ask the readers: telling your assistant her shirts are too low-cut

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I’m going to call on readers to help answer this question. Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments…

A reader writes:

I have a doozy for you. My female assistant (I’m a man) has a habit of wearing outfits that reveal lots of cleavage. It’s making me uncomfortable, and it’s unprofessional-looking when clients come in.

How do I handle this? As a man, I don’t know how to raise this without being creepy or potentially even making her feel harassed. We don’t have an HR department to intervene. I thought of asking a woman in the office to do it but our office is small and the only woman here who isn’t peer-level with her is someone who I know would be embarrassed at being asked to talk to her about this.

We’re a business casual office so it would be hard to have a general talk with her about needing to “dress more professionally” and I’m not sure she’d pick up on what I meant if the message was worded so vaguely anyway. Besides, other than being too low-cut, her clothes are professional. How do I address this? Or do I just try to ignore it?

Ugh. Readers? Solve this!

{ 189 comments… read them below }

  1. E.G.

    The following option springs to mind. No idea if it’s a good one.

    Arrange for someone to come to the office and loudly comment on the cleavage in a way that will leave an impression. That might motivate her to cover up.

    1. Anonymous

      Yeah, that’s a bad idea… if it got back to her that the OP had set this up or this upset anyone else in the office, that can be seen as sexual harassment!

  2. Anonymous

    This is a proverbial land mine and my suggestion was going to be to have a female talk to her, peer or otherwise. It’s a situation that needs to be addressed for sure. Is this the sort of thing where you could send a blanket email to the whole office and say xyz is no longer considered appropriate attire, so it is not singling anyone out? Good luck!

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I was thinking that too. My worry is that with these blanket emails, people sometimes have a tendency to not even realize that they’re the one violating the rule until someone connects it more directly to them.

        1. Amanda

          That is hilarious! Just crop the face in the pictures and have a big DON’T on the “girls”. Oh my! I could see why it would be difficult for a man to talk to an office worker about this. So many ways it could go so wrong! These were amusing and some very helpful suggestions :)

      1. Natalie

        And the flip side is a problem as well – if she realizes that she is the only one violating the dress code she might be upset that the entire office got a memo that was basically directed towards her. That can be kind of embarassing.

      2. Jamie

        This has been my experience 100% of the time. The person who was secretly targeted in the blanket email remains completely oblivious and others who have no issues waste time making sure it wasn’t directed at them.

        I have never seen one work.

    2. Anonymous

      That sounds like a good idea. Or just ask one of the peer-level people to do it. They can say how that can impede her career or something.

  3. Star

    Along the lines of Anonymous’ suggestion, is it possible to institute a company-wide dress code, with a list of dress that isn’t acceptable — including shirts that reveal cleavage. Then, if she keeps coming in with the inappropriate shirts, you could send her a polite e-mail informing her that her shirts violate the dress code.

    Or maybe she’ll get the message if you anonymously leave a package of these on her desk?

      1. Cat

        I like that idea! My friend owns a hair salon and has the same problem with a girl there because the dress code is so casual. She’ll wear tights with short shirts and it’s way too revealing. My friend approached another girl at the salon who was friends with the offender. Sometimes this information is best coming from a peer rather than a supervisor since it seems more like a helpful hint than a personal attack. Like, “Hey, I’ve heard a few people at work mention your dress and I think it might be in your best interests to cover up.” I know I’ve handed out more than a few safety pins at work myself!

  4. Lesley

    Even business casual dresscodes usually frown on cleavage. Are you in a position that you could send out a dress code reminder and include low-cut shirts on it? (You could also include the other business casual no-nos: shorts, flip-flops, and spagetti straps usually fall in this category.) That way, if she’s smart, she should get the hint. No guarantees though.

    I just think it would be very hard to say something to her directly without embarrassing both of you.

    1. ckf82

      I think this is a good idea – you could even position it as reiterating what is/isn’t allowed with summer right around the corner.

  5. Anne

    Wow…that’s a doozy.

    In an ideal world, your gender wouldn’t matter. You’re speaking to an employee about inappropriate dress at work, and it should be pretty open and closed. But alas, there are people that would take this message the wrong way. I don’t know that someone would go as far as to call it harassment, but she could certainly feel embarrassed by this.

    Also, I will say that some women have difficulty NOT showing cleavage due to having very large breasts. Basically, if it’s anything more revealing than a turtleneck or crew neck, you’re going to see a little cleavage. But I imagine that you can gauge that pretty well, and sense when a woman is just being careless with the dress code, or just really wants to show off her, um, assets.

    Maybe preface the conversation by mentioning that you do appreciate that she dresses [mostly] professionally at work, but notice that she is still showing a bit too much cleavage, which is unprofessional and against your dress code.

    Ugh, even that sounds tough. And it could make her a little uncomfortable whether you were a man or a woman, just because of the fact that you’re essentially talking to her about her breasts. But it is a matter of professionalism, and it needs to be addressed.

    Really curious to hear what other folks have to say…

    1. Angela

      As a female with more than ample cleavage, I can assure you it is easy to find clothes that do not show ANY cleavage. I do wear crew necks almost all the time.

      1. Melissa

        Agreed. I don’t need turtle necks or crew necks to dress appropriately every day and I also have more than ample cleavage.

        1. Talyssa

          Eh I hate business casual clothes as it is, especially since its impossible to find a button up that I can ………..button (straining buttons is also unprofessional looking). Some of my shirts show a little cleavage and I think its fine. I’d hate to limit myself to only certain styles. I usually do a cleavage check at home with my SO first, he’s pretty good about judging if something seems inappropriate and he’s a good deal taller than me so that matters too.

          I will say I’d probably be more conscious of it if I was super short or had a job where I talked to people who were standing while I was sitting (like a receptionist).

          I kind of wonder if the assistant doesnt’ realize how low the shirts re because she looks in a mirror, but her boss talks to her while she is sitting at her desk. That can be a crossover point.

          1. Jenna

            Thanks for bringing up the “She may not realize” point. One of the more embarrassing and cringe-inducing experiences I had with a male co-worker had to do with this.

            I (a 5′ 3″ tall female) wore a shirt one day that, when looking straight-on in a mirror, was fine. No cleavage, but an open neckline. Had a staff meeting later that day and got the last seat in the house next to a very tall male co-worker. At some point in the meeting, I felt like I was being watched and sure enough, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the male co-worker looking down my shirt. I hadn’t even realized that from that height and looking down, you could see plenty of cleavage. I was so unnerved by it that I immediately buttoned up my cardigan (thank God I was wearing one) and swore to myself that from now on, I do the bend-over test to make sure that at any angle, it doesn’t show.

  6. mouse

    Another suggestion in the “I’m not sure this is the right answer” vein: what about framing it to her in the form of the clients. I mean, does this chick generally do good work? Does she get on well with the clients and seem to pride herself on that? Then perhaps a little fib that a couple of clients have commented on the cleavage could work. Since you’re a small office and only have the one other female employee I don’t think a blanket email is really the right idea (unless you can make up something else to throw in there to balance it out).

  7. Anonymous

    I am serious here. Find an image consultant to come to your office and give a presentation on business etiquette. Did you know that many Mary Kay consultants are trained to conduct these and will do it for cheap? Tell the consultant privately what your concerns are so that they can impress upon the offender the importance of keeping their boobs covered at work.

    1. Katie

      This is the only ONLY suggestion I’ve seen on here that is plausible. DO NOT talk to her yourself. Do not have another coworker talk to her for you, because she probably won’t take that well, either.

      If a male superior ever commented on my neckline, EVER, I would be so mortified, I don’t think I could ever feel comfortable with him again, even if the directive was completely appropriate given my clothing and lack of professionalism. This is not a position you want to put yourself or any other employee in. Have an outside image consultant come in. Have them go over clothing with everyone in the office so no one is singled out. The end.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        The problem with that is that then it’s a suggestion that she’s free to decide she disagrees with (as opposed to if it comes from the employer, whose words carry more weight).

        1. Katie

          The thing is, regardless of who talks to her, it’s still up to her whether she wears more work appropriate clothing, and my guess is, the more forcefully a male superior tells his female employee that she button it up, the more inappropriate that conversation is going to get. It would be much better to have someone outside the office have that conversation with her.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Technically, the employer does have the right to enforce their dress code. So the employer talking to her carries the implicit message that she does need to change it and it’s not optional.

        2. Anonymous

          Not if it’s handed out with an official dress code specifying that cleavage-exposing clothing is unacceptable. If she continues to violates the dress code, AND after having an image consultant telling her what NOT to wear, then she’s an idiot and should be canned. There are PLENTY of people out of work right now who would love her job, would probably do it better, AND would keep their body appropriately covered at work.

          1. Laura

            I was once informed by my employer I was in violation of our business casual dress code. They directly asked if they could speak to me, I sat down in their office and then they looked at a sheet of paper, highlighted one line and than handed it to me saying ‘no offense but…’
            They highlighted the line “no rubber thongs” from a page in the employee dress code for the company. I just laughed because I knew flip flops weren’t really appropriate but in the summer I was hoping no one would say anything, but I never wore them again.

            If I were you, I’d be direct about it too, and I would personally address it. No point pussy footing around here. I would simply and straightforwardly say “That top is too low cut for the office, please be more conservative in the future.”

            She does need to change and if she’s uncomfortable for a little bit, everyone who had to see her plunging necklines was also uncomfortable for a little bit and she needs to stop.

  8. MillenniMedia

    Ugh – these conversations are the worst. Honestly? I’d just be really straightforward about it. Try something like…

    “Jane, I feel a bit awkward about bringing this up, but I have noticed recently that several of your blouses are quite revealing. Since you’re in a very visible (client facing) role it’s really important to present a professional image at all times. You’re an excellent employee and very professional otherwise, but I wanted to address this specific issue with you so that you’re more aware going forward.”

