someone took credit for my work, new coworker dresses much more nicely than me, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. How do you interact with someone who took credit for your work?

I’m a member of my college’s Teapot Club. Recently, I started volunteering to help out the club’s graphic designer. We initially agreed that I would make social-media graphics and such, but last weekend she asked me to make the main print poster for an upcoming meeting, (even though that was meant to be her job). I made the poster, sent it to her, and yesterday I got to class and saw it posted all over the teapot department’s building.

Of course, I was ecstatic to see my work in print! Since I’m friends with the Teapot Club vice president, I mentioned to her how exciting it was to see my work all over the building. But the vice president was shocked to learn that I made the poster! As it turns out, the graphic designer had accepted credit for my work. I sent the poster directly to the designer when I was done, and she showed it to the rest of the club Executive Board. According to the VP, the board gushed over how much they loved the poster, how it was their favorite poster yet, etc. They even credited her for it in the Instagram post they made announcing the meeting. My guess is that designer was too embarrassed to admit she hadn’t made it after receiving such high praise (though heaven knows why she didn’t mention that I designed it from the start, or didn’t take the chance to correct them after receiving credit on Instagram). From what I gather, she didn’t openly say she made it, but she didn’t deny it either.

So, VP messaged the rest of the board and told them what was up (they were astonished). I don’t know what going to happen now. I’m assuming there will be some repercussions for graphic designer, but I don’t know if she’ll continue to hold that position or they’ll appoint me/someone else as graphic designer now.

My problem is that I don’t know what I should do if I ever interact with graphic designer again. I’ve only ever spoken with her over email, but how do I act if they decide to keep her in the graphic design position? Obviously it’s not a problem if they decide to boot her from the job, but things never seem to go that smoothly. What happens if I ever meet her in person? Or if she stays graphic designer? What do I say? I want to keep making graphics and such for the club, but I don’t know how to act going forward, especially if I keep working with her.

I bet you’re right that she was just embarrassed to speak up after the gushing, and then it felt too weird to backtrack and say something. She still should have, of course, but I think most (all?) of us have been in situations where something felt like it got away from us and then we felt ridiculous afterwards for not correcting a wrong impression.

Unless you have reason to think it was a deliberate attempt to take credit for your work, I’d say the best thing to do is to proceed as if it was an innocent mistake. If you have that framing in your head, how to interact with her will feel more intuitive — basically, treat her like you always have and not like a deplorable thief.

But if there is reason to believe it was intentional theft, then you can go for polite but reserved — the “I’m being polite because I am a polite person but we both know you have done me wrong so now there is a large boundary up” stance.

2. I’m afraid my bosses will freak out when I tell them I’m pregnant

I’ve been working as a director of development at a small nonprofit for about three years. We have been talking about expanding our facilities for over a year now, and just got the lease agreement. This past week, we have been in beginning phases of planning our capital campaign. I’m thrilled to work on this over the next year, especially since this is my first one. I’ll gain incredible experience for my career and am ready to sink into something new!

However, I’m pregnant. I found out about two months ago and am just nearing my first trimester. My partner and I haven’t told our families yet and plan to do so around the holidays so we can do it in person. I’d like to tell the executive director and my boss as soon as possible so we can plan the capital campaign around my maternity leave. The problem is, I’m terrified that they are going to freak out. The timing isn’t all that great. My executive director and I have a great relationship, but she can tend to be abrupt and a self-aware micromanager. I’m afraid she’s going to say something unintentionally hurtful and inappropriate. I’m also afraid that I’m going to let people down. I’m also sad that I have an opportunity to work on a project that could further my career, and I will miss out on it completely.

I have a great relationship with my boss as well. I was thinking about sitting down with him first and letting him know so we can come up with a plan to tell my executive director. What should I do? I want to make this easier for everyone, especially for me and my new baby.

They are probably not going to freak out — and it’s important to remember that if they did freak out, that would be a wildly inappropriate reaction for them to have. They might be stressed or worried, yes, but decent managers (and decent people) will be happy for you, even if it’s going to cause them inconvenience. It sounds like your ED is the type who might not have enough of a filter on her initial “oh crap” instinct, but again, if she is at all a decent person, she will temper that once the original surprise passes.

If I’m wrong about that and they do give you a hard time, please remember that they’re really, really out of line. It is not appropriate to freak out when an employee announces she is pregnant; this is a normal thing that happens when you employ humans.

Talking to your direct boss first makes sense — but I wouldn’t lean too heavily on the “come up with a plan to tell the ED” part of it. It really doesn’t need to be stage-managed that carefully! (The part that you do need a plan for is what it will mean for your projects. You don’t need that on the spot, although it’s great if you have initial thoughts ready.)

3. New coworker dresses much more nicely than me

We recently hired a new team member who has the same job title I have. Our advertising agency “dress code” is very casual (jeans and t-shirts are the norm, even for execs) but my new coworker always wears heels. She isn’t the only woman in the office who wears high heels / pumps, but she’s the only one our age who does. I casually mentioned to her in conversation that our former intern had dressed up frequently and it was odd since our office is so casual, but she doesn’t seem to care at all. One day she came in wearing a full pant suit and blazer, like something I would wear to an interview.

When someone with the same job title as me (who I’m also training) dresses more nicely than me, it makes me feel a little uncomfortable and creates a lot of pressure for me to dress more formally. I am concerned this might make me look bad to managers when considering me against her for promotions in the future. Would you do anything in my situation?

If everyone else in your office dresses casually, including execs, I wouldn’t worry about it. If your execs were dressing more formally, I’d be concerned that they are people who value formal dress on at least some level, but it really doesn’t sound like they are. I’d assume your work will speak for itself in this environment.

4. My old manager keeps asking me for confidential information from our company

Situation: There were some shake-ups at my company about a year and a half ago. In that time, my manger was let go. I still work at the organization. The problem is, from time to time she contacts me for specific information about projects we worked on while both working at the company. I never send her anything as it is always privileged and I would never want to put my current job at risk, but it really bothers me she has the gall to ask.

Do you have any advice on having a conversation with her so she understands it’s not okay to be asking for this? Also is there any reason to inform my current manager to cover myself in case something does ever get released?

When you’ve refused in the past, how have you said it? If you haven’t previously been explicit that you’re not able to send her confidential company information, do it next time by saying something like, “I’m not allowed to send anything like that — you know we have confidentiality rules around this kind of thing. It’s come up a few other times, so I want to make sure you realize that I’ll always need to say no.”

And yeah, it wouldn’t hurt to give your current manager a heads-up.

5. Doesn’t HR have authority over everyone else?

I am part of the HR department and recently, our office general manager issued a “warning/memorandum” to my HR manager because someone in the HR department lost an original copy of a signed form.

I am quite confused and surprised by this act. I was under the impression that the HR department was supposed to be above everyone else, except for the board of directors. Or I could be wrong there. Shouldn’t HR be the one doing the disciplining? Who exactly has the right to give disciplinary actions to an HR manager / HR staff?

No, HR isn’t above everyone else! Definitely not. HR is a department like any other department and doesn’t have extra authority. HR’s role is (in part) to advise managers in other area of the organization about HR issues, but in a well-functioning organization they do not have authority over those other managers. And definitely anyone at the top of the organization (C-level execs or a general manager) is above HR in terms of hierarchy. Your HR manager presumably reports to that general manager. It would be very unusual for HR to report directly to the board.

{ 503 comments… read them below }

  1. ginger ale for all

    LW #3 – She may have come from a more formal office and that is just what she has in her wardrobe for work.

    1. ginger ale for all

      Also, if someone dressing more nicely than you makes you feel ratty, then you may want to think about whether or not you want to get a bit more formal with a few pieces added to your wardrobe. Maybe you could keep a dressier jacket that goes with most things for client meetings, add a nice scarf, or fancier pair of shoes, whatever you can keep at your office to throw on a little glitz when the occasion calls for it.

      1. Emma

        Honestly, even just not-worn or darker jeans + not-worn, nicer t-shirts can make you look spiffier. I think half the reason jeans + t-shirt + sneakers often looks ratty is that the clothes are worn or washed out.

        The other thing is that how you carry yourself can make a huge difference too. I know not everyone can, but better posture alone can often make an outfit look a lot better – think about a lot of those “look good even in a burlap sack” folks (come on, we all know at least one). A good chunk of the time, it’s their attitude and posture that allows them to pull that off.

        1. Koko

          I agree! I wear mostly jeans to work when the season is right for them, but I only wear dark-wash, well-fitting jeans without fraying or holes in them. And I wear casual knit tops or t-shirts (even some with writing printed on them, which gives you a sense of how casual my office is), but again, they’re well-fitting and not frayed or holey. I feel comfortable in a wide range of settings with that approach.

          There’s also a time of year when I wear nothing but dresses because it’s too hot for pants. I have a wide range of casual dresses that are super comfy (again, some with writing on them!) but I consider them professional enough because they come down to my knees and above my cleavage.

          The other thing though, about people who look good in anything is that they are often very thin. We associate the look of clothes hanging off a thin person with high fashion and runway models. (And runway models at fashion shows wear stuff way more ridiculous than the toned-down versions you end up finding in the store because of the way fashion works!)

          1. Gov Worker

            Thin…NOT! But I always look pulled together, casual or dressed up. Know your style and be comfortable with it. I see plenty of thin folks that definitely do not look good in anything! So many false stereotypes about us fat people, ugh.

            1. Koko

              I didn’t mean that as a dig at fat people! Just saying that those “you would look good in a burlap sack” types are more often than not way thinner than the average person, other body types generally have to select their clothes more carefully/intentionally.

              1. Jadelyn

                In particular, it’s an acknowledged phenomenon that when a skinny young woman wears plain leggings and a white t-shirt or yoga pants and a hoodie, it’s cute and casual, while a fat woman wearing the exact same thing gets labeled a slob or not trying hard enough. Essentially, the farther one deviates from the young/thin/white/etc standard of beauty, the harder one is expected to “compensate” for it by dressing nicer, wearing makeup at all times, etc.

                It’s not a dig at fat people at all – it’s a dig at fatphobic culture that judges fat people differently for doing the same things as thin people.

                1. LD

                  I agree that heavier people have it harder due to negative stereotypes and our culture that elevates thinner people. And due to a clothing industry that doesn’t do enough to provide well-fitting and fashionable options in larger sizes. But it an be worth the effort to seek out those appropriate options that do exist because it’s so important to how we are perceived by others. (It is a fact that we judge a book by it’s cover and it’s a bias we need to be aware of so we can mitigate it.) How people look in a particular outfit depends on many factors, not just size. The fit and condition of the plain leggings or yoga pants and the t-shirt and hoodies are important factors. I’ve see that combo look terrific on larger-sized people and not so great on thinner people, often due to the condition of the clothes (clean vs. dirty, neatly fitted vs. sloppy or too-tight fit, fresher vs. overly worn and torn, etc.). It can be harder for larger people to find things that fit well, but it can be worth the effort toward looking well-dressed. Thin people can wear ill-fitting or inappropriate clothes and look terrible. Just because someone is thin doesn’t give them fashion sense. It’s interesting when clothing choices are judged for not being casual or worn-down enough! I’ve seen efforts and comments about being less judgmental of people who dress in very casual ways so we are attempting to be non-discriminatory. So now we need to comment on judging someone who dresses better than the norm. An interesting conundrum.

              2. Emma

                Oh yeah, that’s definitely true. I mean, I’ve met some larger women who do manage the “look good in everything” thing, and some thin women who always look a little scruffy, but on the whole, yeah.

                Body language really can compensate for a lot, though not all of it, though. All the fat women I know who pull off that effortlessly-looking-good thing are ones who come across really confident, not as apologizing for taking up space. (I wish I was at that point, myself.)

                1. Koko

                  One of my style icons is Mindy Kahling. So much fashion advise is basically instructing people who are not young, tall, and thin to use optical illusions to make themselves look younger, taller, and thinner. But Mindy wears these amazing outfits that show off her curvier, heavier, pear-shaped figure and she looks damn good doing it.

        2. Stranger than fiction

          It’s all about the fit too. Think of a baggy men’s style tshirt on a woman, untucked, paired with baggy jeans and athletic shoes, versus a fitted tshirt of nicer material, tucked in, with a pair of with well fitting jeans and a belt, and non athletic shoes (but still casual, like ballet flats, topsiders, or even cuter sneakers)…the difference is night and day.

      2. Jen RO

        I disagree with this advice. If OP is comfortable in her clothes and if her clothes align to the office policy, she should not feel pressured to dress “nicer” just because of the new coworker. I know how OP feels, but I actively try to shut down that part of me – someone more elegant should *not* make me feel ratty and I keep telling myself that. (It usually doesn’t work, sadly… but then I think of how I would feel walking around for 8 hours in heels and I stop caring.)

        1. Emma

          Nobody’s pressuring OP to change, though. OP feels pressured all on her own.

          If you’re uncomfortable with something someone else is doing, you can address it with them – but in this case it doesn’t look like the newcomer’s doing anything wrong. (The letter mentions that other women there do wear some things the newbie does, like heels, so the newbie isn’t actually completely out of step.) So if the newcomer’s not doing anything wrong, the OP really doesn’t have standing to ask her to change. That’d be like asking someone to never wear blue because you hate it.

          If you can’t change what someone else is doing and remove the discomfort that way, you’re left with:
          1. Getting over it (easier said than done, I know)
          2. Just doing your thing anyway and letting yourself be uncomfortable
          3. Changing what you’re doing so the discomfort goes away

          OP3 doesn’t have to choose the third option, but she can, and I didn’t think that ginger ale was saying the OP had to change her style, just offering advice if she decided she wanted to.

          Also, fwiw, as someone who dresses more “nicely” (read: I can’t wear jeans and hate sneakers), it’s often awkward as hell for me too, though admittedly from a different angle. (No, I really can’t wear jeans, I am awkwardly proportioned. Yes, I can lift stuff while wearing non-jeans, jeans don’t give you arm muscles. Yes, I can hike in a skirt, wtf.) Women’s fashion is a minefield.

          1. Christmas Carol

            Fwiw, the Scots have gone to war for centuries , and today flip telephone poles in the air just for “fun”, all while wearing little plaid “skirts” that wouldn’t be out of place on a Cathlolic schoolgirl.

              1. Brogrammer

                According to the assorted Scotsmen in my life (more than you might expect), it’s called a kilt because “If you call it a skirt, you’ll be kilt!”

                1. LawBee

                  well, no – it’s not the proper name for the garment. A woman can wear a kilt and it’s not the same as a skirt.

          2. JB (not in Houston)

            Yes, I noticed the “other women wear heels” thing too. Some people are talking like the coworkers must be wildly out of step with the rest of the office–but it sounds like she’s not all that far off from how some other women dress.

            1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

              This. It sounds like the new employee is out of step with the LW, but not with the larger office.

          3. Chinook

            “Also, fwiw, as someone who dresses more “nicely” (read: I can’t wear jeans and hate sneakers), it’s often awkward as hell for me too, though admittedly from a different angle. (No, I really can’t wear jeans, I am awkwardly proportioned. Yes, I can lift stuff while wearing non-jeans, jeans don’t give you arm muscles. Yes, I can hike in a skirt, wtf.) ”

            Emma, you are not alone. I can and do wear jeans but I don’t find them comfortable to sit in a desk all day in, especially not since someone on this board introduced me to eshakti dot com where I can order dresses that fit properly and don’t bind me where fashion says my waist should be versus where it actually is (though they do sell jeans now and I may bite the bullet and try one on).

            I agree that jeans/pants don’t equal muscles or the ability to move (heck, I have played touch football in a skirt, though I did ditch the heels). And I have slowly made colleagues understand that, unless there is a safety need for wearing pants (in which case, I should be wearing PPE equipment like fireproof overalls and steel toe boots) or I am climbing ladders, wearing a dress is not relevant to how I do my job. I have just learned to counter every “don’t you know its jeans day” comment with “I am more comfortable like this.”

            And if the OP were my boss instead of a coworker, I would ask her for details on why my dress is inappropriate and listen to the response in case there is a safety/work related reason for it. “It makes other people uncomfortable” is not a legit reason to me and I would definitely be following up with HR for clarification on the company’s dress code. In my mind, dressing more formal than the dress code should not be a problem.

            1. Not A Morning Person

              I, too, used to get comments, “You know it’s jeans day!” I always replied, “That’s too much work to remember and change my morning routine for jeans.” And besides that, I agree that regular clothes are way more comfortable for a day at work.

            2. Emma

              I think “it makes others uncomfortable” can be legit in a few rare cases, though – like if you’re serving an underprivileged community while decked out in conspicuously expensive clothes and jewelry, or there are religious issues. But I’d think you’d sort of know that going in. “It makes a couple coworkers feel shabby” really isn’t a good reason, though.

          4. Candi

            I understand what you mean about not being able to wear jeans. I have a hard enough time being able to find slacks that fit. Forget looking tailored.

            (I love my doctor. We had the ‘you need to lose X pounds’ talk once, he gave me some pamphlets and stuff, and he’s left it at that.)

        2. Stranger than fiction

          I totally see what you’re saying, but I wonder if it’s bothering Op because the presence of miss fashion reminder her of a time where she dressed up more, like at a different job, and suddenly she began to feel self conscious up against that? Even though the rest of the office is casual

      3. Green Tea Pot

        Yes! Always keep a few things on hand. I always kept a change of shoes, a neutral-toned jacket and a white blouse, along with a scarf and faux pearls for unexpected meeting or lunches.

    2. Biff

      I would perhaps be concerned if, after a few paychecks have gone by, she is still dressing out of step with the rest of the office. Overdressing can be as much an issue as underdressing. If she’s still wildly out-dressing people a couple of layers above her once she should have the time/money to adjust her wardrobe to suit the office, she could just as easily come across as a brown-noser or out-of-touch as someone who appeared at work each day in old gym clothes.

      1. The Devil Doesn't Wear Prada

        I wouldn’t assume someone has spare money just because they got paid a few times. There are ways round this with clothes obviously, but I thought it was worth saying. You never know what financial stresses someone has going on behind the scenes.

        1. Emma

          That said, if you are vastly out of step with the clothes, you can usually find a thrift store with appropriate items. Still an expense, and I know there are times even $10 is impossible, but it’s not like you’re required to buy brand-new stuff for the workplace.

        2. TootsNYC

          And if I had clothes that I’d spent money on, and I enjoyed wearing them, I’d keep wearing them. WTF? I should abandon my clothes because they’re *too* formal?

          Soon enough they are going to be out of style, or my body shape will change and the won’t fit me anymore. I’m not going to leave them in the closet meanwhile!

          And where else would I wear a pencil skirt, matching jacket, and heels? You can hike in skirts but not in heels.

          I think the OP just needs to worry about her own self. If she’s in sync w/ the rest of the people, her skills will speak for themselves.

          Now, it’s true that a lower-level person who dresses more formally might end up sending a message that she should be taken more seriously. But she has the right to manipulate those messages if she wants to.

          1. Mona Lisa

            Also if she’s a younger woman, she may feel a need to dress more formally to show that she’s to be taken seriously in her new role. After a few months, she might relax a bit, but it’s not uncommon for women to feel a need to (or, sadly, actually need to) prove themselves as employees through their wardrobes.

            1. Electric Hedgehog

              True. I know that when I started my current job I tended to wear jeans – I just couldn’t afford to buy a new outfit. They now pay me more than twice what I made then (three years ago) and I dress on the nicer end of business casual everyday. And people respect me more. It may be that I know what I’m doing more than I did at the beginning of my time here, or it may be at least in part that I’ve gathered an aura of authority (which I don’t actually have) which is helped by my clothing choices.

              1. Mona Lisa

                This is something I’ve discussed with my youngest sister frequently because she’s in her third month at her first job out of college. The office tends to be business casual with people in her IT department wearing jeans 3-4 days/week, but she feels as the youngest person and one of two women in the department that dressing more professionally gives her more credibility than if she wore the jeans and polos that the IT guys wear. The wardrobe selection is even more complicated because she works for a women’s fashion brand and supports the product design team, and her personal style doesn’t really match the products they’re producing, which she’s encouraged to use and rep.

                1. HB

                  Yup – I am young-ish and also petite. My workplace is fairly casual (not jeans but generally business casual), but I get crazy responses from people when I come in just after the gym to change or something similar. I usually wear bright, very lazy clothes with sneakers and I know I look *really* young in them. Most of my coworkers (who are friends) find it adorable and say so. But it does show me that people really react to what I wear. I would hate for my boss to see me in exercise pants and a t-shirt!

            2. Sutemi

              Also, if she is someone who is frequently presumed to be much younger than her real age, she may be dressing more formally to counteract the image. As someone short that is frequently though to be young, dressing more formally and in heels (for the height!) sometimes allows me to present an image better aligned with my real level of experience.

