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Is this kind of professional grooming the norm?
September 26, 2012 6:25 PM   Subscribe

How much say should my employer have over my physical appearance?

Last week my company offered me a promotion with the qualifier that I would have to "clean up my professional image". The person interviewing me (who is very high up in the company) had some very specific things for me to change. They told me my silver flats "look like slippers" and that black would be the best color on me. They told me to sit up straight and stop standing with my weight unevenly leaning on one foot. They told me to wear blush, something to make my lashes look longer and some "tinted lip gloss."

I was a little hurt and put off but over the weekend I cut my hair, bought makeup and some new clothes and they seemed very happy Monday morning and gave me the job.

Today my immediate supervisor came to my work site and I suppose noticed for the first time that I have armpit hair and told me I would need to shave it "so as not to offend any one." She then told me my new haircut (which she seemed to like on Monday) seems to "highlight the fact that your hair is thinning." She then put her hands in my hair, I guess to investigate.

I again left feeling hurt and confused. I haven't ever been this high up in a company before or in a position where I interact with clients and the public every day. Is this pretty standard or is this unusual? Are they allowed dictate all the things to me? Should I just "fix" myself to look the way they'd like?

I work in an educational setting and spend most of my day around small children. I am the highest ranking person at my job site. I am late twenties and female.
posted by Saminal to Work & Money (78 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
What the actual fuck.

No. This is all kinds of wrong and not okay; I would be very angry if this happened to me. It's one thing to be told you need to dress more professionally, it is quite another to be chastised for your posture, told to wear makeup, and have someone touch your hair.

Do you have an employee manual that outlines the guidelines for professional dress? Is there an HR department you can talk to?
posted by Specklet at 6:30 PM on September 26, 2012 [76 favorites]


This would make me paranoid that there were hidden cameras involved. This is very strange. I'd be asking to see all of this in writing.
posted by heyho at 6:31 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would quit that job so fast it'd make their collective heads spin, and I would spend the rest of my life telling people the story at cocktail parties.
posted by The World Famous at 6:31 PM on September 26, 2012 [44 favorites]


Quit.
posted by ellF at 6:33 PM on September 26, 2012


I have worked in places that dictated what colors my nails could be painted, and what length of hair guys could have, and yes, the color of my shoes and I think your company is completely and utterly absolutely unacceptably dictatorial.

Unless you have a profound investment in this job, I would strongly suggest searching for a new one. 99.9% of jobs are not like this.
posted by librarylis at 6:34 PM on September 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


I've been told that I should probably shave and wear a tie for meetings. That's appropriate. What you're describing is profoundly inappropriate and unprofessional—and sexist.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:35 PM on September 26, 2012 [22 favorites]


I would choreograph an intricate song and dance number called GO FUCK YOURSELVES and perform it on my way out the fucking door. Jesus wept.
posted by elizardbits at 6:35 PM on September 26, 2012 [92 favorites]


Don't quit. Wear what you want, let them fire you, and then get on unemployment until you find a new job. This is not acceptable.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:36 PM on September 26, 2012 [52 favorites]


Go to HR, if your workplace is big enough to have HR people. If not, go to whoever you would reasonably go to for a third opinion in this situation. If you tell them this story, and by the time you get to the part about armpit hair they do not agree with you that this is unacceptable, find a new job.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 6:36 PM on September 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


It is one thing to say, "There is a professional dress code and you don't meet it," or "You work in food preparation so your long untied hair is actually a safety hazard."

But it's totally another thing to say "that color looks bad on you, you don't wear enough gloss" and it's really something else to have someone run their hands through your hair (WTF?!) Not OK.
posted by andrewesque at 6:37 PM on September 26, 2012 [10 favorites]


Have someone write something down on a piece of paper that says, "You must shave your armpits because it might offend someone."

Frame it. Keep it.

Then tell them to go fuck themselves.

Seriously? Jesus Christ.
posted by kbanas at 6:37 PM on September 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yikes. DTMF.

TOUCHING YOU WHAT THE HELL?!?!?!?! Armpit commentary?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

There aren't enough interrobangs in the world to respond to that.
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:38 PM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


You should ask them if you can see their dress code policy. These sound like personal attacks. Your posture? That's just weird.

To answer your question about whether this is normal, I can tell you that in the 18 years I have been working, I have never had anyone say anything so personal about my appearance. I do not believe it is normal at all. I have heard things like hide tattoos, remove piercings, and have a natural haircolor, which are annoying, but I can understand why companies make those policies. But, to be told that your hair looks like it is thinning as if you can do something about it is unbelievable.