    Definitely don’t drag this other woman into it. It’ll just make their relationship awkward, and frankly, as her boss this is your job. The extremely sucky part of your job.

    Also, I’m female, work with mostly men, and would MUCH prefer that they be straightforward with me. Yes, it would be *totally* embarrassing, but I’m not a fan of the passive management practice of a blanket email/dress code. Assuming this isn’t a widespread issue, you need to speak directly to this employee. If some guy came in wearing his plaid pajama pants you wouldn’t send a blanket email. You’d pull him aside and tell him to invest in some pants that don’t have a drawstring.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      In theory, I totally agree that you don’t send a group email to address something that you’re really aiming toward one person. In reality, this cleavage situation is potentially awkward enough that I could see doing it in this context anyway. But your suggested wording is excellent. As is your pajama analogy.

      1. Angela

        My boss does this all the time in the form of “gentle reminders”. If you see yourself behaving in the manner that is suggested in the “gentle reminders” it gives you time to straiten up your act before more disciplinary measures are instituted.

      2. Emily

        I agree that straightforward is the way to go. Trying to play games with it is only going to prolong the problem and compound the awkwardness when you eventually have to say something like the above. But do yourself and your employee a favor and have the conversation on a day when she is wearing an appropriate top. I think I would be scarred by self-consciousness if someone called me out on my outfit and then I had to finish out the day wearing it. Plus, if you speak to her on a day when she’s dressed suitably, you can indicate that; if you speak to her on a day when she’s over-exposed and you make an example of that outfit, it will be like saying, “see, look at your . . . assets.”

        1. KellyK

          Wow, good point. Doing it on a day when she’s not appropriately dressed would be ridiculously embarrassing.

          Count me as another one in the straightforward camp. I think that the boss should acknowledge the awkwardness for both of them and just say flat out that she’s been wearing tops that are too low-cut for a professional environment.

    2. Anonymous

      A former coworker did show up in pajamas a few times, and our former manager sent out a blanket email telling everyone (including all the people who had no idea this was even going on) that pajamas were not appropriate work attire. Bad management knows no bounds.

    3. Anonymous

      Love this answer. Just be honest and straightforward. She’ll see that you’re uncomfortable, and that’s not a bad thing!

      I also agree with the other poster who said to do it on a day she’s appropriately dressed.

  9. Anonymous

    What about sending her the following email:

    “Sarah,

    Thanks for all the great work you’ve been doing on x project lately.

    I wanted to raise something with you – thought email might be a better way to communicate this, since I don’t have the luxury of being a female supervisor. In general, your attire at the office is fully professional. I think that higher-necked blouses would be an appropriate addition to round out your officewear.

    Thanks
    Ted”

    Would something like that be too problematic?

      1. Anne

        I agree about the passive-aggressiveness of that email. The tone just seems a tad snarky (though I’m sure we’d all kind of think in the back of our heads – ‘cover your chest, dummy!’). Also, that photo is hilarious.

    1. Emily

      I wouldn’t address this issue via email. It doesn’t leave her any space to ask for clarification, if necessary; express understanding and acceptance of the message without having to compose a response to email back; and it creates a documented “paper” trail, which she could try to use against the manager or the company if she takes it the wrong way.

    2. Wilton Businessman

      OMG! Definitely not in an email. No paper trail. Got to be face-to-face, but I don’t envy you.

      Or just lie and say Client XYZ that came into the office the other day thought your twins were lovely but totally inappropriate. He also wanted to know if you have a sister, but I don’t know what that’s all about.

      Or not.

  10. E.G.

    I agree with MilleniMedia, but in case the questioner can’t make himself have that talk with her, I ask that we consider my suggestion which is growing on me (they always do, don’t they?), devious though it may be:

    Have a handyman come in to fix something, stare at her, then when she complains make a loud and lewd comment: “Do you always keep them out front and center like that? I guess I should’ve gone to business school after all!” You can then act shocked at his rudeness and kick him out, etc. I think odds are good that she would be ashamed to “put them out front and center” again after that.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      It almost certainly would qualify as an act of sexual harassment by the supervisor (for arranging to have that comment made)! I don’t think we want to harass her into changing her outfits.

    2. jmkenrick

      People have different ideas of what ‘over-the-top cleavage’ is, and she probably feels that hers is fine. Women, even covered-up, conservatively dressed women, get rude comments occasionally and usually brush them off, so I doubt it would cause her to do anything differently. Probably it would just make her feel extremely uncomfortable.

      Also, I would put good money that this would violate sexual harassment laws.

    3. jmkenrick

      Whoops! Didn’t mean to repeat what AAM said – I guess I was editing my post when she was posting hers.

      P.S. Points for creativity.

  11. jmkenrick

    Whoa, that’s tough. If you do end up speaking to her yourself, I would recommend phrasing it so that you’re emphasis professional clothing that she should wear rather than focusing on the clothing that she shouldn’t.

  12. becky

    MMedia, I tend to agree with you. I have worked in an almost exclusively male industry for 30 years. But, younger women find HR issues where older women don’t. Heck, I did too when I was 25!

    I like the idea of a consultant. Maybe a team building afternoon, with lunch, another presenter or client talk, and the dress consultant. Esp if you can have the client stay for it, nodding his head emphatically for the important part.

    On the other hand, you could arrange with a like-minded client, to use him as the bad guy. Parents have provided that service for years. Maybe your client will too. :)

    1. Katie

      I’m not sure I understand that recommendation. Have a male client make the comment instead? I don’t think that’s a good idea, either, for the same reason that it would be a bad idea for the manager himself to make the comment. Maybe a female client could quietly make the recommendation, but…no.

  13. E.G.

    Thanks for addressing my first suggestion, Alison (you’re right of course!); in the meantime I thought of another one:

    Send her the link to this blog post with an intro explaining that you need to address something awkward with her. That way you indirectly reveal how non-creepy you are about this without protesting too much about it to her directly + she will see how everyone agrees that your issue is not uptight.

  14. Nicole

    I worked in a small law office a number of years ago and my boss (the attorney) made a comment to me about needing to cover-up. I looked in the mirror and realized that the shirt that had looked fine that morning had inched down to an inappropriate level by the time he got to the offfice. I appologized and put my coat on for the rest of the day!
    If you do not want to confront her about it find a reason to put out a policy. Otherwise mention it to her directly. If you are concerned about the harassment issue, take her aside with the female associate you mentioned so there is no confusion. Either way, follow-up by sending her home to change if she does not follow the new guidelines. 10 to 1 that will be the last time it happens!

  15. Erica (You Should Only Know)

    Unsurprisingly, I agree with MilleniMedia. In fact, I tried to post almost the exact same thing, but was foiled by an iPhone.

    A lot of the other ideas border on extreme passive-aggressiveness or outright sexual harassment.

    The only other thing I can think of would be arrange for this assistant to have a mentor within the industry. Obviously, other issues and goals would have to be addressed, but it may be a nice thing to do to help this woman professionally.

  16. Anonymous

    What ever the boss decides to do, he must address this as directly and as soon as possible. Women that show too much skin in the office can contribute to an overall catty atmosphere — with a lot of “who does she think she is” and “did you SEE what she is wearing” between the other female staff. The male staff generally won’t complain…why would they…but it’s a distraction to their workday that they don’t need either.

    I kid you not — an admin assistant came to work every day looking like a hooker. Eff-me boots and all. This was a business casual to corporate formal atmosphere. The kicker was when she came to work in a skin-tight mini dress that clearly clung to the outline of her thong and butt dimples. The male boss did nothing to address the situation and catty mayhem ensued.

    1. Gravity

      Anonymous, please do not confuse “catty” with a “female” because those two things aren’t mutually exclusive. If you work with females who are MATURE & PROFESSIONAL, you will not see any “catty” behavior. “Catty” behavior is only exhibited by those – female AND male – who are immature and unprofessional. And yes, some men take issue with unprofessional wardrobe in general and will complain.

  17. Beth

    I’m a firm believer of direct and to the point. I would edit what MillenniMedia suggested and simply say, “I feel very uncomfortable having to say this, but your manner of dress shows a level of cleavage inappropriate for the workplace.”

  18. Ang.

    I just want to reiterate that for women with very large breasts, it is usually very difficult not to show some cleavage unless the neckline is very high (which can also be uncomfortanble). Even modest v-neck or barely-scooped necklines seem much lower with a large bust. Believe me, I know that it is often nearly impossible not to show anything. (I’ve never even been able to wear button-up shirts unless I buy a much larger size (one that is way too big everywhere except in the chest) and have it altered, which is expensive and a pain.) If this woman is large-busted, you should keep in mind how difficult it really is to find clothes that fit well–it’s very possible that this is not something she is doing on purpose.

    1. fposte

      We have fewer choices, because clothing that would be non-cleavagey on others won’t be on us, but we still have plenty of choices that can preclude cleavage. A crew-neck tank top underneath stuff is only going to show our clavicle cleavage, and can thus be our best friend :-).

      1. Nichole

        Agreed to both of you. I also have a button up that has a few of the little plastic snaps like they use in onesies sewn in between some of the notorious gap buttons- this one came that way (yay WalMart!) but the snaps are inexpensive at craft stores, easy to sew in, and for some styles could serve as an alternative to buying super big and getting alterations or safety pinning, which takes forever and can damage your shirt over time.

      2. Anonymous

        How old are you? I am sorry but as a large busted woman in my late 20′s I find it hard to look professional with a crew neck tank top on under any style shirt! Why should I have to wear a crew neck when the small busted women wear nice, dressy, relatively low cut shirts? No way – complete and utter crap. Let’s get to the real issue – is her cleavage on purpose or because she is well endowered?

        Also, I am curious why more people don’t think the boss should be straight foward with her and let her know. Some people over think the smallest things.

