what can I do about a coworker who never wears a bra?

A reader writes:

I work at a busy nonprofit with about 30 staff members on site. I don’t see everyone each day; I’m in a pretty small department. I have a coworker (different department) who I rarely see, but EVERY time I see her, she isn’t wearing a bra. Not only that, but her shirts are typically clingy knits that show EVERYTHING. No one else seems to notice or care. I find it pretty gross and inappropriate, and I have a hard time taking her seriously.

I should add, this is a very professional office in a large city. We often host meetings for other nonprofits, high-level executives, The Chamber of Commerce, etc. At any time we could have a tour come in from a large foundation or other grantee. We occasionally have media here as well.

What can I do?

I wrote back and asked for more information on the letter-writer’s role relative to this employee, as well as about the gender makeup of the organization’s management. The answer:

I’m not management. I’m on the same level as her, though she has been here longer.

The human resources manager is a woman. She generally avoids conflict, but she is great otherwise. The offending coworker’s manager is male, and the CEO is male.

I don’t think you can do anything about this.

If you were in a management role yourself, even though you’re not her manager, it would be reasonable to bring this to someone’s attention (probably HR, in this case) and ask them to speak with her discreetly. But as a peer, it’s really not in your purview.

I asked about the gender makeup of the management, because it’s much, much easier for a female manager to address an issue like this than a male manager. It’s already going to be awkward enough to do as a woman. In any case, it sounds like the HR person would be the logical choice to talk to her, but you noted that she generally avoids conflict, which often goes hand in hand with avoiding awkward conversations, so it’s not surprising that she hasn’t addressed it. But ideally she’d take it upon herslef to talk to her privately and tell her that part of looking professional is wearing a bra to work (or at least a supportive camisole or tank top under her shirt), but if she’s not doing it, I don’t see any opening for you to suggest she do so.

Ultimately, the people who should care about this and be addressing it aren’t. So I think you’re stuck just averting your eyes as much as possible.

Anyone have a different take?

{ 203 comments… read them below }

  1. Michael C*

    Even coming from a female manager, how would this conversation go? I can’t even imagine (as a guy) ever having this conversation – especially without a female HR present.

    1. Anonymous*

      If you have a dress code, it’s easy enough to point to the manual and have a chat. Otherwise…it gets iffy. I once had a very unpleasant manager who thought I should wear heels even though we didn’t have a dress code and all the other women wore flats. For some reason because she used high heels, then I should wear high heels. The men in my department could essentially walk around in flip flops but I as the only woman working with them should wear heels and do my nails. Whaaaa.

    2. Anon for this...*

      I’ll tell you exactly how this conversation goes:

      1. Male manager comes tells you that you need to talk to his report because holy crap it’s distracting and not in a good way- and as a female member of management this is somehow your problem even though even the most creative of org charts can’t trace this woman to you.

      2. You see for yourself and yeah, yikes. So you grab an oversized company jacket and toss give it to her – telling her she needs to keep it on since her clothing isn’t providing complete coverage, an issue of which you’re sure, of course, she’s completely unaware.

      3. She balks at wearing the windbreaker. You give her the option of clocking out and going home…argument about this time not being paid ensues.

      4. She puts the jacket on. You go back to your office and wonder what the hell you did to end up where you are, making a living (however briefly) talking to other women about their…ahem…coverage.

      5. The issue never repeats itself and she comes to work dressed appropriately from then on. You are told she doesn’t like you, and gives you dirty looks, but you’re not big on eye contact anyway so it’s not like that affects you.

      6. You are ridiculously grateful when HR is hired so you have a place to send stuff like this going forward and it’s never again your problem.

      1. Anon for this...*

        “She balks at wearing the windbreaker. You give her the option of clocking out and going home…argument about this time not being paid ensues.”

        Home to change and then return – no threat of being suspended.

        1. Freedom*

          Her choice to either wear or not wear a bra is hers to make. My goodness, they are only breasts. Her nipples can also be used to feed her baby. She should be free to do either, where and whenever she chooses. This is not obscene, the human body is beautiful with all it’s curves and bumps. She is wearing clothing that covers her breasts. Some bra’s are very uncomfortable and some research shows a link between breast cancer and wearing bra’s. This is certainly no more inappropriate than the deep plunging necklines popular today. You can see the whole breast with some shirts. Also, the huge boobie bra’s make the appearance of some breasts 2 cup sizes larger. At least she’s not enhancing anything. The push up bra enhanced breasts are most certainly trying to draw attention to their chests, should these be prohibited too? (no) I really don’t see what the big deal is. If she’s comfortable with a jiggle and allowing the beautiful natural curves of her breasts to be seen, so be it. At least she’s not wearing iron basketballs under her shirt. You may choose to be a prude and shun her or accept that she is a woman with fatty tissue on her chest crowned by a nipple. So what!

