence her career.
posted by atrazine at 9:37 PM on June 21, 2009 [8 favorites]


Anonymous can't address the issue himself without appearing to be a giant perv.

I dunno, can't he? I mean, maybe not, and if there were a sympathetic woman you could have do it, then that would be better, but I would think a guy could deliver a speech along the lines of:

"Hey, listen, I have to talk to you about something. It's kind of awkward, so this is going to suck but....some of the tops you wear are pretty low cut. I've heard other associates mention this, not in a good way. The dress code around here is pretty conservative --- I don't want to be a jerk and quote you chapter and verse from the manual, but it would be more professional if you toned it down a bit. I think you're doing good work otherwise, and I'm sure that you wouldn't want something so trivial affecting people's opinions of you."

It is a bit of a minefield, to be sure, but if you deliver it like a friendly warning --- the two of you against the unnamed associates that are talking smack/the powers that be --- and avoid any construction that states or implies that you've been staring at her chest --- then I think you wouldn't come off like a perv.
posted by Diablevert at 11:38 PM on June 21, 2009


So, everyone is in agreement a female colleague should address it?

Good, so it's not just about how Anonymous broaches it with said, likely, friendly, female colleague - I'd guess something like:
"Look, I feel a little bad for *clerk*, I keep hearing people making snarky comments about her 'neckline', and not to her face - do you think you could maybe have a word with her about professional work attire?"

Don't make it about what you think, other than that you feel bad for her.
posted by Elysum at 12:40 AM on June 22, 2009


Now, I'm not a lawyer and I wouldn't care to be one, but if I were a 2nd yr law student then chances are that my career as a lawyer would be important to me. Certainly I would want to know if I was breaching the unwritten rules of dress at my workplace, especially as those rules are similar in pretty much every other American law firm

So you're sure that her career is going to suffer? It's not suffering so far. Yes, the op says that people are talking about her. He doesn't say that they're talking about not hiring her.

I'm just saying that you better be really 100% damn sure before you go around enforcing and perpetuating sexism in the name of helpfulness, just like you'd better be 100% damn sure before you'd advise your Black employee about 'professional' hair cuts.

And in that case, again, it seems to me like HR is the best route to go.

And no, if there's a good way for an older/heterosexual/male/in a position of seniority/authority over a younger woman to talk to her about her breasts, I haven't heard it yet.
posted by Salamandrous at 3:29 AM on June 22, 2009


Lawyers conform. Lawyers judge each other by how well we conform. It's a hazard of the profession. People who think the catty comments about her cleavage are strange and petty should hear the warnings that law firms give young associates to never, ever, ever wear a blue dress shirt into the courtroom of certain judges because the judge won't let them in the door.

So you're sure that her career is going to suffer? It's not suffering so far. Yes, the op says that people are talking about her. He doesn't say that they're talking about not hiring her.

Because they wouldn't say it out loud. That would actually be direct and forthright of them. Instead, the female attorneys who are snarking on her now will just mark her down sharply on professionalism rating at the end-of-program evals, if the evals don't have a "how appropriately does the clerk dress?" section directly. It'll be the end of her chances of securing a permanent position.

OP, you are not out of line to be worried, and I'd think poorly of you if you didn't want to help. However, I wouldn't go to HR directly, because they frequently don't know what's going on.

Is there an attorney or staff person who runs the clerkship program, either officially or unofficially? Whether female or male, go to that person and let him. The program coordinator almost certainly knows the situation already, but a nudge from an(other) attorney might be the necessary impetus to get it taken care of.

If that doesn't work, just bite the bullet since you have a little interaction with this girl (see; the research assignment) and apply some of the direct, forthright, responsible communication that seems to be sadly lacking at your firm. As a young female attorney, I'd far, far, far rather be slightly creeped out for a moment by an older male attorney calmly and soberly telling me that the cleavage line of my tops was inappropriate than to lose a shot at a job position because I had no idea my clothing was inappropriate. It'll be an uncomfortable talk, but that's what we get paid to do.
posted by joyceanmachine at 7:11 AM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


To anyone who thinks her career won't be hurt by this...

A former company I worked at hired some interns one summer. Three were women; three were men.

One of the women consistently wore work-inappropriate garments. At one point, my employees were passing around comments, trying to guess if she was wearing any underwear at all, because of the amount of cheek showing when she bent over in her tight pants.

I solved the mystery: blue thong, riding low.

And I never, ever should have known that much about my coworker's panties under her work pants.

Yes, she was probably a poor college student, barely able to afford the 10 or 20 different outfits she wore to work. And, yes, it can be difficult to find pants that fully cover your gluteus maximus, just as many women are cursed with accidentally finding their wardrobes filled with tata-revealing tops and push-up bras, despite their best attempts... aw, bullshit. One of my exes was a 38-D, living on a mouse's shoestring, and in her average professional day in a research facility, I was the ONLY one who got to see the cleavage.

If she's showing an uncomfortable amount of cleavage in a work setting, she is choosing to do so. Same as if I wore "flood pants" cuffs, or had my undershirt showing at my neckline, or spaghetti stains on my shirt front.

She is young & naive, and may think that the dress code on her favorite "Hot Fuckable Lawyers!" TV show is the norm. She needs to be gently educated.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:59 AM on June 22, 2009


I think it's fair that whoever speaks to the intern includes something more generous than "your clothes make people uncomfortable," because it basically translates to "button your shirt, slut."

When I worked at a magazine, a sector with a considerably less restrictive dress code, a position came open for a new editorial assistant. When the board who'd be working with the particular EA considered possibilities, they passed over a very hard-working intern whom I'd thought would at least get an interview. Gossip flared about higher-ups who took issue with her outfits.

The thing was, I (23 at the time) didn't realize her outfits were that provocative. They were trendy, tight, flattering, and youthful, but they really didn't strike me as particularly titillating. I don't think the girl realized she was ruffling anyone's feathers because that's how lots of trendy women dress in the office--flimsy blouses, tight pencil skirts, four-inch heels, all recommended by Cosmo and Glamour, why not?

Anyways, if the person who speaks with her can emphasize that this is also an issue of generations, in that lots of 40 year-olds are pretty uncomfortable with the rise of lip glossed women and their work-to-cocktails attire, it'll make things go much more smoothly and won't humiliate the woman in question.
posted by zoomorphic at 12:14 PM on June 22, 2009


Sorry, lost track of my point above. I wrote:

To anyone who thinks her career won't be hurt by this...

A former company I worked at hired some interns one summer. Three were women; three were men.


END OF STORY: this intern wasn't invited back the next year, although she seemed to perform well enough. The boss of bosses of bosses felt comfortable taking another employee (full-grown, full-time, permanent hire) aside for a "you need to look around at how others here are dressing" talk (notice it was a male-to-female talk), but the easiest thing to do with an intern was simply shit-can her application next year.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:49 PM on June 22, 2009


DarlingBri: "She's an intern. She's there to learn. Apparently one of the things she needs to learn is what constitutes appropriate professional attire in a law firm of your type. Someone - and by someone I mean "a woman attorney" - should take exactly that approach with her. And the attitude should absolutely be one of trying to help this young woman, not tell her off or embarass her."

Yes.
posted by radioamy at 7:01 PM on June 22, 2009


In this climate she's probably very anxious about getting an offer with your firm. You might contact her Career Services office to see if they might send out a reminder about work-appropriate attire to her whole class. They really should have done so already, but if they haven't I'm sure she's not the only one in her class who needs a reminder.
posted by anthropomorphic at 11:18 AM on June 30, 2009


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