  19. Katrina

    Whatever you do, don’t use words like cleavage and revealing. Ask her to raise the neck line of her dress shirts, be more conservative in her professional wardrobe etc.

    Aside from that, I see no issue with you raising the subject. It doesn’t have to be a conversation, just a quick, “Hey, Connie, super quick note. I appreciate the way you present yourself at work, but on behalf of the office and our clients, I’d like to ask that you raise the neck line on your dress shirts. I’d appreciate it, thank you!”

    Then again, I could be waaaaaay off base.

    1. Kasa

      Katrina, I totally agree with your post. Don’t say anything that could be misconstruction as sexual–if you were to say something like her “cleavage” is “inappropriate” or “distracting” you would basically be admitting to looking. As for phrasing, I would say something like, “while your attire is overall professional, this office/industry/our clients, tends to be slightly more conservative than your current style.” Hopefully that will give her the message.

      While I understand the desire to be direct (and definitely agree that you should not be passive-aggressive or play games) this is an awkward, and potentially law-suit (or at least extreme discomfort) producing situation. Best to choose your words very carefully.

      Also, having a large chest that lends itself to accidental cleavage/bra strap shows, if she has a large chest, she may be sensitive to this problem (although from your message I doubt this was the case).

      1. KellyK

        I’d be a little more direct than “slightly more conservative than your current style.” That could also mean your skirts are too short, your color choices are too bold, you wear too much crazy jewelry, or any number of other things. But you can still avoid mentioning cleavage by saying that some of her tops are too low-cut for the environment.

    2. Jen

      That wording is terrible “I appreciate. . . but on behalf of the office & our clients.” Be direct & keep the conversation focused on the behavior that needs to be changed.
      “Jane ~

      I’d like to give you some feedback about the dress code. Please be mindful of the necklines of your tops and blouses. Lower cut tops are not appropriate for work.

  20. Kelly O

    I agree that this conversation is going to be weird, no matter how you go at it, but honestly the direct route might be the best in the long run.

    I’m thinking it’s more like yanking a band-aid off quickly. It’s not comfortable, it hurts for a second or two, but it’s over and you can move on. Reiterate that it’s just this one thing, and maybe even that you’re certain she doesn’t realize how much cleavage is really showing. (Like having a piece of broccoli stuck between your teeth, or a tag sticking out of the back of your collar. Or something like that.)

    1. Jamie

      I somehow missed this comment before I posted – you made the point for me and I could have saved myself some typing had I read more carefully…I agree – she very well may have no idea how much she’s showing. This assumption is the safest road to take, imo.

  21. Kristy

    I’m trying to think of this from her perspective, and I think the best approach is straightforward, short and sweet.

    “Jane, I feel uncomfortable having to talk to you about this, but some of your clothing is more revealing than is appropriate for the office. Since you spend a lot of time face-to-face with clients, it’s important that you present a professional image, and part of that is dressing somewhat more modestly. “

      1. Wilton Businessman

        Am I a bad person if I just LOLed about that one? Could you imagine? Either you’re getting a face slap, note from HR (which you don’t have any, so you might be OK), fired, or all of the above. Oh to be a fly on the wall in that conversation…

    1. Jen

      Kristy – this is great, although I’d remove the “I feel uncomfortable” lingo. Good managers must have difficult, but necessary conversations all the time. This conversation isn’t about how the boss feels, but how the subordinate dresses. It needs to be short, direct, and impersonal.

  22. Anonymous

    I also like MilleniMedia’s approach. I’m a gal who works mostly with guys. If my boss were to have an issue with the way I dress, I would greatly prefer that he tell me about it directly and professionally, rather than trying to drop hints or use underhanded tactics. Just like any other performance issue, honesty is embarrassing and tough in the short term, but any other approach will eventually come back to bite you.

    If I were in the OP’s shoes, I’d approach the issue during a regular one-on-one meeting, and phrase it something like this: “I do have some feedback for you involving professionalism. You have a lovely wardrobe, but I’m concerned about how low-cut some of your blouses are. I’m worried that showing cleavage looks unprofessional to our clients, and to be honest, it is a bit distracting. This is awkward for me to say, and I’m sure it’s really awkward for you to hear, but I value you as an employee and I thought it’d be best to be straightforward about this.” Then give her a chance to speak, if she wishes. Most likely she’ll be too surprised and/or embarrassed to say much of anything. If that’s the case wrap the meeting up as kindly and quickly as you can.

    She’ll most likely have one of two reactions: “Oh my word, I had no idea that was too much, everyone must think I’m a slut.” or “How DARE he object to a woman being confident in her own body!” In case she has the first reaction, it might be kind to have the difficult conversation towards the end of the day, possibly even on a Friday, so she’ll have a minimum of time dealing with her coworkers (and you) in her newly inappropriate clothing before she can go home and put on every sweater she owns.

    If she has the second reaction, hopefully she’ll be able to think it over privately and come to a reasonable conclusion that involves some higher-necked shirts, and the issue will be resolved. If not, I’d handle her anger by reemphasizing professionalism, the (possible) conservatism of your clients, and your own discomfort. You being uncomfortable with her cleavage is just as legitimate as a woman being uncomfortable with pin-ups in the office. The hard part may be coming to a mutual understanding of that.

    Good luck.

    1. Gravity

      Your response is great but I would definitely leave this part out: “…..and to be honest, it is a bit distracting…” and the word “cleavage.”

  23. Anonymous

    Whatever you decide to do, have the decency to have this conversation either right before the end of the day or on a day when she’s appropriately attired. Don’t make her embarrassed and uncomfortable all day long.

  24. Anonymous

    As her supervisor, there is really no other way around having to talk to her yourself. I would do that, then make up a specific written policy for your office. Business casual is open to pretty wide interpretation — we had a male who wore shorts and sandals every day. In our office, after much discussion, that was deemed to uber-casual and he was talked to. Now, no one can wear shorts, or even “skorts”. It was a bit of a Big Deal at the time, but now everyone is on the same page and there isn’t any more drama.

    :)

  25. Revanche

    Well. I’m a female so that gives me an “advantage” I suppose in that there’s not the automatic assumption that I’m sexually harassing another female, but I had to talk to one of my former staff about not wearing a bra to work which made other staff uncomfortable/upset.

    That was … fun.

    I basically asked her to, because we had absolutely no private place to talk that wouldn’t make it obvious what was happening, take a walk with me as I ran an errand. With any other staff member I would just have had a conversation in a private conference room but she had a history prior to my coming there of “getting in trouble” so I wanted to alleviate some of the awkwardness about to ensue and avoid fueling the gossip she would be subject to.

    I took a deep breath and said that it was evident to some staff that she wasn’t wearing an undergarment and while it wasn’t a judgment of her, it was something that made them uncomfortable, and could she please wear her sweater the rest of the day? In the future, whether or not she chose to wear an undergarment, could she please ensure that no one else could tell whether or not that was the case?

    It simply requires a thicker layer or multiple layers to disguise the, erm, lack of an undergarment.

    Keeping in mind that we don’t have a dress code and we were not about to get one, I had to stick to the line of reasoning that one specific situation was making other people uncomfortable and simply ask her to adjust her actions so as not to perpetuate it.

    No idea how she really truly felt about it but she took it in good nature at the time and I didn’t get sued. So there you are.

  26. Anonymous

    We had an admin with this same problem, and we also assign uniform shirts (dress button down, and polos) which are an option for office staff in the field office, (her work place), required for front line employees. After she didn’t get it after being talked to, management decided to make uniforms mandatory for all office staff. When she refused to comply, she was written up, and then the recession hit, and her job was first to go. The shirts were effective, for something, because she was the only employee who managed a transfer to a different division of the company, to a job she was totally unqualified for!
    She had a male direct supervisor, and he had a female supervisor. They both spoke with her/wrote her up. Someone higher than them was the appreciative one!

  27. Ann (on a mouse)

    I’m embarrassed to admit that I needed this correction 10 years ago when I entered the work force (hence the anonymity) but I did. It was awkward at the time but it did make me get a more appropriate work wardrobe. This is almost exactly what my boss (a man) said to me:

    “Ann, you always look very nice and fashionable but some of your clothes are a little too revealing for the office. I know that it can be difficult to transition from a student to a professional but if you could do your best to dress more conservatively it would do a lot to help you be seen as the very bright professional that you are”

    Was it condescending and embarrassing? Yes. Did I buy some more traditional/conservative clothes to wear to work? Also yes.

    1. mouse

      Your screen name is amusing me…my real name is Ann.

      I like the way your boss phrased the conversation with you. The compliment before sliding into the criticism has a nice balance to it.

    2. anon

      I think the recognition that a young professional may not have had the time (or funds!) to entirely transition their wardrobe to professional dress is a very important one. Since the consensus seems to be that there is no way to approach this topic without some embarrassment, as a young woman I’d rather hear this wording than one that specifically mentions a part of my body to be covered up.

      1. Anonymous

        I disagree with anon, I would really want to know what part of the body needed to be covered up. If I heard the wording above I would wonder were my shirts too low cut, or too tight, or too short, or were my pants too tight, or too low-waisted…

  28. Charles

    Ugh, a lot has been said about this; problably more than will ever be said to the assistant by the OP.

    To which I will add another; the OP mentions that the office is “business casual.” Please note the word “business” is still in there and that is what should be emphasized.

    As a guy, I totally understand why the OP is asking; beyond just being uncomfortable; depending upon the assistant, most anything that he says could be taken by lawyers as “sexual harassment.” So good luck OP.

  29. AGirlNamedMe

    I actually think that the idea of an email isn’t so awful for a few reasons….
    -it reduces the embarrassment level for everyone
    -it documents the situation and describes the expectation
    -it would be very difficult for her to later say she was being harassed based on this email

    I don’t think it’s passive aggressive at all.