            3. Competent Commenter

              +1. I had a major case of imposter syndrome when I started my current job, where I’m a director. I was very nervous about taking a director role, even though I had all the experience needed and ultimately the job turned out to not be intimidating and it was clear that I was more than qualified. Also, I’m not a very imposing person physically: short, slight, quiet-spoken, female and 50-something, and also just not a naturally polished person. So overall it really mattered to me that I dress for the part. It made me more able to project confidence and competence. I also enjoyed it, after many years of freelance consulting in my pajamas. But I shared an office for the first year with a coworker four grades below me who dressed very casually. She asked me multiple times why I dressed up and made occasional snide comments. I actually modeled my style after our mutual supervisor, one level above me, and felt very comfortable with how I dressed, so her comments mostly rolled off my back, but I didn’t think they were very nice comments and was pleased to have her move on a few months ago.

        3. Pwyll

          +1. When I went from suit-every-day to a casual office, I really struggled with my wardrobe. I certainly wasn’t going to wear my suit pants every day, but I really didn’t have a jeans collection that could get me through every day of the week, or that I felt were appropriate for work. It took me *months* to rebuild my wardrobe with the discretionary money I had.

          1. Competent Commenter

            I feel you. I went from nearly 20 years of freelancing to a regular 9-5 job. On day 3 I cried (privately to a friend on a phone during a break!) because I didn’t have enough appropriate clothing for a week of work. My old client-visit outfits were too casual, my wardrobe in general was for colder year-round weather and I’d moved to an area with 90+ summers and varying seasons, and I’d lost weight. So absolutely nothing was working. I’d scoured the thrift stores to come up with interview clothes but it’s not easy to create a new wardrobe, especially if you don’t yet know your new style. That first week at work, my feet were throbbing with the heat of thick socks in ankle boots. Ugh! I’ve been in my position 15 months now and I feel so much more confident in the way I dress, and have a whole new (uh, used) closet full of clothes for all the seasons. Even building exclusively from thrift stores, I spent over $1,000, at about $100 per month.

      2. Collarbone High

        It’s not just the issue of buying new clothes, though — if she’s like me, she’s invested many thousands of dollars in her work wardrobe, she likes those clothes and she wants to wear them. I could see it being an issue if, say, she worked with an underprivileged population and it was unseemly to wear a shirt that cost more than your clients’ rent, or she did manual labor, but if this is her personal style I don’t see anything wrong with it.

        1. Jane

          I was just about to say the same. I have some nicer clothes, I feel confident in them and don’t really want to just leave them hanging in the closet unseen for the foreseeable future because my new office has a more relaxed dress policy than the last one.

          1. many bells down

            I can – and am encouraged to – wear nerdy t-shirts to work. But I have some nice clothes too, and sometimes I want to feel pretty. One week I’m in a shirt with Mr. Spock, and the next I’m in a sheath dress.

            1. Chinook

              You sound like my (female) boss. She doesn’t do the nerdy t-shirts but she definitely alternates between wearing very nice dresses and “redneck casual” (think jeans with tank top and flannel shirt). She will sometimes base her outfits on who she is meeting (field staff vs. corporate execs vs. industry council) but, if she has no meetings, anything goes. Considering we are in a male dominated industry, it is kind of nice to see that type of confidence in how she presents herself.

        2. Anon for this

          +1

          And I’m getting into “not everyone can eat sandwiches!” territory here, but I wear an unusual size and it takes some effort to put together a wardrobe. I wouldn’t start all over again just because one person compared their clothes to mine and got uncomfortable.

              1. Electric Hedgehog

                Wasn’t it a real argument that someone started here years ago when someone was asking for help figuring out what to eat w/o access to a microwave or something? It was pretty silly.

                1. Marcela

                  Well, for me that would be the opposite of silly, since in my culture lunch is the most important meal, where we don’t eat sandwiches. Not cold ones, at least. And I would die of sadness eating the sandwiches I can buy in the US, because the so disappointing bread. So sure, I could eat sandwiches in the same way I can eat paper, but the argument “not everyone can eat sandwiches” was very “unsilly” and actually I appreciated somebody making explicit the different point of view :)

                2. Doreen

                  It wasnt “silly” because anyone thought that everyone can or would it sandwiches. It was silly because of the implication thst the only suggestions that should be made were those that could be universally followed- which only leads to fewer suggestions or none at all

                3. Candi

                  The idea is that people kickout various ideas like sll the kinds sandwiches, fruit cups, fruit and/or veggies, deli food, those little one-serve containers of oatmeal or cereal, bags of dried food, packages of nuts, packages of candy, bento boxes, and so much more, and readers can mix and match according to what they like and their office will handle.

                  Saying ‘no one should say sandwiches because not everyone can handle them’ is a very poor argument. Some people can handle them, some can’t , some can with adjustments (dad uses gluten-free bread), and it’s up to each to make their own decisions. Treat people like the adults they are (ie, here’s a list, work with it as you like) and not little kids that need to be monitored.

        3. Elizabeth West

          We are very casual here–jeans and t-shirt casual. Some people wear business casual clothing, and a few people like to dress to the nines (mostly women). They’re the ones who look out of place, not the jeans wearers. But they like dressing up, and we all know that this is what they wear.

          I sometimes feel a little frowsy when I run into one of these women in the bathroom. They look so polished and perfect, and here I am with a Captain America t-shirt (not even regulation!), jeans, MAYBE a scarf, trainers, and frizzy hair. But then I remember how uncomfortable I am wearing outfits like theirs and it makes me feel better. :)

          1. Chinook

            “They look so polished and perfect, and here I am with a Captain America t-shirt (not even regulation!), jeans, MAYBE a scarf, trainers, and frizzy hair. ”

            Ironically, if I worked there, I would be wearing/looking for the geeky dresses that I see every so often. I may wear dresses where I am and have a few POP figures guarding the tower of papers to be signed, but I know my workplace well enough to know where the line is.

        4. RKB

          Yeah, I don’t know why the assumption is she’s wearing these clothes to show up her coworkers or because she has nothing else. Maybe she likes dressing like that. I work in a very casual environment (people wear yoga pants more regularly than anything else) and I show up wearing skirts, boots, dresses, cardigans, blouses, you name it. I like how it looks, I enjoy how it feels, and my coworkers don’t bat an eye.

          To me, this is a personal issue for OP, not an interoffice issue.

          1. Snakeperson

            This is me. I work at a very laid back tech company where you will see some people in sweatpants on a given day. I realized I was taken more seriously by my directors when I did dress up more nicely (and more nicely I would say more fashionably, ie high heeled booties and jeans). One other thing I noticed is I was more productive at work when I dressed up, mentally I distinguished I was at work and not at home. For the first couple of weeks, coworkers would mention that I was dressed up very nicely, but after awhile they were used to it. I like the way I dress and as long as it’s not inappropriate it does not matter.

            1. Chinook

              Snakeperson, you are not alone in noticing that how you dress effects how you act. I remember doing a mock government camp for a week in high school. For 4 of 5 days, we dressed professionally and acted quite well as a group. Midway through the week, though, we went to the zoo and we’re told to dress in jeans, etc. Ironically, it was also the same day we visited the floor of the legislature. Our behaviour, as a group, was so bad and rowdy that I think the organizers rethought the idea of ever allowing their campers to dress casually in the future. Even we teens noticed the difference and we’re embarrassed.

      3. Jen RO

        Yup, I agree, I think this reflects on the new coworker more than the OP, but it’s not something OP should get involved with.

        That being said, it’s probably not a huge deal for the coworker either. I work in a very casual office (software company) and there are always a couple of overdressed people. They get the side-eye for a while, but if they don’t behave as if they were “better than the jeans-and-tshirt masses”, we just figure that this is their style and stop caring.

        1. Purple Jello

          Yep, I worked with a guy who ALWAYS wore a shirt and tie to our business casual, jeans only on Friday, office – except when he lost a bet with the IT guy. Then, he looked weird in business casual.

          OP, if you can, let it go. If you cannot, try to determine why it bothers you: is it the heels? how she puts her outfits together? Suit jackets or blazers instead of sweaters? Accessories? If you can figure out WHY it bothers you, that might help you to quit focusing on it, or make slight modifications to your wardrobe if you so choose. Also, she may start to casual up a bit, at least on some days.

          1. Emily, admin extraordinaire

            Oh, man. I had a teacher in high school who always wore a shirt and tie with slacks. Every single day, even on “dress-down” days when they could wear a school-logo shirt and jeans (if I remember correctly, he had a school-logo dress shirt). Except for one day, which was supposed to be a day off but we’d had a snow day earlier in the year so they held classes that day (most people didn’t come). He wore a polo shirt with the top two buttons undone and jeans. And told us a story about how he got himself and his whole class arrested once.

            It was the weirdest day ever.

            1. C Average

              We had a teacher like this, too. I found myself thinking of him when I read this column. He was a history and government teacher, and he was by far the best teacher I’ve ever had. Because he dressed so formally, and because it was pre-internet and he shared very little about himself, he was the subject of a great deal of curiosity and speculation. Every tidbit of gossip was examined carefully. He had played semi-pro hockey in Canada! He had worked for the railroad! He had a son who had converted to Mormonism! He was into woodworking! He drove a sports car! Everything about Mr. B. was so, so interesting to all of us.

              1. Emily, admin extraordinaire

                Ha! Mine taught history too (AP US) and honors English. He was infamous for being a very tough teacher, and he was, but he was also excellent (taught me everything I know about writing, and I can still identify dactylic trimiter at a glance). And the gossip thing was the same, too– He’d had his heart broken by someone named Rhonda (probably not true). He’d been a diver in high school and college (true) but had hit his head on the diving board and had to quit and now wouldn’t even talk about it (probably true). He once got so upset on a double date at his date and the other couple who couldn’t decide what they wanted to do that he pulled over and left all three of them on the side of the road (true, he confirmed it). And then of course there were the rumors about getting himself and his class arrested. Which he confirmed on that memorable day. I think we were the only class in several years he told the story to. It involved an alternative high school, a civics lesson on peaceful protest, a nuclear power plant, an ax handle, and a military policeman.

          2. Chinook

            “– except when he lost a bet with the IT guy. Then, he looked weird in business casual.”

            I still remember lovingly the reaction from the guys I worked with in an IT company the day I showed up for the office move in jeans and a t-shirt. One of them was so shocked that he actually loudly expressed disbelief across the hall that I owned jeans. I just rolled my eyes, laughed and pointed out that a skirt and heels aren’t conducive to moving boxes and let it go. I have always hoped that I don’t exude a ““better than the jeans-and-tshirt masses” attitude and that response confirmed it to me.

          3. CC

            I think it depends also on whether the person dressing up has chosen to do so despite knowing the norms of the office, or is completely oblivious.

            I once worked with a guy who came in his first week in a suit and tie each day. Not the norm for the engineering end of this particular office, but whatever, if that’s what he wants to wear. The rest of us engineers were wearing, at the *most* formal, slacks and a nice shirt. On his first Thursday, he asked me about “Casual Friday” and if we did such a thing there. I admit I stared at him blankly for a few seconds, because how do you have Casual Friday when the norm is to wear casual but reasonably business appropriate clothing any day of the week? (For unrelated reasons, he was let go at the end of his probation period, during which I don’t think I ever saw him wearing anything other than a suit and tie. But being spectacularly unobservant fed into those other reasons.)

      4. BRR

        I agree overdressing can be an issue but I think it depends on how over dressed. My office is one step more formal than jeans and a t shirt (jeans and a nice shirts?). I wear button downs and dress pants but I don’t think it’s a problem. someone in a suit and tie everyday would stick out though. But I already have tons of button downs, my dress clothes are more comfortable than my casual clothes, and it helps me feel more put together.

      5. Rusty Shackelford

        I don’t think she was described as “wildly out-dressing” the rest of the office. All we know is that she wears heels daily, and *once* wore a pantsuit, which I don’t think most people would consider to be extremely formal officewear. Since the LW doesn’t specify what the newbie is wearing other than heels and that one outfit, there’s no reason to assume she’s super dressy – for all we know, she’s wearing heels with nice jeans.

        1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

          Especially since the LW remarks that other women in the office wear heels. Honestly, it doesn’t sound like the woman is question is overdressed.

      6. AMT

        Maybe, but the items the LW described wouldn’t be wildly out-of-whack in most offices. It’s hard for dressy business casual to look weird even in a jeans-and-t-shirt type of environment. I think the LW was more worried about her own outfits in comparison to the newbie’s rather than the clothes’ effect on the newbie’s image.

      7. SarahKay

        It can just take time to adjust, too. I went from a very formal environment in LastCompany, to a position where jeans and t-shirt were common in CurrentCompany. I’d been at LastCompany for ten years; even seeing everyone around me in jeans and t-shirts it still took a few months before I could really believe that jeans were acceptable work wear *for me*. After my first week I did manage to scale down from business suit, to pretty blouse and smart skirt, but that step to jeans at work was really tough. And even when I got to the jeans stage, I’d have occasional days when I just felt like being smart and would bust out a suit for a day. Of course by then everyone knew me, and it was no big deal; they were comfortable gently teasing me abut the suit.

      8. neverjaunty

        The OP doesn’t say her coworker is out of step, and in fact says others dress up more than jeans and T-shirts as well.

      9. Leeloo

        Oh wtf, really? I have never understood this. If it’s really an office where people can wear whatever they want, why can’t she wear whatever she wants? I hate the tyranny to dress down as much as the tyranny to dress up.

      10. JoJo

        Or maybe she bought the nice clothes for her last job and doesn’t see the point of letting perfectly good clothes hang in the closet, unworn, until they go out of style.

    3. Christine

      3. New coworker dresses much more nicely than me
      I could have been your co-worker. I worked in a more conservative environment before moving to Florida. I was in shock at the way people dress. I was told by one of the managers that I was over dressing (not mine). It made me feel like crap when she told me that. I didn’t have funds to go out and buy a work casual wardrobe. I asked my manager, she was fine with the way I dressed. After a period of time I starting buying capris and wear them with nice tops, but I wore high heels. I still dressed nicer some of my co-workers that I had a more polished look, but I was the first person people would see when they came in. We would all be required to dress “normal work” clothes when clients visited. The person that made the complaint was extremely sloppy looking. Please do not say anything else to her, you will make her extremely uncomfortable. If her manager feels the need to say something, they will. Side note: I worked in a large building with a lot of other businesses … I saw a woman in front of me one day walking from the garage to the building, skin tight white skirt, no slip & no underwear. That image will stick in my head forever.

      If you feel the need to dress up, Lee jeans has a some slacks that are made out of denim that are great. I have a grey & brown pair that get a lot of use. If your clothes are clean & neat looking, not faded do not worry about it. Give it about 3 months and she’ll start dressing down as her wardrobe evolves around her new work environment.

      1. Fortitude Jones

        Give it about 3 months and she’ll start dressing down as her wardrobe evolves around her new work environment.

        Or maybe not. I moved from a business casual law firm that leaned more towards the business side of things, and when I came to my current company, which is business casual on the more casual end of things (with jeans only just recently allowed on Fridays and for free), my wardrobe got even more dressy. My build and stature is such that finding pants that fit are like finding a purple unicorn in a haystack, so I end up wearing dresses and skirts more often than not.

        1. NW Mossy

          +1. I wear dresses often for the same reason, and definitely come off a bit spiffier than is typical at my office. The irony is that I probably put substantially less effort into my appearance than most people, since I prefer jersey dresses that are no more trouble to don than a t-shirt.

          1. Little Missy

            Would you two be willing to share where you get your dresses and skirts from? I am looking to buy more dresses for my work wardrobe. Anything that’s easier to care for than pants (and might fit me better to boot) is worth a look for me right now. Thanks!

            1. Fortitude Jones

              I buy my dresses and skirts from the three M’s – ModCloth, Macys, and Marshalls (okay, and occasionally TJ Maxx when I can find one near me). ModCloth is tricky for taller women because their dresses tend to lean towards petite and/or junior sizes (I’m little, so their dresses work great for me and actually come down to my knees or a little past them in most cases), but Macys and Marshalls tend to have a variety of shapes and sizes in stores near me and online. The bulk of my sweater dresses come from Macys and TJ Maxx, my sweaters and dress shirts from Marshalls and Macys. Marshalls/TJ Maxx have great sales racks, and since I’m a Macys card holder, I get a lot of coupons and online deals from them that makes it worthwhile to buy stuff in bulk either right before winter or right before summer.

              1. AEM

                In addition to those above, I would recommend Ann Taylor Loft and Banana Republic for skirts and dresses. I find a lot of stuff there that’s machine washable. If you get on their mailing lists, they let you know about the good sales, too. (Never buy at full price!)

                I have also had some luck on Thredup, which is a secondhand store online. Their stuff is a good amount less than retail, and non-clearance things are returnable.

                1. my two cents

                  In addition to TJMaxx/Marshalls, I always walk away with some major scores from the clearance racks at Nordstrom Rack, like $4 cardigans and really smart tops and dresses for <$20.

                2. Jessie

                  I had never heard of Thredup! I may accidentally have just ordered a few things online from them right now. Thanks for that tip.

              2. shep

                Yes! I’m very small too, and ModCloth dresses work great for me. (I also just ordered a nice thick coat that I’m a little nervous about because, weirdly, many of the reviews are saying how the coat swallows them up if they have petite frames. We will see!)

            2. Rachel

              I wear jersey dresses to work every day (due to problems with pant-fitting, jeans are the only pants that ever work and even those are a struggle), and have had great success ordering through eshakti.com. Custom sizing and pockets, for about $50 per dress if you watch their sales! I’m also short, so being able to change lengths so everything doesn’t have to be hemmed is a major benefit.

              1. Emily, admin extraordinaire

                Guess what! Eshakti has started offering custom jeans! I’m dying to try them out.

                1. Rachel

                  I am super curious about them, but I’m currently full-up on jeans! I’m hoping the experiment goes well enough to keep them around until I need a new pair.

              2. Chinook

                Jinx. I honestly think AAM needs to approach them about advertising on her site. At the very least, she should get a free outfit out of the second hand referrals that site has gotten from her.

                And I forgot to mention the pockets. They are big enough to fit a wallet or cellphone in. I have been stopped by strangers who ask me about my dress because they see me take my wallet out of a pocket :). Plus I love being able to choose a neckline and sleeve length that is flattering on me rather than whatever the designers think are hot this season.

              3. DragoCucina

                Yes to eShakti! Real pockets. I get stopped and complimented on my dresses every time. The ability to order elbow length sleeves makes it a winner for me. I hate, despise, and loathe the little cap sleeves that are put on plus size tops. Why? Just tell me why. I have a couple of skirts and tops as well. Very comfortable and work appropriate.

                1. Whats In A Name

                  Holy motherload. Thank you all for this little website. I prefer dresses due to shape. You know, the super flat on top and huge tush. Pants make me look so cut off and really accentuate the booty.

            3. NW Mossy

              I swear by Nordstrom and their personal shopping service if you have trouble finding stuff that fits. It’s expensive, but they do free alterations as needed and if you’re selective, you’ll go home with stuff that you adore and will wear constantly because it fits you well.

            4. Sarianna

              I wear skirts every day to work, because I’m teapot-shaped. I’ve had great luck with Amazon, of all places. Skirts for less than $20–maybe not the best quality forever, but nice looking and easy, and if I manage to redecorate one with coffee, very much replaceable. The brand I’ve had good luck with is Stretch Is Comfort and they have several styles, many available in plus sizes.

            5. C Average

              I shop almost exclusively at the Goodwill but am very picky about brands and fabrics. It’s cheaper, and I enjoy the thrill of the hunt. Also, because the garments there have been worn and washed, I don’t have to worry about shrinking them in the wash.

              I’m always super excited when I find Eileen Fisher and White House/Black Market pieces. Those are my favorites. They tend to be easy care and short-and-curvy-body-friendly.

              1. Tea

                White House | Black Market is my go-to when it comes to buying dress pants and extra classy looking tops! They tend to have a lot of sales (especially online) and offer pretty good deals if you’re buying a whole bunch of stuff in one go.

              2. Candi

                One reason I like our neighborhood Goodwill is that some of the local stores donate clothing to them when it doesn’t sell off on clearance. $5-10 bucks for some very nice stuff.

            6. many bells down

              If you’re moderately busty or less, Uniqlo has Liberty London jersey dresses with built-in bras. They’re pretty much my favorites, but I’m 36D and I take a large so they don’t really work for the truly busty.

              1. C Average

                Must check this out! I love, love, love dresses with built-in bras. Athleta and Title 9 have really nice ones, too.

                1. NW Mossy

                  Title 9 is fantastic! I am a total magpie for bright colors and funky patterns, which they cater to very nicely. A lot of their stuff is also machine-washable, which is great if you’re like me and can’t ever seem to get to the drycleaner’s.

            7. Chinook

              Readers at this site pointed me to a custom clothing site called eshakti dot com that makes clothes to measure. I have yet to pay more than $70 for a dress or shirt (but I will admit to not having tried the custom pants yet) and most of my wardrobe now comes from them because you can enter both horizontal and vertical measurements. I also checked them out before buying the first time and, while they do their manufacturing in India, their factory is monitored, something which isn’t even guaranteed when I buy from a Canadian company like Joe Fresh.

              Besides being custom cut, the cloth is good quality and comes in different weight and types (I wore a dress yesterday made of flannel – so warm and cozy) and they have tons of style choices which are always changing.