          1. Claire Carter*

            Thank you! I absolutely love what you just said. I’m actually going through the same thing at work at this very moment. Yesterday and today they mentioned it to me, but I let them have a mouth full. They didn’t have much to say when I tell them I would wear a jacket over top of it or a tank top under my shirt with a made in bra. It’s my choice and its undergarmets for god sake. Like anyone supposed to tell you to wear panties or a bra. I told them if the other employees dont like it they dont need to look at my boobs. I’m in a hotel room all day cleaning anyways and hardly ever talk to anyone. Plus when I go down the hall I wear my jacket so really it doesn’t matter. They said it gets hot in the rooms cleaning and yeah it does but i’m free to take it off when I’m by myself and then put it back on when I go downstairs. The reason for not wearing one is because they extremely hurt the sides of my breasts no matter if its a sports bra, push up, or regular. Ever since I stopped wearing one about 4-5 months ago they quit hurting. It took someone this long to notice anyways. It would be different if I worked at the front desk, but even then I would wear a light jacket all day.

  2. Kou*

    I don’t think the issue is her not wearing a bra specifically, but that you can see things you shouldn’t be able to see at work through her shirt. If she was wearing an unlined bra you could end up with the same deal anyway. No one HAS to wear a bra, but you do have to keep your clothes appropriate. Regardless of what your undergarment situation is, I should not be able to see your nipples at work– and that goes for guys, too. I don’t want to see anyone’s nips, period.

    I was in a research group a few years ago where our supervisor, a man, always had insane in-your-face headlights exacerbated by the fact that he always wore athletic shirts of that thin synthetic variety. It was so freaking distracting.

    1. Kou*

      Also, I have seen the whether or not women have to wear a bra debate blow up even harder than The Great Pantyhose Debacle. So rather than argue that, can we agree that bra rules aside this does sound inappropriate for the setting?

      Though I agree OP isn’t in a situation to do anything.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        This is a good point. This isn’t about the lack of a bra so much as it’s about her inappropriate appearance. It’s possible that some women could skip the bra and still look professional (through a combination of body type and clothing selection).

        1. Jamie*

          Yes – it’s about coverage. You just set the limits of what is and isn’t acceptable appearance wise and leave it up to her to figure out how to meet those standards.

          Agreed though, that it’s not a co-worker issue – let management worry about it.

        2. KellyK*

          Back in the “how to tell your assistant her shirts are too low cut” post, Revanche posted what I thought was a very tactful way to address the inappropriate appearance.

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

          It’s none of my business what underwear my coworkers are wearing. So they really shouldn’t *make* it my business by dressing in such a way that I can tell…

        3. Kat M*

          Yeah, I never wear a bra to work (I wear a camisole, or in thick sweater season an undershirt), but I’m just built in such a way that it’s a non-issue.

          Letting her know that her shirts aren’t giving her coverage (NOT that her underwear is inappropriate) might be seen as a kindness, if she’s not aware of it. “Hey, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but … I wanted you to be aware.”

          But yeah, this is definitely easier coming from another woman.

      2. Ellie H.*

        I totally agree. I would be incensed if I were told I “had to wear a bra.” It would be a different story if I were told I had to wear a less see-through shirt. I mean, if the shirt is that flimsy, it would also look distracting and unprofessional to be able to see a bra through it. Or am I seriously missing something here?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Well, depending on body type, you could wear a non-flimsy, professional shirt and no bra (or tank or camisole), and create this problem — just in terms of obvious jiggle.

          Which really sucks when you work at home bra-less and then have to unexpectedly answer your door.

          1. aka Cat*

            If anyone shows up at my door uninvited, they get what they deserve.

            And hopefully, I tip well enough that the pizza dude doesn’t care if I’m in my (very opaque) jammies.

    2. Natalie*

      That’s a good point – in general, nipples should not be obvious.

      Without getting too graphic, my partner has piercings that are visible in certain circumstances. For obvious adulting reasons, he chooses different shirts for work or wears an undershirt.

    3. Just a Reader*

      Exactly–it’s about appropriate appearance vs. asking her to wear a bra.

      If that’s her idea of conservative work dress, I shudder to think what she looks like on the weekends…

    4. Kelly O*

      Yeah, the downside of this is, she may actually be wearing an *ahem* undergarment, but may be someone who prefers a thinner style and therefore things are obvious that should not be obvious.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          They have these little smooth nip covers you can wear under your shirt to hide perkiness. They paste on. I have considered getting them for under skating costumes because well, ice rinks are cold and I’m not flat.

