The ettiquette of complimenting co-workers.
December 29, 2004 12:17 AM   Subscribe

a question of ettiquette: it's not uncommon for me (bloke, straight, 31) to compliment co-workers - both male and female - on their clothes, hair, shoes etc. If a woman at work is wearing a string-strap tank top which will always leave her bra-straps exposed, is it bad form to say (if it's true): "hey, nice bra."? it's not like it's been ACCIDENTALLY exposed or anything, but... I dunno... what rules apply here?
posted by bunglin jones to Society & Culture (62 answers total)
 
Extremely bad form. She'll think you're looking at her breasts.

Or you can just try it out and see what happens :-)
posted by zelphi at 12:19 AM on December 29, 2004


even if the exposed strap is at the shoulder region?
posted by bunglin jones at 12:24 AM on December 29, 2004


Ask a female colleague (whom you know well) to quietly point it out to her, perhaps by tapping her own shoulder with a finger.

Gets you out of the sticky situation.

If you know her well (which doesn't seem likely given your question), then you can do this gesture yourself.
posted by madman at 12:48 AM on December 29, 2004


The only way you could work it is if you were saying it salaciously and with a wink, and almost nobody can pull that off, especially at work.

Also, she knows she's exposing her bra that way and she thinks she wants you to notice it, but will only discover that your mentioning it is icky after you cross the line. Don't do it.
posted by palegirl at 12:50 AM on December 29, 2004


One more vote against mentioning the bra. Whether or not her attire is considered inappropriate in your workplace, she (or anyone else in the vicinity) could construe your comment as sexual harassment and cause you a world of trouble. Complementing a coworker's hairstyle is one thing, but underwear comes too close to the "talking about naughty bits" line that shouldn't be crossed at work.
posted by rhiannon at 1:23 AM on December 29, 2004


If you have to ask...
posted by cribcage at 1:26 AM on December 29, 2004


a friend's suggestions to combat misconceptions of sexual advances:" that's a nice bra you are wearing to support your otherwise unattractive breasts" or "nice bra - i'd like to try it on some time".
i did ask a female co-worker and her position was that if she was wearing such an outfit, she'd have chosen her bra carefully, knowing the straps would be exposed and she'd take the comment as a compliment, nothing else. does that make her (or our working relationship) unusual?
posted by bunglin jones at 1:43 AM on December 29, 2004


The thing is... even if this is a completely innocent observation, all it takes is for her (or even another coworker overhearing it) to be offended and you have a heap of trouble. I've seen it happen and an accusation of sexual harrassment (especially where you meant no harm) makes work life hell for lots of people for a long time.

It's hardly worth that...
posted by pissfactory at 2:13 AM on December 29, 2004


Maybe at a bar or a party or a concert, but good god man, NOT AT WORK.

I kind of wonder if she's trolling for a lawsuit by doing that. I can't think of many work environments that would allow exposed bra straps, much less tank tops as proper attire.

Are you hot? Sometimes we chicks don't mind comments like that if you're hot. We mind if you're creepy.
posted by pieoverdone at 3:34 AM on December 29, 2004


pieoverdone: I know you were joking, but I have to say, I hate when people talk about "it's okay if you're hot". How the hell do you know how you're gonna come off to a particular girl?

As for the question, come on. If some woman's thong underwear was exposed, would you say "hey, nice thong?"
posted by Big Fat Tycoon at 3:50 AM on December 29, 2004


Exactly, BFT. One chick's George Clooney is another's Dana Carvey. You'll never be able to tell, so it is best to keep your yap shut at work unless you're complimenting something neutral.
posted by pieoverdone at 3:58 AM on December 29, 2004


Plus, I have to know what is so special about these bra straps that you're actually asking us about saying something about them. Are they snakeskin? Hemp macrame? Gold filigree? Razor wire? What?
posted by pieoverdone at 4:01 AM on December 29, 2004


a pile of answers and no-one has said that this is normal?!