            8. Sarah in Boston

              Another vote for eShakti here. I basically didn’t wear dresses until I found them (except for a few from ModCloth) because almost all their dresses/skirts HAVE POCKETS.

              Also if you want jersey knit and geek, Svaha has a new line of super comfy geeky dresses (also with pockets).

              1. DragoCucina

                Oh, that is bad. I don’t need these dresses, but I need these dresses. And I’m liberal arts nerd.

      2. anoncmntr

        This is so funny, because I moved down to Florida about two years ago and it shocks me how *nicely* everyone dresses here! I’ve spent most of my life on college campuses and in the midwest, so to me, everyday work wear is jeans, sneakers, and sweatshirts. Here everyone is in staggeringly high heels, full makeup, polished hair, tons and tons of jewelry, and fancy fabrics (I don’t think I’ve ever seen a woman in a knit, I swear).

    4. The Other Dawn

      It could also be that she’s very tall and is a plus size, and finds that pants and jeans don’t fit correctly and/or are uncomfortable. This was my dilemma for many years. I stuck with dress suits, skirt suits and dresses (nothing expensive), even though the office was more business casual, because I just couldn’t find business casual clothing that felt right, fit right, and looked right. Yes, I probably stuck out a bit, but what could I do at the time?

      (Now that I’ve lost weight, I still have a problem finding pants that fit and feel right. Our office recently switched to business casual and I had to scramble to find pants that I could and wanted to wear. Now that I’m older I find that I don’t want to wear dressy clothes anymore, so even though I had to scramble, it’s a bit of a relief.)

      1. HumbleOnion

        I’m average hight & weight and I still have a problem finding pants for me! Jeans are ok, but I don’t have any dress pants. Skirts & dresses are just a better fit for my body.

        1. MegaMoose, Esq

          I spent years trying to find a pair of black dress pants that fit comfortably. Finally I realized that not only was I wasting money, I also just don’t like pants! I do keep a pair of jeans around and wear those occasionally, but otherwise it’s skirts all the way.

          1. many bells down

            I’ve been leaning this way not because I dislike pants, but because I have a thick waist and no real hips to speak of, so my pants never stay up. I’m just getting tired of hiking my waistband back up all the time.

        2. Anon13

          Yep, I think this is a problem for many women! I’m on the shorter side of average, and kind of chubby, but not plus (size 8-10, so I guess average weight, too), and I have a lot of trouble finding pants that fit. One of my major problems is length – petites are too short; regular length pants are too long. Of course, I could have them hemmed, but, especially with jeans, that always seems to throw off the “look” of the leg. Skirts and dresses are just much easier.

      2. Manders

        I’m very short and have the same problem. For some reason, there’s a certain cut of dress pants that looks better off the rack than most jeans. And I wear a lot of skirts because they’re more forgiving of the unusually sized.

        Paired with the stretchy blazers I mentioned below, there are days when it might look like I’m wearing a suit to someone who’s not examining the fabric too closely, but I’m actually wearing a cheap, comfy outfit.

    5. Solidus Pilcrow

      She may have come from a more formal office and that is just what she has in her wardrobe for work.

      I was coming here to say just this. I went from an upper-end business casual-to-business professional office to a very casual workplace and didn’t really have enough casual clothes. I only had 2 pairs of jeans because that’s all I needed at my previous job for casual Fridays. Because I was also completing a cross-state move that took up all my weekends, it was 3 months before I could even go shopping.

      Even without the lack of wardrobe, I have a closet full of nice clothes, darn it! I want to wear them!

    6. That Would Be a Good Band Name

      I’d guess she just likes to dress nicer. Much like I could not work in an environment where they expected heels/suits daily, perhaps she can’t imagine wearing jeans/tshirts daily.

      Oddly – I work in a casual company (jeans/nicer tops, although some wear tshirts) and for some reason HR told me the dress code was supposed to be business casual. Jeans on Fridays only, etc. My former company was jeans-and-ratty-tshirt-level casual and so I bought a TON of new clothes and then discovered that only execs/HR did business casual. So I still dress up more than other people with my title because of all the dress pants I bought.

    7. Manders

      This was my assumption too. I work in a pretty formal office now and hope to switch to a less formal one in the future, and it’s definitely going to take a while to cycle all the old clothes out of my wardrobe.

      Plus, I really like the way blazers look, and it’s easy to find blazers made out of stretchy, comfortable fabric. I’ve seen a lot of people in marketing wearing blazers over t-shirts, so you can get pretty casual in a blazer.

      1. twenty points for the copier

        “it’s easy to find blazers made out of stretchy, comfortable fabric.”

        Where do you find these? I hate more formal blazers (I feel so constricted! and between the blazer and the tailoring it costs a fortune) but all my sweaters look sloppy and are falling apart. Mostly I work from home, but when I do need to go out and meet with people, it’s always a huge ordeal to figure out what to wear that doesn’t look terrible.

        1. Manders

          Ross and TJ Maxx are my usual sources for this type of blazer. I just checked the tag of the one I’m wearing now and the brand is Soho Apparel LTD, but I found it at Ross. Material is 69% polyester, 23% rayon, and 8% spandex. If you prefer natural fabrics you might be out of luck, I think this kind of fabric needs to be synthetic so it can stretch without wrinkling.

          My most comfortable blazers don’t have that silky inner lining–my blazers with an inner lining are less stretchy, because stretching would tear that thin fabric.

          1. Manders

            (Fair warning though, polyester can get kinda stinky near the pits. Keep that in mind if you’re going to be wearing your stretchy blazer all day.)

            1. twenty points for the copier

              thank you! there’s a TJ Maxx right near where I get my hair cut. I’ll check them out the next time I’m there for a trim.

              which also gives me a few weeks to get rid of all the falling apart/doesn’t fit/never liked it anyway stuff in my wardrobe and make some room.

        2. Annie Moose

          For sweaters, at least, I just bought some nice plain cardigans from Banana Republic. Catch them when they’re on sale and they’re very reasonably priced. (although, sweaters can be annoying to fit properly, on one person they look fantastic and on another they look terrible. So YMMV)

    8. Dust Bunny

      People just have different taste in clothes.

      I sew as a hobby and have a bunch of 1950’s dresses, which means I usually wear low heels, etc. My job is fairly casual–professional staff don’t usually wear jeans but support staff do a lot–and all of my coworkers, while they dress differently, are well within what is appropriate. Am I a little dressier than most of them? Yes. Do I feel like they should step it up? No. I have exactly zero interest in what they wear. Not my clothes, not my business.

      If the LW’s attire is acceptable in her field/position/office, then she shouldn’t worry about it.

      1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

        I sew too! I recently picked up the pencil skirt pattern from Patterns For Pirates and now have a ton of knit pencil skirts in a variety of colors and fabrics.

        Even on days where I could wear jeans, wearing a skirt custom fit to my proportion made out of a fabric I love always wins!

    9. Fancy Pants

      Absolutely. I have found myself in the same situation (new job in an office with a much less formal dress code.) Two things are at play:
      1) I don’t have the money to replace my entire wardrobe.
      2) No one seems to mind.
      It would be a little strange for me to show up in a suit but I’ve been sticking to separates and it’s working OK.
      I think that the LW should take a look at his/her own clothes to see if they feel inadequate, make a few purchases . . . and get on with life!

    10. Karanda Baywood

      I read this letter as the OP feeling that she might be looked at differently in contrast to someone who is new, thus getting a bit more attention perhaps, and who has a nice wardrobe that sets her apart from OP and coworkers.

      Maybe OP is wondering if she has gotten too relaxed with her choice of work clothes, is comparing herself to new coworker and feels insecure, wonders if it’s time to step it up a notch.

      OP, you might feel better about yourself — more confident in how others perceive you — if you start to weave in a couple nicer pieces with the clothes you already have. Maybe a pair of dark denims, cool booties or flats, and couple tops would be enough to give you that edge you think the new person has.

    11. Nic M

      I’ve also found that new hires often wear nicer clothes until they learn how casual the dress code is. Erring on the side of caution, I think.

    12. Mockingjay

      She may have come from a more formal office and that is just what she has in her wardrobe for work.

      Yes. New Job is far more casual than my last two jobs, but since I have already invested in work clothes, I will keep wearing them.

      Dressing professionally even on casual Fridays has paid off. I once arrived at work on a Friday to find my boss in a lather. Unexpected Distinguished Visitors had shown up and we had to throw together a brief and conduct a presentation with about 20 minutes notice. Because I was the only team member who didn’t look like a slob, I got to participate in the meeting and met some really important contacts.

  2. MK

    #5, I would also like to point out that sending a memo basically saying “be careful with these documents” isn’t actually a disciplinary action. And depending on the phrasing, any person whose job it is handle the documents might be justified in doing so.

    1. Beezus

      Agreed!

      I would think losing documents would be a big deal in HR, especially if the document was confidential or originals are required for legal reasons, or where not having the original copy weakens your case in a legal dispute. I’m not in HR, but from where I stand, document control feels like a core competency for your department. When someone raises valid concerns about your core competency skills, in ANY job, the best first reaction is one of concern and an abject desire to correct the problem. Questioning their standing to raise the issue, or thinking whether you can use your authority to block them in some way, is only going to raise more concerns in the long run and divert focus that should be centered on fixing the problem.

    2. Pudding

      In some places that is the same as being written up. I once had a few post it notes in a year complaining about my monitor tilt (supervisor was paranoid she couldn’t always see my screen), they were always in the tone of ‘please move your screen back and keep it there’. It was sometimes tilted because the cleaner left it like that.

      I got called into the office one day where SIGNED/DATED PHOTOCOPIES of these tiny post its were in my file. I was told that I had been written up 3 times for the same issue and was being goven my final warning.

      1. Joseph

        I wouldn’t generalize too much from your example, since that just sounds like a really weird supervisor. I can’t even imagine caring about someone’s screen tilt when it was adjusted by the cleaners.
        In fact, even if you *were* tilting your monitor deliberately, it’s still a ridiculous thing to get mad about, given that your computer screen should be most visible/useful to the person *using the computer* (i.e., you) not someone walking by (i.e., your supervisor).

        1. Persephone Mulberry

          I think that the point was that what Pudding took as a casual reminder was actually put in her personnel file as a writeup, similarly to how the “memo” from the office general manager has likely been copied to the HR person’s file.

      2. Eddie Turr

        That is insane. It would be insane even if you were intentionally moving your monitor to avoid her gaze. I hope you found a better position with less micro-managing!

      3. Callietwo

        That is absolutely insane.

        My monitor is set to the height & tilt that keeps me from having neck and shoulder pain- the monitor should be set to an ergonomically correct height & tilt for the person USING the damn thing, not the one walking by.

        I’d be fighting this with HR.

        1. hayling

          Right? Also depending on the lighting, sometimes you can’t see the monitor without glare unless it’s at juuust the right angle.

      4. That Would Be a Good Band Name

        Reminds me of my supervisor who would send our department an email in the middle of the night to tell us that we’d completely messed up (by following her directions) and if we did it again our jobs would be in jeopardy. And since she was “so nice” she wasn’t doing a *formal* write up. But we needed to print/sign and slide the emails under her door, because she wouldn’t be in that day. Anytime she sent one of those emails, she’d take the day off so she didn’t have to see us. I would have loved to have seen my employee file filled with emails that only half made sense.

        She was all kinds of crazy though.

      5. Moonsaults

        I could almost wrap my mind around it if they had those copies and said “this is your first formal written warning”, counting those copies as the verbal warning process but to issue you a final warning…the ef.

      6. mccoma

        If in the US, you might want to read over the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (osha.gov) rules on ergonomics. A manager writing someone up on monitor tilt is going to get into some hot water once the lawyers come around. Plus, this is just bizarre to begin with.

  3. C Average

    I’ve been the overdressed person just about everywhere I’ve ever been. It’s partly because I love interesting clothes and it’s partly because I have a challenging body to dress and find dresses or skirts more flattering and comfortable than pants. I just don’t like the way I look and feel in the stuff most people wear. I also like to sew and to shop for vintage clothes, so I tend to wear a lot of one-of-a-kind pieces. I guess you could say dressing myself is a bit of a hobby. I’m absolutely not trying to show anyone up! Your colleague may well have similar motivations.

    (For the first time ever, I work with other women who dress like I do. It’s really fun. I’m finally not the odd woman out, and I love talking fashion with my colleagues.)

    1. teclatrans

      I am not as crafty as you, but I can relate to dressing up because casual clothes don’t look so great on my body. I mean, there are some casual clothes that work (expensive ones, usually), but I definitely don’t wear a T-shirt and jeans to work (jeans get a dressier shirt or laid-back blazer, dress pants get a T-shirt but only with statement jewelry).

      1. Emma

        Not even joking, the only t-shirts I’ve yet found that fit me slightly better than a sack (or don’t try to highlight the wrong curves) are ones I picked up at the craft store for $3 a pop.

    2. insert witty name here

      You just described me! And it’s completely selfious. It’s not about showing anyone up, but feeling good about myself.

    3. Emlen

      My hourglass figure would look dumpy in the casual-ish clothes my more ruler-shaped coworker looks polished and put-together in, even though we’re the same height, weight, and both typically a size 4. It’s so much easier to end up looking frumpy when you’re curvy. Even a low-key fit-and-flare dress looks bizarrely costume-y because it cuts my curves up into chunks and the end result is “awkward teen in grown-up clothing”, despite me approaching 40 with increasing speed. The figure-flattering clothes I’ve found to wear on my own casual time don’t belong in my office, so I dress up to go to work.

      I’m not trying to show anyone up; I legitimately enjoy putting an outfit together, and I’m just horribly uncomfortable when I feel underdone or plain. I dressed nicely all through college, too – whenever I tried the sloppy sweats/PJs look, I found I was withdrawn in class and had trouble keeping my head in the game.

      1. Hellanon

        Yes, I feel like a pile of laundry when I’m in casual clothes at work. Jeans or slim ankle pants plus some variation on a t-shirt and statement jacket are my go-to uniform for work (and most socializing!) – I like feeling put-together, and I it makes it easier, I think, for people to focus on what I’m saying/doing.

    4. Tax Accountant

      Yeah, I’ve never been particularly comfortable in pants (though the occasional pair will work), but even less so since I had a c-section a couple years ago. Jeans are the worst. Pants just press on my stomach in an uncomfortable way unless the waistband hits me in just the right spot, so I wear almost entirely skirts and dresses, including on the weekend. Sometimes it does make me stand out. But, like you say, it’s about me and my physical comfort, its not about trying to show up my coworkers in any way.

      1. BeezLouise

        This! I wear a dress every day (sometimes with leggings and boots, depending on weather), because I never really looked good in pants, and after a c-section I’ve given up on them entirely.

        1. Marcela

          I am like you! I wear dresses all year round, in winter with leggings and boots! My reason is a laparotomy scar, vertical, long and thick. Most pants have the button right on top of the scar, so I can’t wear them for long.

    5. Allison

      Same here! I’m a ModCloth addict and I very rarely wear pants – except yoga pants, and sport pants for dance classes. This is because I have short legs and a bubble butt. I love my body but buying pants that fit is hell, and I’ve succumbed to the idea that I’ll need to buy some anyway and get them hemmed, but that means buying thrift or on sale; I, unlike you, cannot sew and until I have the time to learn and old clothes to practice on, I would feel more comfortable entrusting my pants to a professional. Skirts and dresses just make more sense, they feel better and I love the way they look and feel on me.

      And I wear heels sometimes, too. Flats are great, but shoes and pumps with a 1″ heel make me feel awesome, and I have burgundy heels I bought 3 years ago that may be a bit higher than I’d like, so I stopped wearing them after a bit, but now I refuse to let them sit in my closet going to waste. I’m gonna wear those beauties with pride!

      I’ll admit, I’ve gotten in trouble with my parents for overdressing on holidays, and sometimes I have to consciously tone down my outfits to make them appropriate, because I do know it’s rude to be significantly overdressed. Even if you’re not trying to show people up, people may feel that way.

      My office isn’t exactly a jeans-and-t-shirt environment, but most of my coworkers wear jeans. No one has ever complained that I’m overdressed. I’d like to think my boss would talk to me like an adult if there was a real concern about my wardrobe, but I really don’t want to wear jeans to work just because that’s what everyone else wears.

      OP, I hope you don’t resent this coworker for dressing nicely. She’s not trying to make you look bad, she’s not trying to steal your attention, she’s dressed the way she wants to dress. Deal with it.

    6. Mreasy

      My husband is a blazer-and-tie guy in a jeans-and-tee industry because fashion is his hobby (yes he looks great all the time and I love it yes), and because getting dressed in the morning gives him positive momentum for the day. I also love the feeling of wearing a nice/put together outfit, even though my industry has no dress code. That might just be her thing!

      1. MegaMoose, Esq

        I absolutely get your husband’s “momentum for the day” feeling. I’ve gradually become more aggressive about my somewhat quirky style (I call it the “Hobbit Lawyer” look) and feeling like I’ve put together a good look for the day is kind of like putting on armor. Everything might go wrong, but I feel good about how I look and that’s something, dang it! It’s also a big deal for me because when my evil brain gets fired up, personal hygiene is one of the first things to try and slip, so I really try and keep away from that.

          1. MegaMoose, Esq

            Oh man, I am with you there, too. I recently hit on a style I’m happy with for my current length (which is much shorter than I’d like due to constant job interviewing) and it’s such a great feeling! I’d basically been feeling like I was having a bad hair day for two years.

    7. Lady Blerd

      I wear a uniform so when I’m allowed to wear civilian clothes, I dress like what I think a junior manager in a business office should dress like, often outdressing my higher ups who lean all the way into the casual side (although I’ve seen some who dress like car salesmen but that’s neither here nor there). I’ve taken it down a notch several times because I felt like I looked like the HBIC.

      I really need to get back into sewing.

    8. TC

      I am absolutely the same and love the phrase “dressing myself is a hobby”. I feel better and feel like I work better too.

      (I mean, if I’m working from home in a hoodie and pyjamas, I get significantly less work done!)

    9. Alejandra

      Likewise. Clothing and fashion are how I express my individuality and moods and I don’t like to show up at the office looking anything other than polished. I admit to being a fashionista, but erring more toward quality and elegance. For me, it is just a basic tenet of professionalism. I am relatively junior in my company but my sartorial choices are not meant to ‘show up’ anyone else. It is a bit challenging because I work in a place and creative industry where the pay is not great comparatively speaking. I’ve always had the sense that my managers appreciated me looking professional and understanding how to gauge what to wear for different workplace functions. HOWEVER! I’ve definitely been given the side eye if I keep my Doc Martens on for a little too long in the office (instead of immediately changing into flats or heels when the weather is inclement and I wear them in).

      What I wear gives me confidence. It’s about me, what makes me feel good, and not anyone else. I almost feel that if someone had an issue with my clothing–which is perfectly respectable and appropriate imho–it is more about them and their, perhaps limited, expectations about me. It’s not anyone’s business what I spend on my clothing, though people do wonder and insinuate–not that you have to pay a fortune for quality (though sometimes I choose to, and that’s my decision being a perfectly good manager of my finances).

      So, one can’t really win.

    10. Ari E-B

      I’m like you. I usually dress nicer than the dress code calls for. (and since I work in IT, the dress code is often pretty lax). I know it might make me look a little ‘uppity’ to some people, but there are two reasons I do it:
      1 – I just plain enjoy it. I like wearing nice shirts and pants. I appreciate the sense of formality I gain when wearing more formal clothes.
      2 – I love cufflinks.

      Try not to judge people based on the clothes they wear. She’s wearing what she’s comfortable with.

  4. SAT

    OP#1 I feel your pain! When I was in grad school I wrote a piece for our annual follies production. It was accepted by the board and out of my hands as I was busy with another sketch I wrote. But the first one was a show stopping song parody used to close the first act, and I was pretty proud of it. During the dress rehearsal I saw a copy of the show program and the show’s director had put her name down as a co-writer of that piece! Because she had edited a few of the lyrics – very minor stuff and not consulted me about it – did she really deserve that kind of credit? I guess the moral is to be very careful who you send your work to, whether it’s deliberate or not, it can so easily be attributed to someone else.

    1. Jadelyn

      Always send your work to multiple people – that way there’s a witness. It seems to me like even the presence of someone on a CC line reins in the urge to just sneak off with the content and claim it for one’s own, because at least one other person has already seen where it really came from.

      1. Stranger than fiction

        Yes, absolutely. This has happened to my BF several times in the past so now he always always copies other managers, even when he posts it on his company intranet (and one manager was dumb enough to still try it and boy did he look like an ass)

  5. Fortitude Jones

    #3 – your coworker’s clothing has nothing to do with you. The formality of her appearance should not make you feel any kind of way – she’s not after all dressing at you. In fact, she may feel more comfortable and confident in herself wearing heels and dressier pieces to work (I know I do). And I’d argue that her comfort level when it comes to her wardrobe trumps yours.

    Don’t focus on this coworker’s clothes, OP. If you’re working for a company that would promote someone just because they were dressed well, well 1) I need to work there and 2) you have much bigger problems than whether or not to wear heels to the office. If that’s truly a possibility, you should probably start looking for a new job at a company not run by crazy people because it would be utterly ridiculous to promote someone for that alone.