        2. Mishsmom*

          i finally got these – called “flower petals” oddly enough (although they look like flowers i guess) – it is a godsend for us permanently “perky” women.

        3. Rana*

          Yeah, I got some of those too, as perkiness is the only reason I need to wear a bra, and I hate the discomfort of the more padded varieties. I mostly like them, but they can get unpleasant in hot weather.

          1. mh_76*

            Hmmm…where do you get those? It’s getting colder now but they’d be a godsend in the summer under a lighter-weight bra instead of the padded ones that I usually wear… yep, unpleasant in hot weather.

        1. OP*

          This is definitely more about the shape of the whole thing. And when you wear a bra or undershirt, things tend to stay still and in one place. Not so in this situation.

          1. fposte*

            Then you have to be either her manager or a really good friend to be able to say anything, and it doesn’t sound like that’s you. All our nipple talk notwithstanding, that makes it sound like this isn’t about inadvertent showthrough, this is about somebody chesty who doesn’t wish to wear a bra. And honestly, there aren’t many people whose business that is; basic co-workers aren’t in that category.

    5. Jamie*

      “and that goes for guys, too”

      I’ve never seen this brought up as an issue – why is that? It’s just as unprofessional.

      1. Kou*

        I’ve seen this come up a few times, but in all cases it was the guy with the headlights in charge, and we would whisper to each other later “oh my god he needs to wear an undershirt they’re just eye magnets.” So as in the OP, not a damn thing to be done about it anyway.

      2. Natalie*

        I must say I’ve never scrutinized my male co-workers, but I wonder if the relative flatness of the male chest means any head-lightiness is less obvious?

    6. Ellie H.*

      Incidentally, my boss (an academic official) is a very “stylish” dresser and part of her repertoire includes a see-through shirt with a sports-bra type bra underneath. (Like this: urbout.co/P25zG4 but more expensive looking. Yes, REALLY!) People talk about this a lot. I actually really love the way she dresses in and of itself . . . but maybe not for work.

    7. Liz*

      Ditto on the unlined bra. I know elderly women who absolutely hate to see pants worn without panty hosebor sons underneath. There is also a pretty big difference between a natural type of raves and the heavily padded type, in terms of what you can see.

      Mostly I was thinking,”I’ll bet that poor woman bought one is those t-shirt bras, or the super light camisoles, and now she has no idea because she didn’t want everyone to see the outline of her bra under her tshirts, and now she is paying the price because that only acceptable in New York or LA.”

      1. Liz*

        Fear spellcheck: thank you for “fixing” the words spanx, hose or, and bralet. Your version is clearly better. Liz

  3. Anonymous*

    This reminds me of a Seinfeld episode. You could try giving her a bra as a gift and hope she doesn’t start wearing it as a top. ;)

    1. Amy*

      This actually did happen in a 30 Rock episode!

      Liz: This is going to sound really weird, but, um… you need to wear a bra.
      Cerie: Oh no. I.. I don’t actually. They just sort of stay up on their own. See?

      1. John Quincy Adding Machine*

        Yes, I thought of 30 Rock as soon as I read the letter, too! I love how Cerie takes Liz’s advice terribly literally, so later on she shows up in a see-through shirt with a bra underneath.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      Missed this whole conversation due to travel. Relieved someone mentioned the Sue Ellen Mischke episode.

  4. ChristineH*

    Like Alison has said many times before, if it’s not directly affecting your work in any way, it is not your problem. Yeah it’s weird, but unless she’s doing it intentionally to create an uncomfortable environment for everyone (which I highly doubt), it’s best to try to ignore it.

  5. Joey*

    Okay, I agree a female handling it is more appropriate, but it really should be up to her manager to decide first if its an issue, then how to best handle it. If the manager needs help then he should seek help from HR. The key is her manager should be in control of handling not the coworker.

    1. Louis*

      I agree. Saying a male manager shouldn’t handle this himself is kind of sexist.

      Imagine a female manager in charge of plumbers. One of them has a big case of the plumbers crack and clients are complaining… no one would suggest that she let a male handle that situation.

        1. businesslady*

          when I was in high school, our preferred notification phrase was “it’s chest a tit bit nipply in here.” (we thought we were hilarious.)

    1. The Other Dawn*

      Back when I was a teller manager at my bank, a customer asked one of my tellers if she was cold. She looked confused and he said, “You know, because you’re headlights are on.” What an ass.