You said you work with children. Is this a publicly-funded institution, like a public school? You really need to go to their HR department and file a complaint. These people are being harassive. You should ask them to email you with the specifics about how they want you to change your appearance, so you have it in writing. Then don't change your appearance and let them fire you. When they fire you, show that email to a lawyer or your local news or whoever and get them to pay you off for the harassment!
posted by waywardgirl at 6:39 PM on September 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


Reading this I thought for sure you must be working in fashion/cosmetics or some highly allied field where your physicality was part of the product. Educational work with kids? Whoa. They are way off the reservation here.
posted by apparently at 6:40 PM on September 26, 2012 [16 favorites]


Do not quit. Read employee manual. Go to HR. If they do not support you. Find another job. Then quit.
posted by cairnoflore at 6:40 PM on September 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


And if this continues, speak to an employment lawyer, because this sounds like a hostile work environment.
posted by xingcat at 6:44 PM on September 26, 2012 [14 favorites]


Unless the position they're offering allowed me to retire comfortably in 5 years, I'd take lots of notes about what is being said, see HR, and try to get as many of their suggestions in writing as possible. It sounds like this isn't a place where you'd want to plan a long-term future and if they try to screw you on unemployment or anything else you're entitled to, having detailed notes about how you were treated inappropriately could be very helpful. Superiors commenting on body hair, posture, and even touching your hair?! Outrageous.
posted by quince at 6:44 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Uh..no. This is so far from normal that it's going to take the light from normal five years to reach you.

Sure, a mentor will give you information on how to present a professional appearance. What you are describing is a cross between abuse and creeeeeppppy.

Hang in there, and spend every waking moment outside of work finding a better job. Which should be easy because pretty much anything would be.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:44 PM on September 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


This is unusual (actually, in my admittedly limited experience, this is unique) but it doesn't seem illegal or offensive. This new position that you've been promoted to as a direct result of complying with their grooming instructions, do you consider it worth the trouble? If so, your choice is clear. If not, your choice is also clear. (And there's a whole range of negotiation and compromise in between, of course.)

I would, however, ask for your grooming instructions in writing. Not to throw in their faces later, but because, well, you're being told by your supervisor that you're not meeting standards, and that's always a conversation worth documenting.
posted by d. z. wang at 6:46 PM on September 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


When I was a retail slave my (female) manager came over to me and literally lifted me off the floor while pulling up my khakis because they were riding low on my hips. I was an adolescent female and we were doing truck at midnight, so it's not like I was flashing thong at customers. In fact, I wasn't even flashing crack because my shirt was hanging out. I quit. Asking me to pull up my pants would be one thing; pulling my pants up *for* me? Fuck no.

Coupla things.

1. Get a copy of your dress code, which was presumably in your contract when you signed it. Abide by it.

2. Request that these "improvements" to your appearance be made in writing, in full.

3. Go to HR. Explain that you had been counselled on the dress code (which is within an employer's rights) but that you draw a line at being physically touched or told what kind of makeup to wear or which colors "look best on you."

The armpit hair thing.. kind of a grey area. Some dress code policies require that men be clean-shaven, for instance.
posted by xyzzy at 6:47 PM on September 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Is your educational site sales driven, like a tutoring company?
posted by discopolo at 6:50 PM on September 26, 2012


I clicked on your profile and if your picture is an accurate representation of how you dress and appear for work, I have no idea why that would be an issue.

I would seriously call your state's department of labor. Women have sued and won for being told they "have" to wear makeup on the job. Not saying you should or want to sue, but find out what the DOL has to say about it, and then present them with a big old clue-by-four.
posted by nakedmolerats at 6:54 PM on September 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


There is no non-modeling, non-cosmetics rep job in the world that would require you to have TINTED LIPS AND LONGER FUCKING LASHES. I'm sorry, this makes me so mad I could spit. Fuck these idiots.

Seriously though, go to HR. If there's no HR, ask for a copy of the dress code and/or get their requests in writing, and yes, wear what you want and let them fire you. Fuckers.

(The only thing understandable in your entire post was maybe the shoes, since a lot of women's shoes tread the line between casual and professional. Your face is your face, though. And I doubt they can tell you what to do with your armpits either. Christ.)
posted by stoneandstar at 6:56 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is at a private preschool. I am tasked with enrolling families which is certainly sales.
posted by Saminal at 6:56 PM on September 26, 2012


Seriously, the touching you is what tops this for me but everything else is just as WTF-worthy. Read the employee manual. If it doesn't specifically mention these things, go to HR. DOCUMENT EVERYTHING. The asking you to wear make-up, the comments about your body, the unwelcome touching — that sounds like sexual harassment to me.
posted by Brittanie at 6:57 PM on September 26, 2012


To break it down:
They told me my silver flats "look like slippers"
Nice of someone to point out that you need more professional looking shoes for your new position.
and that black would be the best color on me.
An awkward but nevertheless valid directive about how to dress more formally now that you're getting a promotion.
They told me to sit up straight and stop standing with my weight unevenly leaning on one foot.
I mean, sure. Everyone should do this. But what is this, cotillion class?
They told me to wear blush, something to make my lashes look longer and some "tinted lip gloss."
What the what? The only time a manager should be giving directives about makeup is in the rare case that someone needs to tone it down.
Today my immediate supervisor came to my work site and I suppose noticed for the first time that I have armpit hair and told me I would need to shave it "so as not to offend any one."
This "advice" would totally not fly in New England or Northern California, but you know what? You live in Texas. The fact is people aren't used to armpit hair on women.
She then told me my new haircut (which she seemed to like on Monday) seems to "highlight the fact that your hair is thinning." She then put her hands in my hair, I guess to investigate.
What kind of boundary-violating freak touches an employee like that???