    #5 – Alison’s right – in a well-run company, HR does not run anything. My current company’s HR department is considered something of a joke actually, they get so many things wrong. I worked at a law firm, however, that was completely dysfunctional in every way, and the HR department really did run the show. The partners gave the HR director entirely too much leeway to do whatever she wanted, there was very little oversight, and they took over everything relating to the staffing and firing of the operations employees. It was terrible. Managers had no say in who worked for them, who got let go (unless the manager sucked up to the HR director to get her to fire whoever said manager didn’t like), internal transfers, nothing. It was so bizarre. It wasn’t until I left and began working at my new company and then interviewing with other companies that I realized Evil Law Firm was an anomaly in my area.

    1. Eleanor

      I contracted for a similar place (not a law firm, a non-profit). Management had a hard time getting and retaining good people because HR was in charge of hiring.

    2. Karen from Finance

      +100 to your points about OP 3. Maybe the way the coworker dresses makes her feel more confident/comfortable. It has nothing to do with you or your work. Let your work speak for itself.

    3. MissGirl

      I was at a conference once where a beautiful woman sat down next to me with the perfect hair and dressed to the nines. While I’m no slouch, I felt immediately insecure. Then a voice in my head said, “Do you want to spend the time it would take to look like that?” And I thought, no, I don’t. I’ll do my hair but I have finite patience on how long I’ll spend on it. I’ll do makeup but that has to be under 10 minutes. I’ll wear heels but only for a short time because they make my feet and back hurt and I hate walking slow.

      When I realized how I looked was an accurate reflection of me and I like me, all those insecurities went out the window. I also could appreciate this woman and her beauty because that was an accurate reflection of her. If this woman wants to dress up, more power to her. Appreciate her effort. If you don’t, don’t feel pressured. Don’t try to change her and don’t let your insecurity try to change you.

      1. Lily Rowan

        When I realized how I looked was an accurate reflection of me and I like me, all those insecurities went out the window. I also could appreciate this woman and her beauty because that was an accurate reflection of her.

        That’s a really great way to think about it.

      2. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

        Appreciate her effort. If you don’t, don’t feel pressured. Don’t try to change her and don’t let your insecurity try to change you.

        Love this!

  6. The Devil Doesn't Wear Prada

    #3 I felt a bit like this as I have a coworker who does my job, started soon after me and – unlike me – dresses super nicely and wears heels. I felt a bit inadequate. Then I thought, well, I could dress like that if I wanted. Why don’t I? Because I don’t want or need to. So why am I taking her dress sense as a personal reflection on me?

    And if your workplace is casual and your work is good I highly doubt this will affect your chances of promotion. You do you!

    #5 It sounds like you might find it helpful to look out an organisational charty mcthingummy (the ones that look like family trees but with work teams) that shows seniority and reporting lines.

    HR aren’t the school teachers with everyone else being the students, contrary to what a lot of people think. You have a function, just like finance or IT or marketing. Your department head should be on an equal footing with other department heads.

    1. hermit crab

      “I felt a bit inadequate. Then I thought, well, I could dress like that if I wanted. Why don’t I? Because I don’t want or need to. And if your workplace is casual and your work is good I highly doubt this will affect your chances of promotion. You do you!”

      I work in a fairly casual office and go through this EXACT same thought process every time I get a new coworker! I have to keep reminding myself that, as a long-term, successful employee at the company, I know what I’m doing and people won’t suddenly think less of me because my new cube neighbor, say, wears makeup and jewelry and I don’t.

  7. Greg M.

    I kind of assumed HR was like a doctor in star trek. They follow orders of those of a higher rank but have the authority to make them report to sickbay when necessary.

    1. Susan C.

      I like that! Aligns with my experience that outside of annual check-ups, you really only see them when something’s wrong.

      1. Jadelyn

        I’m using this next time my VP asks for something ridiculous that I can technically do – like graphic design or IT. Dammit, David, I’m an HR person, not a graphic designer!

        (Seriously though this is an excellent metaphor and I love it to bits!)

      1. Retail HR Guy

        Seconded. Very accurate. Also I’m totally going to steal the analogy and pretend I came up with it.

  8. Emma

    OP3 – You say, “When someone with the same job title as me (who I’m also training) dresses more nicely than me, it makes me feel a little uncomfortable and creates a lot of pressure for me to dress more formally.”

    But does it really create that pressure, or is that a personal feeling on your part? If everyone else in the company, even your bosses, dress like you do, why does it make you uncomfortable that this new hire doesn’t?

    But if you do think being polished matters, or you are feeling like your attire is somehow inadequate, you can fix that. If it’s not actually a problem or out of step with your company culture, you don’t have to – but you can.

    Some people just like certain styles of clothes. It sounds like you really prefer the casual clothes, but aren’t entirely secure in that choice. And for what it’s worth – a lot of this is in the eye of the beholder. I’ve been accused of being “too dressy” simply because I can’t ever find jeans that fit, and so wear dark pants or skirts instead, or because I dislike wearing T-shirts to work. (T-shirts are for getting paint splatters and grubby nephew prints on!) I don’t feel like I dress remotely fancy at all – I mean, I wear this stuff running errands too – but some people who prefer jeans and T-shirts think I do.

    I know there are arguments that dressing too nicely is as much a problem as dressing too casual, but honestly, I think that dressing too casual (for the particular workplace, obviously) is the greater sin – especially when we’re talking women’s fashion, which is often so much more nebulous than men’s. I can ask ten people if a particular shirt is business casual and get ten different answers; I can ask ten people if my skirt is appropriate and get ten different responses, five of them harsh.

    If you really do feel it’s a problem, either talk to her more directly or address it on your end. But if you talk to her, be open to what she says, too, and realize you can’t really force her to stop wearing clothes she likes. It’d be different if she was wearing something really inappropriate or dangerous – then I’d say go to your boss if talking to her didn’t stop it. But this really is just a harmless style difference.

    Though you do mention that other women wear heels, just not those your age. So the way this new hire is dressing is office-appropriate, just not the only way to dress. You don’t have to stick exclusively to your age cohort or look only to them for cultural norms. (I’d actually be pretty pissed if I was told that I couldn’t wear office-appropriate clothes that other people in the company wore just because I was a different age.) I do wonder, though, if there are other cues those older women are giving that are making you uncomfortable – not that following their lead is necessarily right, but that might be part of your discomfort.

    But if your casual clothes, that the execs also wear, is the only thing you’re worrying about, you’re probably fine.

    1. Lexicat

      It sounds to me like this is a case of the OP putting pressure on herself – and a bit like she’s trying to put some pressure on her new coworker to dress down.

      OP, as someone above said, your coworker isn’t dressing at you. Keep dressing the way you like, and leave her to dress the way she likes. If your workplace is casual to the point where the execs wear jeans and tshirts it won’t reflect on you, but trying police your coworker’s clothing might.

    2. Fortitude Jones

      But if you talk to her, be open to what she says, too, and realize you can’t really force her to stop wearing clothes she likes.

      As a peer on the same level, it’s not OP’s place to talk to the coworker about the way she dresses outside of saying, “You look nice” or asking where she shops if OP is interested. If one of my coworkers tried to talk to me about how my looking nice at work made her feel uncomfortable or even had the hint of a suggestion that I change so she’d feel better about herself, that conversation wouldn’t end well for her. My job is not to manage anyone’s feelings of inadequacy about the way they look.

      Seriously, OP, this is a live and let live situation.

      1. Emma

        The more I think about it, that’s pretty much where I come down, too, especially when I consider the point that other women apparently do dress like the newcomer, so it’s not actually a 100% casual workplace. I think what I was trying to get at was that if the newbie was way off and it was causing issues, maybe it was worth bringing up, but – yeah, that might be a misstep, especially from a peer.

        1. neverjaunty

          It is absolutely a misstep. The only issue here is OP’s internal reaction – that isn’t something she should share.

      2. Allison

        Please only compliment someone if you mean it though! Don’t use “you like nice” as code for “you’re overdressed” or “your clothing isn’t appropriate for work” or “I resent the way you upstage me every day.” Say what you mean or don’t say anything at all.

        1. Fortitude Jones

          Yes! I’ve gotten some clearly passive-aggressive “compliments” in the past about how I was dressed, but I cared nothing about it. I just smiled and moved on with my day. I don’t engage in pettiness in the workplace.

      3. TootsNYC

        Yeah, I really think the OP should not be mentioning anything to the coworker about her clothes. The coworker is quite likely able to figure out whether she can or wants to dress more casually.

      4. RKB

        Seriously. When the letter mentions she brought up how weird it was for a former intern to overdress, I cringed. You do not get to dictate what people wear!

    1. Emma

      I do think, though, that it’s easier to draw that kind of line with men’s clothes. Not that there aren’t still blurry areas, but it can be hard to determine where on a scale of casual-formal a lot of women’s clothing fits. (Especially, apparently, with tops. I’ve sat through a fair few arguments about whether tops with buttons are dressy or casual.) And pinning down the borders of casual can actually be pretty hard – do I have to wear jeans? If I don’t like/can’t wear jeans, are dark pants too formal? Does it have to be a t-shirt? Do I have to wear sneakers, or can I wear my flats? Can I toss on some jewelry or no? What about my makeup and hair – I like to wear mine pinned in a bun. Is that too formal/stuffy?

      I think you have to give a bit of leeway for personal comfort. Maybe going the full suit and tie is too much, but part of what gives me pause with OP3’s letter is that she says other women at work do wear heels, so while it’s a casual environment in some respects, it doesn’t sound, to me, like the new hire is way out of bounds.

      1. AMT

        Plus, the LW mentions that she’s the only one their *age* who wears heels. Not “rank” or “department,” but age. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with not dressing in step with your age group if you’re within the office norms in general.

        1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

          +1

          Also, I’m a big fan of “dress for the job you want.” If I were the OP’s coworker, I would be looking for cues from the women a level or two above me, rather than my peers.

      2. Manders

        This is something I have a problem with too. I think “formal” used to mean “expensive,” and it still kinda does for most men, but with women’s clothing price doesn’t really correspond to formality. I could find a conservative-looking professional outfit for less than $20, or I could spend hundreds on jeans and a t-shirt.

        And of course, it’s *so* dependent on location and company culture.

    2. Colette

      I agree that dressing more formally in an environment where everyone dresses casually is a problem – but not one for a coworker who dresses in line with the business norms to solve.

    3. Project Manager

      I read that post recently and was astonished by your response and the comments. It had literally never occurred to me that anyone would even notice, much less care about, what a coworker wears within the dress code. This is because I’ve always worked in the same place, where women wear everything from ill-fitting jeans and ratty old t-shirts (and the person I am thinking of manages a significant lab and has lots of customer interaction in those clothes) to dresses/skirts/suits (that would be me), and it makes no difference to anyone. So seeing that different perspective really made me grateful for my job! I would be sad if I had to stop wearing my cute dresses and awesome patterned tights (and, frankly, pretty mad if the reason was that a coworker couldn’t manage her own feelings about them).

      1. Jesmlet

        No one will make you stop wearing the clothes you want to wear, but just be cognizant of the fact that people will notice if you’re dressed significantly more formally than your coworkers on the same level as you. This is particularly significant if you’re just starting at a company and you’re overdressing every day. They’re most likely going to think either you can’t pick up on cues from others or that you’re intentionally trying to stand out. If it works for you now, there’s no reason to change it but I would keep that in mind if you move into another company where everyone is casual all the time.

      2. fposte

        Research pockets have their own norms (I knew a physicist who said that nobody would interview in anything other than a t-shirt and jeans). But what Alison is saying isn’t that the co-worker’s feelings about your clothes would matter–it’s that if your clothes consistently say “I do not notice or care about the norms of this workplace,” that’s not a message that helps you, whether your deviation is wearing three-piece suits to your physics interview or pajamas to the courtroom.

        1. Rusty Shackelford

          But, again, we don’t have any evidence that the newbie is ignoring workplace norms. We don’t know how how much “nicer” she is dressing than everybody else. All we’ve been told is that she wears heels daily (which we are told is not abnormal for the LW’s office) and that once she wore a pants suit. Neither of those is on the three-piece-suit or pajamas level of out-of-whackness.

          1. fposte

            I think this subthread is more about Alison’s mention of the earlier blog post at the top of the subthread, where she makes the point that being dressier can in some circumstances be a problem. I agree that this doesn’t seem to be that circumstance–we’re just talking about the fact that that circumstance can exist.

        2. neverjaunty

          Exactly. Clothes are a signal. In a company with a rigid dress code (tech companies are some of the worst about this), deviating from the dress code is seen as a signal that you don’t or can’t fit in with company culture.

        3. Tau

          I’ve gone from STEM academia to tech, and to me it’s so obvious that wearing too formal clothes can get you significant blowback and have negative repercussions on your career that the comments on this post have been a little bewildering. In some ways, that actually goes especially for women – it’s been my experience that there are specific forms of outsider/interloper/dismissal that women can get hit with in those environments if they’re perceived to be dressed too fancy or spend too much time on their appearance. Which is unfair, but pretending it doesn’t happen won’t help anyone.

      3. Trig

        >So seeing that different perspective really made me grateful for my job!

        And that’s why I read AAM, to be very grateful for my great job, manager, and colleagues.

    4. Natalie

      There’s a definite difference between a workplace where everyone dresses to a specific standard (regardless of how formal that standard is) and a workplace with no standard, though. I used to work in the former type of workplace, which had a business-casual-with-jeans standard that everyone followed unless they had a specific meeting or event that required otherwise. I once came into work in a suit because of a business trip (only staying one night so a suit required less packing) and everyone noticed.

      I’m now in a workplace with no dress culture, and it’s odd. My boss wears Silicon Valley formal (button shirts, chinos-ish pants, semi-formal shoes), by other boss wears Midwestern engineer business casual (tucked in button shirt, khakis, three different colors of pens in his shirt pocket), one guy here clearly loves vintage suits and often wears those. Unless I showed up in a ballgown, anything I wore here would fly.

    5. Observer

      Two thoughts on that.

      In this case, this doesn’t seem to be the issue. The OP does write that the new colleague dresses similarly to many of the “older” women in the office. That’s not over-dressing. That’s dressing for the position you want, in a sense. Not the official office hierarchy, but probably the sense of being taken seriously vs being seen as “one of the kids”.

      Also, in case where someone really is significantly out of sync with office norms, that’s for the person and her (or his) supervisor / manager to deal with. It’s totally not the place of a peer. *Especially* when it’s not about “you’re out of sync with the office culture and it might be a good idea to get with the program” but “I think you are showing me up.” The OP doesn’t quite say that, but that’s pretty much what it comes down to.

  9. Marzipan

    #2, congratulations! What lovely news. I think you’re overthinking this a bit, though. The project can be planned around, the company will manage. You will miss some things, yes, but for an awesome reason.

    I’d resist the temptation, if you’re feeling it, to talk/apologise to your boss/the ED about the timing being ‘not great’. The timing is not something you get to do anything about now; nor, really, did you have any meaningful control over it in the first place.

    I wonder if maybe your key concern here is that the ED is going to ‘say something unintentionally hurtful and inappropriate’, which I take it is something she has a history of doing. If that’s the case, well, maybe she will – but this is apparently a person you have a good relationship with generally, and it sounds like you don’t perceive anything she’d say as being deliberately hurtful or unpleasant so… does it need to be a big worry? Do you have the kind of relationship with her where you could call out a hurtful or inappropriate comment? (A deadpan ‘wow’ followed by an endless pause can go a long way, per Captain Awkward.) Or when you say ‘come up with a plan to tell the ED’, are you basically saying that you don’t want to be there for the initial reaction? It seems to me like it would be a normal enough thing to just tell your boss and expect that they’ll let people up the management chain know what they need to know?

    1. New Bee

      Agreed about not apologizing! Speaking as someone a week away from her due date, so many things can/will happen over the next ~30 weeks that you can’t control. One of my coworkers is also pregnant, and her manager has basically taken her apologies about the timing and run with them (going against our org’s policies on leave, modified duties, etc.). It’s certainly not her fault, but the way he’s acting as if shes being pregnant “at” him is wildly inappropriate.

      Congratulations and good luck!

      1. Artemesia

        Such a good point. Apologies are a way women put themselves in a position to be treated badly. If you take ‘blame’ people will be happy to take you at your word.

    2. Bluebell

      Op 2 – congrats! A capital campaign that lasts only a few months would be really unusual! I’ve worked on several and had staff who had maternity leaves in the middle. The best staffers are the ones who have shown me that they are thinking of the timeline and how development can still achieve its goals. Definitely don’t apologize, and good luck with the pregnancy and the campaign.

    3. Joseph

      “I’d resist the temptation, if you’re feeling it, to talk/apologise to your boss/the ED about the timing being ‘not great’. ”
      Yes. Don’t apologize for the timing.
      Here’s the thing with timing: If your employer is succeeding and properly staffed, there’s never great timing for an employee to be unavailable. There will always be something important happening or coming up soon.
      Sometimes employees get pregnant, sometimes employees resign, sometimes employees get sick, sometimes employees take vacation. Dealing with all of that in a way that minimizes timing is just part of being a manager.

  10. Mabel

    Like some people upthread, I am usually overdressed, but I’m used to it, and I’m fine with it. I wear what I like to wear, and I’m just more comfortable in dresses than in jeans at work.

    1. Jenny

      I am the same way. I like to have a work “Uniform” and it makes me feel more grown-up and official if I am dressed up. It’s like a grown-up costume. Also, I am very short so I wear heels all the time so I’m not too much shorter than all of the men I have to speak to.

  11. J

    If your workplace is casual and everything is wearing casual, you shouldn’t even worry about anything. Wear whatever you like OP#3! Unless your company requires formal because you have to see clients lol.
    My workplace is very casual and my boss wear sandals sometimes. I wear sneakers and some workers wear heels.

    1. Emma

      God, sandals freak me out. I don’t even know why. It’s not the seeing bare toes aspect, since I don’t mind folks being completely barefoot.

      1. hermit crab

        I have the same weird hangup! I recognize that it’s pretty bizarre. I never police other people’s footwear choices, but I personally refuse to ever wear open-toed shoes. I’d much rather go barefoot!

        1. MegaMoose, Esq

          Thirded! It’s always fun to find other people who share your weird hangups. Generally speaking, I do not acknowledge any middle ground between “boot” and “barefoot.”

      2. JB (not in Houston)

        I’m ok with some sandals, but I have a problem with sandals that have very little to them. I think it’s because in my mind, shoes should offer some protection for your feet (from the elements, clumsy people who might drop a knife in the break room, roving packs of toe-biting dogs), but skimpy sandals don’t do that. So they distract me with constant thoughts of “what if you spill your tea!” in a way that barefoot wouldn’t. It doesn’t make any sense, but there it is.

        Also, when they don’t have shoes on, I expect to see their toes. When they have shoes on, I don’t. This doesn’t make a lot of sense, but to me, if I see someone with sandals on–especially men since women wear nice sandals to my office in the summer, but men don’t–I just keep being surprised by seeing their toes. I shouldn’t feel that way, but I do!

          1. JB (not in Houston)

            I don’t have a problem with that! I mean, aside from how it looks. :)

            Yeah, it’s just the uncovered yes not barefoot thing that is distracting for me. It doesn’t make any sense.

  12. Collarbone High

    #3: I’m the overdressed person in my office, but here’s my secret: I cannot get the hang of casual dress. I have two speeds: dressed to the nines, or yoga pants and hoodie. There’s nothing in between. I think I look frumpy in a lot of business casual stuff, and because I’m short and thin, a lot of the non-business clothes in my size are juniors clothes that are in no way office-appropriate. Pretty much the only things that fit me well are brands with dedicated petite lines, so most of my wardrobe is Banana Republic/Ann Taylor/WHBM and by default that means I usually look fairly dressy. I’m not trying to show up anybody else, that’s just all I have.

    Two other points:

    * Heels can be a vicious circle, because if she bought/hemmed all her pants to be worn with heels for a previous job, now she can only wear them with heels.

    * I mentioned this elsewhere, but she’s probably sunk quite a bit of money into her work wardrobe and doesn’t want it to go to waste.

    1. Alter_ego

      I’m short and fat, and I feel this so hard. Pants are uncomfortable and look terrible on me, so I exclusively wear skirts and dresses, which already puts me in the more formal category. Khakis and a polo or button-down, which is what 95% of my coworkers wear on a daily basis, is absolutely not a look I can pull off. So it’s yoga pants when I’m chilling around the house, and dresses at literally every other time.

      1. the gold digger

        Khakis and a polo are what the devil would give me to wear if I arrived in hell.

        Then he would put me in front of a three-way mirror so I could look at my khaki-clad butt for all of eternity.

        Note to self: Try not to go to hell.

        1. Case of the Mondays

          My first two jobs had khakis/polos as my uniform. It was dreadful. At the second job, we couldn’t even buy our own. We had them issued. The women’s khakis were high rise with pleats. Luckily, we were allowed to be issued men’s khakis instead.