    1. Jen

      Are most behavior conversations documented via email in this workplace? If not, then this is not a good idea. If most behavior based conversations are, in fact, face to face then that is the expectation. Also, we don’t want to inflame or magnify a situation that is relatively minor.
      In my business, I often follow-up performance & 1×1 conversations w/ a quick recap email. Perhaps that’s a route to go. But, avoiding the face time, is cowardly management.

  30. Kate

    I think a direct conversation is best. However, I would make sure there was a third party present, preferably female. While a difficult subject, I think possible liability trumps a little embarrassment.

  31. fposte

    Another vote for direct conversation, following Katrina’s excellent example. If you ever have discussions with this employee about her growth and future at this workplace, that’s also a place that this can be mentioned: “A higher neckline would give you a more executive/administrative/whatever look.” I think it’s important to say her necklines should be higher rather than saying her current necklines are too low–a subtle difference but a real one, both for the awkwardness level and for her perceptions. If she’s short, the view she sees in the mirror isn’t the one taller (male) people see; if she’s short-waisted and/or buxom, necklines that aren’t commercially viewed as low will hit lower on her; necklines also do succumb a bit to gravity so they’re higher when you check yourself in the mirror in the morning than they are when you hit the office. As Angela notes, that doesn’t mean she can’t find stuff to hit higher on the chest, but it could mean that she’s buying perfectly tasteful clothes that just aren’t working for her, so if you make it sound like her clothes are inherently hoochie mama she’s just going to be defensive and confused.

  32. Chris

    Well, a couple of things come to mind. If she is inexperienced, the existing advice may go over well.

    However, here is an instance I have experienced. It was at a startup and there was this woman named Sara (not her real name). Sara had her attorney on speed dial. She was also on the sales team and had a tendency to oversell items and tell the development team right before the live date. There were many screaming matches between my boss and her. Anyway, she came in one day wearing this outfit that she should not have been wearing in public much less a professional setting. No one said a word or even made eye contact. Had anyone said anything, there would have been subpoenas a plenty.

    Here is one more issue about commenting on people’s clothing that has nothing much to do with the OP. I used to work with a guy early in my career named Mark (not his real name either). Mark was a good developer and had retired from another company a few years earlier. Anyway, Mark had a disease that destroyed his joints (I think it was RA). You could look at his hands and tell from the scars where they had replaced most of his joints. By the time I met him, I don’t think he had an original joint in his body. Mark would come in some days with clothes that were less than professional, clip on ties, and always wore Velcro tennis shoes. Artificial joints at the time were not as advanced as they are today. However, no one could touch him because of his medical condition. I guess my point is that one needs to exercise care before commenting on clothing. Some people may have disabilities that require more comfortable clothing from time to time. Lastly, other protected groups can wear something according to beliefs (except in France).

  33. Anonymous

    The cleavage problem is a problem for me as well. Modest v-necks on other people look extremely low cut on me. I would prefer for my boss to be upfront with me about it. I would probably phrase the approach as gently as possible, as some of the others have: “Assistant, I appreciate your hard work and your excellent client-facing skills. However, some of the clients have commented on your neckline. I think they would feel more comfortable if you raised it a few inches.”

  34. Rose

    This actually happened in an office I worked in, except the lady in question had lots of butt cleavage/lower back showing.

    My boss asked me to tell her to cover up, but he told me to blame HR. My exact words to her were, ‘Be super careful with covering up, like buy a bunch of tank tops or camisoles at K-mart and always make sure you’re covered up.” And then I told her a (true) story of HR coming through and having “meetings” with “offenders”.

    So, if you can blame someone (HR, top boss), go that route. It has the vibe of “I’m not judging you, but X will, and its just the vibe in the office.”

    Of course, this girl had just started and it was a huge company.

    1. Jen

      This is a weak approach. Don’t assign blame to anyone, but the offender’s behavior. It’s an easily adjusted behavior, as well. There’s no need for all this cloak & dagger. Simple, specific feedback is all that’s necessary.

  35. EngineerGirl

    I can’t believe some of the bad advice on this thread! Be honest, gentle, and direct. And yes, tell her at the end of the day, or on a day when she is wearing something appropriate. And yes, do it privately so there is minimal embarassment. The conversation should be focused on how “something” is limiting her career potential. Sad but true – distracting dress (of any kind) keeps people from taking others seriously. Tell her that. And tell her that you absolutely want her to succeed, which is why you are telling her this.

  36. clobbered

    I HATE blanket e-mails. Please don’t do that, they end up pissing off more people than they help.

    I note the OP identified in the problem as there being only one woman in the office who is not peer-level with her. There is NOTHING wrong with asking a peer in this context – you are not asking her to open a disciplinaryl file on the woman, just have a quiet word. Pick the most level-headed female in that office regardless of status and ask her to have a quiet word about the cleavage because “clients have been talking”.

    1. Anonymous

      Blanket emails are such passive aggressive corporate BS ever. Man up. Talk to the offender. Don’t drag everyone else into the drama.

  37. Joey

    I’ve had to have this conversation and it was a little awkward. I asked her to dress more conservative and gave examples of what’s acceptable and what’s not. Afterwards it was obvious she wasn’t embarrassed by the conversation at all even though I definitely was. It’s one of those things that comes with being a manager-tough conversations.

  38. Jamie

    I would stay away from involving anyone else in the conversation (clients, repairmen, etc.) even in fibbing that it was an issue for them. Why hink up her relationship with innocent bystanders who may not care one way or the other?

    I also wouldn’t have a female witness to the conversation – it’s bad enough to be reprimanded for anything, but something like this doesn’t need an audience – and having another woman present gives the whole thing a creepy “nurse at the male gynecologist” feel.

    I don’t personally believe in quotas, but this is one example of why having at least one woman in executive management would come in handy!

    Personally, as a woman, I would address it with her going on the assumption that she’s unaware of how low cut her necklines are and bring it to her attention as a favor. For the men out there who might not get this, I will explain how it’s entirely plausible because the amount of cleavage showing when she looks at herself front on in a mirror can be radically different than how it’s seen from different angles. I have a couple of shirts that look perfectly fine in the mirror – but my husband who is taller than I clued me in to how much more is seen from a higher vantage point.

    Even if she’s doing it on purpose, presenting it this way as if she didn’t know (along the lines of telling someone they have something in their teeth) will give her the message and help her save face. But a man doing this? I don’t know…I feel for your situation, but I would take the easy route and promote a woman to the C-Suite and make her do it!

  39. Nichole

    This actually did happen to me once-as a younger person, it’s harder to find appropriate work attire that’s geared towards someone with my..um, assets, and since I had gained some weight, I wasn’t as aware that my clothes fit differently (ok, and I was a also little bit in denial). My male manager took me into an office with a female manager present and told me there had been a customer complaint and would I please “cover up the girls a little bit.” (Because the manager and I had a good relationship, which the OP seems to have with his assistant as well, the phrasing of it wasn’t a problem, btw.) Of course I was embarrassed, but I really hadn’t been aware, so I appreciated someone telling me because professionalism is important to me. Also, he phrased it in a way that made it seem like my work was good and the customer had too much time on her hands, so this was a formality. That lessened the embarrassment a little bit because the impression was “we’re on your side here, this isn’t a big deal but please make this reasonable accomodation for us.” This issue can be solved with a few cardigan sweaters, safety pins, and five minutes of sewing, so Boss, please go ahead and speak up! This sounds like someone whose appreciation would outweigh her embarassment.

  40. Cruella

    We had the exact same problem here. A co-worker, fantastic at her job, well liked, a real go getter, was lamenting about how she wasn’t being taken seriously. The problem was she dressed way too sexy! Short skirts, tight dresses, low cut tops, you name it. She was also younger than most of the staff and very pretty.

    Trust me, it’s not any better being a woman trying to tell another woman that she is dressed inappropriately for the office.

    A few of us spoke to her and tried to explain that it may be because she was not dressing as professionally as she should be and she got very defensive. It later got back to me that those who were involved in the discussion with her were now refered to as the “jealous, old prudes.”

    This was finally solved when someone-who-shall-remain-nameless stumbled upon the perfect book. “New Women’s Dress For Success” by John Molloy. This person highlighted the passages about inapropriate dress and flagged the pages. Since this person has handwritting very similar to someone in upper management, this person wrote on a post-it note on the front of the book “some things to consider” and left it anonymously on her desk.

    If your assistant takes her job as seriously as my coworker did, she will get the hint.

    Good luck!

    1. Anne

      Wow…that’s a shame that she became defensive. You can still dress attractively (and I’d even argue, somewhat sexy) by wearing office appropriate attire. Cleavage and short skirts are never OK.

  41. Phyr

    I feel for the asker. Because I am a woman so I know how confusing we are to men. They never know how we will react until they talk with us.

    The best thing he can do is talk to her directly. He should make sure he doesn’t seem like he is ‘looming’ over her and be at a safe distance away. (either for him or her) Pulling her off to the side and not into a separate office might also be a good idea if he is worried about false accusations.

  42. Anonymous

    Am I the only one who sees the other side of the issue here? If you’re disturbed by a woman’s body, that’s YOUR problem. If you’re not taking her seriously, that’s YOUR problem. If the fact that she has breasts distracts you, that’s YOUR problem. This just reeks of the whole “blame the victim” mentality that keeps telling women they wouldn’t be raped or assaulted if they just dressed “correctly”. News flash – women have a right to dress any f*&%ing way they want!

      1. Anonymous

        When people have brought up the imaginary male counterpart, though, do you notice that it’s always non-sexualized? The parallels given are no baseball caps, no baggy pants, no pjs. What’s explicitly different in the attacks on women is that what the letter writer (and men like him) are saying to women, “I object to your having visible secondary sex characteristics.” To make a hypothetical similar case with an imaginary male offender, you’d have to say something to him like “You can’t wear those pants because I can tell you have a penis.” Here the absurdity becomes evident. Would you say that to a man? Of course not! Yet it’s considered perfectly appropriate to object to parts of a woman’s anatomy being noticable.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          It’s not a matter of being “able to tell” she has breasts. It’s a matter of them actually being exposed, because it’s inappropriate — just like it would be inappropriate for a man to expose his penis. The following don’t belong on display at work: breasts, butts, or genitalia. I don’t think anyone really disputes this.