It's not that all of the advice is bad now that you're moving up the corporate ladder, but it seems like the advice and the way it is handled are symptoms of a highly messed up corporate culture. This is a case of DTMFA. You two aren't meant for each other.
posted by deanc at 6:57 PM on September 26, 2012 [11 favorites]


On obvious non-preview, I see that I'm disagreeing with most of the other commenters here, so let me clarify that I also think it would be perfectly reasonable for you to decide that you don't want to live with their dress code. There are jobs and people which, through no fault on either side, aren't good matches and this might be the case here. It's your decision to make.
posted by d. z. wang at 6:59 PM on September 26, 2012


Is the person who interviewed you someone other than your new immediate supervisor, or has all of come from the one individual? If so, can you confirm that someone else at a similar level or higher actually agrees with her that all of these "changes" are requirements of your job, rather than just her personal obsessions? To my thinking, no matter how public-facing your position may be, the only remotely reasonable request in this story is the flats -- sometimes they do look overly casual, or are perceived that way, and lots of places have policies about footwear.

Other than that, good grief. Armpit hair is obviously not what "clean-shaven" refers to; my old employee handbook in fact specified "facial hair" and I bet that lots of other people who work with you have all kinds of body hair. If they don't like armpit hair they should have a policy about sleeveless shirts, and it should apply to everyone fairly regardless of gender/attractiveness/whatever. That's how this stuff works. They don't get to just pick on you, and they certainly don't get to grab your head to demonstrate a point about your haircut.
posted by teremala at 7:00 PM on September 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


None of that is appropriate. Sorry. An employer can ask you to dress in business attire or business casual, but they cannot touch your hair. Ugh.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:01 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is so incredibly inappropriate. Look, if you were wearing sweats every day and not washing your hair, that's one thing - but your employer does not get to tell you that you have to wear make up or wear a particular color (!!) Or PUT THEIR HANDS IN YOUR HAIR. No, no, no. This is so far outside the norm. Please do not think that this is normal.

The ONLY thing I can see is maybe - maybe, if it was handled really delicately and if you work in a conservative area - the armpits, because that's a little outside the norm - but in combination with the rest of this stuff, it is just further evidence that you are working in crazytown. They just can't do this stuff. (The TOUCHING. I'd have thrown a punch!)

I have only ever worked in customer-facing service jobs, and no one has EVER pulled this kind of crap with me. I've only had one job (at Build-A-Bear, hey-o) that cared about what you looked like (beyond, again, being clean and neat-looking), and they just didn't want you to wear really heavy makeup or statement jewelry...and honestly, I felt like that was pretty restrictive. I work with children in an educational setting, and I just try not to be a slob. Pro tip: the kids definitely don't care.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 7:01 PM on September 26, 2012


As you're in sales, I'm sure she feels she's right because you're the 'face' of the organisation, but everything about what she did screams that she has no idea what she's doing. I am sure this extends to many, many other areas as well - look forward to lots of boundaries being violated in the future if you stay there.

She then put her hands in my hair, I guess to investigate.

Yeah, people don't touch other people at work.
posted by heyjude at 7:04 PM on September 26, 2012 [10 favorites]


Let's say that just quitting is not an option for you right this moment. The first thing I would do if I were you and I wanted to play along with this BS for the sake of keeping the job is to insist that you get an allowance for all this new clothing/makeup/styling. If they refuse, every time you reply with "I'm sorry, I would like to comply but my shoes already meet the written dress code and my current salary does not allow me to budget for new clothing and makeup." Repeat in writing and get their responses in writing until they shut up or fire you, which will leave you in an excellent position to sue and/or collect unemployment.
posted by slow graffiti at 7:04 PM on September 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


Personal dress and appearance commensurate with position on the organizational chart is something that requires presentation in writing. Creating a written policy for professional dress is the checks and balances against sexism, classism, ageism, discrimination, and cultural insensitivity because a) such policies are typically drafted by a committee who will have multiple members to point out issues of liability b) written policy is enforceable by BOTH parties (employee and employer).

If your company does not have a written policy, then one can argue that personal presentation is development from your workplace culture (the majority wearing slacks versus jeans support the wearing of slacks). HOWEVER, workplace culture requires written policy the minute changes in employee contract hinge on your compliance. When you were asked to change your appearance (right down to the length of your lashes and your personal GAIT) in order to earn a promotion, you had the right to ask for the request to be in writing along with your new contract.

Now, I am not an employment attorney or even overly versed in workplace and worker rights, but I have been an administrator in a large public institution that contracted with a lot of private ones (in the world of higher education), and have witnessed leadership undergo both remediation and lawsuit for the kind of harassment you describe. You have described harassment, and even if they are able to argue due to the protection of work environments in your area, that what they and your supervisor did was legal, it is still unethical and unreasonable and harassing.