          1. Jessie

            Oh my lord, I would look like a hobbit in that outfit. I think I’d have to quit if I were made to wear that. I can imagine nothing less flattering for me to wear. :-/

        2. The Other Dawn

          LOL. The devil would give me boot cut jeans and a button-down shirt that must be tucked in, and a belt. UGH. I hate all those items and they just don’t look right on me. At all. And I despise tucked-in shirts.

          1. N.J.

            Another vote against tucking in. I went to a Catholic school and we were required to tuck every kind of short in. I hate belts too, for the same reason.

            1. Emma

              Tucking in – I feel that so hard. Like, you’re not only demarcating my equator, you’re making me seem larger ’cause of all the tucked-away fabric. Especially with thicker shirts like polos. Also, somehow, the shirts that need to be tucked in always seem to hit me mid-thigh, so there’s a LOT to tuck.

          2. Mona Lisa

            Annnnd you’ve just shown how everyone’s taste is different! You’ve described some of my typical casual wear right there.

        3. neverjaunty

          Yes! And it would be those cheap polyester khakis that always feel like they’re made out of a shower curtain.

        4. Kelly L.

          Ha, same here. And yes, the devil would make me tuck in the polo. And I would look like a polyester-draped refrigerator for all eternity.

      2. NW Mossy

        While I’ve been able to find a couple of styles of pants that I like and that flatter, I’m 100% on board with throwing the khakis-and-a-polo outfit straight on the pyre. Every once in a while I try such an outfit on in this store thinking that this will be the time it looks more summer-in-the-Hamptons than slept-in-my-clothes-at-a-Hampton-inn, but alas, it never is.

        1. C Average

          Hahahaha, YES.

          I was in a sorority in college in the very early ’90s, and our first-day-of-rush-week uniform was khakis with a white polo (and it had to be a Polo polo, not a knockoff) tucked in with a brown belt. And white socks and penny loafers. (I was a rebel and put pesetas in mine.)

          We were all conventionally attractive women, but that outfit really separated the sheep from the goats. Some of us looked like a Ralph Lauren ad. Some of us (raises hand) looked like the maintenance staff at Target.

          That outfit will absolutely, positively be the uniform in hell. I assume the khakis will be equipped with a hole for the tail.

      3. Formica Dinette

        Same here (though tall and fat). The dress code at my workplace is “business casual.” In reality, that means on any given day you’ll everything from jeans/yoga pants, t-shirt and sneakers on the casual end to pricey suit separates on the business end. I love it because it means we all get to wear what we feel good in. Except the nudists, I suppose.

    2. Rusty Shackelford

      * Heels can be a vicious circle, because if she bought/hemmed all her pants to be worn with heels for a previous job, now she can only wear them with heels.

      Also, flats can actually be uncomfortable, especially when you’re used to wearing heels. I don’t wear what most people would call “heels” very often, but I am physically most comfortable with a little bit of heel (small wedge or whatever), and even my casual shoes tend to have them.

      1. Fortitude Jones

        Also, flats can actually be uncomfortable, especially when you’re used to wearing heels.

        Or when you have really flat feet already. Some of the soles on my flats are so thin, and my feet so flat, that I can actually feel them slapping on the asphalt when I’m walking down the street. That’s not a good feeling.

        1. Solidus Pilcrow

          Fellow flat-footed person here! You are so right, most flats don’t provide any kind of support and they make my feet so not very happy.

          One thing I do like about my new casual office is that I get to wear supportive athletic shoes.

          1. MsChandandlerBong

            They’re not good for your feet, either, according to my podiatrist. He said if I can’t wear sneakers, he’d rather see me in low heels than flats.

        2. Joan Callamezzo

          I have the opposite problem–really high arches–and I can’t wear flats because they absolutely murder my feet. Virtually all my shoes have heels between 1 – 1/2 to 3 inches for maximum comfort.

          I know a lot of people equate heels with dressiness, but they’re not always worn purely as a fashion statement.

        3. LBK

          Yes – I love flip flops but I can only wear them for a few hours at a time because I have flat feet and they hurt like hell if I walk around without arch support for too long. Have to stick to sneakers most of the time even in the summer.

      2. neverjaunty

        I feel your pain, but in the other direction – I can wear flats or high heels, but not the stuff in between. 1-2″ heels drive me up a wall. I don’t know how to walk in them, they’re a terrible hybrid. So if I’m not wearing flats my co-workers admire my “dressy” shoes.

        1. Fortitude Jones

          See, I love kitten heels. I love sky high stilettos too, but those things are starting to kill my shins. Kitten heels give me a little bump in height, keep my feet from slapping on the ground, and make my calves look great. And I’m not teetering around like I’m walking on stilts, so even better. But flats, oh flats – I love you, but you kill me.

    3. Callietwo

      Fellow overdressed worker here! I work in a state office building and you’ll see everything from formal business dress attire to yoga pants and hoodies and all variations within. And sometimes, you’ll see both on the same person within a week but for the most part people dress in jeans, t-shirts/casual shirts/blouses, flip flops (yuck) or sturdy shoes.

      But, I too, am shaped oddly after losing over 100 lbs and pants just look like shit on me, and I LOVE pretty dresses! I get compliments almost every day from someone that I always look nice/ put together. But looking put together is part of my role as I advice people on job searching, and interviewing and yes, how to dress for work so I need to set a good example. ( *today in the elevator, a woman who is shaped similarly as me said if I ever had a clothing sale, to let her know, she wants my wardrobe as I always look “just right”. )

      If I could, I’d be even dressier but I try to stay within that middle ground of pretty dress, nice sweater, jacket, or blazer (but very casual, soft types not structured) and then either heels or structured flats (ones that don’t leave me feeling like I’m slapping the pavement!) . I’ll go bare legged in the warmer months and then tights/hose in the fall/winter seasons simply because it is so cold where I live. If I were somewhere warm, I’d be bare legged all the time. (Instant tanning is my friend)

      If I had someone come to me and tell me that my dressing the way I do made them feel inferior or lacking in some fashion, it might give me pause but wouldn’t change anything as this is me, this is who I am what makes me comfortable. That said, when someone came to my office and told me my odor made her want to vomit, I stopped showering with that shower gel. But then she’s proved herself to be a bully towards me since I arrived here so I care a bit less than I did when that first happened.

  13. teclatrans

    So, I have a possible alternative scenario for #3. You say other women wear heels, but New Coworker is your age and, presumably, her wearing heels is making you feel uncertain about your choices. So, here is my question: are there plenty of other women (regardless of age) who dress super casual?

    I used to be in academia, and my female colleagues and I would spend time people-watching at conferences. Not one woman wore jeans, but man after man did. (Well, one woman did, along with sexy tips, which always left me feeling conflicted.) Women couldn’t afford to wear jeans — to be equals, they had to be generally better dressed.

    This may all be irrelevant to you. I really hope you are in a place where casual dress is truly welcomed; if so, don’t worry about comparing yourself on age brackets and salary bands to guide how you should dress. But if you are the only or one of the only women who dresses casually, you may have to worry about optics, effed up as that may be

    1. Emma

      OP said “she’s the only one our age who [wears heels],” which at least implies there are other women who don’t. But I was admittedly wondering something similar – if the newcomer was really as out of step as the OP thinks. Is she out of step with women in the office or out of step with a particular subset of women?

      I’ve gotta say, though, that if the newbie’s at least somewhat in line with other women, just not of her precise age, I think it’s pretty weird to pigeonhole her by age.

        1. Emma

          I do have to admit to being a bit sensitive about the age thing, because I got told repeatedly as a teen/20something that basic skirts + button-down shirts were dowdy/old-fashioned/”mom clothes” and, basically, that I needed to stop wearing them. (Because you’re only supposed to wear that when you hit 30, I guess.) But I am also, in general, not in favor of policing people’s wardrobes, barring safety and appropriateness concerns.

          I mean, there is such a thing as personal style. Not everyone is comfortable in jeans, even if everyone else their age is.

          1. Aurion

            Taking out button-down shirts will take out 98% of my work tops. Nope. Also, I run very cold but sweat a lot despite that, so button down shirts allow me to hide an undershirt underneath. Most other work tops can’t, and I really prefer not to sweat/stink up blazers or nicer layers.

            I’ll never win fashion awards (my button-downs are the very structured style that you can take an iron to, not the more dressy, drapier styles), but I’m clean and presentable to basically all levels of formality. If I need to be more formal, I can throw a blazer on top of the shirt and wear dress pants. I can dress it down by skipping the blazer and switching dress pants for jeans.

            No one takes button-down shirts from me.

      1. Gaara

        Yeah, I find that odd, too. Like, what, we’re young and cool and can show it by dresses more casually than the older women? I mean, it may be totally fine to dress super casually. But if the older women wear heels, then wearing heels isn’t outside of office norms.

        I also think more generally that it’s inappropriate to tell the colleague that she should wear jeans and t-shirts in this situation if she doesn’t want to. She’s presumably wearing what she wants. Let her, in the same way that you would like people to let you wear what you’re comfortable in (that conforms with e dress code and office norms) without criticizing you for it or asking you to change for their preferences.

    2. Bibliovore

      confirming, academia here-dress norms, guy instructors and professors- open collar shirts, jeans, sneakers. female professors instructors- on the high end of business casual, no heels.

      1. fposte

        Though as usual with academia, this is a big YMMV (or YFieldofStudyMV). There are a ton of jeans on female professors in my department, and there are suits on some younger men as well as older. Conferences can be a different ballgame but I wouldn’t describe most attendees in my field as dressing on the high end of anything :-).

        I don’t disagree with the underlying point that there can be an inverse correlation between formality and access to power, but it doesn’t always play out neatly. Additionally, I tend to see this as a lot of men dropping the ball and failing at a tool that’s really useful, not as women yearning for the luxury of wearing jeans.

        1. neverjaunty

          It definitely varies by field. I’m in a pretty male-dominated profession. When I go to professional conferences there is a full range of formality among the guys, but almost no women in truly casual clothes.

        2. Elsajeni

          I would say in my department that the younger men are more likely to wear suits; the older, long-tenured professors are the ones who show up in cargo shorts. (We have two or three of these guys and I always feel vaguely resentful when I have meetings with them. I dressed nice, Dr. X, you could have at least worn a whole pair of pants.)

          1. socal anon

            That last line reminds me of the one time I attended a Christian church, in order to see my friend sing in the choir for Easter service. I was absolutely shocked that the (very famous) pastor of the megachurch complex turned up to preach in flip-flops and shorts. Jesus came back from the dead! Put pants on!

            1. Marillenbaum

              Ooh, this reminds me of the time I tried to wear flip-flops to church. I was 15, and the rest of the outfit was within existing norms (jean skirt and blouse), but my mother focused in on the flip-flops and says, in an entirely too casual voice, “What are those supposed to be?” “Flip-flops,” I tell her, “Bethany [our pastor’s daughter] wears them to church.” My mother narrows her eyes and says “Jesus is more important than your personal comfort!” and sent me upstairs to put on a new pair of shoes.

  14. Emma

    OP1 – I realize this is awkward, but can you just address it head-on with her? You could approach it as, “Hey, I want to understand what happened so it doesn’t happen again,” especially if you think it might’ve begun as a mistake. If she responds well to that, then I’d say it’s water under the bridge (but check next time you do work for her that credit is properly assigned), but if she doesn’t, distantly polite works.

  15. Lauren

    I had situation #1 happen to me and I never could work out how to handle it, either. In my case it was a senior colleague (one level higher) who wasn’t my line manager but who did assign me tasks who took credit for my work. She put her byline on articles I’d written and claimed it would be confusing for readers when I called her out on it.

    I was so shocked I couldn’t form words when I first spotted her byline. I always wished I’d pursued the matter instead of just never sending my articles her way again.

  16. Chrissie

    OP2, congratulations!
    As someone said above, there is no need to apologize for the timing! However, you mention missing out on this project, which could be great for your career. Depending on your choices (and with some decent bosses, which it sounds like you have), you don’t necessarily need to miss out that much, though.
    Going into the conversation with the boss, I would have some tangible ideas for the upcoming year to suggest and discuss with your boss. “I came up with a tentative plan on how to keep the expansion moving forward in the next year. As much as I can predict now, I will be on leave x months, starting from June. This should give me enough time to work out the room allocation, book a moving company, advertise for new staff. In the beginning of next year, I will prepare documentation on my typical duties a and b, and during spring, I could train staff members to take those over for the time of my absence. I suggest Judy for a and Derek for b based on their individual strengths. Step Y can be tackled after I return, so I hope there will be little delay.”
    Laying out the steps that need to be done and specific suggestions how to keep them moving forward, will help the boss not to freak out, while at the same time, you show that you are in control and competent to handle the project. Alternatively, if you prefer to take a very long leave or stay at home, you can focus on producing great documentation and training a replacement hire. Ensuring that the transition goes smoothly will also make you look good.

  17. Cristina in England

    #5. HR is there to serve the company like any other department. Other departments are not there to serve HR.

    1. Lily in NYC

      Yes, I admit I was a bit shocked at OP#5. It kind of shows why so few people trust their own HR departments. Our former head of HR was fired and escorted out of building for this very thing – she assumed she was “above the law” and gave contracts to her husband’s friends (we have to follow strict government procurement procedures).

      1. ZSD

        When I read #5, I thought, “Okay, the OP is incorrect, but I absolutely understand how someone would arrive at that conclusion.” It’s not true that HR is above everybody else, but it can seem that way at times, particularly to someone new to the working world.

      2. Natalie

        It’s a weirdly common idea, in my experience. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a friend say they are approaching HR about something their manager should be doing. At my husband’s workplace, managers absolutely defer to HR, although I don’t know if that’s because HR grabbed the power or the managers are too lazy to manage and abdicated.

        My position encompasses a tiny bit of HR as we’re too small to have an HR department, and from what my co-workers have said my predecessor definitely thought they were everyone’s boss. In particular they seemed to think it was their job to police other people’s working hours.

        1. HR Expat

          Agreed that this is a common idea. I think part of the reason is because of power-crazy HR and part is due to managers abdicating responsibilities. In the business I support, I have 5 basic principles that I tell all my new managers:
          1) I will rarely tell you that you can’t do something, because it’s your decision. But when I do say no I mean it, because it’s illegal. But I will offer my guidance and play devil’s advocate to be sure that you’ve thought things through.
          2) If you choose to go against my advice and it backfires, I’ll still help you through the mess you’ve created. But I reserve the right to say “I told you so (jokingly, of course).”
          3)Please consult me on any issues/changes relevant to HR or employees. I probably have some tools that will make your job easier.
          4) Own your decisions. Don’t tell your employees that “HR said no.” Because when I find out, I will call you out on it. I have to own difficult messages all day; it’s part of being a leader. You need to do the same.
          5) Please don’t burn down the building. It creates a ton of paperwork.

          1. Jadelyn

            …as a developing HR professional, can I borrow that list? I love it to itty bitty bits. In particular, I love #1 and #3 – if only because I can’t tell you how many managers at my current org think they’re “helping” me by doing their own paperwork for certain types of things and then I have to go back and redo everything anyway *cough*LOA*cough*. Just let me work with you from the start, please, I promise it will be easier on everyone that way!

            1. HR Expat

              You can absolutely borrow the list! It’s something I’ve simplified over the years and has helped me to build credibility and be honest with my leaders. My production employees may think I’m a company shill because I don’t speak out against bad initiatives, but they don’t always see what is happening behind the scenes when I’m trying to influence and advise that something is a Really Bad Idea.

              BTW- #5 on the list is mostly used when I’m going on vacation. I tell them “Only contact my backup in situations like setting the building on fire. But don’t set the building on fire.”

          2. Natalie

            Great list. :)

            You’re probably right it’s bit of both – power-hungry HR people and lazy managers. The situation Jadelyn described, where a manager does something wrong that has actual consequences, probably also leads to the type of management overreaction we’ve seen described here before. So instead of dealing with the offending manager directly or putting a reasonable procedure into place, upper management freaks out and says “everything needs to go through HR!”

    2. Trout 'Waver

      Well, there’s authority and there’s influence. HR might not have the authority, but they have a ton of influence. Whether that influence is used appropriately depends a lot on how professional the person is. But this blog is full of stories from unprofessional HR people.

    3. NotAnotherManager!

      Yep. I worked somewhere that had an HR director who felt that she was in charge of everyone, and it was a nightmare. She also busted out that chestnut in a meeting with her organizational peers — that, yes, they were technically at the same level organizationally, but they all needed to defer to her because HR oversaw everyone, dontcha know? Needless to say, that was not well-received, and everyone likes the new HR director a lot better since she’s helpful and works with you instead trying to usurp all authority.

      Our HR department helps with performance assessment (in that they work with us to devise the rubric forms and help with reminders/deadline compliance), manages the benefits programs (health insurance, retirement plant, etc.), recruits for candidates based on criteria defined by the manager and screens candidates (and will do this at whatever level the manager wants — I am very comfortable with my HR recruiter knowing what I need for one type of position and generally only see candidates that pass the HR screen, but I have others where I want to see all potentially qualified resumes because I know what I’m looking for), and provides guidance to managers for complying with employment law. They are not overruling managerial decisions and lording over people.

  18. The Wall of Creativity

    #1 I have the problem on the other side of the Mobius strip. I’ll write up a paper, someone higher up will make changes to it that I don’t agree with. Then it gets reviewed and all the negative feedback gets foisted on me. Then I look through all the feedback and all of it is stuff that was fine when I wrote the doc – it’s all the changes that have been made to it that get criticised and that I get the blame for.

    1. Not Karen

      Yeah, I’ve gotten blamed because a PI misinterpreted the analysis results I sent him. Even though it’s not technically my job to write the paper, I have to make sure it gets written correctly.

  19. seriouslywtf

    The problem with our HR is exactly what you said: they THINK they are above everyone else and sure act like it. When our departmental director approved by tuition reimbursement (which comes out of his budget) HR tried to deny it on the grounds that it didn’t go through them first. They also blocked by coworkers raise for the same reason. They retaliate when they are not in complete control of things and it comes off as so immature.

    1. Adonday Veeah

      It’s also possible that they are following the mandates placed on them by upper management to be the gatekeepers of such things.

    2. Pari

      Here’s the funny thing about HR. Part of what they do is ensure policies are being followed, rules are applied consistently, and therefore employees are being treated similarly in similar situations. So in your case it probably is within reason for them to have some issues with those things. Because ultimately an inconsistency can initiate all kinds of legal problems for them. It’s not easy trying to convince a judge that that inconsistency isn’t tied to unfair treatment based on a protected category if someone makes that allegation. So yes it can seem like they’re putting their nose where it doesn’t belong but they are trying to prevent someone in a protected category from calling it unfair.

  20. Oryx

    As someone who works in a casual office (jeans, t-shirts, flip-flops in summer), I don’t feel like I have enough information about #3 because the only references we have for this co-worker is heels, and a pantsuit. And, to be honest, I don’t see the big deal with those. I don’t even see the big deal with her dressing up if that’s what she’s comfortable with.

    Even though I can wear jeans and t-shirts every day, I personally don’t feel at my personal best when I do that so I make a point to dress up a little for professional reasons. It has nothing to do with what my co-workers are wearing and I’d honestly be a little miffed if one of my new co-workers suggested I needed to dress down because they didn’t like the fact I was wearing high-heels even though (it sounds like) other woman also wear high-heels, just maybe not women on my direct team.

    1. Emma

      We have a bit more info: some older women in the company also wear heels, but no one the same age of the OP and the newbie do. That tells me that the heels, at least, are not out of bounds for the company’s culture, though the pantsuit might still be – though I’d think if they’re cool with the heels, the pantsuit wouldn’t be that big a stretch. (Also it seems like the suit was a one-time occurrence? I mean, hell, I’ve worn my nicer clothes out sometimes just because I was too lazy to do my damn laundry.)

      I think if it’s allowed by the dress code, there should be allowance for personal style, and that’s really what I see here – the newcomer has a different personal style. It’d be different if she were sneering at the OP for wearing jeans, but nothing indicates that.

      1. JB (not in Houston)

        Ah, yes, the laundry day wardrobe. We don’t dress casually at my office, and I wear dresses/skirts on a regular basis. But if I’m *extra* dressed up, my coworkers know I need to do laundry.

        1. neverjaunty

          Oh yes. I feel like I need to wear a button that says “I don’t have a job interview. I’m just out of jeans.”

          1. Fortitude Jones

            Instead of doing laundry, I went and bought new pants :\ (I gotta go get these things hemmed though because they absolutely can’t be worn without heels, ugh.)

  21. Mike C.

    HR is a support organization, nothing less and nothing more. Stop pretending that you are more important than everyone else. Losing signed paper work is actually a big f*cking deal – the last time HR did this to me I had a significant promotion put on hold for three months. At other times this attitude leads HR reps to believe that they are more qualified to hire people than the actual hiring managers and so on. We all have horror stories and that says a great deal to me.

    I get that that’s going to be spectrum of competency, but the HR community as whole needs to stop living in their own little bubble, better understand the industries they work in and work to support the organization rather than worry about “being above everyone else”.