as far as i know, it's accepted that bra straps show in such cases and, further, part of the current fashion to show them. and it has been for at least a couple of years.

ymmv - apparently, i would guess from the answers here, in america.
posted by andrew cooke at 4:18 AM on December 29, 2004


oh. maybe it's because i didn't understand the question. which would explain a lot. sorry. and no, don't do it.
posted by andrew cooke at 4:22 AM on December 29, 2004


If you want an actual etiquette, rather than common sense, based answer, the answer is approximately: 'Complimenting people on their physical attributes and/or possessions is inappropriate.' Complimenting general appearance, etc, doesn't bother me, But I agree with others that even if they're deliberately exposed, complimenting someone's bra straps does seems rather skeevy. I think you'd find you'd offend or annoy about half the people you said something like that to, which is way higher than the threshhold for unacceptability in etiquette.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:14 AM on December 29, 2004


Are you hot? Sometimes we chicks don't mind comments like that if you're hot.

Bingo! We have a winner, folks!
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:45 AM on December 29, 2004


Every training course I've had to sit through (not as punishment, just as corporate CYA) has said to just leave people's clothes unremarked upon, more or less. While "those are great shoes" is unlikely to offend almost anyone, I think commenting on a coworker's underwear in any way is a bad idea.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:46 AM on December 29, 2004


If you're going to go there, I think the most mild-mannered way is to mention a noteworthy feature of the straps themselves, and not to say the word "bra": "Oh, I really like the polka dots on your straps!"
posted by redfoxtail at 6:07 AM on December 29, 2004


I think the whole deal is you can't see her bra just as redfoxtail says, so why talk about it? As pieoverdone says, unless there's something really remarkable about the straps you can see, you'll likely come off as saying "hee hee, I can see your underwear!" or "maybe you didn't know it, but I can see your bra..." which, as andrewcooke rightly says, may just be the fashion and makes you look like a gibbering teenager. Could you say it without getting nailed for sexual harassment? Probably. Is it something that is guaranteed to always be an okay and appropriate thing to say in an office environment? No. I don't think I personally would mind if you said something like that to me, but I can think of a few co-workers in my office who might mind. There are many shades of nuance that might make this a reasonable thing to say or throw it right over the line into inappropriate. I'd err on the side of caution on this one.
posted by jessamyn at 6:17 AM on December 29, 2004


Don't go there.

And be careful with compliments in general at work. Sometimes they can come off as patronizing, or suck-upy. I have a colleague who is always finding something about my appearance to compliment me on and it bugs the shit out of me because it's a/so obviously phoney and b/reinforces that whole girls-are-all-about-looks-clothes-and-hair thing. If I have a new jacket or haircut fine. But not every day jeez.
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:21 AM on December 29, 2004


Are you hot? Sometimes we chicks don't mind comments like that if you're hot. We mind if you're creepy.

I know she's half kidding, but that's an interesting point. If something is roguishly charming coming from a handsome guy, but harassment coming from the rest of us, isn't that defacto unfair?

Not that there's neccessarily anything wrong with that, I'm just stating the obvious.
posted by jonmc at 6:36 AM on December 29, 2004


I agree with pieoverdone, what's so great about these bra straps?
posted by revgeorge at 6:48 AM on December 29, 2004


If something is roguishly charming coming from a handsome guy, but harassment coming from the rest of us, isn't that defacto unfair?

With the guys who get away with it, I find it's not so much their looks as that they are charming rogues to begin with. There's a guy I know who always says the most appallingly inappropriate things to the women in the office, but he carries it off and no one ever takes offense. It's not because he's particularly hot, it's just that he says stuff like that to everyone, always has, and exudes a total lack of creepiness or threat or ulterior motives that you can't do anything but roll your eyes and be secretly flattered.
But unless you were born him, best to remain professional.
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:17 AM on December 29, 2004


Why are we feeding the troll here, people?