As a personal example, when I returned to work after the birth of my child, one day my supervisor launched into a longish "speech" in my direction telling me that while my dress and appearance was still technically "professional" she was concerned that I "looked too tired" and was "letting myself go" after the birth of my child, and that "a day spa and some exercise" would "do wonders." In my case, an HR director just happened to be waiting for my supervisor to walk to a different meeting just outside the door, overheard, and took my supervisor directly to HR office, do not pass go, for the rest of the afternoon. I received a written apology the next day.

There is some good advice in this thread about documenting your experiences and advocating for yourself by requesting written policies and working with HR--I am rooting for you to find your way through this.
posted by rumposinc at 7:06 PM on September 26, 2012 [18 favorites]


Ok, so I completely agree with everyone that this is inappropriate. But if you love your job? I'd totally comply (for awhile, in the ways that cost the least money) so as to have the job for a year, and then go take my resume and get a better salary for the work (or even better work) elsewhere. Somewhere where people didn't make weirdly specific appearance demands.
posted by ldthomps at 7:06 PM on September 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


I can see the armpit hair thing if you are doing private school sales to conservative families in Texas -- I think it's touchy, BUT I can sort of see where it's coming from, sort of (although I don't agree). They're worried you are giving off the impression that it's some kind of hippy granola school, perhaps? I can see having a dress code for people who are the public face of the school because they're presenting a brand.

BUT.

The weird make-up directives? The haircut comments? THE PUTTING HER HANDS THROUGH YOUR HAIR?????? NO. No. No. No. No. No. That is some BULLSHIT.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 7:08 PM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I agree that some requests are within the bounds of corporate dress code requirements (shoes that don't look like slippers for instance), but asking you to wear more makeup and enhance your eyelashes is absurd and I would even have a problem with asking you to specifically wear black. The armpit thing makes me crazy, but I guess I could go along with asking you to wear sleeved shirts, but asking you to modify your body to suit their hangups is terrible. And then to actually put her hands on you!!

I think I would be tempted to ask for my old job back and work at that just long enough to give you time to find another job far far away from these creepy people.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 7:09 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow. Just... Wow.

Consider their advice as well-intentioned tips to spiff up your appearance, if you feel inclined to do so. Then get the hell out of there.

Well-intentioned or not, that borders on "one of us leaves here in handcuffs".
posted by pla at 7:10 PM on September 26, 2012


Read in the most charitable light possible, the first person might have been attempting to mentor you so that you could move up in the company (which sounds really image conscious--I was amazed to get to the part about working in an educational setting with children, too!).

My feeling is that the same person spoke to your supervisor when you were being considered and mentioned something like, "X would be ideal for the promotion, though she would have to be sure to project a polished, professional image to the public," and then your supervisor...well, wow. I mean, just wow. Talk about going way over personal boundaries! Saying your hair was thinning and then touching it?! No way.

BUT I am not going to suggest you quit, at least not if you like everything else about your job.

You say you are the highest ranking person there now, you are in your late twenties, and you just got a promotion. Job security is a good thing, and working in an educational environment with kids would thrill me. So if everything else is good, I'd say screw it and stay on, rocking my thing. But I am in my forties now, and in my twenties I cared much more about what people thought, so if I were you I would probably have gone in the bathroom and cried and then (hopefully) gotten angry like you are now. But I would not quit unless I had another job lined up.

I also would not go to HR. HR exists to protect the interests of the company, not the employee. HR cares about sexual harassment because the company could be legally liable if someone sued them over it.

Read the employee handbook though, sure. My bet is there is nothing specific in there about shaving underarms or silver flats. If I'm right, hey, keep on rocking your thing and pulling in that paycheck! And then, if anyone tells you to change something, call them on why, ask them to put their requests in writing, and document, document, document. That alone, I think, will make them nervous enough they'll leave you alone (because you're so obviously in the right here it's ridiculous you even have to ask this question about those asshats). And, as others said, if they fire you, you can collect unemployment. And maybe even sue their asses.

For now, though, CONGRATULATIONS on the promotion! You should be celebrating and proud of yourself right now, not wasting your time worrying about them.
posted by misha at 7:13 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


For the record, I live in Austin and know several other women working in very similar positions to mine that have all sorts of body hair, body mods, etc. I hear (and agree) that in a conservative place this would be more meaningful advice.

We do have a written dress code. Solid colors only, no jeans, no flips flops, "groomed appearance, combed hair and healthy glow" which I now see could mean makeup. "Safe, professional, comfortable shoes". Those are the only specific things in my employe handbook.

From now on I will ask for all these "suggestions" in writing. Thanks Metafilter!
posted by Saminal at 7:18 PM on September 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


Today, my boss came up behind me to ask me a question, and put his hand on my shoulder when he leaned over to see the thing I was showing him on my computer screen. He immediately lifted his hand and apologized for crowding, even though it wasn't an intrusive thing at all.