    1. Recruit-o-rama

      This is such an insulting broad brush. Just like in every other profession or department, there are individuals who are incapable of playing nice with others but most HR people I know are professional business partners who are tasked with protecting their company from breaking the law. Part of that sometimes means enforcing a process or procedure that operations thinks is stupid but is actually necessary. A few bad apples doesn’t make it an industry wide epidemic as you seem to be implying.

      1. Mike C.

        I never said that every HR person is unprofessional, I said that the HR industry as a whole needs help.

        And when you use the “few bad apples” analogy , you forget the rest of the saying. A few bad apples need to be dealt with, or the entire barrel goes bad. This isn’t a saying about how there are a few rare individuals that act on their own but rather a saying about how the lack of leadership in dealing with such bad apples by the good or even mediocre apples leads every apple to become spoiled and ruined.

        1. N.J.

          You said the HR community as a whole needs to stop living in their little bubble etc. if you are referring to the whole H.R. Community then you are indeed saying that all HR professionals are bad or unprofessional etc. There could certainly be large pockets of H.R. that fit this description, but you did generalize to the whole community, so you shouldn’t be surprised if you made st least one person on this thread feel insulted.

            1. N.J.

              This is true, but you still called out the community as a whole. Further down you posit that your main concern is the systemic nature of issues with the HR field. It seems like there are at least a few commenters who disagree with this basic premise. This is why it’s not surprising that people are responding to your insights with upset. It basically boils down to this being a generalization based on your own views and experiences, which are valid insofar as they are what you have observed of the HR field. Generalization can rise to the level of insult, though, when the audience you are speaking to doesn’t agree with or accept your basic premise. This is why you are getting pushbsck. It doesn’t mean you may not be right, but it does mean you haven’t proven it to the satisfaction of your audience. If your audience disagrees with your basic idea and that idea attacks their sense of the nature of the HR field and their sense of it’s worth, your message falls on deaf and hostile ears.

        2. Retail HR Guy

          I fail to see how I have any influence over the bad apples at your company. I have my hands full enough at my own company, and am not responsible for the rest of the HR Community.

          1. Mike C.

            I’m not holding you, personally responsible for the entire HR industry. I am only pointing out that if no one does anything, then all the apples will go bad. That’s the moral of the rotten apple story.

    2. LTR

      Yikes. It sounds you haven’t had great experiences with HR people. But making generalizations that “the HR community as whole needs to stop living in their own little bubble, better understand the industries they work in and work to support the organization rather than worry about ‘being above everyone else'” is pretty insulting. I’m not sure what field you work in, but I’m sure I could come up with some sweeping stereotypes that you would claim are untrue.

      I’m a long-time reader and usually a big fan of your comments here, but this one sucks.

      1. Mike C.

        I don’t understand why a criticism of the common practices of an industry is personally insulting. There are serious issues with the ways HR is done in many different places and many different levels. They often in the way of the primary functions of employee hiring, retention and the general running of the business that have nothing to do with legal requirements, aims towards increased diversity and so on. The idea that it’s insulting to discuss these continuing problems leads to an environment where improvement will never happen and the rest of us will continue to have to deal with this.

        If you want to criticize my industry (manufacturing/production QC/QA) then please be my guest – you will literally save lives if you can improve upon our best practices and processes. I’m not joking here either, changes to our processes are usually made because people have died and I’d love to hear what you have to say.

        1. Recruit-o-rama

          That’s great because in fact at my company, our QA department had a HUGE problem with hiring. They focus entirely on education and certifications and completely dismiss cultural fit in the industry. Getting them to comply with a process that is designed to address this is very difficult and as a result they have a terrible turn over problem which not only leads to legal auditing risk but also production delays and safety issues as they are constantly in training mode when they hire the perfect on paper person who is very smart and technically skilled but has no ability to work on a team towards a common goal. The attitude at the top of that department is very much that HR is a hindrance and we just don’t understand their job. It’s true that I am not QA, but it’s also true that QA execs don’t understand our job, nor are they willing to try or even consider that their hiring process is failing, even though it clearly is. See how I have limited my criticism to people I actually know and work with rather then taking out my brush and declaring it an industry problem and that QA people just need to “get out of their bubble?”

          1. Mike C.

            I still don’t understand why it’s offensive to point out that there are systemic issues with the way HR is commonly done in this country. If you refuse to even question your own best practices your industry will never ever improve.

            1. NW Mossy

              I’ve had my ups and downs with HR departments too, but I don’t think there’s a systemic problem with HR believing it’s “more important than everyone else.” If anything, it seems that HR departments generally struggle more with the opposite problem – they constantly have to prove they can add value to those in business lines who view HR as worthless, obstructionist, or both. HR professionals know that they are usually not in a role that directly generates revenue, so their position is always precarious because it’s easier to write off that kind of work as unnecessary. The same circumstance afflicts in-house legal and compliance functions – their value-add is risk mitigation, not revenue, and it’s a lot harder to quantify the savings of good risk mitigation than it is to count the dollars that come in the door.

              To me, it reads like you got burned badly because of an HR-based process failure. I don’t doubt that this occurred and that it was awful for you. But by slamming HR departments as living to every negative stereotype they’ve ever been tarred with, you’re putting them in exactly the defensive position that is more likely to spark the type of behavior you loathe. I’m not even in HR and your comments strike me as unnecessarily harsh.

              1. Mike C.

                It’s not just me getting burned by process failures. Entire companies suffer when they cannot gain or retain the people they need to get the job done. I’ve heard and read too many accounts to rule out the possibility that there might be something worth looking at.

                I’m certainly not trying to argue that they don’t add value – they just aren’t the main, driving force within a business. My role doesn’t directly generate revenue either, so I can relate to that feeling. Yet that the same time I have a difficult time believing that there is no value in examining the best practices of this industry or listening to the widespread experiences people have with HR departments within the workplace.

                This isn’t about you, it’s about an industry.

            2. Recruit-o-rama

              I disagree with the premise that there is a systematic issue or that it is “common”. It’s fun and easy to slam HR, but it’s not productive.

              1. Mike C.

                This is a useless statement that can be used to excuse anything, and it’s perfectly productive to point out that processes and best practices should be examined and improved. If you ignore the need for examination within an industry and just take it all as personal insult practices will never improve and your industry will stagnate.

                1. Recruit-o-rama

                  If it’s insulting, I will take it as an insult. As part of the HR community, I disagree that we universally live in a bubble and think we’re above everyone else.

                2. Trout 'Waver

                  @Recruit-o-rama: Y’know, by asserting authority and trying to shut him down instead of listening to his concern with an open mind, you’re playing into the exact stereotype Mike C. is describing.

                3. Ask a Manager Post author

                  For what it’s worth, I thought it was a needlessly inflammatory way to say it.

                  That said, this is really getting off-topic from the letter, so I’m asking that we all move on.

            3. Jadelyn

              But you haven’t actually offered evidence of any systemic issues. You ranted about your bad experiences, told HR professionals *as a whole* to “stop living in [our] own little bubble”, and are now trying to defend it as some kind of reasoned systemic critique because people took an inflammatory post as being inflammatory.

              If you actually asked, you’d learn that a major topic in a lot of HR literature right now is on the need to integrate our function into our businesses as a source of value rather than the cost center that many non-HR execs see it as. This is a huge topic that we are, in fact, ALREADY ADDRESSING. But rather than trying to broach the subject reasonably and leave room for the fact that you’re walking into a conversation-in-progress within an industry you’re not part of, you made an aggressive comment that people didn’t respond well to. I’m not sure why that’s surprising to you, which it seems to be from your responses.

        2. LTR

          Fair enough. I can be a little thin-skinned when it comes to others criticizing my field, but there’s usually at least some truth in there. I work my ass off to show why my field deserves a seat at the table and an incompetent HR department pisses me off to no end. All in all, point taken.

          1. Recruit-o-rama

            ANY incompetent department on an individual company basis is aggravating but it certainly doesn’t indicate an industry wide systematic problem. I think we are agreeing here.

        3. neverjaunty

          It’s insulting because you made it a lecture and you made it personal (“you”). You’re an intelligent person and an excellent communicator, so I find it difficult to believe you can’t understand why people are reacting as if you attacked them. You did.

        4. Jadelyn

          There are ways to discuss continuing problems without making sweeping insulting statements like you’ve repeatedly done. “[Industry] needs to stop living in their own little bubble” isn’t an invitation to dialogue or discussion, regardless of the industry being referenced. It’s just rude, and I feel like it’s pretty disingenuous to try to pretend it’s a conversation starter on a legitimate issue instead.

    3. JB (not in Houston)

      “We all have horror stories and that says a great deal to me.” But we all have horror stories about bad companies, bad coworkers, bad managers, that doesn’t mean every office in the US is a toxic hellhole. When HR is a horror story at a company, it says more about that company than it does about the HR community as a whole. Not to mention that “HR” is such a broad term and can mean so many different things that can’t generalize about it without narrowing down the category to more specifics.

      1. Mike C.

        There must be some spheres of influence we can generalize into “HR”- after all, there are HR professional organizations, HR degrees and certifications and conferences and so on, right?

        And furthermore, I think it’s much too simplistic to say that “bad HR just means it’s a bad company”. That ignores the possibility that the current best practices are either not followed/communicated well or that they need direct work. If an industry ignores that, they’ll never improve.

        1. Jessie

          In my experience (I am not in HR; I am an attorney who works in benefits law, so I work with HR departments), the HR industry as a whole has fantastic professional development programs, and works to educate its members about best practices. There are plenty of individual HR people and departments that are terrible. They are the ones that do not have the actual training and do not take part in the professional development offered by industry groups. So it is not really a systemic HR-industry issue – it’s that there are places that decide to ignore all the good resources that the HR industry has made available.

          1. Elizabeth West

            Most of the really bad ones we hear about here tend to be small, and in small companies where there isn’t a lot of oversight. I can’t think of any way to compel them to follow accepted practices. I guess labor laws aren’t enough to prevent that if people ignore even those. :(

            1. Fortitude Jones

              Or at law firms that are run like small businesses, even though they aren’t one, and try to run afoul of the law themselves like my former workplace.

            1. JB (not in Houston)

              But that’s a company problem, not an HR problem. This happens when the company is bad at hiring its HR employees.

        2. JB (not in Houston)

          But there’s nothing to say it’s the *industry* that ignores that. There are bad employees in every field and most every organization, but we shouldn’t generalize the way those organizations or employees behave to their entire field.

          And what I meant was that saying “HR” is like saying someone practices “elder law.” Guardianships? Wills and trusts? Medicare? Social security? Nursing homes? There are a lot of areas of practice that technically fall under the category of “elder law,” and lawyers in that field all get lumped together, but you can be an expert in one and do almost nothing with the others. People use the term “HR” to mean a lot of different things. It’s hard to compare what the person who just makes sure you read the employee manual and fill out your W-2 in your tiny company does with the person who handles significantly different responsibilities in a large multinational company, yet they’ll both get called HR.

      2. Rusty Shackelford

        That’s a good point. Everyone has a horror story about a bad manager. Everyone knows other people who have horror stories about bad managers. But that doesn’t mean all managers are bad.

        1. Mike C.

          I never said that all HR people are bad. I even wrote the following:

          I get that that’s going to be spectrum of competency

          It’s a direct acknowledgement that there are good HR folks and bad HR folks. Being critical of the industry as a whole does not in anyway change that fact.

            1. Trout 'Waver

              The stereotypical manager is a white alpha-male. This stereotype has hurt minorities and women and is slowly changing. While not being critical of individual managers, we should be critical of managers as a whole so that we can work to change the stereotype. Management right now is a lot more collaborative in some places than it used to be. And that’s a good trend that I hope continues.

              Likewise, there are some common beliefs about HR (Only there to protect the company, self-important, etc.) that are reinforced by people’s individual experiences with HR.

    4. Justin

      They don’t have authority, but they are involved with recruiting, hiring, firing, pay, discipline, benefits, office rules, company policies, etc., so they often seem to think they have special power without having any real authority.

      1. Retail HR Guy

        Depends on the company. HR has whatever authority the company decides they have. For example, in our company we absolutely do have the authority over, say, ADA accommodations but not final authority on which candidate gets hired in another department. Because the execs wanted it that way.

    5. Trout 'Waver

      This has largely been my experience as well.

      But, this site has a lot of HR people and anything perceived as anti-HR gets a lot of pushback. I wish the HR people who feel insulted by your post would take a second and look at it from the employee’s perspective. HR is kinda like an auto mechanic. Other than routine check-ups and maintenance (open enrollment and yearly review in this analogy), you only see a mechanic when there’s a serious problem and it usually costs you a lot of money. Likewise, interactions with HR are going to skew negative because good HR people only get personally involved when there is a conflict big enough that a manager can’t handle it. And that’s not even going into the potential for abuse and the asymmetry in the relationship between HR and other business units.

      HR does have the influence to get people fired if they want in most places. Saying HR is just another department glosses over that fact.

      1. Jadelyn

        I get that this is trying to strike a reasonable tone, but honestly, saying “I wish the HR people who feel insulted by your post would take a second and look at it from the employee’s perspective.” is kind of condescending, implying that we haven’t and don’t. Trust me, most of us are quite aware of the employee perspective around HR. We’re employees ourselves, too. Just something to keep in mind.

        1. Trout 'Waver

          I get that you’re trying to post intelligibly, bless your heart, but honestly, what you’re saying is kind of condescending. Trust me, I’m aware that HR people are employees too. Just something to keep in mind.

      2. Anna

        I don’t think that’s necessarily true. I think a company with a healthy management team and culture has regular interactions with HR about things like promotions or hiring or any number of things that impact staff, good and bad.

    6. Gandalf the Nude

      I want to make a better response than “Holy confirmation bias, Batman!”, but holy confirmation bias, Batman!

  22. DCGirl

    #5 The only time I’ve ever worked in an environment where one department was above everyone else and reported directly to the board, that department was Internal Audit/Risk Management, because they have to be independent of other groups. HR does not need to be independent of other groups.

  23. LQ

    #5 I think a good HR is like a good vendor, they support and advise, they can go HOLY SHIT THAT’S SUPER ILLEGAL when you screw up. They can support. But they are not the chocolate teapot makers, they aren’t the chocolate teapot designers. A company without HR might be able to survive, but a company without chocolate teapot makers is just a money pit. A great HR will help people make sure that the company doesn’t get in its own way to success, but no matter how awesome HR is they will never make the chocolate teapots.

    1. Manic Pixie HR Girl

      YES VERY MUCH THIS. In my old position, our office was the second floor to the top, and I used to joke about how coming up to see us was being sent to the Principal’s office. But, like LQ says, in that job (or any HR job in any company I have worked for!) we do not have authority over the teapot makers, per se. We do often tell them no (not without good reason), but if they want to, they can go to the Director of Teapot Construction and we may get overruled.

      1. LQ

        I was recently told that I act very much like a vendor or consultant in what I do, I took it as a huge compliment (it was intended as one too).

    2. N.J.

      “A great HR will help people make sure that the company doesn’t get in its own way to success, but no matter how awesome HR is they will never make the chocolate teapots.”

      Your above statement is correct to a point. You can’t have a business without the people who make the product or provide the service that the business sells. However, in every company there has to be someone that hires/recruits, manages benefits, watches out for sexual harassment, illegal discrimination and the like, handles SDAcompliance, unemployment complaints etc. There might not be a formal HR person or department that does this, but someone does this for every company, whether they do it well or poorly. So HR, even if it isn’t called that, exists, it has to. You can’t make chocolate teapots without the teapot makers, but you aren’t going to have a business for the teapot makers to work for if the company is being sued for illegal harassment, they are making people work illegal overtime, five people were illegally fired and they don’t offer benefits because there is no one in place to research and administer them. I don’t personally think that a company can function with at least some basic HR style functionalities. And this is from someone who doesn’t work in HR and has seen my fair share of good and bad HR folks.

  24. Gandalf the Nude

    OP #3, if you and your coworker are both younger, it could also be that she is using her nicer clothes to combat gender/age perceptions that sometimes cause folks not to take young women as seriously. I’ve gotten better results since dressing more professionally both because of people’s perceptions and because it helps put me in a better mindset to carry myself professionally. Fake it to make it, if you will.

    1. Fortitude Jones

      Yeah, people treat me much differently when I’m in heels and nice clothes than when I’m in jeans or even causal pants. I look like a kid in the latter.

      1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

        When I wear dresses and heels I don’t get invited to join student clubs and activities :p

        I get treated very differently on the days when I wear jeans and Converse because most people guess that I am 12-14 years younger than I am. Even in professional clothes, I still get treated as though I am younger, but at least I don’t get told, “students aren’t allowed in this area.”

    2. sometimeswhy

      Or even perception of age. Both my folks aged particularly well and until they were solidly in their grandparenthoods, when in casual clothes, they both practically looked like children so they engaged in some professional costumery as it were. I’m finding I have to engage many of the same tactics just to be recognized, much less taken seriously.

  25. Faith

    #3 – You mentioned that other women in your office may dress at a similar level of formality, just not anyone your age. You also said that the casual dress code applies to everyone in your company, but does the upper management actually dress as casually as you do. What I’m trying to ask is whether the issue is that the new employee’s wadrobe makes her look like she has more seniority than you?

    Also, for what it’s worth, one person’s dressy can be the other person’s casual. Pantsuit with a blazer seems pretty casual to me (interview level of formality would require a skirt).

    1. Aim Away from Face

      “interview level of formality would require a skirt”

      In your own belief, maybe. In general? Sorry, no.

      1. Callietwo

        Well, she did say “to me” in her sentence so I think it was her own belief.

        For the record, I personally agree that _for me_, an interview= skirt or dress but I also don’t expect that others follow that. I’m sitting on an interview panel next week and what I’ll be looking for is whether they look neat, well put together and understanding of business professional norms for an interview but whether that translates to nice slacks/dress/skirt is open to their own interpretation of what works best for themselves.

      2. Faith

        That was kind of the point of my whole post – whatever is casual to me may not be casual to you. Hell, there is a company in my home town where a dress and heels would be considered awfully casual if you are not wearing pantyhose and those heels have open toes.

  26. Tax Accountant

    #2, when I told my boss I was pregnant I was terrified she’d be stressed out or upset by the news and I had a whole little speech worked up and ready to go if I needed to calm her down. Instead she was more excited than my own mother, and wanted to immediately go around announcing the good news. So you never know! And, of course, congratulations!

  27. Manic Pixie HR Girl

    My mother worked at a NYC law firm as her first job out of college (as support staff with increasing responsibility), so my formative years were watching my mother wear suits and pumps. Even when she changed careers to casework (what she went to school for), she had trouble shifting gears to a different type of dress because for years and years her previous model was drilled into her head. Her new workplace was by no means as casual as yours sounds like, but it was certainly not a place where suits were worn every day, and it took her a long time for the mindset shift. In fact, because this was my influence growing up, I probably would have trouble with that myself. Even on “casual Friday” I usually wear dark denim and a jacket or cardigan.

    As for heels … I rarely wear heels at all anymore (they really bother my feet and I have trouble walking in them), but when I was younger I pretty much wore them exclusively, even casually. I’ve replaced most of my heels with low wedges, ballet flats, or boots, but it took quite a while and I still have a pair of brown pumps that I very occasionally still wear because I can’t seem to find a pair of brown ballet flats that I like that aren’t $$$$.

  28. Manic Pixie HR Girl

    OP2: Congratulations!

    Your bosses might internally freak out, but I am sure they will be happy for you. A number of years ago, two women who worked on a different team in my office became pregnant within a few months of one another … it ended up working out that their leaves didn’t quite overlap, but we all got a good laugh when the woman who got pregnant second went into the enclave to tell him (and she brought the first woman, who at that point was pretty far along), seeing as just a few months prior he made an off-the-cuff sexist remark about women in the workplace and caught heat about it from the ENTIRE office. (Men and women – we were a pretty even split.) These two team members of his were his star performers and he quickly realized the error of his ways in his remarks. (And, PS: he survived, and was also very happy for both of them. Both women told him as early as they were comfortable with and worked out viable transition plans. It sounds like that is your intention. Your employers will survive, too. It’s never “going to be a good time” for you to be out for an extended period, but that’s life and they’ll figure it out. It’s not your job to manage their expectations here, only to make sure you have everything in order for them until you do go out on leave.)

  29. TootsNYC

    #2–telling bosses you’re pregnant.

    This struck me: “I’m afraid she’s going to say something unintentionally hurtful and inappropriate.”

    OK, so your boss does say something unintentionally hurtful or inappropriate.
    I’m wondering, Why would this be a big deal?

    Are you robust enough to withstand an accidentally hurtful comment? Someone in her position might focus only on herself, and the impact of your pregnancy on her life–that’s not gracious, but it’s VERY human.

    Can you forgive her for being human? Even before you tell her this news?

    1. fposte

      I was thinking more that pregnancy is pretty much a guarantee that somebody is going to say something inappropriate. Then once you have the kid they will handle that job themselves.

        1. Mike C.

          It’s really amazing to me how other people won’t stfu about having children. First they won’t shut up about having kids, then the won’t shut up about the pregnancy then they won’t shut up about having the next one, then they won’t shut up about having too many. I’ve only gone through the first, but I know way too many people who have gone through the whole cycle.

