Out of bounds to suggest new clothes?
September 24, 2015 1:46 PM   Subscribe

Is there an appropriate way to ask a potential employee to update their wardrobe?

The small local business that I work at (currently 6 employees) is hiring a new employee. My boss (the owner of the business) did initial interviews, and asked me to conduct their second interview for the ones that stood out.

Out of the six interviews, we've narrowed it down to 2 candidates. They seem to be on equal footing, skills and demeanor wise. One of the candidates seems more likely to stick around for the long haul, though. However, my boss indicated to me that he wasn't impressed with her attire. After I fleshed it out with him (was it inappropriate/too revealing? were there holes or rips in the clothing?), I got the sense that my boss thought her attire was too outdated, and that it looked like kinda worn, old clothing.

Is there a way to ask a potential employee to update their wardrobe, or is this completely inappropriate?
posted by horizonseeker to Work & Money (31 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Is there some reason her clothing is relevant to the job or going to affect other people (e.g. does she smell? is her clothing so dirty it's going to dirty your furniture somehow?)? If not, then I would say it's inappropriate both to ask her to change her clothing or to take her clothing into account in your hiring decision.

Besides, the how-is-that-relevant-factor, discriminating on the basis of old or worn clothing is a recipe for keeping people-who-are-already-down down.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 1:50 PM on September 24, 2015 [54 favorites]

Best answer: Completely inappropriate.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:50 PM on September 24, 2015 [23 favorites]

Best answer: You never know, maybe she isn't able to afford new clothes because she needs a damn job.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:51 PM on September 24, 2015 [203 favorites]

Best answer: which is to say, this is both inappropriate and horrifying.

and possibly gender-based discrimination, if the other candidate presents as male and isn't being held to as high a standard....
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:52 PM on September 24, 2015 [70 favorites]

Best answer: This happened to me once and no, there's really no appropriate way of telling a person to update their wardrobe unless you're planning to cut them a check to do so.
posted by griphus at 1:53 PM on September 24, 2015 [23 favorites]

Best answer: Offer her a clothing allowance because $money buys new clothes. But to be fair you should offer it to all employees.
posted by Gungho at 1:54 PM on September 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Yes, inappropriate, but many businesses are about presentation, style, looks etc. I'm not saying it's good or right, but if this is that kind of business it's par for the course.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 1:55 PM on September 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I'd be so uncomfortable with this, either from your side or from hers. Is this a fashion job? Does she do presentations to high-end clients? Then maybe. Otherwise, hire her for her skills, and possibly point out to your boss that having slightly outdated interview clothes might mean she doesn't interview all that often and is the type to stick around.
posted by sageleaf at 1:59 PM on September 24, 2015 [6 favorites]

Best answer: If the position is a customer facing position where consumers will judge the company based on the appearance of the workers, then it's appropriate to have a dress code. As a dedicated jeans and T-shirt type, I don't like that the world works that way, but with things like insurance companies or the like, they will suffer financial consequences based on their employee's appearance.

However, it's entirely possible that she may be wearing old and dated interview attire because she's financially limited. You could certainly suggest giving a reasonable signing bonus that would cover a small wardrobe update along with a note about what the expect dress style will be.
posted by Candleman at 1:59 PM on September 24, 2015 [7 favorites]

Best answer: It is entirely appropriate to ask that employees maintain a paticular standard of dress.
It just can't be sexist and it can't be arbitrary or arbitrarily enforced.
posted by SLC Mom at 2:02 PM on September 24, 2015 [11 favorites]

Best answer: Is this a client-facing role? Is there a written dress code, and would she be in violation of it? Do you work in a fashion-conscious industry? If the answer to at least two of these is yes, it might be appropriate - but only after she's hired.

People usually wear their best clothes to interviews. If she looked drab, the most likely reasons are that she can't afford brand-new clothes or that she doesn't have much fashion sense. If it's the latter, a gentle suggestion probably wouldn't help anyway - that's just how she dresses.

Anecdotally, I've worked in a variety of jobs with varying dress codes, and I've found that the stricter a boss was about what I wore, the less attention they paid to my actual abilities. I got fired from the job where my manager kept lecturing me about my clothes; I got promotions at the jobs where I could freely wear jeans.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:10 PM on September 24, 2015 [12 favorites]

Best answer: Single best hire I ever made was a young lady who wore a really awful polyester-looking pantsuit to the interview. A lot of times young people have zero need (or budget) for nice clothes while trying to claw their way through a hellaciously expensive college system and when they go for an interview are literally borrowing clothes, sometimes from parents, especially if it looks dated. YMMV.
posted by randomkeystrike at 2:24 PM on September 24, 2015 [28 favorites]

Best answer: Nthing that this is really only appropriate if her interview attire would be a violation of a pre-existing workplace dress code that is enforced equally among all employees.