          If someone really cares about being able to display her partially bare breasts (and I doubt many people feel strongly about being able to do this, if any), she can certainly go work in an environment where it’s considered acceptable. Offices typically aren’t among those.

        2. KellyK

          You do have a good point about women being sexualized much more than men, and that is definitely sexist. It’s part of the fact that we live in a sexist society, though, not that the OP is necessarily being sexist.

          I do think though, that if a guy were wearing very tight pants, telling him not to wear them would be completely appropriate. It doesn’t tend to happen, and that is a symptom of the oversexualization you point out. A lot of women’s clothing is meant to be sexy–men’s, not so much.

          1. Joyce

            I have to agree. If you want the job, dress suitably for the job you have. Their money pays you, you play (or dress) by their rules. Beyond that, society has set what are acceptable standards of dress for business professional, business casual, etc. If you object to those standards, don’t put yourself in a position of having to live with them for your paycheck.

            As a teenager just coming into a need to be aware of these issues, my mother’s rule of thumb was, if you’re embarrassed to show it your father, don’t show it to anyone at school or work. Necklines and hems had the “bend over rule.” If you could bend over (with straight legs) and touch your knees without showing underwear, your skirt/dress was long enough. If you could bend over and touch your knees without showing the girls, your neckline was high enough. Two of my sisters had neckline problems because they became very well blessed very early on. They found ways to dress with class and modesty anyway.

    1. KellyK

      I think office dress codes absolutely *can* be sexist. More rules for men than women, or standards of modesty that make it just about impossible to buy something suitable, or varying application of the rules depending on how attractive/unattractive a higher-up finds the “offender.”

      I have heard of someone being criticized for showing too much when they were fully covered—it wasn’t that they were showing, it’s just that they were *noticeable* unless she wore a sack. But that doesn’t sound like the case here. The OP says she was showing cleavage, which isn’t really work-appropriate.

      Sure, women have the right to dress however they want, but offices also have a right to establish dress codes.

    2. Charles

      “If you’re disturbed by a woman’s body, that’s YOUR problem. If you’re not taking her seriously, that’s YOUR problem. If the fact that she has breasts distracts you, that’s YOUR problem. “

      And your f*&%ing rant is exactly why the OP wrote to AAM – some (by no means all) women (and men) will take things the wrong way.

      Perhaps, if you put yourself into someone else’s postition you would have a better understanding of the world instead of just letting rip your ideological fart.

      1. Charles

        Sorry Kelly K. That rant of mine was meant for Anon at 11:28; for some reason (perhaps way more than usual postings on this thread) my response was posted down here.

        1. KellyK

          I think there were just a lot of replies to Anon @ 1:18. My post was in reply to that one too, and yours lined up with mine, so I could tell you were replying to that one, not to me.

  43. once an assistant

    I vote for the direct approach. If you are confident and matter of fact and humble I think it will look sincere. Also, its coming from a place of the impression it makes on clients, which should be of utmost importance to you. I don’t think its your place to mentor her on her future career success at this point.

    Say something quietly, in an opened door room, or maybe on your way out to lunch or when leaving for a meeting for the rest of the day. But be quick, honest and don’t look like it makes you feel weird.

  44. Jeff

    Wow, lots of posts on this one. I haven’t had time to read them all, but I have a few thoughts:

    -1st, if you have a good relationship with your employees and you are a straight talking type of manager, this should be no big deal. Any situation that employees can take personal (low cut shirts, short skirts, body odor issues, etc) should be handled with the utmost care, but if they are used to you talking direct to them, you should just mention that customers have made comments (it sounds to me that they did) and something needs to be done.

    -If you are not a direct communicator, since this person is more senior on your staff, tell her that you are writing a new professional standards policy and that you would like her to address the clothing side of the issue. I don’t suggest this route, because I am more a direct communicator, but I understand that this route is taken.

    My main concern would be that you don’t feel comfortable approaching a staff member about an issue, has this come up with other issues? Not to sound accusitory, just want to make sure that’s out there.

  45. Suz

    Wow this thread was a hoot to read! I agree with the advice of wording given by Kristy, and also to NOT involve the other female in the office. That would make her and your assistant uncomfortable, cause your assistant further embarrassment, make the other female employee privy to a private employee issue, and most likely cause office relations issues down the road.

    And LOL that a man wrote a book on “new” women’s business etiquette! ~

    1. Suz

      I came across this from “About the Workplace” –

      “If I’m the individual, now I know what the rules are and how I can determine whether or not I did it properly.”

      Directly communicating the rules lets the individual make the proper choices. Keeping this perspective in mind may help the writer battle the uncomfortableness of the situation.

      Please write back in with an update!

  46. Amanda

    I would probably tell her that a client or someone visiting the office brought it up with the manager. Tell her that they were offended by the way she was dressed and found it unprofessional. It may help the issue of not seeming like a pervert – someone else brought it to your attention.

  47. Anonymous

    I am going to play devil’s advocate here. How low cut are we talking? I mean is this nightclub low cut and people are whispering about her next to the water cooler? Or just low enough that the writer is uncomfortable?

    I work in the fashion industry and can tell you that many contemporary and brands for women in their 20s-30s sell “underpinnings” that expose a little flesh, especially if the wearer is slightly busty. (I’m assuming she’s a younger woman.) I’m not saying it’s right, or comfortable for everyone, but unless her tops are verging on sleazy I don’t know if you will convince her to start shopping at Talbots.

    Could the writer approach the topic by saying he sees that she is fashion conscious, but perhaps when clients are in the office it would be preferable if she found slightly more “conservative” tops to wear. Or maybe a cardigan?

    1. Anonymous

      Since you work in the fashion industry let me say I really wish I could find more high-cut tops for my age (20-30). All these contemporary tops you mention look obscenely low-cut on my body type!

      1. Hmmm

        Let us not forget, clothes that are not low cut (even modestly) are really matronly. I just can’t wrap my head around wearing high necklines when a normal cut blouse shows a bit of cleavage. Is the OP afraid the whole breast will fall out if she bends over? That is different than just having some cleavage show – which is quite normal for most 20, 30 and 40 yo women.

  48. Cassandra

    Send out a reminder email about proper dress code requirements and be sure to mention that revealing garments are not professional or acceptable. So that this person doesn’t feel specifically targeted, you might also give other examples of what is not appropriate, such as wearing hats or sweatshirts, etc.

  49. Anonymous

    It may help to offer objective guidelines for appropriate work attire. Saying something like “higher necklines” or “less revealing” might not be specific enough for some employees. A rule of thumb I have heard for women who are trying to determine if a top is work-appropriate is to place four fingers under her collarbone. The neckline of appropriate tops is not lower than the pinky finger.

    1. fposte

      Heh. On me that’ll give you cleavage. Not a lot (and frankly I’m okay with that little bit at my highly informal workplace), but more than some offices would be happy with.

  50. Annie B

    I don’t think there should be a whole of debate here. Revealing cleavage is inappropriate and that woman should know better.

    “Lisa/Amanda/Jennifer, I want to talk to you about the clothes you wear to work. I find them to be a bit too revealing, they’re making myself and others uncomfortable, and I’d like it if you could wear something more office-appropriate/modest/etc.”

    and that’s it. Why do we have to pussyfoot around the issue?? She knows her boobs are out. It’s probably by design and she figures if no ones saying anything, I’m OK. Just say no more and leave it at that. If it’s a continuing issue, change the office policy and make everyone sign it.

    Done.

  51. Sylvia

    Something that strikes me about the OP, and many of the comments is how afraid managers are to broach an uncomfortable topic. Isn’t one of the requirements for someone in a management position the ability to have these difficult conversations, perhaps good people skills, tact… leadership? Otherwise, what sets these managers apart from the rest of the office? Why are they getting a title and bigger paychecks if they can’t step up and do the tough jobs? I know, I know, there are bad bosses out there, but shouldn’t we expect more from a manager?

    1. Annie B

      Completely agree! This seems like a relatively easy one to solve, too, compared to, say, laying someone off or writing them up for wrongdoing.

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      I don’t know, I think there are lots of managers who are great at the core of management — hiring great people, setting expectations, giving feedback, assessing performance, managing workflow, etc. — but who cringe at the thought of having to, say, tell someone they have body odor or personal things along those lines. I think it’s pretty normal, and the people who don’t cringe at that are rare.

      I’ve had to have the “put your boobs away” conversation with people before, but I’m a woman. I really would hate to have to do it as a man.

  52. TM

    Why not be direct but have HR (assuming female) or another female manager with you. This way there is another female present so if she feels this is harassment, you have a witness that is impartial and of the opposite sex who can weigh in. Also the other manager can help steer the conversation if it becomes close to the line.

    I certainly would suggest the “raise the neckline” comment as that way, it implies a reference to a neutral zone and not her chest. Also avoid an email as the first line of communication…send one as a follow up so you have a record but she should “hear” it face-to-face first. Lastly, I would leave out “makes others uncomfortable” the issue is not their comfort but rather her inappropriate dress.

  53. Sandrine

    I got examples, haha.

    Good cleavage :

    http://a3.sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-ash2/33695_10150103391409832_816564831_7403108_4642854_n.jpg

    BAD cleavage (Christmas 2009) :
    http://a7.sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-snc3/19662_257037309831_816564831_4424012_7831257_n.jpg

    I don’t know how I didn’t notice the cleavage in the Christmas pic back then.

    I’m not in the US, but had I gone to work with the BAD cleavage example provided above, I don’t care who told me as long as someone did. Because if the boss noticed, then people on public transportation can notice, too… anyone I cross paths with, and I don’t like that kind of exposure.