          1. Drama Llama's Mama

            Literally the day we brought my oldest son home from the hospital, my father in law asked me when he was getting a sibling. Two and a half years later, the baby brother came along, then everyone wanted to know if we were going to keep trying for a girl. I guarantee if we had that third kid, we’d get comments and jokes about how we sure have our hands full and how tired we must be and you know how that happens, right?

            Ugh.

            #2, I had only been at my job 4 months when I found out I was pregnant with my first. I was very anxious about telling my boss (who was very dry and a little hard to read) and kept it under wraps until I was 20 weeks. When I did finally come out with the news, he and my coworkers were excited for me and began the process to interview and hire a temp to cover my absence who started a month before I was due to be out. Hopefully, it will go as smoothly for you as it did for me!

            1. neverjaunty

              Oh yes. When I was pregnant with #3 there were all the ‘hands full’ and ‘you know what causes that’ comments. Right up until #3 turned out to be a boy. Then it was all okay because “you got your boy!” Grrrrr.

    2. ElCee

      I could actually see the “OH SHIT” look on my boss’s face for about 30 seconds. I could tell he was willing it to go away and then once it did, was very gracious. I really, really had to stop myself from apologizing for being pregnant, because it was an uncomfortable moment. So I can see being worried about a cascade of not-quite-right gut reactions. Just try to steel yourself against reflexively apologizing, if you can.

  30. Alton

    #3. I wonder if some of this could come down to different casual styles. Some people only wear heels for special occasions or with very professional outfits, but others wear them routinely–even with jeans and t-shirts. Unless someone works in a job with a strict dress code, “casual,” “business casual,” and “dressy” are all subjective to a degree, and what’s casual for one person can look dressier to another–or vice versa.

    As long as your own style isn’t unusually casual compared to others in your office, I don’t think you need to worry.

  31. Rusty Shackelford

    I notice several posters saying they can’t find jeans that fit their body… I have to say that if you WANT jeans, you can probably find them. I am short and apple-shaped and I’m wearing a pair of jeans right now that I think fit me pretty well. You just have to know what took look for (i.e., I can’t wear anything for “curvy” figures, because that means they assume you have an hourglass figure).

    Of course, if you don’t care about being jean-less, you go and rock those khakis and dresses. You’re awesome just the way you are.

    1. VintageLydia

      Well there is cost and availabilty. And if you’ve only worn uncomfortable jeans, you’re not really going to go out of your way and spend hours and days to find the perfect pair when you already have a wardrobe that works for you.

      1. fposte

        Right. This is like when you say you don’t like, say, liver, and people say “Oh, but you haven’t tasted the *right* liver.” Which may be true, but it’s unlikely the right liver is going to be such an enhancement to life that it’s worth trying all the liver to find it.

        1. Rusty Shackelford

          It’s actually not like that at all, because I specifically said (in big cap letters) that I’m talking to people who WANT jeans. Obviously some people don’t. But I’m getting a sad, longing vibe from some of the posts. :-)

      2. TootsNYC

        And there’s a the huge amount of time spent trying on all those damned jeans. And whether there are any extra options near where you are.

        Of course, having jeans tailored is possible, but expensive. Jeans are harder to tailor than any other trousers.

    2. Lily Rowan

      Yeah, it’s hilarious reading through these comments because there are so many that say “I can’t find pants that I like because my figure is X” and X is literally every body type! I feel like people should just be able to own not being into pants. I’m not into pants! I’m sure there are pants that would look good on me, but I don’t care.

      1. Temperance

        Eh, I’m not so sure this is true. I would LOVE to be able to wear pants to work, but, well, I don’t love my stomach and I can’t find pants that fit my waist without making my stomach look massive. So I wear dresses and skirts, which are far more flattering on me, until I lose weight at least.

        1. Lily Rowan

          That’s your call though, on what looks good and makes you feel comfortable. I’m just saying, read through the thread and apparently women who are tall, short, skinny, fat, average all have trouble buying pants!

          I just feel like overall that means it’s the pants, not your body.

          1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

            IT’S THE PANTS!!!!

            Once I learned to sew and started making my own clothes, I realized how absolutely absurd it is to think that off the rack clothing should fit everyone perfectly.

            I often have to adjust patterns or grade between sizes or make adjustments because my hips curve at a slightly different place.

        2. Alton

          The thing is, there is an added burden on women when it comes to stuff like this. Men also have big stomachs, but trying to dress around that isn’t emphasized as much for them, and wearing skirts instead doesn’t usually occur to them. Women both have more options (which can be a positive thing sometimes) and are taught to focus on this stuff more.

          I don’t think there’s anything wrong with dressing in a way you feel comfortable with and find flattering. But that doesn’t mean that you *have* to have a certain body type to wear pants. Plenty of people wear pants despite not looking “flattering,” either because they’re socialized to only wear pants or because they feel more comfortable in them. Your choice makes sense for you, but doesn’t say anything about what makes sense for other people.

          1. TC

            I know for me I might feel a garment is unflattering but I certainly wouldn’t notice the same problem on anyone else. It’s very internal.

      2. Fortitude Jones

        I feel like people should just be able to own not being into pants.

        It has nothing to do with not being into pants for me. Like, at all. I had a pair of black petite pants from NY&Co many years ago that were PERFECTION – and then they stopped making them. I would have lived in those pants, and did, until I somehow got bleach all over them and couldn’t wear them to work any longer. I would imagine many people upthread saying they can’t find pants that fit aren’t just using that as an excuse – there are legitimate issues with the way clothes are made these days, especially women’s clothing, that finding pants that fit without having to take them to be altered to hell and back is a chore that a lot of people just don’t want to be bothered with.

          1. Jessie

            Well, see, sure, it’s the pants – and the way said pants fit across my c-section flab. So, you know, it’s also my body. And I’m fine with that! I love my c-section flab! Unless it’s highlighted and showcased in pants, at which time my pants go in the Goodwill pile and I grab a dress to wear instead.

        1. Lora

          YES. THIS. And now when I find pants/jeans that fit, I buy a few pairs, because I just KNOW they will go out of style or something and I won’t be able to find good pants again for years. But it is generally much easier to find dresses and skirts that look good on me than pants. *sigh* I hate fashion.

          1. Trig

            Yessss I have finally found the perfect jean for my body that doesn’t need a belt, doesn’t sag open at the back, isn’t too tight around the stomach, fits PERFECTLY. I think I’m a pretty normal body type, but I STILL struggled with finding the perfect jean and spent most of my life settling for imperfection.

            I wore my first pair out and immediately bought a new pair, full price, because they are worth it. This iteration is a dark denim, so perfect for my business-casual-dark-jeans-are-ok office. I wear them all the time and should really buy like five more pairs! Though with my luck, skinny-ish jeans would go right out of style as soon as I did.

            1. Mona Lisa

              Skinny jeans are actually on the way out. We’re starting to get more boot and trouser cut pants back at my retail job, and the quantity has significantly increased since last year. Learn from my mistakes, and buy all of the pants you love before they’re discontinued or the styling changes!

              1. C Average

                I have been vowing for what feels like decades that I will outlast the skinny jeans trend. I don’t like the way they look in general and I really, really don’t like the way they look on me. I currently own two pairs of (non-skinny) jeans, one of which only leaves the house on date night (my husband loves them) and one of which I wear for yard work and home improvement projects.

                My very favorite jeans–true story–come from the boys’ department at L.L. Bean. They fit me perfectly.

                1. Candi

                  You’re gonna laugh…

                  Two or three times my son went to pick out jeans, none of the styles in his size or the closest ones fit him right -and they were well-stocked too.

                  He found comfortable well-fitting jeans… in the women’s department.

              2. HannahS

                THANK GOODNESS. Oh man, skinny jeans are just NOT my thing. I’m so looking forward to more trouser-cut.

        2. MegaMoose, Esq

          I’m generally not into pants, but there’s a spectrum there, too. Like, if it wasn’t such a PITA to find pants that I’m both comfortable in and look decent, I’d probably wear them a bit more often than I do. I’d still prefer skirts, but it would be nice (she said wistfully) to have a few more easy options.

        3. Mona Lisa

          I don’t know if you’ve still got the pants, but if you do, you could take them to a tailor/seamstress and have them reconstruct the pants for you out of new fabric. I had my mom do this with a favorite pair of jeans so that I didn’t have to go pants shopping again.

          1. Fortitude Jones

            Sadly, those pants were trashed (and I nearly cried too, lol). But I’ll keep this in mind going forward because that might actually save me time and money.

        4. TootsNYC

          Next time you find a pair of pants like that, save up some money and go find a seamstress to make a pattern using the pants as a guide.

          1. Fortitude Jones

            I will – they really were a great pair of sturdy, professional pants. And they fit like a glove right off the rack! No need to get them hemmed. They were a petite girl’s dream. *sigh*

        5. Chinook

          “there are legitimate issues with the way clothes are made these ”

          When I realized I needed a pair of black dress pants, I spent a day at a fashion outlet mall (where 3.4 of the stores were women’s clothing stores) and could not find one single pair of black dress pants that were both under $150 a pair, not made of material so thin that I would freeze when walking outside in winter, and lined (to help with warmth and hang). I was quite disgusted at the quality of the product and just gave up and embraced wearing an older pair of grey pants I had and sticking out from the group I was part of.

      3. fposte

        I think it’s mostly a body image thing–we all like the way we look better in some things than in others. I like clothes that make me look like the me in my head :-).

        1. Mephyle

          It may be for some, or it may be that for some of us the pants that fit our unusual shape are a black swan.
          In my case, for instance, it’s a lucky thing that I can sew, because there seem to be no pants that I like that are cut for a generous bottom. Supposedly a nice round booty is in style for the first time in my lifetime, yet who is making pants for that shape? Nearly every pair of pants I try on has the waistline dipping at least two inches in the back if not more because the back isn’t cut to fit around an ample derriere. All pants I buy have to be taken in at the waist because if the size is big enough to fit over my hips, the waist is at least two or three inches too wide, and it’s not that I have a slender waist; quite the opposite. Dress pants, casual pants, jeans, it’s the same for all of them.

          1. Rusty Shackelford

            And usually I find the opposite – if the pants fit in the waist, my hips and thighs are swimming in extra fabric. I literally need Homer Simpson pants.

      4. Annie Moose

        And here I am on the opposite end of the spectrum–if I want to wear any dress other than maxi dresses, it’s very hard for me to find a good fit! I have these disproportionate hips that mean if a dress fits my chest/shoulders, I can barely fit it over my hips… and if it fits my hips, it’s baggy and ridiculous everywhere else. Every time I go dress shopping, it turns into “try on literally every dress in the store, get depressed because only two things fit you and they’re both ugly”.

        Luckily, I like pants anyway.

        1. Manic Pixie HR Girl

          I find higher waisted/a-line dresses work well for this, as the skirt is full so it doesn’t need to fit over my hips. Often is a touch snug in the waist, when I do this, but usually in a flattering way.

      5. Karanda Baywood

        I wish I looked good in dresses. There is not. one. single. dress. that doesn’t make me look like a grandma from 1910.

    3. Anon for this

      Yeah, but availability depends on size. Petites and tall sizes are hard to find. And tall sizes, for example, often aren’t available under size 4 or above 18 or so. I have only seen Long Tall Sally offer tall plus sizes. I wonder if petites also have a short range of sizes. Haha, short.

      Anyway, finding jeans can be a real pain.

      1. Rusty Shackelford

        Torrid, Lane Bryant, Avenue, Old Navy all offer both tall and petite jeans in plus sizes. Torrid even carries extra tall and extra short.

        1. fposte

          In general, if you’re only shopping brick and mortar you’re pretty limited, while if you shop online, size possibilities open up considerably. I know people don’t always like to shop online, but that’s “where the money is,” in Willie Sutton terms; might as well go there.

      2. LCL

        Woman within/Roaman’s sometimes has jeans in plus/tall sizes. I haven’t tried them because I always buy men’s jeans.
        Simply Be has tall/plus sizes. Their stuff is more youthful/party/dressy, I did get a very cute dress from them.

        1. Rusty Shackelford

          I wore one of my Simply Be dresses yesterday – it’s a few years old. Their stuff has gotten even more youthful/party/dressy lately.

      3. Sarianna

        Not sure if anyone’s mentioned this, but if you wear petite pants and don’t wear heels… guess what? You’re still going to have to hem them. But at least the proportions will be better than if you bought the regular size!

    4. TC

      I would probably count myself as someone who would like a pair of jeans (I don’t own any at the moment), but for me, I have to hit at least two markers — they have to fit and they have to be a style (cut and wash) that I enjoy. And I won’t compromise at all. I’m petite and most of my lack-of-height happens in my legs, so many jeans are off the table (you can tailor jeans, but they never look the same because the wash is applied after construction). There are so many places to shop so every other season or so, the stars align and there’s probably a pair of jeans out there that hit both markers for me, but it’s the search that really exhausts me, and many others.

      On the other hand, there’s people who love denim more than me, so they might be more willing to try a different style or experiment with new trends. I’m more likely to do that with a pair of high heels. :D

      1. MegaMoose, Esq

        Ah, I still remember that one pair of perfect jeans… just the right style, just the right fit. I wore those until they fell apart and wished I’d bought multiple pairs.

    5. Emily, admin extraordinaire

      I said this upthread, but eshakti.com, which has long done dresses and skirts and blouses customized to your measurements, is now doing custom jeans. It’s not in budget right now, but I am SO intrigued.

    6. Chinook

      “I have to say that if you WANT jeans, you can probably find them.”

      You must live in a big city in the US? Because the only way I could find jeans I could afford was to buy whatever local buyers could find that season or wait for a trip to the city and hit a major mall and even then, only the bigger Canadian cities may have the type of selection you are describing and probably at a cost that is higher than I can afford to pay on a piece of clothing.

      1. Rusty Shackelford

        No, I live in a smaller town in the U.S. I do most of my shopping online (or at B&M stores that also have an online presence, when I go to a larger city, see the list above). There’s some trial and error involved, but comfortable jeans that look decent on me are important to me, so I’m willing to do that. If that’s not important to you, I’m sure it’s not worth the trouble. (And once I find a brand/style that works, I can buy them in different cuts/washes and generally have the same good results with the fit.)

    7. Emma

      I am a weird awkward in-between size. If there are jeans made to fit my body, they’re not commonly in stock in any store in my area. (Though that may have changed, as it’s been more than a decade since I last tried.) If they fit my waist they cut off the circulation in my thighs. If they fit that, they try to cut me up the middle. If I break down and go to the men’s section for jeans that fit my pelvis and upper legs, they are way too long.

      Someone upthread mentioned Eshakti’s started doing customized jeans, so who knows, I may give it another whirl. But, y’know, stores don’t actually stock every single possible body type and measurement out there, which is why there even is that customization niche in the first place.

      1. Rusty Shackelford

        Yeah, if you’re limited to B&M stores, you’re going to have a harder time. If you’re not willing or able to have a little tailoring done, like taking in the waist having them shortened, you’re going to have a harder time. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily impossible. I could have walked into Lane Bryant and Avenue and JC Penney and tried on every pair of jeans in the store and said okay, it turns out jeans are just not made in my size and shape. But since I kept trying and ended up in Torrid, and Old Navy (online), I found them. Yes, they usually need to be shortened. But at 5′ 2″, that applies to so many things that I can’t call it a problem with jeans.

        I believe Lands’ End does customized jeans as well.

        (Also, if you haven’t shopped for jeans in over a decade, you might be surprised at how many different body types are accommodated now. And there’s spandex!)

  32. Kaydee

    HR person here. I find that a lot of people think that HR carries all the authority. The only authority I have is over my direct reports within the HR group.
    I often tell people that HR has a lot of responsibility with next to no authority.

    1. Recruit-o-rama

      I like this. Our company writes policy with compliance in mind. I don’t work for operations so I’m not going to go outside the policy just because a VP of operations told me to. I always remind them of the policy and then tell them the person who they need to make their case for going outside the policy is the SVP of HR. Beyond that, I’m not putting my job on the line just because you ask me to, no matter how far up the operations hierarchy you are. I will tell you what, if the President of the company asked me to break policy, I would loop my boss, grand boss and the SVP in before I do anything because I have no authority to change policy.

    2. Adonday Veeah

      This. I have had to explain to people that, while I may have some influence to encourage people to get something done, I have no actual authority to do so. Not sure if they believed me.

  33. Rusty Shackelford

    I think some of #5 might come from the fact that often HR is right at the top in terms of organizational structure, i.e., there aren’t layers of management between HR and the board/CEO/whatever. But that doesn’t mean they have supervisory authority over those lower layers, it just means that in an ideal world, there aren’t several layers of managers and VPs over HR. I’ve been in a situation where there was management between HR and the top, and it creates an opportunity for inappropriate meddling.

    1. Recruit-o-rama

      I think some of it comes from a resentment for the reasons for a policy, and a shoot the messenger mentality. I once had a week long email debate with a facility manager who could not wrap his head around an issue. The team wanted a dock out into the lake that is located on property. They wanted it so they could go out there and eat lunch or hang out on breaks or whatever. Fine, yes you can have your employees work on it. No, they cannot do it on the weekend without pay even if they volunteer and really, really want to do it for free. I didn’t make the law, I am just telling you what it is. You can’t do it. It’s not allowed. It’s not a policy we made up to make you angry, it’s part of our policy to protect you from breaking the law. Even if you debate the merits of the law, we cannot change the policy because the law is the law. Maybe he thought I was just being an obstructionist HR person but that’s on him, not me.

  34. drpuma

    #3, the surprisingly best advice I ever got on workwear in a no-dress-code environment came from the (maniacal) chief partner at a small law firm where I worked one summer. When I asked what I should wear, he said “Whatever you feel like you’re most productive in.” That really flipped my thinking around. Though I’ve since worked at startups which are very casual, I feel most productive in black-and-white patterned dresses. I’m more dressed up than my colleagues in jeans, but I feel great and confident and I know I rock my job. Maybe your coworker is wearing what she feels most productive in. What could you wear that would make you feel that way, too?

    1. JB (not in Houston)

      I think you’re spot on. I saw an article on a study that said that people tended to be more creative when dressed nicer, so it makes sense to me that you might feel more productive in dresses. Plus, when I feel like I look good (to me, don’t care what others think), I feel more ready to take on the world.

  35. Kore

    OP #3 – I have a coworker like that too – My office is business casual, but my role falls more on casual than business (I basically wear dress + cardigan every single day), but I have direct coworkers that wear business professional / really nice clothes. As long as that’s not the expectation for everyone (and it sounds like it’s not) you should be fine.

  36. Sue Wilson

    My mother worked in HR and as far as I remember HR was like any other department, in that the Head of HR was going to report to the Head of the Company or Office. So yes, an office manager who managed the working of all departments in the office would absolutely be able to cite HR, although I don’t think there should be a problem with “please don’t lose stuff” from anybody. Legal would be able to also, but legal was supposed to do that with everybody regarding legal stuff.

    That said, the Head of the Office for my mother was usually the CEO or managing partner, so yes, when she was a VP she only reported to the CEO/Board and then the COO when there was a organizational change. And no other department heads had control over HR either. And yes, my mother was extremely involved in hirings and firings, mostly because she worked at a bank and she wanted to make sure they weren’t going to be as shady legally in employment as they were elsewhere, and because she was in charge of marking sure they wouldn’t face EEOC complaints, which necessitated some involvement in hirings, firings, and progressive discipline.

  37. Inportant Moi

    OP #3: “When someone with the same job title as me (who I’m also training) dresses more nicely than me, it makes me feel a little uncomfortable and creates a lot of pressure for me to dress more formally. I am concerned this might make me look bad to managers when considering me against her for promotions in the future. Would you do anything in my situation?”

    You’ve already done something. You’re not HR or a supervisor yet you took upon yourself to “casually mention to her in conversation that our former intern had dressed up frequently and it was odd since our office is so casual, but she doesn’t seem to care at all.”

    Were it me, I would have reported you to the supervisor and insisted on a meeting. You, I and the supervisor would have a had a discussion about wardrobe and your behavior. That she ignored you strikes me as extremely professional on her part.

    I would suggest not doing anything else and leaving her alone.

    1. Jessie

      Reporting to a supervisor would be an extreme reaction to a comment, I think. For the most part, we should handle interpersonal issues among ourselves at work. Only if something becomes an intractable problem (or the issue is actually safety/health/etc related) should we go right to a supervisor the first time. So I am not at all surprised that coworker did not go to “report” to the supervisor this one-off, likely-annoying-yet-not-malicious-or-threatening comment. If OP continues to comment on wardrobe, a discussion with supervisor might be appropriate. But employees don’t need mediation for every issue that happens. We’re adults and need to handle ourselves as such.

    2. Rusty Shackelford

      You would go to your supervisor and say “my new coworker mentioned that a former intern used to dress up and that she found it odd” and you would expect a disciplinary meeting about it?

      1. Inportant Moi

        This is me, not OP’s co-worker. Maybe not a disciplinary meeting, but I would definitely talking to my supervisor in a casual way, of course, about the dress code and employee interaction. I’ve already got new employee nerves, the dress code was discussed…Yeah, I’m having a conversation.