I definitely know of people who were not hired for a position because they presented very poorly in terms of interview attire. That said, we're talking cut-off booty shorts, here, not a suit in an out-dated silhouette.
posted by Sara C. at 2:27 PM on September 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Do you have a company-wide policy which specifies attire standards? If you do, then you can direct her to that policy. If her clothing is inappropriately revealing, offensive or a safety hazard then you do need to address it and have an appropriate policy to spell out standards. Customer facing positions may also have specific dress codes, but those should be codified in policy and not whatever the manager likes today. Having people make judgement calls about attire is a recipe for trouble.

If she's just not fashionable, then it is a non-issue for her employment.
posted by 26.2 at 2:29 PM on September 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There is absolutely no way you can do this. Yes, it's inappropriate. It's also such a dick move that it would probably make her turn down the job offer anyway.
posted by something something at 2:49 PM on September 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Would you want this scenario to appear in a Glassdoor.com interview-process review?
posted by jgirl at 2:59 PM on September 24, 2015 [19 favorites]

Tell your boss that you promise to take it up with her if she gets the job. And then don't say anything and wait to see what happens.
posted by Bella Donna at 3:10 PM on September 24, 2015

Best answer: If my new employer offered me $500 to $1000 to get myself a new work wardrobe as a hiring bonus, I would be mortified but super, super grateful because I know I'd dress better if I could afford to. That is the only thing I can think of that would make this situation not as crappy. Your boss is more prejudiced than they want to think of themselves.
posted by Hermione Granger at 3:16 PM on September 24, 2015 [16 favorites]

Best answer: If the candidate's wardrobe is not in violation of the dress code, which it sounds like it isn't, then mentioning wardrobe is not only inappropriate, it will also most likely backfire.

If she knows her clothing is not on trend, it's either a personal choice or she can't afford to update. In either case, saying anything will neither help you nor her, and she will likely question why a company would risk saying something when it helps no one. If she doesn't know, she could quite possibly be mortified to hear this critique from her employer.

My supervisor, despite a nice income and an appreciation for aesthetics, purposefully wears the most generic t-shirt, jeans and sneakers combo possible (none of that faux-humble designer stuff). It took me a long time to realize he did this because he works closely with a bunch of younger employees who do not have the best fashion sense. His wardrobe choices convey what really matters in the workplace, and reduces the intimidation factor between him and them so he can be a more effective leader. I took a lesson from that.

In other words, if you aren't working in fashion, it's literally not your job to be the fashion police.
posted by Goblin Barbarian at 3:46 PM on September 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: What industry is this in?

It's something many of my friends(and myself, once) griped about, but a lot of clothing stores or other appearance-based stores like high end home item/furniture retailers expect their employees to look "hip" or a certain way.

If your workplace falls in to that category, then it's normal for that industry but still kind of fucked up. If it's just like, a relatively normal average workplace or small sandwich shop or something? Nah, give it a rest.

I do know plenty of people who got hired and were asked to "step it up" and had to drop a couple hundred bucks on clothes though. They hated it, and we all commiserated about it, but it is normal in quite a few style/appearance focused industries and is not "absolutely unacceptable" or abnormal.

Whether or not it should be is a separate discussion that a few people seem to want to turn it into.
posted by emptythought at 4:29 PM on September 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I will add though, that if she's just going to work in an office filling out TPS reports and plugging stuff in to excel or whatever, then your boss is an awful person for bringing this up. I wrote that entire comment assuming this was some sort of customer facing role because that's literally the only time i've even heard this come up as a discussion.
posted by emptythought at 4:31 PM on September 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: As far as I can tell, it's legal to discriminate on the basis of attire. However, Boss may be a poor judge of fashion, and Candidate's attire may fit into a fashion niche. In any case, should you hire Candidate, a discussion of the office's dress code is totally legit.
posted by theora55 at 5:24 PM on September 24, 2015

Best answer: My husband transitioned to technical sales after 20 years as a programmer. His boss offered him a clothing/signing bonus for him to get suits, nice shirts, etc.. (Husband had spent years working in polos and khakis.)

The boss offered it as a "we want you to look a certain way, and here is the money to make it happen."
posted by heathrowga at 6:27 PM on September 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: possibly point out to your boss that having slightly outdated interview clothes might mean she doesn't interview all that often and is the type to stick around.

Yes, this. I have enough interview clothes to get through a couple rounds of interviews, but I don't wear them often enough to keep them new. My best pair of interview pants is hemmed with straight pins and electrical tape, but I have a wardrobe sufficiently professional and up-to-date for day to day office life.
posted by bendy at 7:28 PM on September 24, 2015

Best answer: If there is a way to suggest an updated wardrobe, heathrowga's suggestion is the way to go -- a nice stipend/bonus tied to the duties of the job. In that case, because it was a front-facing position like sales, there is an explicit dress code standard and wardrobe is treated like a tool of the trade (like a laptop or a hardhat might be), so it makes sense, or at least it isn't out of line, for the company to find a respectful way to make that explicit and provide a means (clothing bonus) for the new employee to make that happen without causing the employee undue burden or grief.