And comments on underthings are always inappropriate in the office. If you want to try it out at a bar or nightclub, go for it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:02 AM on December 29, 2004


Definitely inappropriate.

Are you hot? Sometimes we chicks don't mind comments like that if you're hot. We mind if you're creepy.

I'm glad to see a woman admit this. It's perfectly natural and understandable, but it freaks guys out, so it usually gets covered up. Which brings us to jonmc:

If something is roguishly charming coming from a handsome guy, but harassment coming from the rest of us, isn't that defacto unfair?

Guy, I hate to be the one to break this to you, but:
>life is unfair
.
posted by languagehat at 8:35 AM on December 29, 2004


I doubt the straps are interesting enough to illicit comment, and it's not appropriate for the workplace. I'm surprised anyone would have to ask on this. I too feel it's a bit trollish.
posted by agregoli at 8:36 AM on December 29, 2004


I don't see any troll in here, Sidhedevil. The question has been soundly and unanimously answered from a dozen different angles, and some people are discussing directly related issues.

As I see it, the defacto unfairness of hot/creepy guys getting acolades/busted for making suggestive comments contributes directly to the questioner's problem. No, it's not fair; it's social reality. And, yes, it continues to befuddle.

On Preview, what languagehat said in his last line.
posted by squirrel at 8:39 AM on December 29, 2004


Oh, I know that life is unfair, squirrel and languagehat, it's gratifying to hear women state it plainly, rather than try to deny that they can be as superficial as men.
posted by jonmc at 8:48 AM on December 29, 2004


Never say a word about a coworkers personal appearance. Except when a woman gets her hair done, in which case you are required to say "Nice hair!"
posted by LarryC at 9:14 AM on December 29, 2004


Yes, it's de facto unfair when women enjoy flirtatious comments from attractive men, but are creeped out by flirtatious comments from less-attractive men.

Of course, men make exactly as many flirtatious comments to the less-attractive women as they do to the attractive ones, don't they?

Women can be so unfair.

And, I should say, I have never enjoyed flirtatious comments in the workplace, and don't think I would enjoy them if they came from Jude Law, Denzel Washington, Johnny Depp, or any of my other imaginary boyfriends.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:29 AM on December 29, 2004


Of course, men make exactly as many flirtatious comments to the less-attractive women as they do to the attractive ones, don't they?

Well, some of us opt for the scattergun approach and pretty much flirt with everyone on the off chance that one will respond.

I'm not on a crusade here, but (your comments aside) if a salacious comment from Johnny Depp earns him a blush and a giggle and the same comment from Ned the Nudnik earns him a firing and a lawsuit, then there's something askew.

But like I said, it's simply refreshing to hear women copping to the same attitudes that they've pilloried men for in the past.
posted by jonmc at 9:35 AM on December 29, 2004


what cribcage said.
posted by xammerboy at 10:02 AM on December 29, 2004


the same comment from Ned the Nudnik earns him a firing and a lawsuit, then there's something askew

I think, from what I've read, that the same comment, answered by a "please don't speak that way to me," followed by similar comments after the recipient has made it clear she's not interested in hearing such comments, and then generally followed by complaints to the management who then do nothing about it, is what *might* justify a lawsuit. I'd prefer we not perpetuate the "women are hysterical, unpredictable harpies who want nothing more than to put all unattractive male co-workers behind bars" stereotype here.

As for the question itself, "nice outfit" might cover it nicely without getting you in trouble.
posted by occhiblu at 10:36 AM on December 29, 2004


I think the place for flirtatious comments is in a bar or at a party, not in the office.

And to suggest that the fact that people are more excited/amused by flirtatious comments from people they find attractive than from people they find unattractive is "unfair" just seems odd.

if a salacious comment from Johnny Depp earns him a blush and a giggle and the same comment from Ned the Nudnik earns him a firing and a lawsuit, then there's something askew

When has that ever happened in the history of the world? Straw, straw, straw man.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:52 AM on December 29, 2004


A salacious comment from Johnny Depp makes him a Ned the Nudnik, granted with great cheekbones. At least after the 2nd or 3rd time.
posted by dness2 at 11:18 AM on December 29, 2004


Don't comment on the woman's bra. You could do it in a bar, you could do it if you were dating her, but you shouldn't do such a thing at work.