        Great name, by the way.

        1. Allison

          I’d probably say something to my supervisor too, along the lines of “Jane told me a former intern wore heels and she thought it was odd, it seemed like she was trying to make a point about my own wardrobe choices. Do you have any concerns about the way I dress? I prefer to dress this way because it puts me in a professional state of mind and gives me confidence, but if people really feel I’m overdressed, I can certainly try to tone things down to a more appropriate level.”

          The conversation would bring up the coworker’s comments, but would focus on making sure I’m not inadvertently violating workplace norms by dressing up.

          1. Jessie

            Checking in with a supervisory to clarify dress code, sure. Insisting on a meeting with supervisor, new employee, and old employee about wardrobe and behavior is a whole different kettle of fish. It’s certainly a good idea to clarify dress code if there’s any question.

          2. Inportant Moi

            Your wording is much better than mine. I like the way it addresses the wardrobe choice in a non-defensive, aggressive manner.

            1. Inportant Moi

              I meant to say “Your wording is much better than mine. I like the way it addresses the wardrobe choice in a non-defensive, NON-aggressive manner.”

        2. Jerry Vandesic

          Having a meeting with your supervisor seems fine, but it wouldn’t need to involve the other employee. If I were the manager, you would come off pretty poorly if you were escalating this to the point where it involved a three way meeting.

          Colleagues provide feedback all the time to other employees. Very rarely is this a management problem (and not in the case of this OP).

        3. Rusty Shackelford

          I might say “Jane said something that made me wonder if I wasn’t dressing appropriately.” But I took your comment to be more like “Jane said something about dress code that made me feel picked on and I want you to have A Meeting about it,” which I think is going too far.

          And thanks. :-)

  38. crazy8s

    #2 RE” maternity leave–you probably already know this, but a small office is not required to offer maternity leave. Unless there is a organization personnel policy covering this issue, you might want to think about how to approach it before you talk to them. . They are within their rights to limit any leave to what you have accrued. I mention this only because sometimes people do not understand that FMLA doesn’t apply to companies with less than 50 employees. Unless your state has different laws, you might not have any maternity leave rights.

  39. Lora

    #5 Oh boy. No, no HR does not run the show.

    ExJob was at a big famous company you have definitely heard of, and they had a Chief HR Officer who was positioned as you describe – above the law, head honcho in charge. She commuted to work via helicopter because she didn’t feel like moving, even though the company bought her a new house (yes, you read that right, BOUGHT HER A HOUSE and then she decided she didn’t want it, when they were having layoffs by the thousands). She had been fired from her last job for cause, and whatever she did was bad enough that her boss got fired too for having terrible judgment. She played some very bizarre political games that alienated pretty much the whole company including her own staff, and eventually the board of directors fired her and the CEO both for being awful incompetent people.

    HR’s job is to advise managers on labor law, handle EEOC-type matters and manage the benefits packages and do things like benchmarking pay scales, running the Taleo/Brassring requisitions and sorting whatever resumes the keyword-picker generates from job positions. Do phone screenings maybe. Which is plenty! I don’t envy their job having to deal with the labor law and EEOC stuff, that requires a level of emotional intelligence and patience the vast majority of us simply don’t have. If I had to spend my day telling entitled, self-absorbed idiots that no they CANNOT do an illegal thing just because they want to, what the eff, I would probably lose my shit. It is not, contrary to popular belief, a job that anyone can do. But they aren’t in charge of other people – if the entitled self-absorbed idiot goes ahead and does the illegal thing they’ve been told not to do, then the sorting-out is no longer HR’s job, it is Legal’s job and the job of Idiot’s senior line management. It’s just HR’s job to tell the idiot, and document that they were told.

    1. Fortitude Jones

      She commuted to work via helicopter because she didn’t feel like moving, even though the company bought her a new house

      OMG, what?! LOL! She came to work via helicopter? She is too much. I kind of like her diva antics after hearing this story, not gonna lie.

      1. Lora

        Yeah, she was a special individual, for sure. I had to look up what she does these days as her downfall was allllll over Fortune, Forbes etc. She’s “consulting”.

        They did 360 reviews there, and when she got the scores back from her department she sent a big whiny teary email to everyone saying how horribly misunderstood she was, and if they spent 48 hours in her job they would understand why she was such a…character.

        1. Fortitude Jones

          LOL! I’m so curious to know who she’s “consulting” outside of the Queen of England.

  40. BeezLouise

    Question for the group as a follow up to OP #3: I work at a University, where everyone in my building (including the Dean) generally dresses pretty casually — maybe not in jeans every day, but it isn’t unheard of either. In my small department though (which is fundraising) everyone dresses up A LOT — like, even the women wear pantsuits and heels frequently. I . . . do not look good in a pantsuit. And after a particularly nasty ankle sprain a few years ago, I basically committed to myself to never wear heels again. I look okay in dresses though, so I wear dresses and flats essentially every day, though they’re not particularly formal (they’re appropriate, but the dresses tend to be more cotton/jersey knits). I’m also significantly younger than every else, by at least twenty years.

    Is this okay? My coworkers have never said anything, but they all seem to a have a uniform that looks very different than mine.

    1. TC

      If your co workers or supervisors have never said anything, it sounds like your dress is perfectly fine. If you ever want to dress an outfit up, I find either changing my hairstyle (I usually wear my hair down, so I will pin it up to dress up, reverse if you often wear your hair up) or putting on some nice jewellery does the trick. If you’re a make-up person, that’s another way to dress up. A boss of mine used to keep a nice blazer at work when he needed to dress up, which was a trick I liked.

    2. Fortitude Jones

      It sounds like you’re fine. If your boss had an issue with how you were dressed, I would hope she’d tell you. Otherwise, you sound like your wardrobe falls within the guidelines modeled by the University as a whole, so even though your group presents itself a little different, you’re not totally out of bounds yourself.

    3. NW Mossy

      I’m a dresses-and-flats type myself, and I too favor knit dresses because they are all the comfort of a nightgown but still work-appropriate. What I’ve found makes a surprising amount of difference in how dressy I look are accessories, of all things. Adding a statement bracelet or necklace really elevates the look without being much effort at all, and there are lots of places that sell inexpensive ones. You can achieve a similar impact with flats in a statement color or with embellishment, but that may be tougher if you have function-not-form requirements for footwear.

      1. AnitaJ

        Are you me? This is my MO too! Fit-and-flare dresses and a sweater or blazer. So comfortable. And absolutely accessories can really make a difference. I’ve had friends and acquaintances compliment my outfits or say “I want to dress like you when I grow up!” and seriously, I just always accessorize. My clothes are totally normal and not at all trendy OR expensive. I look OK. It’s the jewelry/shoes that ties the outfit together. I usually have to refrain from saying “I got this at Target!” any time people say something nice.

        1. NW Mossy

          Well, probably not you since I don’t think I’ve ever owned a blazer! That said, though, accessories are also a fun way to express your personality. Today I’m wearing a necklace with a pendant that’s shaped like a puzzle piece (because I’m a nerd and love jigsaw puzzles) and made from a Petoskey stone, which is the state stone of Michigan (where I grew up). It just wouldn’t be the same to have that on a t-shirt!

          1. Fact & Fiction

            I am giggling at the “probably.” Envisioning someone having a comment discussion with their mystery alter ego.

        2. Fortitude Jones

          I’ve had friends and acquaintances compliment my outfits or say “I want to dress like you when I grow up!”

          I get this all the time, too, and from women who are older than me! It always makes me laugh because most of my jewelry is cheap costume stuff, and with the exception of my ModCloth pieces, my wardrobe is full of sale items. They probably spend way more money than I do on their clothes, but yet I end up looking more stylish.

    4. neverjaunty

      Pantsuits are actually more casual than skirt suits. It sounds like you are meeting them halfway.

    5. Emma

      I tend to think that half of what makes something appropriate dress is whether or not it actually flatters your body, and whether you feel (and thus look) confident in it. Obviously, within bounds of dress code/reasonableness.

      But, like, I can’t wear heels, because I have a shitty sense of balance. If you put me in heels I’d look like an absolute idiot, and seem very inappropriately dressed. In dressy flats, I usually look fine, because I can actually walk with assurance.

      If no one’s spoken with you and you’re reasonably close to what others are wearing, which it sounds like you are, you’re probably fine. Outside of places with stricter dress codes, generally if you’re within a couple steps you’re okay.

  41. Allison

    These comments on #3 really validate my hatred of the jeans-on-Friday “perk” we had at my first job. It was touted as the best thing ever! Like, they didn’t pay much, didn’t match the 401(k) plans, and were stingy about PTO, but we got to wear jeans on Friday you guys! And it was technically optional, but if you showed up in regular work clothes you got the side-eye and deemed “not a team player.” I hated it.

    1. Anon 12

      I so agree with this. So I need to have a pair of jeans in my wardrobe that frankly cost more than my on sale Ann Taylor pants, and then I wonder how many I need. Can I have one expensive pair of jeans that I wear every Friday, do I now need a selection of cute blouses to rotate through with those jeans?

    2. ga d

      I also don’t own a pair of jeans I would like to wear to work. My current favorite pair of dark jeans that is not distressed or anything is probably too close fitting to wear to work.

  42. Charlotte, not NC

    I have perpetually felt like a frump at work since the beginning of my career, since my job involves a lot of ugly PPE (clunky steel-toed boots, giant safety goggles, no skirts allowed). It’s disheartening to see women looking like fashion plates sauntering through the halls, but I try to remind myself that they do very different jobs from me, and dressing that nice would prevent me from doing what I’m good at.

    1. Jersey's Mom

      I’m with you! I do a lot of outdoor work that requires PPE, but a fair amount of office work too (in a building of ~400+ people. Years ago, I’d bring another whole outfit in my trunk and change from PPE to office clothes in the bathroom off the lobby. After I got tired of double the laundry and carting around a mix of clean and dirty clothes in my trunk, I gave up.

      PPE and field clothes almost every day, all day. The last time I had to be dressed up for a formal work meeting (skirt, heels, makeup, etc), my boss literally didn’t recognize me.

    2. Chinook

      I know there are starting to be PPE companies that cater to women by doing more than creating these items in pink (think overalls that open in such a way that you can go to the bathroom without pulling them off because women, unlike men, can’t just open a few front snaps and urinate.) But, since most PPE is going to be clunky in order to do their job right, you just have to embrace that that is the job uniform and go with it.

    3. Recruit-o-rama

      I looovvveee visiting on site and wearing my clunky steel toes, they make me feel very powerful, but I would probably not like it so much if I had to wear them everyday.

    4. Mockingjay

      I was once transferred to help out a short-term project that was behind schedule. I worked on the floor and wore work boots and blue coveralls.

      My former coworkers were astonished to see me, Ms. Heels and Pearls, sauntering around in boots, dragging cables and drawings. They figured I would be screaming in protest. I was having the time of my life!

  43. Retail HR Guy

    Regarding #5, a lot of commenters seem to feel that authority is an all-or-nothing affair, that either employee A has authority to tell employee B to do whatever they want or they don’t. But it’s not like that. Departments and individuals can have authority over certain subject matters granted to them by the company without having general managerial oversight.

    HR may not have the authority to tell operations how to run things generally, but very well might be given the authority to overrule management when it comes to, say, compliance with the ADA or pay scales. The fact that there are a lot of specific areas that HR is given authority might give someone like OP #5 the false impression that they have absolute authority over everything, when in actually at most companies it is a mixed bag; HR has absolute authority over A, B, and C, advisory capacity over D, E, and F, and they keep their noses out of G, H, and I entirely.

    It’s kind of like when the CEO assigns an intern a special project collecting data from all the department heads. The intern certainly doesn’t have general authority over the department heads, but the intern does have borrowed authority for this specific project and the department heads absolutely do need to comply. So think of HR as an intern with a laundry list of special projects backed by the top execs.

  44. ArtK

    #5 I’m more than a little concerned that someone who works in HR needs to be told that no, they aren’t the boss of everybody. It doesn’t speak well of their experience, and possibly not of the way the department is run.

    But then, didn’t we recently have a story of “HR fired me while the boss was out of town”?

  45. GreenGlassVase

    The subject of professional workwear is very interesting, in organisations that don’t require a uniform! I can see how difficult it must be for newcomers to get a balance between what’s appropriate for their workplace, and what feels comfortable/affordable for them.

    In my current organisation, as a clinical therapist, we have free reign over what to wear, as far as I’m aware the only rule is ‘no blue denim jeans’, which isn’t codified, but people show up with outfits ranging from smart (cut off skinny trousers, a smartly pressed white blouse, brogues) to glamorous (miniskirt, stilettos, bright lipstick) to extremely casual (I think I’ve seen some people wearing pretty relaxed tracksuit bottoms, velour without any logos on, and a hooded sweatshirt) and I’ve never known anybody to be pulled up on their attire. I have visible tattoos but the decision on whether or not to have them visible is down to me.

    Although our boss is as non-judgmental as they come, I feel that the more smartly dressed of the workforce do tend to be seen as a little more polished and professional, although I haven’t noticed this ever factor into decision making about responsibilities and promotions, though I doubt I’d be privy to that even so. I tend to tow the line between extremes, most days I’ll either wear skinny black trousers and a nice blouse, or a nice dress, thick black tights and flat pumps, however whatever I’m wearing I always have my hair freshly washed, blow dried and straightened, and a face full of makeup, which I feel helps to pull it together even on a more casual day.

    I try to get a balance between looking professional enough to make it clear I’ve made an effort and not just rolled out of bed, but not too ‘business formal’ that a patient would feel an instant barrier between us. I’m so glad I don’t have to wear business formal (trousers, pencil skirts, heels, tights, suit jackets) on a daily basis as it feels restrictive to me and can get increasingly uncomfortable as the working day progresses.

  46. GRH

    Alison, re: your response to #2–individuals identifying as male can be pregnant, too! A more inclusive, and totally grammatically correct, way of phrasing your answer could be, “…when an employee announces they are pregnant…”

      1. Chinook

        And “she” would be appropriate to assume because all those who are pregnant have female body parts (be definition, you must have a uterus to be pregnant and, while not all women have uteruses, all people with uteruses at were women at birth) and 99.9% of those who are pregnant would be identifying as women and the non-women are a statistical anomaly.

  47. PK

    I work in a business casual environment (khakis, button-ups/polo shirts) and I tend to overdress a bit with ties, bowties, sweater vests, etc. It really has nothing to do with my feelings about the dress code but I find that I tend to be more confident when I’m dressed well. I’ll occasionally get a comment but it’s almost always complimentary. I think that if your supervisor is fine with your dress, you should probably let it go.

  48. HRish Dude

    As an HR person, I am so confused by the fact that an HR person would think they are above everyone.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if an HR person thought they ranked below everyone, however, since you can’t participate in a lot of events/freebies because of appearance, even though you may be one of the lowest paid people in the company.

    1. Anon 12

      Yeah this. You have to build your “authority” through credibility and competence in HR, not because you are over anybody. This sounds like it came from somebody who thought HR’s job was embodied in “Up in the Air” and firing people means you are over them.

    2. Jillociraptor

      This has been more my experience. HR staff are held accountable for lots of company wide policies and initiatives, and then often not given the authority to actually enforce them. Every department head thinks their area deserves different rules, and there’s a lot of shooting the messenger. And there are often situations where staff don’t understand the consequences for their actions because those consequences are actually only felt by HR. I think the kinds of people who are attracted to HR work are sometimes big rule-followers, and aren’t always as comfortable in the ambiguity that comes with your business being people. But in my experience. the perception that they are “above everyone” is an interpretation by staff when they get told that something they want to do is against policy or introduces unnecessary risks.

  49. TootsNYC

    For #3: you wrote: “I am concerned this might make me look bad to managers when considering me against her for promotions in the future. Would you do anything in my situation?”

    What I would probably do it try to dress just a little bit more professionally than I do at the moment.
    I wouldn’t go as far as what she does, but I’d absolutely be sure I was dressing for the position I want, and maybe the one above that position.
    Clothes are a message, and I’d be sure I was sending the message I wanted to send.
    Now, maybe where you are, her style of dressing sends a “too uptight for us” message; you’ll be the one who knows, if you can detach enough to observe.

    But I think what matter most in terms of a promotion is what you say and do: I have a shot at a promotion right now, and here’s what I did: Be outspoken, and–most of all–think and talk about the kinds of things I’d worry about if I already had the promotion (while still being sure to be very good at my job, of course).
    I widened my view of my job and the company so that I looked and sounded mentally ready for the next step.

  50. Ruth

    Re: LW 3 I have dressed so differently at the jobs I’ve had as an adult and right now I sound like the new coworker whereas at the last job, I was like the old one… For me, how I dress is a lot about how I feel. At this job, I feel confident, professional, I have a fair number of meetings, I’m wearing a particularly nice outfit on today because I’m going to present to a group. I could present as easily in khakis and a polo or in jeans/polo like another colleague my age, but I’ve got a Ralph Lauren dress, black cardigan, scarf, boots… and I feel great. I feel like a million bucks. And it affects my work. At my other job, jeans, t-shirt, cardigan (it gets cold, I’m a librarian) and everything I did was behind the scenes work. There I wanted to feel comfy, blend in, just get the job done.

  51. Rachael

    I know that this comment is not going to be popular, but I am just writing to you as a “dresser upper” at work. I go to Nordstrom Rack and get beautiful dresses and clothes at a fraction of the price. I love to dress up in said clothes for work. I am a project manager who works with analysts that are more on the casual side with one woman analyst. She did mention to me in a “side eye” comment that “You sure look dressed up” and talked about the business casual dress code.

    To be honest, I could care less what people think about my outfit (who is not my manager). For someone who actually has the gall to try and make me feel bad that I’m more dressed up than them….they can kick rocks. I am very sensitive to situations – that warrant me to be sensitive – such as: culture differences, racial differences, or just plain caring about other people’s feeling. Yes, I am there with you.

    However, this is just not something that I would feel that I need to change because someone is worried that their dress is not fancy enough. I say if the culture allows for you to wear the clothes you prefer to wear, then wear it. I will wear what is more comfortable for me. End of story. There should not be any judging from EITHER side. The fancy person should not feel that they are better than the casual dressers and the casual dressers should not feel that they need to change the dress of the Fancy McFancy person.

  52. Anon2

    ” I casually mentioned to her in conversation that our former intern had dressed up frequently and it was odd since our office is so casual, but she doesn’t seem to care at all. ”

    Why should she care? You’re the one with the self-esteem issues, not her.
    I get the distinct impression that you were hoping Allison would advise you some way to bully the new person into dressing down so you wouldn’t feel so bad about your appearance. It’s pretty clear that’s what you were trying to do–“casually”–by bringing it up with her in the first place.
    Dress better, or don’t, but this is not your coworker’s problem.

  53. janie01

    If everyone in HR thinks about their position the way the poster in #5 does, it explains a lot to me.

  54. ElectricLady

    I’m having a difficult time coming up with a scenario in which the graphic designer presented work to the club president and VP that was not made by her without giving proper credit to the creator. Did the graphic designer forward the poster to the club leaders without crediting the OP? Or did she actually did give credit to the OP but somehow that information was lost by the time the group leaders decided to choose that poster. Regardless of intent, nothing in the OP’s letter indicates that the graphic designer was unaware that the club leaders had misattributed the poster to the graphic designer instead of the OP. This makes me very suspicious of the graphic designer’s intentions.

    Overall, I do agree with Allison’s suggestion with how the OP should interact with the graphic designer but I would also add that she would be weary of ever forwarding her artwork to the graphic designer again. The graphic designer has already displayed her inability or unwillingness to give proper credit.

  55. pgrmmgr

    #2 – Congratulations! I can relate; I was working in a department of 3 at a nonprofit with 25 employees when I got pregnant. There was no redundancy, and there was no good time to get pregnant. My boss did say some odd things at times (like asking the office manager if I needed to fill out paperwork about my pregnancy, to which she responded “only if you want to complete paperwork about your colonoscopy”) and some kind of offensive things (like we could have moved forward on recommendations a consultant made if I didn’t take maternity leave).

    All you can do is do your best to prepare for leave and enjoy your time off with your baby. While your organization may not need to follow FMLA, it is worth citing 12 weeks off as a norm while you plan for family leave – nobody questioned my plans. As I was the first to take maternity leave in over a decade, I got to lay out what would work well for me (in my case, 8 weeks out completely and 8 weeks of part-time work, with the baby in tow one day a week, which people loved).

    Think about what kind of leave will work for you and your obligations, be proactive about proposing your plans, document and delegate essential duties that need to be covered while you’re away, and enjoy your time with your little one!

  56. Rachel B

    #4: Is your former manager just looking for information she can use in her job search? Maybe she needs the data so that she can say things on her resume about her performance in her last position, e.g. “sales increased by x% during my time as design manager.” If so, I don’t see what would be terribly confidential about that sort of request. Do you just not have the time to assist her or is it the type of information she’s asking for?

  57. sickypants

    OP#2 – As a development person myself, I just wanted to say that capital campaigns are often managed by consultants – this is one of the few projects that they could easily bring on outside help for. You probably know this already, but just in case. Congratulations!

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