However, in the OP's question the candidate passed two interviews without wardrobe being an issue. It only became an issue at the point of having to decide between another equally qualified but potentially less loyal candidate and the boss makes a fuss about clothing. So clearly the matter isn't a question of decency, hygiene, offensive words/imagery, or some aspect that would either affect the workplace atmosphere or call the integrity of the company into question. The situation doesn't sound like anything other than a decision to focus on wardrobe after it hadn't proved relevant to the job in all previous rounds of screening and is altogether rather arbitrary to the job.

If a candidate arrived at their interview in a beat up car, it would be ludicrous to base a hiring decision around that, or imply a nice car is part of the job, if it's actually not. If an employee can get to work on time, doesn't matter how they get there, all that matters to the company is that the employee does their job as required without bringing harm to the company or its employees.

The exception would be if the job required picking up clients or other driving-related public appearances. In that case, either a reliable, clean car would be a known requirement of the job (much like a dress code might be a known part of a job), or the company would provide access to a company car as part of the job. Otherwise, no go for making judgements or suggestions based on appearances!
posted by Goblin Barbarian at 8:44 PM on September 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I work in fashion retail. This is a legit topic that comes up occasionally in interviews as a result. The conversation normally goes something like this:

"Do you shop our stores/have you been to our stores recently? No - well go check it out, try on some of the new items, observe the service/processes/whatever this job is about, and let me know what you think. Here's a voucher you can use to pick up a couple of items while you're there!"

I would really struggle with having this conversation out of this context. I've observed many people over the years slowly alter their style of dress based on the norms in the office. Even outside of fashion, if I had a great candidate who just dressed a little weird, I would totally still bring them in and assume they'd eventually figure it out, or that I could address if it got bad.
posted by marmago at 4:30 AM on September 25, 2015

Response by poster: Yeah, that's what I thought. Thanks, Metafilter.
posted by horizonseeker at 6:23 AM on September 25, 2015

Best answer: I've been in this situation. If I was just out of school or had been out of work or hadn't been making much in a previous job, I was kind of limited in terms of "interview-worthy" clothing. I also had been advised to buy really conservative clothes by my well-meaning parents and mentors, who didn't really know that people expected young people to have hip professional clothes and show a bit of personality. I also sometimes had multiple interviews going on and having one "interview suit" wasn't enough. A guy can just change the shirt and tie, but women are expecting to change the entire look, including shoes and accessories. And I was not svelte, so finding affordable and professional clothes was very difficult. Even now, as an adult, a fluctuation in my weight can put all my best clothes out of my range and buying 3 interview outfits would cost a fortune. After I got one job, my co-workers told me my boss didn't want to hire me because he didn't think I had the right "look" - I felt humiliated and I realized I wasn't being hired for my skills. They had persuaded him that I would seem more approachable to their mostly women business buyers and that people might trust me more because I wasn't all about flash. I quit the job shortly after when I realized I was working for a jerk. And, later, when I had more money, I hired a stylist and totally overhauled my wardrobe. But finding the $1000 to do that when I was a student was way out of reach. I had paid my own way through school and didn't get to live at home. I had another employer who wouldn't hire me because of where I live and that I didn't have a car and I had worked and volunteered during university instead of playing on a sports team. Um, I would have loved to have the time and money to play sports, but I had to focus everything on being able to get a job and build job skills so I could make enough to eat. So watch for sexism and classism.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 1:33 PM on September 25, 2015 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: The choice between the two candidates was very superficial. The rest of my office is men, and most of them leaned toward the younger, prettier candidate, even though she indicated she wanted to use this entry level position to move upward and outward, sooner rather than later. The older candidate told me that she was interested in establishing herself in a small business (us) and turning that into a career (plus, I thought she had a warmer personality in general).

Fortunately, the final decision rested with me. I offered the job to the older candidate Friday, and she will be starting tomorrow!
posted by horizonseeker at 5:42 PM on September 27, 2015 [15 favorites]

posted by craven_morhead at 1:58 PM on September 29, 2015

Best answer: Ooh, I don't think you mentioned that the candidate in question was older. Dressing well gets so much harder the older you get, especially for women: most clothing is designed and cut for younger people, and once you get to a certain age, it seems like your only choices are to dress younger (which can be interpreted as trying too hard or not acting your age) or to dress older (which can be interpreted as giving up or being out of touch). And if you're not thin or conventionally attractive, or have any noticeable wrinkles, undereye circles, etc., people will already view you as disheveled just for being you. It takes a lot of work to look as "put together" as a 24-year-old who just threw on a t-shirt and jeans. I have a feeling you already know this but your boss doesn't.

Anyway, congratulations, and I hope she's a great fit!
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:33 AM on September 30, 2015

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