All of the body-judging weirdness aside: people are not supposed to touch other people at work unless your job is specifically about touching people. It's inappropriate. And to the extent that it happened to you, insane.

Like others are saying: document, document, document, fuck them, look professional without changing who YOU are, go ahead and get fired if they're gonna do that, make it public. Good luck.

On a personal note, if someone told me I had to wear makeup to work, I would laugh in their faces and then tell them to suck my balls. So you have my permission to go ahead and think these people are asshole nutbag jerks.
posted by phunniemee at 7:18 PM on September 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


This is weird as fuck. Even if everything else was fine, I'm pretty sure there's a strong case that putting your hands in a subordinate's hair uninvited could be construed as workplace sexual harassment.
posted by threeants at 7:27 PM on September 26, 2012


Don't quit just tell your boss, nicely, to back the f off. This is allowed! People in mefi are conflict avoidant I know but telling you to leave a job over this in Austin in this economy is criminally terrible advice. Tell her "really? I like this haircut"or "i feel this advice is too personal. Let's stay to what's required" and move on with your work.
posted by fshgrl at 7:28 PM on September 26, 2012 [29 favorites]


Don't quit just tell your boss, nicely, to back the f off. This is allowed! People in mefi are conflict avoidant I know but telling you to leave a job over this in Austin in this economy is criminally terrible advice. Tell her "really? I like this haircut"or "i feel this advice is too personal. Let's stay to what's required" and move on with your work.

I think this is extremely good advice. I'm very conflict-avoidant and would be hard-pressed to actually pull this sort of thing, but really, sometimes you need to draw your boundaries with a bright red sharpie. It's easy to forget that your boss is a person who gives you work orders, not the Emperor of Your Life. Even easier to forget when your boss is convinced of the same... But yes, advice to politely but very firmly put these people the fuck in their place is extremely well-founded, in my opinion.
posted by threeants at 7:32 PM on September 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


Also, "healthy glow" is part of your workplace's written dress code?!? That is crazalaze.
posted by threeants at 7:40 PM on September 26, 2012 [19 favorites]


What the actual fuck.

That is a great phrase that I intend on using in the future. Thanks Specklet! Anyway onto the question --

IMO this is annoying but not a huge deal. Abercrombie store execs are told how to dress down to the details. Keep the job if you like the job and make a good amount of money. This is a depression economy.

I wish my boss told me to wear black shoes instead of silver. Instead, my boss tells me to do a shit ton of boring programming work that will take me all night and weekend, and I am his bitch because I need to finish my degree and it's a depression economy and I need to eat and pay for electricity.

The posters telling you to hightail it out of there are a weeee bit hasty. All jobs have pros and cons. If someone said to me, "You can have this awesome job, you just need to shave your armpits," I'd at least consider how much armpit hair was worth to me.

There are some non-negotiables, like nobody can sexually harass me. But for certain individuals, silver shoes and armpit hair might be negotiable. I wouldn't quite preemptively because someone might do something harassing in the future. It sucks to quit because of harassment. No need to do it preemptively without something else lined up.

That said, maybe dust off your resume and start applying elsewhere.
posted by kellybird at 7:53 PM on September 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Healthy glow" is not a measurable standard. If they expect employees to wear makeup, it should state that explicitly.
posted by catlet at 8:02 PM on September 26, 2012 [14 favorites]


Also, keep a log of what they say and when they say it.
posted by manicure12 at 8:04 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is super skeevy and incredibly inconsiderate and unprofessional behaviour.

However, to play the devil's advocate - they didn't promote the person they wanted to the position. This sounds like a prestigious high-priced private school. There are many such and enrolling highly qualified (will pay full tuition) students may be competitive. Many parents who can afford private school might have preconceptions about grooming and dress (image) and its correlation with competence or prestige. Some of these people can be really superficial, too. Hey, these are people who dress to the 9's to go grocery shopping (albeit at the hip and boutique stores), if they have to do it themselves.

Other than going nuclear (file suit), it sounds like unless you accede to changing your image for work they'll find some other way of getting you to resign. Is getting your previous position an option?
posted by porpoise at 8:23 PM on September 26, 2012


I'm not afraid of conflict, nor do I avoid it. However, when you're dealing with the kind of crazy where upper management tells you to shave your underarm hair and touches you on the head, you either get into a long fight that you will lose, or you walk.

Pick your battles.
posted by ellF at 8:30 PM on September 26, 2012


I'm going to come at this from a different angle. Yes, most of what they said and did was inappropriate. But in most companies, they wouldn't say or do any of that, but they also wouldn't ever promote you.

If anything, maybe consider this a lesson learned. Look for another job, but keep in mind that unless you own the company, you will always have to live up to someone else's standards to one degree or another.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:54 PM on September 26, 2012


Also, "healthy glow" is part of your workplace's written dress code?!? That is crazalaze.

It is also, IMO, unbelievably fucking racist.
posted by elizardbits at 9:23 PM on September 26, 2012 [17 favorites]


It is also, IMO, unbelievably fucking racist.