    Don’t be afraid. There are polite ways to bring this up without sounding like a creep :) .

  54. DJO

    I stopped reading the comments around the point of “get a handyman to make rude comments”, which sounded like something Michael Scott would do on a good day of managing.

    Seriously, OP, managers have to manage, from the mundane to the uncomfortable to the ridiculous. A short, direct, non-adversarial conversation. And for God’s sake, DOCUMENT the conversation!

    1. Anonymous

      Short, to the point, and you’re correct. Part of being a manager is having uncomfortable convos. Sometimes we all make life way too complicated!

  55. Jane

    Here is a suggestion:
    Point the entire office to this thread. Ask a few coworkers including the lady in question what do they think about appropriate business attire in general, and their particular office dress code. Ask them for opinions how a male boss could possibly bring up a question of dressing too sexily with a female subordinate without being creepy. Listen and agree with whatever they say, but make sure the lady in the low-cut shirt pipes in.

    1. Gravity

      This is not a good idea, in my opinion. It’s best to be direct with the individual rather than bringing everyone in the office into the situation.

      1. Jane

        Everyone in the office is already part of the situation – what people wear to work is everybody’s business, not just their bosses.

        And there is no non-creepy way for a man to tell a woman directly and in a concrete way how she should or should not dress. The phrase “Barbara, this blouse shows too much of you” is creepy and inappropriate in the office, no matter the intention or the wording.

  56. J

    Even though this is a company that wears business casual, the line between business and casual has been getting smudged over the years to say the least. It sounds like this company needs to adopt a dress code, employees need to adhere to it and examples of what is and what is not proper attire can even be done with photographs. A large company I worked with adopted this and it was very clear what was proper attire at all levels.

  57. Richard

    The only suggestion I can think of without spending a lot of money hiring image consultants or the like is to send out a company wide email about appropriate dress, and then if she doesn’t take the hint, then consider talking with her, citing the recent email.

    The prior email shows that you’re holding everybody to the same standards, and not singling her out. Just make sure that you really are holding others to the same standards if there’s any similarly unprofessional employees around, or you’re in trouble.

    It’s still risky, though.

  58. Ann

    I would definitely not go the email route or the ‘blanket’ policy route – direct approach is necessary between the manager and the employee (no third parties). I’ve had to address inappropriate dress and B.O. issues in the past. If I were this manager and there was no formal dress code for the office to refer to I would prepare for the conversation by finding a few articles on what is considered appropriate dress for work and use them in the conversation. Be honest, but sensitive to the fact that she will be embarrassed; reassure her that her work is not at all being brought into question, and that you enjoy working with her and value her work.

    BTW for ample-bosomed ladies such as myself, ‘Rebecca and Drew’ make custom button-down shirts based on bra sizes that fit perfectly and feature 2 sets of double-buttons in the chest area – no gaping! These shirts are my life-savers for appropriate business dress that does not distract, especially for senior management meetings :)

    1. Anonymous

      R&D only go up to H cups. Button-ups are not an option for many women unless you can afford a specialized tailor.

    2. Anonymous

      You realize those are $150 a piece, right? How in the heck is an office assistant going to be able to afford that?

  59. Hypatia

    Ok, I know other people have said it, but as a woman with a large chest it is INCREDIBLY difficult to find things that are both fashionable and not too revealing. I don’t ever intend to show a lot of cleavage, but unless I’m wearing a turtleneck or crew-cut T-shirt, it is impossible NOT to. And truthfully, as ugly and unfashionable as those types of shirts are on me, they only accentuate a large chest by making the expanse of fabric seem massive. (See advice in the book “what not to wear”– They advise women with large chests to show some skin for that very reason.) I look grandmotherly (at 28!), dowdy, AND like I’m trying to show off my chest in those high-necked tops.

    A fashionable alternative I’ve found is to have a wide array of pashminas and scarves I keep in my desk drawer for just those occasions when I get to the office and realize people are staring a bit too long at my chest. If you could get the other woman in the office to casually mention how useful scarves are for that purpose, it could help.

  60. Anonymous

    Since I have larger breasts I was appointed to have this conversation with a peer. Although she was initially receptive to the idea of raising the neckline, it wasn’t long before the ‘girls’ came back out to play. The failure to cover up cost her respect and mobility within the company and ultimately her job.

  61. Sarah

    Hello all,

    Great conversation, and really interesting comments… Just thought I’d share an experience of mine (not directly analagous, but close enough)…
    I have a tattoo on my upper back, and normally take pains to make sure it’s appropriately covered in my workplace. Several years ago I bought a new wide-shouldered shirt that I loved and wore a lot. A few weeks later my direct manager took me aside and said, ‘I’m really sorry to bring this up and don’t want to embarrass you, but I’m sure you aren’t aware that your fantastic new shirt can sometimes slip a bit in the back. What’s the story of that amazing tattoo?’
    A few reasons why I thought this approach was excellent: he took me aside one-on-one so I wasn’t humiliated in front of the rest of the office; his implication was that he knew I intended to be professional and that any mistakes were inadvertent (which was true, but even if I had meant to show off my ink it gave me a good ‘out’), and finally, his ability to word this so skillfully, without explicitly saying, ‘We can all see your tattoo and hate it.’
    I was a bit embarrassed in the moment, but ended up feeling as if I had gotten some useful advice rather than a reprimand.

    1. Anonymous

      So how would we apply your example to this situation? Boss says, “I’m really sorry to bring this up and don’t want to embarrass you, but I’m sure you aren’t aware that your fantastic new shirt can sometimes slip a bit in the front. What’s the story of that amazing rack?’

        1. Charles

          “just spit out my drink”

          me too! and, isn’t it amazing, AAM, how many comments this post of yours about “cleavage” has generated? Who says that “sex” doesn’t sell!

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            I know — this is actually the most comments a single post has ever gotten here. I’m thinking I need to work sex into every future post.

    2. Kathy

      Ok, I have to say that Anon’s response to you was hilarious. If I was drinking I would have spit it out, too.

      But on the other side, I do think the story of how your boss handled the tattoo situation has merit. It doesn’t directly relate to OP’s situation (as you identified), but it would be an interesting approach for a manager to tuck in his/her toolbox for a tattoo discussion. I could see that approach working well with a younger person. Plus, tattoos always have a story behind them.

  62. Liz

    Women’s bodies just don’t match women’s work clothes very well. Since women are judged more harshly on appearance than men are (in part because men get to hide behind a much more one-size-fits-all-approach) it’s really tempting sometimes to just buy some sort of mumu and be done with it.

    I’ve been on both ends of this discussion. (My skirts were riding up a bit at work due to weight gain – NOT a fun conversation, but at least it was with a woman). So honestly, unless the clients actually complain, I’d just drop it. As several people pointed out, more fabric might not actually solve the problem of too-noticeable breasts anyway.

    A real (not contrived) client complaint could legitimately be passed on in a straightforward way, and tada, problem solved. Failing that, it doesn’t seem worth the bother.

    It’s still unfortunate that the manager feels uncomfortable, but I would bet that will fade over time. I’ve worked with distractingly gorgeous men. After a while, you just don’t notice anything physical about the people you see regularly, particularly if you make an effort to focus on their personality over their appearance.

  63. iDuckie

    Why doesn’t the OP have HR handle this? Or, have a female supervisor handle the situation. It has to be very delicate with a male supervisor, as the employee may call out sexual harassment.

    1. Richard

      If it’s a small organisation, it’s possible that they don’t have a dedicated HR department, I suppose.

  64. elle

    I would just be direct with her. I would call her in my office privately and say ” Hey Jan, you are a great employee and an asset to this office. I feel awkward to address this because it is a sensitive subject. I do not want you to get offended but there is a concern about your attire as too revealing. Since you are at the front desk it impacts our image as a company as well. ”

    Just do not express this via email or in a group setting. That would be way too much in my opinion. You need to be as direct as possible with her. Also, use a caring tone not a condecending one.

  65. Stan

    There was an episode of Star Trek :The Next Generation that dealt with this subject. Captain Jelleco was uncomfortable with Troi’s low cut top so he asked her to stay after a meeting. He told her that he was concerned about her attire and projecting a professional image, and asked her if she could dress more conservatively from then on.

    He was direct but also gentle in his approach. He didn’t mention her breasts sticking out or anything like that. Now if she hadn’t changed her top then he would have had to have another meeting where he would be more blunt. You don’t have to solve this problem all at once.

    If she is a big girl, then do understand that her clothing options may be limited, as mentioned by other posters.

    A question I do have is how valuable to you is this assistant? If you can’t see the office functioning without her, then how she dresses should be ignored. You could tell people she dresses pretty wild, but is one heck of an assistant.

    If she is quite replaceable, then maybe have two meetings with her via the Jellico example. If that doesn’t work, then let her go. You and all the other people have to work there too.

  66. Laura

    I see that a lot of people have already tried to answer this ‘doozy’ but I would also like to give my opinion.

    I know it’s an uncomfortable region of discussion but if I were you the way I would first approach it, would be with humor. Of course the key to this would be to address it early. The first time you saw your assistant in a topic that was a little too revealing, if a comment had been made, she probably would have been more careful about her wardrobe.

    Unfortunately, now not only are you passed this point, but there was never really an opportunity for you to have done this, because the first time of course you let it slide thinking maybe she doesn’t realize some of her bosom is falling out of that shirt.

    So, my advice to you would be to try and lightly, and most importantly, without any sexual undertones, mention that her clothing is not appropriate for a work place.

    EX: “Jane, I see your showing off some eye candy.”
    “Jane, do you have a hot date tonight, because that top shows you off?”
    “Oh my Jane, are you hot, should I turn the air conditioning on?”
    even be blunt with “Jane, that top is a little low cut.”