If flirtatious and/or sexual comments are unwelcome and embarrassing to the recipient, then they constitute sexual harassment. Therefore if a guy I find attractive makes such comments to me and I don't mind or even enjoy hearing it and flirt back, then no, it's not sexual harassment.
posted by orange swan at 11:47 AM on December 29, 2004


If flirtatious and/or sexual comments are unwelcome and embarrassing to the recipient, then they constitute sexual harassment.

No, I believe that if flirtatious or sexual comments are unwelcome and embarassing to the recipient, AND she asks him to stop AND complains to management AND STILL he continues, then they constitute sexual harassment. That was my point above -- guys sometimes act like complimenting a woman once is going to get them fired, which makes the whole sexual harassment problem seem like a witch-hunt rather than a way to try to ensure people don't treat their workplace like a pick-up bar.
posted by occhiblu at 11:57 AM on December 29, 2004


It is never appropriate to have your underwear exposed in an office/professional environment. However, I'm another one recommending you don't say anything. Unless, of course, it bothers you. If that's the case, go to your and/or her manager(s).

Personally, I believe underwear should be just that.

Hmm. Could it be I just crossed over into the fuddy-duddy department? Nahhh...
posted by deborah at 12:02 PM on December 29, 2004


We all seem to be assuming, by the way, that this is an "office environment." It could be a bar, or a tattoo parlor, or an ice-cream stand, or a casual restaurant. And while I wouldn't wear a tank-top/exposed-bra combo to an office, it is certainly standard 20-something casual wear in the last three cities I've lived in, so it's not automatically inappropriate in *all* situations.
posted by occhiblu at 12:08 PM on December 29, 2004


Work is work though. Sexual harassment law applies at Hooters as it does at Microsoft.
posted by pieoverdone at 12:14 PM on December 29, 2004


Yes, but the "she's being inappropriate by wearing in it in the first place" comments don't.
posted by occhiblu at 12:18 PM on December 29, 2004


I received a "nice bra" comment once, when my bra strap was showing. (And this was in a college computer lab a few years back, not in an office setting.) It didn't bother me, but I definitely felt as though I was being hit on.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:43 PM on December 29, 2004


Dude... mate, whatever... seriously, just keep your mouth shut. You're ALWAYS going to be much better off that way. It's a lesson well learned without actually having to learn it yourself. Don't try to be crafty or smooth. Zip it!
posted by Witty at 2:42 PM on December 29, 2004


Of course, men make exactly as many flirtatious comments to the less-attractive women as they do to the attractive ones, don't they?

I try. I fact, I'm more apt to not give as many to the attractive ones--they've heard it all already.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 3:26 PM on December 29, 2004


I vote "no" as well. You don't know where her personal line is for when something is a compliment and when something is harrassment. Even though the strap is visible, she still may not want anyone to comment on it. I have worn shirts before that left my bra straps visible because I really liked the shirt, but I wasn't happy about the straps showing, so I would not have been pleased to have someone comment on them.

As far as enjoying a comment from only an attractive man, I don't know if my rationale is the same as other women's, but it's possibly different from what a man feels in the opposite situation. If a hot guy compliments me, I feel like I'm on his "level" (that I am also attractive), and so it pleases me. If a creepy guy compliments me, it also makes me feel like I'm at his level (that I am unattractive), and I get defensive about how I feel about myself, and therefore am not happy. So I look at the guy's level of attractiveness as a reflection of myself. Not saying I'm happy with this, but I have noticed it about myself.
posted by veronitron at 3:53 PM on December 29, 2004


Yes, wearing exposed underwear in an office environment is ridiculous.