It's also incredibly fucking ableist. If HR hasn't jumped all over that, I frankly wouldn't hold out much hope that they're going to help you here.
posted by sculpin at 9:39 PM on September 26, 2012 [9 favorites]


As others have said, this is crazy. Is it possible, though it does not excuse their behavior at all, that they want you to dress so you look older/more authoritative?

But, like, I work in a job where I have to go to court and I did get a talk about dressing appropriately. But in the sense of "wear a shirt that's not too indecent, don't wear sneakers," because they had a previous employee who got in trouble with the judge over that. Nothing about what, particularly, to wear, and certainly nothing about shaving. Hell, my hair is light and I can't be bothered to shave my legs half the time and I don't even wear stockings or anything.

And I'm with phunniemee on the makeup.
posted by mlle valentine at 10:26 PM on September 26, 2012


They have the right to request a professional appearance.
They don't have the right to treat you like a paper doll.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 11:13 PM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, "healthy glow" is part of your workplace's written dress code?!? That is crazalaze.

It is also, IMO, unbelievably fucking racist.


It's code for "wear concealer, foundation and blush", ie full makeup. I don't see how its racist (?) but it is sexist. I expect men don't have to be dewy in the spring either.
posted by fshgrl at 11:55 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


You have apparently been aware of and dressing to the dress code all along. Other than that, they have NO right to officially tell you things like 'you look better in black' or 'you need to wear makeup', and they twenty-times-never have a right to PUT THEIR HANDS on you --- and finally, that complaint about how your newly-short hair 'highlights the fact that your hair is thinning': wtf, are they trying to tell you you're required to get hair plugs too or something?!?

And yes, that 'healthy glow' bit might be code for 'must wear makeup', but that isn't what the dress code SAYS: the code specifies 'healthy glow'. I doubt that they CAN specify 'must wear makeup', because that's sexist; but does 'healthy glow' mean that if, for instance, somebody is pale from anemia or has bad skin with lots of zits that they're in violation of the dress code?!?

You have already bent over backwards to satisfy them; now I've got to recommend a consultation with an employment lawyer --- and make sure you tell that lawyer about the hands in your hair.
posted by easily confused at 3:43 AM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


+1 to the 'this is unacceptable'

but I wonder if there's some other power thing going on here. You have just been promoted and colleagues seem to be seeing you as a threat. The comments vary from the put-down; 'you're shoes arent right' to the offensive and un-professional; 'you're thinning' & hair touching.

I dont know what your work culture is, or how you relate to it but I'd think very hard about the politics and interpersonal relationships going on around you to try to identify what's happening. If you are the senior person on your site then you are the interface between higher management and this site; you are in a pivotal position. It sounds asif your new immediate seniors are threatened by you and are finding ways to assert dominance over you.

It might help to anticipate and understand what's going to be targeted. What was your predecessor like? This may be the mold you are being squeezed into. Any differences may be picked on. Any unconventionality you show may be a target.

How you deal with this is a personal thing, but IMHO you should start by doing things exactly by the book; standing your ground, quoting the relevant text from company manuals and telling people when they are overstepping the mark. Push back. Unless you stamp this out, YOUR authority will be undermined.
posted by BadMiker at 4:25 AM on September 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


Just chiming in to say I also would be pissed. I would continue to wear what I felt appropriate and go to HR (if possible). Well, actually I'd probably quit if finances weren't an issue. If fired, I would take unemployment.

This is the weirdest shit I have ever heard of in a workplace. he only time I've heard such a thing is from my best friend who was a stripper- she had to buy specific expensive shoes and had to wear certain brands.

I can't believe this. I'm pissed that these people are controlling you to this extent.
Lashes longer???
posted by KogeLiz at 4:54 AM on September 27, 2012


healthy glow is bullshit. That's way too subjective to be a part of the dresscode. You should take that to HR and push to have it clarified/ changed.

Nthing: document in as much detail as possible, including time, place, speaker, your response- exact words if possible- and politely resist when they make inappropriate suggestions. These include: what colours are "best" on you unless there is a required colour of dress in the code, which there is not; whether or not you need to shave your pits (a. they almost certainly wouldn't ask a man to do it, making it sexist, and b. it's none of their business to ask you to modify your body. As others have said, they only have the right to ask you to cover it up); what colour/kind of makeup you should be wearing, unless they say something along the lines of "all makeup must be professional/ understated".

You need to document the unacceptable touching. You need to speak with the person who diid it and your/ their boss/ HR- any third party that can verify the conversation, and make it very clear that it's not acceptable for them to touch you. In the future, if someone that you do not want touching you does so with out permission, pull away and look horrified. Say "what are you doing!? Don't touch me (without permission)!". Don't get angry, get really upset/freaked out. Document document document.