    If you’re uncomfortable, you definitely need to say something and if it was me. one comment like that would have me in sweaters for a month. Now I probably would not have someone telling me I was dressed inappropriately at work in the first place, but obviously your assistant would.

    So if a few words don’t embarrass her into covering up after lightly mentioning it once I would ask her to come into your office close the door and tell her that her attire was inappropriate and that low cut tops shouldn’t be worn to work, and the next time you’ll have to write her up for a dress code violation. Be polite, humble and impersonal, you don’t need her thinking you are constantly looking at her display. Hopefully the next day, when she comes in modestly dressed you can smile and tell her she looks lovely .

    1. Richard

      I wouldn’t go the ‘hot date’ route; it sounds more like a compliment than anything else, and is more likely to lead her to think that she’s being encouraged.

      Trying to casually mention that you’ve been noticing her top with the air conditioning route could also be taken as a joke, perhaps a sexually inappropriate one, which could also lead to bad things.

      Perhaps being direct here is the best idea though: Mention that her top is rather low cut, that you’re concerned about it affecting the professional image of the company, and you’d appreciate it if she could dress a little more conservatively when she’s working on the front desk. Nothing sexually inappropriate, nothing that could be taken the wrong way, just taking up your concern directly. Opinions?

      I’m also hopnig that the original poster comes back and lets us know what action he took here, and how it turned out.

  67. MistyMountainHop

    To all the ladies arguing about large-chested women, I have to disagree. Look, I’m well-endowed out front and struggle to find button -up tops that don’t come apart at the chest. That being said, button tops are NOT our only options. I am in a more casual than business envivronment, and I have ample blouses/shirts that cover up my cleavage. It’s also worth mentioning that if you have abundantly large breasts, you are almost ALWAYS aware of how much cleavage you are showing others, because let’s face it, you are buying your wardrobe to accomodate your bust. Frankly, I think blaming this on the woman’s large bust size (assuming it even is) is a total copout. Sorry, just not gonna bite on the “large busted women are disadvantaged by the lack of options available to them” excuse for dressing to provacatively. It’s just an excuse.

    Anyway to address the issue I think straightforward is the only way to do it. To echo the sentiments of the hundred something that have come before – tell her that while it’s something you’d rather not mention, her attire is not conducive to a professional working environment and she needs to be more conscientious of her necklines in the future. See? You didn’t even need to mention her boobs.

    1. Joyce

      Going along with that theme, I have family members who have very large busts (I belong to the “itty bitty” team) and they all manage to find ways to dress appropriately at work.

      1. Joyce

        If it’s an office party, being appropriately covered still matters, as well as appropriate behavior.

  68. Joyce

    Any dress code can be clarified when the need arises, even office casual. Just as men find excessively low necklines on women uncomfortable, some women will feel the same way about men’s shirts open too far in a work setting. After all, it’s not like you’re working on a road crew. If you go to the trouble of specifying acceptable necklines for your female employees, do a little “CYA” and do the same for your male employees. That may help avoid charges of sexual harassment.

    We had the same problem with a female employee at a previous job I had, except that she wore it short at both ends. They finally had to let her go and sited work performance.

    1. Joyce

      She came to work complaining about being hit on in a bar by a co-worker rather then leave the personal issues at home. He was let go also for talking about what a tease she was. The company president did the firing without going through HR. While they were welcome to do what they wanted on their own time, they were not welcome to bring personal problems and conflict to work.

  69. Anonymous

    I was once reminded that toe-out shoes would not be covered under workmans’ compensation in the event I injured my feet while wearing sandals (toe-out) at work. There is absolutely nothing wrong with prehaps reviewing your dress code, updating or revising it if needed, then sending it out to all employees and require they acknowledge and adhere by signing.

    1. Joyce

      We just did that at my job. Now it includes a hygiene policy that also includes clean clothes. Although it’s specifically aimed at one person, everyone had to read and sign that they understood what was expected.

  70. Anonymous

    You as the manager must address it or it sends a message that you do not always give though feedback. Also, remember the rest of the office is paying attention as well and will appreciate you addressing it. Why use the word cleavage? Just say that her neckline is inappropriately low for a business casual environment. If you are concerned that she would call harassment than have a witness but if she is just oblivious than have the conversation one on one.

  71. Manager

    First of all, you are going to have to talk to her. You Cannot expect her to “get the hint” by throwing out clues or sending out blanket emails to the entire staff.
    Remember–if you haven’t addressed it, you’ve blessed it. By continuing to keep your mouth shut about it, you are silently telling her her outfits are ok. She has not clue she is being unprofessional and when you do tell her, she will either be embarrassed or angry that you haven’t brought it up before. Talk to her WITH another person present (always have a witness) The female in the office who is slightly above her.

    Also, if it goes for one, it goes for all. So make sure no one else in

  72. Me

    I agree with some of the women with large breasts who have a hard time finding clothes that don’t show ANY cleavage. I’m small waisted and VERY large breasted, and I’m sure I could find clothes that completely cover my breasts and show not even a hint of them…and they are too large over the rest of me, or are too matronly to appear professional and appropriate on me (I am 27). Dressing in clothes that are obviously WAY TOO large or extremely unflattering is also unprofessional and just looks sloppy. There’s something I call “church cleavage”…I ask myself “Would this amount of cleavage be OK if I were going to church dressed this way”…if the answer is yes, then I would wear it to work. Otherwise it’s a weekend only shirt.
    As for what to do here…I’d say talk to her. Just tell her that you’d appreciate her wearing shirts that cover up a little more. I’d be cool if a guy had to say it to me, and if she isn’t then maybe she shouldn’t be working in a professional environment.

  73. Anonymous

    Seriously…just ask her to stop. You’re the manager. She knows that she’s showing it. Ask her to stop.

    You don’t have to be a sleaze-ball about it. But if you want any respect as a boss you need to be able to talk to your employees professionally regardless of gender.

  74. Anonymous

    What if you asked her to your office, have another female present (so that you, a man, have a witness) Ask for her permission to discuss an issue that has been brought to your attention by clients/coworkers & or just to your attention… and if it is okay to discuss this issue with the other female coworker (whatever her status – employee/manager etc) and just politely address the issue with her, that you do not feel comfortable with it, and it doesnt meet the required dress code. Thank her. Make her feel good about it rather than bad about it. Just be very careful of how you word things. Come up with a plan ahead of time of what you are going to say. Maybe even try it out on female friends & or family, to get their reaction. Tell them you wanna play office, yer the manager, and yer callin them into the office. Then give your statement. Get their reactions. See how they would handle it themselves. Get their opinions on what all you could do to make it go as smoothely as possible. Good Luck. ~

  75. Verity

    I like 3 ideas mentioned here and they can be handled strategically:
    1st – The manager or President/CEO of the company can make an announcement that there is going to be a dress code implemented to boost the public image of employees;

    2nd – Hire an HR consultant to devise the company dress code policy and and make sure it specifies things like low cleavage, rubber thonged sandals (flip flops), and no midriff bearing tops, no underwear (thongs or boxers) showing when wearing pants …

    3rd – The consultant can also hire an image consultant to have a fun – but instructive – What Not To Wear session one afternoon. If you plan it right, you could have this be part of an employee training or retreat. And you can have blown up pictures (but not of your employees) that illuminate the violations. You can even create a closet with a mirror at this session, but use it to highlight those who are dressing appropriately in different styles. Don’t shame anyone publicly.

    4th – If after all this, you have employees who do not comply, then the MANAGER should schedule a meeting to address it with the employee (sorry, but its part of your job, even if uncomfortable). You can hire the HR consultant to sit in on the meeting, but the manager has to address it and they can use the written policy (which everyone should have signed off on have received it) and the training session to inform the employee that they are not in compliance and its a violation. Be clear about the consequences at this point – put them on Plan like you would for other issues; and maybe no bonus this year, or no raise this year…

    5th – If it persists, you now can fire them with the confidence that you did everything to address this issue for this employee and all others. And you have documentation if they challenge it.

    Good luck!

  76. Anonymous

    Who cares if it’s appropriate? Just say, “dress more appropriately”. If she sues for sexual harassment, fight the case. If she says “creepy” say “tough, it’s policy, and someone had to tell you.”

  77. Christy Clark

    Honestly, I was doing the same thing for years in the office. I had no clue that anything was wrong until I met my husband, who is 15 years my senior. Looking straight into a 2-dimensional mirror, I was covered. After he pointed it out to me, I discovered how my breasts shifted when I leaned over my desk, making the shirt gape further. I didn’t understand how much my shirt showed to people taller than me too. I wore professional suits all the time, and actually wore what you see professional women wearing in movies ALL THE TIME, so I thought the fit of my clothes was appropriate.

    I’m getting off track…I met my husband when I was a volunteer secretary for his business for 6 months. We began dating after I left there for a job offer. When working with him he acted strange towards me, even moving me into a back office and secluding me. People stopped talking to me too, but I never knew why. He also always had me putting on mechanic overalls so I wouldn’t stain my clothes and had me working out in the motorpool more than the office..which I thought was weird. Now that we are married, he admitted to me that he made up a rumor about me, telling everyone we worked with that I was there as part of a work program through the jail, where I had been incarcerated for stabbing my ex-husband and that I was crazy/dangerous. I wanted to be mad at him, but it is kind of funny now that years have passed. He did it because he liked me and he said that the men would talk about my chest in the break room, had taken pictures of me and had them taped in their lockers and even umm…being inappropriate with those pictures. I was shocked. As the boss, he secluded me to get me out of the public eye with the cleavage. Then the guys were coming down to his office, where I was, with stupid questions and not getting work done, so he made up that lie…and he didn’t want me to date any of them so he could ask me out after I stopped working there. He said even the tank tops I wore under the shirts showed too much.