But the question has brought up something that has continually driven me nuts. This mostly refers to women, but some men do it too:

If you're wearing an article of clothing that is designed to emphasize certain portions of your anatomy, you have no right to get upset if people actually look there.

Likewise the exposed bra strap thing. If it's exposed on purpose (as it so often is, which is a bit of fashion silliness that only works on rare occasions), then to get annoyed when someone comments on it is as foolish as getting annoyed when someone comments on your shoes. If it's clearly intended to be seen, then it's fair game for compliments.

Admittedly, at work such compliments should be kept to a minimum, as they're just not (no matter the gender or clothing of the people involved) appropriate, beyond a "Nice outfit," if necessary.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 4:19 PM on December 29, 2004


If it's clearly intended to be seen, then it's fair game for compliments.

I think this is why some people are saying it might be ok to compliment the straps specifically (as in, "I like the color/pattern on your straps"). But saying something like "Nice bra!" when the bra itself is hidden would be out of line.
posted by veronitron at 4:33 PM on December 29, 2004


dirtynumbguy: A bra is not necessarily designed to emphasize certain portions of the anatomy. For some people they are a physical necessity, and for most women they are at least a matter of comfort. Should those folks not be allowed to wear tank tops?
posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:38 PM on December 29, 2004


Of course not; don't be foolish.

If, however, the bra in question is clearly decorative as opposed to purely functional, then it's clearly being worn as an accessory, and not as a required article of clothing.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 5:26 PM on December 29, 2004


We all seem to be assuming, by the way, that this is an "office environment." It could be a bar, or a tattoo parlor, or an ice-cream stand, or a casual restaurant. And while I wouldn't wear a tank-top/exposed-bra combo to an office, it is certainly standard 20-something casual wear in the last three cities I've lived in, so it's not automatically inappropriate in *all* situations.

I stand by my comment. I don't know of any profession, including the above mentioned, where exposed underwear is appropriate. It is simply unprofessional. The only possible exception(s) that come(s) to mind is the entertainment industry. By "entertainment" I mean everything from actors to prostitutes. It being "standard 20-something casual wear" doesn't excuse it. It just shows that younger people don't know what's appropriate clothing.
posted by deborah at 6:10 PM on December 29, 2004


i don't know about form in a miss manners generalized sense; i'm only speaking for myself here but:
if a guy at work said that to me i might not make a snappy retort back, but i'd internally make a note of you as an "eh...kind of irritating / avoidthispersonifpossible" sort. like. it wouldn't be anything major but i wouldn't appreciate it, and would sort of wrinkle my nose so to speak when i think of you.
posted by ifjuly at 6:46 PM on December 29, 2004


my own feelings tended towards "no", I have to admit - and it's not something that NEEDS saying, so it clearly seems best to steer clear. That said, I didn't realise the exposed strap was such a big deal. I mean, it was 39 degrees celsius the other day - can't a woman wear something sleeveless? and being "strappy" seemed like a very fashionable thing to do about three years ago; women would co-ordinate their bra-straps with their tops, because the bra became sort of outerwear.
I won't stop commenting on co-worker's clothes, though, because no-one (male or female) has registered anything that seems even faintly like offence. I think the LACK OF OFFENCE taken, btw, has a lot to do with the fact that I am quite definitely NOT regarded as "hot", but am quite possibly regarded as harmless. being short, plump and crooked-of-tooth makes one very un-threatening, I've found.
(btw - no trolling intended by the original question - I was genuinely curious about what others - particualrly those not from Oz - think)
posted by bunglin jones at 7:08 PM on December 29, 2004


Sorry, bunglin. This was what made me think you were trolling:

a friend's suggestions to combat misconceptions of sexual advances:" that's a nice bra you are wearing to support your otherwise unattractive breasts" or "nice bra - i'd like to try it on some time"

but maybe it was just one of those times when the sarcasm was hard to see on the internets.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:36 PM on December 29, 2004


no need to apologise, sidhedevil: I know my friend well enough to know he wasn't responding with any degree of solemnity but I guess you guys can't exactly picture his always-sarcastic face as he says it the way that I can
posted by bunglin jones at 8:03 PM on December 29, 2004