Take it to HR first, then escalate to legal help if you must. But keep documenting, and in the meantime, don't feel obligated to follow their dress code. Be aware, though, that if you don't fall in line, they may look for a reason to fir you. As long as you've been there long enough to collect unemployment, that's fine. This is not a job worth keeping.
posted by windykites at 5:21 AM on September 27, 2012


Also, I think badmiker's got it right.
posted by windykites at 5:22 AM on September 27, 2012


Also chiming in with WTF?! just so you can see that this is not acceptable. I have also never heard anything so insane and controlling, not even in services where appearance is part of the job. If you are working in an educational occupation, interacting with small children, than I hardly think your appearance should be the focus of your job.

I would continue to wear whatever make-up you prefer, shoes that you prefer, etc. and call their bluff. Are they really going to fire you because you are not wearing the right color shoes? That is crazy pants. Instead I would memorize the line, "I'm sorry I prefer to discuss my job performance not my appearance." Just keep repeating it calmly and on every attempt to control you. I'm sure they will attempt to counter with "Your appearance is part of your job, blah, blah, blah" but don't get drawn in to that discussion. Just keep repeating "I prefer to discuss my job performance not my appearance." Either they will get the message or they will fire you. One way or the other they will lose their ability to exert control.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:36 AM on September 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


You didn't say what the job was until the very last line of your question, so all the while I was thinking that this would seem fairly normal, though still unfair and sexist, on make-up counters, in fashionable clothes stores, TV presenting - cut-throat environments in which great importance is placed on particular forms of presentation. In education? No, that is outrageous.
posted by cincinnatus c at 5:36 AM on September 27, 2012


I'd ask your boss if she's hitting on you. Why else would she be so concerned about body hair and glossed up lips, and why else would she be running her fingers through your hair?

Coaching someone about their professional appearance (neutral colors, don't slouch) is uncomfortable but actually a helpful thing if needed. (Note that I say coaching, not mandating.) However, the interest in your body hair? The makeup requirement? The touching? That's taking it way too far.

You probably don't make tons of money, but I'd talk to a lawyer, at least one of those free 30-minute consultations or one that works in those clinics sponsored by law schools. And as others mentioned, I'd get as much of this in writing as possible, and let them fire you. The unemployment insurance payments plus lawsuit winnings would make that worth it.

Even in employer-friendly, worker-unfriendly Texas, I don't think this type of employer action will fly.
posted by Houstonian at 5:39 AM on September 27, 2012


Don't quit. This weirdo boss is the one who's out of line.

Go to HR with a copy of the guidelines you have, tell them about the touching and the terrible comments about the hair (the shoes and the posture are grey area, but the "thinning hair" comment and the touching are waaaay out of line) and ask them for clarification.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:40 AM on September 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


IAAL. I do not think the calls for legal action and "hostile work environment" are warranted.

The only thing I found inappropriate was the touching of the hair. I come from the school that people do not touch each other at work other than to shake hands.

The OP has said that this is a position that involves sales. Appearance matters in sales, so it is little surprise that there was a discussion about a more conservative appearance. There is no indication that the OP had any issues with her workplace appearance until now, and it is not unusual for different positions to have different dress and appearance standards.

We weren't there, so we do not know the delivery given in the interview. While the comments may have been hurtful for the OP to hear, they might have been delivered in a professional manner. However, the touching of the hair was totally inappropriate.
posted by Tanizaki at 8:03 AM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


and healthy glow

So, don't get cancer then? I would regard that an unenforceable at any rate. Who decides what that even means?

As with any work related issues: document document (as was noted above).

Write all of this down, dates, times, and offenders.

Then make them write down their appearance directives, and sign them. If, as Tanizaki says, it's perfectly ok to dictate appearance to this extent, they shouldn't have any trouble agreeing to do so.

If they won't, then they know and you know they could get in trouble for it.

I'm betting on the latter, frankly.

Honestly, there's probably no way that working for jerks is going to be a longterm ok situation, so what you need to do is decide a) is there any way to win this fight (it doesn't sound good unless you have higher-up allies or someone retires soon) and b) if not, what is your exit strategy?
posted by emjaybee at 8:51 AM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've heard of people being passed up for promotion because their dress did not fit with an outward-facing, meeting customers role (admittedly, this was on What Not To Wear, but I'd bet it happens informally a lot given that candidates for jobs are interviewed face to face). I've worked non-customer-facing jobs where you were expected to dress in a particular style - no jeans, no hats, smart trousers/shirt etc. I've also heard of jobs such as air-hostesses having specific make-up requirements as part of the uniform.

I have not heard of any of this in a job like yours. I work in a creative industry, in a casual office, so I wear make-up by choice rather than requirement, could colour my hair any colour I want and/or show visible tattoos, and dress smartly if I feel the occasion calls for it, but we are trusted to know what is appropriate dress for dealing with external people. If I worked in a more corporate environment I would expect to have to dress differently, and I would understand why that convention is in place, but I would be extremely uncomfortable being told that I have to wear or do specific things.