    I think this woman may be oblivious to the problem like I was. I’m glad my husband didn’t tell me while I was working for him that he could see my breasts, because I would have probably quit from humiliation. However, he had me update a wall chart for his office, similar to the same charts they use in food service, showing a person with a hairnet, clean nails, tucked in shirts, aprons, safe shoes, etc…except this one had the inches of a skirt length, height of a shirt, etc…with pics of good and bad, same with the men with pictures showing that they had to keep their facial hair trim, etc. Giving her a project could help, or posting the do’s and don’ts. If all else fails, that Mary Kay suggestion someone had is a great idea!

  78. Anonymous

    Yes, in modern womens techniques these are also ways of whipping a man; too short a dress, showing off their boobs on purpose, and then complaining and beating the crap out of him for accidentaly looking at her. Then sexual harrassment charges ensue. She does her nails, plays with her hair goes to the restroom and plays with other women, gossips around, sits on her ass and gets paid for it and wonders why there is a glass ceiling. It is not glass it is there because of yourselves.

  79. Dan

    This is neither a tough situation nor an uncommon one. First, it is your responsibility to address the situation in a professional manner. Call another supervisor into your office along with the female who’s attire is in question. Start by letting her know that you find the subject difficult to talk about particuraly since you are extremely happy with many aspects of her work. Then suggest that you care about her professional image as well as the companies and the work enviroment. End by suggesting more appropriate attire. I find these conversations are usually well received on friday afternoon when everyone tendss to be more relaxed. Good Luck and try not to stare at her breasts during the conversation.

  80. Anonymous

    its incredible……
    me, i thought that in the states (i assume this problem is in USA) this type of dress, actually is what is being promoted there.
    to read that a man is embarrassed seeing the reveals, or part thereof, of a female body makes me all the way surprised, astonished. is this not what is being used nowadays to attract customers, clients etc?
    at the same time, the other colleagues will make it a point to be present all year round..!!
    they will be having nice views to enjoy, while fulfilling their duties
    so why bother..??

    anyway, if you still want to correct this, then i think
    1) first compliment the lady about her beauty, and her taste in dressing
    2) second, tell her that it is your belief that different places, occasions require different outfits, like marriage, mortality, sea, dinner at restaurant, mountain climbing, strolling in a park, forest, work etc
    3) you personally think that her type of dress will best be used in such and such occasions
    4) for work, you wanted her to adopt a more conventional type of dress
    5) you cannot fix yourself as to whether to tell her it personally, or to make a general announcement about dress codes for every one (here, she is already being made aware of it- the advantage is that at times, she might tell you, you are yourself indecent, she has not received any complaint from any one till now, its your mind that is dirty and should be changed, not her dress, that you have been eying her all this time, or even file a case against you as sexist, harassment etc- so you might be avoiding all this by asking her about her opinion about what to do in her case
    6) i think she will personally tell you that there is no need to make a general announcement, that for her, its not a problem to change her dress- in asking her, you also avoid the potential reply that you are focusing on her only, and that you are not as sharp with other colleagues etc
    7) if it doesn’t work, then come back and let us know what was the reaction. it will be experience for us..!!

    another approach is to first ask her about her feeling in the job
    what she appreciates, and what she would like to be improved. you may also ask her to tell about you also, and she should not be afraid. its only a casual talk. if she dares, you might as well, as a boss, learn much about how to improve yourself..!!
    after listening to her, you might then tell her to allow yourself to say what you appreciate about her work, and where you feel improvement can still be made. then you let the bomb out..!!
    you might consider it worthwhile to call other workers also, and do the same meeting so that she does not fell targetted

    another approach is to call her in when you have good news for her such as salary increase, vacation approved, special day off from your side, gift for birthday etc
    then, in between the conversation, you might just drop it to her about what type of dress you will appreciate. or, at the end, just when she is going, you just tell her if it would be possible for her to have her dress the way you want

    finally, i think you should never tell her that her dress is not appropriate, but that you are expecting an improvement upon the nice job that she is already doing, and in dressing herself, this is the improvement you are expecting. you might as well include some other improvements with this, so that she (and you) do not feel embarrassed about it. the dress issue would have been diluted with the other improvements you are requesting and also with the appreciation you have voiced out about her job

  81. Anonymous

    My advice depends on how much cleavage she is showing. It sounds like it’s enough to be very obvious to anyone so I’m going to be more harsh about things. If you are concerned about telling another woman she is showing too much cleavage then don’t say it that way. Certainly if you tell a woman that her boobs are hanging out, you’ll be asking for a lawsuit but a simple “So-and-so, lately I have noticed that your tops are too low-cut. While our office does have a business casual dress code, it also stipulates that low-cut tops are inappropriate. I’m going to have to ask that you be more avid about abiding by those stipulations.” If she has to ask what is “too” low-cut then she shouldn’t be working there. I am a woman and I don’t think that saying a shirt is too low-cut is sexual harrassment. Sure, she’ll probably be embarrassed but what was she thinking in the first place? Cover up woman! This is a place of professional business!

  82. Anonymous

    y don’t you have a pic of all your staff individually and post hers here so that we can appreciate the problem more visually and better..??!!
    you can have the face cut off from the pic, to avoid prosecution..!!
    he he..

    so you wont feel guilty by enjoying alone, you would have shared the joy with one and all..!!

    jokes apart…

    i think it depends upon your company
    if its more a family-friendly type one, then adopt the opinions from those above, favouring the protection of the worker’s feeling

    if its a large company, and more impersonal one, then go for updating some company codes, including dress code and necessary specifications
    you might as well decide to send a questionnaire to the staff and asking their opinion about codes for some issues, including dress, and to finally decide one which will be binding for one and all
    in so doing, the staff would not feel that rules are being thrown upon them, as these might deteriorate the work environment and motivation

  83. Steve

    Dude, be a man and just enjoy the peep show!

    But seriously, if it bothers you, take action. You didn’t mention if she is a valuable employee (other than for your visual stimulation). This will have a bearing on how you deal with it. Forget the office email – this will always turn out badly, in so many possible ways I won’t begin to list. The best policy in any situation is to deal with the person 1:1, with compassion and respect. Frame the critical comment with compliments (lead with one, and end with one). Don’t sugar coat the issue. Tell her how the cleavage impacts how she is perceived. Information is good, and she can use it to do what she wants to. If she wants to move up, she’ll fix it. If she wants the attention and doesn’t mind changing jobs in a year, she may not. Above all, be respectful and honest. And make sure you tell her that you are doing this because you value her contributions to the office (assuming you do – see opening comment).

    Good luck.

  84. Office Manager

    Trying to skip around is the action that causes problems. If you are her superior, then talk to her directly. Have another employee present or your wife.

    I am sure if she is the correct driven employee, she will respond in the proper manner.

  85. Cheryl

    Hmm… I work for a casual-attire church and know not to dress provocatively, wear flip flops, shorts or spaghetti straps. But even I wrestle sometimes with whether a shirt drapes too low or not. Some of my favorite tops slouch when I do. This stream of discussion has been a great reminder for me! If I’m constantly worrying over my neckline (and I have, on occasion), tugging it higher to be safe, then I should’ve picked something else to wear for the day. Best to be cautious & comfy. :)

    As I read everyone’s comments, I wondered how my male boss would address this with me. I hope he would say, “Wear shirts with a higher neckline, Cheryl. It’ll save me sending out a memo. Thanks.”

  86. Anonymous

    Way too many comments here for me to read them all to see if anyone else was The Offender – as I am.

    I took a job in an overwhelmingly casual office – shorts and flip flops were the mainstay of the dress code. I was also one of only two women.

    I dress like Joan from Mad Men and every day I wore dresses and high heels (dresses purchased from BCBG, Ralph Lauren and others, mind you, not Fredericks of Hollywood) and yes they showed cleavage. That’s the way I dress and since there was No Dress Code I felt free to express my style just as they were expressing theirs.

    Apparently this bothered at least one person, so when we had our reviews, I was given the note to cover up.

    And you know what? I did.

    Lay off all the fear-based passive-aggressive crap, muster some guts, and Talk To Her. Tell her exactly what you want. Then and only then can there be a consequence if she doesn’t comply.

    Obviously this should come from her supervisor and be private. The first time it can be verbal but if she persists you can give it to her in writing and have her sign it for her file.

    I had no idea anyone was bothered by my attire, but had no problem adjusting.

  87. Kate

    I know this is counter to everyone else’s comments but I just think you should tell her yourself. You’re the boss–for it to have the weight it needs to have, you need to be the one making the suggestion. Do you have evaluations? This might be the appropriate time to talk to her. Make sure you start with praise for her work, if she deserves it.

    Something like: “You do tremendous work in this office but there is something I would like to talk with you about. You consistently wear shirts that are too low cut for a professional office environment. I’m afraid that clients may take you–and by association, me–less seriously because of the way you dress. You are too competent of an assistant to be judged for the clothes you wear. Unfortunately, unless you raise your neckline, that is exactly what is going to happen.”

    In my last job, I had to talk to two people on separate occasions (men, and I am a woman) about their body odor. That was a fun conversation!

  88. HR_Annoyer

    10 yrs ago, a young woman in another team in our larger group often obnoxiously and aggressively flaunted her figure, dressing very inappropriately. Our office is very casual (typical of the software industry) but she often pushed the line way too far. Not just low cut tops, but beach wear.
    Some of the more sensible women tried to talk to her, but she would get very defensive, claiming her ‘right’ to dress however she wanted. HR did nothing. Her mgr did nothing. He was scared to say anything.
    She once ran a long boring Powerpoint presentation in a small room to a group of mostly young single males. She was dressed in shorts and a tight low cut top, and later complained to HR that the men were ogling her. Before anything happened with HR, she left the company. She was married at the time.

    1. Anonymous

      Funny how you threw in “she was married at the time”. Sounds like a typical male reaction. She is married and should dress like a nun, unless she is my mistress! Pfft. Men – you have such double standards!

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