I encounter women's bras at work with some regularity, and I'd never, never comment on them. I'd consider that to be the height of inappropriateness.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:35 PM on December 29, 2004


is the bra really the most comment-worthy part of her outfit? are you so starved for compliments to give her that you need to resort to her bra straps? are you so starved for conversation with said girl that you need to resort to talking to her about her underwear? when low low jeans were in fashion, many a girl's underwear would be exposed over her jeans. would you say "hey, nice panties" to her? if you have the kind of relationship with a woman where you can comment on her underwear, you would know it. since you're asking mefi, the answer is no.
posted by hindmost at 1:51 AM on December 30, 2004


...or, what hindmost said. i mean, does it add anything to the conversation, especially given all the ways it can be interpreted badly?
posted by ifjuly at 9:33 AM on December 30, 2004


But if it's deliberately exposed, it is so for one of two reasons:

1) It's not underwear anymore, it's outerwear-- and thus fair game for (non-lewd!) comments.

2) It's there for titillation-- again fair game, because frankly, don't bloody put it out there if you don't want it talked about.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:24 AM on December 30, 2004


If I'm wearing a tank top in which my bra is deliberately exposed, it's generally because it's either (a) expose the bra and have people see straps or (b) don't wear a bra and have people staring at my nipples all day. I don't love the exposed strap look, but most of the time the occasional lewd comments/leers one gets with that look are MUCH preferable to the constant lewd comments/leers ones gets with the no-bra look.

And yes, I understand that "don't wear a tank top in the first place" could be another solution. But given that exposed straps are not that big a deal anymore, that seems to me the best fashion option.

It does not, however, mean I'm trying to "provoke" anyone or "titillate anyone" or "be inappropriate." It just means I'd like you not to stare at my nipples when the A/C starts up.

Perhaps, really, a better analogy is a visible panty line. We women aren't generally doing that simply so that guys will notice and comment on our underwear. It's just something that sometimes you gotta put up with, fashion-wise, if you'd like to wear both underwear AND pants.
posted by occhiblu at 8:37 AM on December 31, 2004


occhiblu, you've made good comments throughout this thread, particularly about the sexual harassment hysteria that is a common reaction to attempts at curbing abusive behavior. It burns my biscuits to hear men say, whoa, it's been like walking on eggshells since the harassment nazis took over. My response, when I have the courage, is to say, no, it's just the triumph of common sense. I've never heard of anyone being fired for one offense, unless it's over the top.

That said, I will offer in passing that I think having two different dress codes is sexist and wrong. If men can't wear tank tops in a particular work place, women shouldn't either. I mean, what's the idea we're supposed to accept with such rules? That women just get warmer than men? That seeing a woman's exposed flesh is inherently less offensive than seeing a man's? Or, inversely, that the public has an increased prerogative to see women's bodies? I say one code for all bodies.

Great thread.
posted by squirrel at 7:32 PM on December 31, 2004


Personally, I'd say it's armpit hair. You shave your pits, you get to wear tank tops.

When I was working in an office, however, tank tops for men or women were frowned upon, and I've always felt uncomfortable wearing sleeveless things to an office, so I'm not sure there's all that much of a double-standard at the office.

What I've never really figured out is winter formal attire -- you've got all these men in heavy tuxes and layers of shirts, vests, etc, and all these women in strapless gowns. I'm not sure how you get the room temperature working for both sexes.
posted by occhiblu at 8:24 PM on December 31, 2004


And I should add: A dress code could very easily and uncontorversially say that women are allowed to wear skirts to work and men are not. I doubt you'd call that particularly sexist. There are, in both theory and practice, different dress codes that are acceptable for men and women.
posted by occhiblu at 8:27 PM on December 31, 2004


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