I went to a school which was uniformed - the rules covered not only hair colour and use of make-up but the colours of hair accessories, hair length and beards on boys, and detailing on shoes. That is considered fairly restrictive amongst people who also went to uniformed schools. This might be why I react so strongly to being told something like this as a grown adult - and I'm sure as a fellow grown-adult you have an idea of appropriate dress in the workplace - but armpit hair? What are they going to suggest next, that you wax your legs? As far as I'm concerned - and I would have started looking for a new job after the 'hair is thinning' comment - that crosses a big red line. They couldn't tell you to lose weight - I hope - and body hair should be similarly off-limits.
posted by mippy at 10:12 AM on September 27, 2012


I'm grew up hippy and live in Northern California and still wouldn't have a problem with the armpit hair thing. I might not shave, but I'd make sure to wear things where it didn't show when I was at work. A lot of people have very visceral reactions to armpit hair and they aren't the outliers in this culture.

The last place I worked you weren't supposed to ever wear open toed shoes. Stupid, but that was the culture there. I am willing to bow down to the culture in these cases, if I want the job. In some ways you're lucky they're willing to prompt you- in the places I worked, you'd've just been passed over without a word, because it was less dangerous than trying to tell you how to dress.

The hair-thinning part is insane and that type of comment will get them sued. (What's next? It looks like your chemo is ruining your skin tone. Could you do something about that?)

It mostly sounds like they need to have a clearer policy- obviously your supervisor has had no training. If you DO have an HR, I'd bring it to their attention as a "needs to be fixed company-wide" issue. For instance, Ms Thing has been kind enough to mentor me in getting me ready for this position, but I have some concerns about the techniques that Company uses because I think they expose the company to potential legal trouble, specifically the touching and personal comments about medical conditions. It might make sense for the company to put together a brochure for employees AND THEIR SUPERVISORS that discusses the best ways for employees to represent Company in a professional manner.

If you like what this Company is about, you'll be doing it a favor.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:24 PM on September 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Just reiterating that this is not normal. Ask to see the manual, and don't let this push you into a self esteem spiral.
posted by stoneweaver at 2:19 PM on September 27, 2012


No advice, but this happened to me in my last job, and it damaged my self-esteem for a long time. I got written up for it, and HR didn't do anything. They'll usually side with your supervisor.
posted by hotelechozulu at 3:19 PM on September 27, 2012


This is all kinds of messed up. Do male employees have to have a "healthy glow" too?! I don't think I've ever had a job that required me to wear makeup. And touching your hair is WAY over the line.
posted by sarcasticah at 3:45 PM on September 27, 2012


I asked my dad about this; he was a labor relations specialist for many years and he said that while a dress code must be specific and enforceable, they can put just about anything in it they like--tattoo regulations, shaving for men and women, heels, makeup, colors, appropriate haircuts, etc--the key is the specific and enforceable part. So "healthy glow" is not an objective standard that can be met. He doesn't know anything about your specific case, but he said generally he advised any employee who received counselling on dress code to ask for it to be in writing, as I and many others suggested above.
posted by xyzzy at 5:59 PM on September 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's super-horrifying--I would be in tears and ready to shoot someone--but if I had a cheering section at home, or on the internet, or somewhere, here's what I'd do.

Do ONE iteration of spiffing up with minimal $$ investment. I also sport my God-given hair. You know what you have to do. Austin is still Texas. It's not right, but times are hard.

The purpose of spiffing up is to make your remaining time there as friction-free as possible, and maybe even salvage a reference. The blink tag is symbolic of the Maybelline Great Lash that will soon be deployed upon the lashes that the Lord God Almighty grafted directly onto your eyelids.

Document every single thing that these idiots have said or will say to you so as to prevent someone else from going through this experience. Forward to HR as a matter of routine.

Start looking, since you have a fresh interview-ready haircut, anyway.
posted by skbw at 10:54 AM on September 30, 2012


Rock Steady: "Don't quit. Wear what you want, let them fire you, and then get on unemployment until you find a new job. This is not acceptable."

Agreed, but also look into the possibility of whether you can quit anyway and then argue that the working condition was not acceptable. Under those conditions, you can still collect unemployment since the argument is that they effectively forced you to quit. As I understand it, this sort of thing is in place so that companies can't just get out of paying unemployment by making you miserable enough to quit on your own.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:27 AM on October 1, 2012


Texas Workforce Commission page on Dress Codes.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:09 AM on October 3, 2012


Reader, I quit.

As you can well imagine the dress code was really just one piece of the lack-of-professional-boundaries puzzle.

I lined up other work and left as soon as I could figuring things would get worse rather than better.
posted by Saminal at 2:17 PM on October 27, 2012 [10 favorites]


Good for you! Were you able to tell them why? (Or would it have shot your career in the foot?)
posted by small_ruminant at 2:49 PM on October 27, 2012


Before I left I wrote a long letter full of documentation to HR. My boss said she was "just really confused about why I was leaving." so I decided not to bother trying to explain to her why it was inappropriate, but to assure her that it was and then walk away.

The HR person questioned why I complied with these bizarre things if they were inappropriate and why I said because I needed the job she rolled her eyes. So I did a few bars of "Go Fuck Yourself" for her.
posted by Saminal at 7:28 PM on October 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


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