    2. KayDay*

      Ha! My first thought this, actually, if and only if the braless woman was my close friend…in fact, I think I have said that (in a getting ready to go out setting, not an office setting, of course).

      ….a little bit awkward at work, though =\

  6. EM*

    Hmmm. Maybe because I live in a crunchy part of the country and consider myself a feminist, but I find the idea that women’s bodies are so offensive that they must be swathed in layers of supportive padding so as to hide anything “natural” offensive. That said, I do wear a bra, but I don’t take it upon myself to be annoyed by others who choose not to. Taking this argument to it’s logical conclusion, women’s bodies are so offensive that they must not be seen at all, and women must wear burkhas. I realize that this argument is outrageous; it’s meant to be. I’m illustrating what happens when we start debating the “appropriateness” of showing any aspect of the female form.

    1. Anonymous*

      I don’t want to be able to see the male..uhh.. “form” through tight pants either, as natural as that might be.

        1. class factotum*

          And I say this as someone who regularly saw exposed bosoms and nipples with babies attached to them – AT WORK – when I was a Peace Corps volunteer. I know it’s natural, but I’m just not used to it. I never did get used to it.

            1. MacE*

              Where I work everyone has to wear steel-toed shoes or boots.
              In some work a bra, a real one, is an article of safety clothing. Dangling breasts can be cut, burned or caught by machinery. At one office where I worked, a woman’s breast was caught in the timing gears of a desktop offset printing press. She did have a bra on, which at least reduced the injury.

        2. mh_76*

          I hate wearing closed-toe shoes in the summer, even indoors… I will if I absolutely have to but I’d much rather not.

          I, too, don’t want to see anyone’s “true colors” or “smuggled raisins”. I’d probably find guys in form-revealing pants too distracting for the workplace, esp. if the guys were decently-built… guys here are much fewer than women and tend to wear baggy pants that don’t cling.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, what anonymous said. For better or for worse, our society expects certain body parts to be kept behind the scenes, particularly in professional settings, and not just women’s.

      1. starts & ends with A*

        Please see recent Dear Prudence about the absent-minded male boss who forgot to zip up and wasn’t wearing any skivvies: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/dear_prudence/2012/09/dear_prudence_my_boss_never_zips_his_fly_is_he_doing_it_on_purpose_.html

        Since AAM has a policy about critiquing other advice columnist posts, let me just say I hope one of these days someone does the double post and we get to see competing Prudence and AAM responses.

        1. A Bug!*

          I must say I’m extremely interested in AAM’s opinion on Prudie’s impression of the non-profit world.

    3. Cat*

      I’d feel the same way if a male coworker frequently wore thin gabardine pants with nothing as a barrier…

      1. twentymilehike*

        I’d feel the same way if a male coworker frequently wore thin gabardine pants with nothing as a barrier

        LOL… this reminds me of an ex boyfriend of mine. He would always wear those sort of shimmery athletic basket-ball style shorts … commando. And I could always notice his junk flopping around when he moved. And then sometimes he’d get … ahem, you know, just a little.. with other people around, and I’d be SO. UNCOMFORTABLE. Like, thinking, “OMG everyone is going to start staring at my boyfriend’s junk! It’s sooo obvious!”

        1. Anonymous*

          Omg my bf had a pair of slacks made out of strangest fabric that showed the outline of his junk. I threw them out.

        2. Kelly O*

          Since we’re referencing television shows, remember the episode of Friends when Phoebe dated the guy wearing the shorts? Because that is what I’m imagining.

    4. Jamie*

      I don’t think this is women specific. Well, the OP’s particular problem is, but for many people it’s just about being appropriate at work.

      Fwiw I find it just as off-putting for a man to wear a shirt so that I can see his underarm when he raises his arm, or the specific outline of anything in the pant area as anything female.

      1. mh_76*

        I partially agree. I don’t mind the guy’s underarm so long as it’s not in my face but “camel toes” (and wedgies) are not something I want to see ever in or out of the workplace. I’m not trying to insult the female form (I am one, after all), just saying that I don’t want to see (or show) an inappropriate amount of it no matter where I go. Please…no see-thru (without proper undergarment) or super-tight from just-above-the-chest through mid-thigh (and skirts should cover when you sit down or bend to pick up something dropped).

        To the person in a friend’s (State Agency) office who wears hot-pants: put some darn pants (or a skirt) on! And to the girls who wear stilettos & very high heels in the workplace (an office, not a gentlemen’s club)… good grief, put some sensible shoes on (they do make nice-looking shoes that are sensible).

        1. Just a Reader*

          I think it’s about the look of the shoe vs. the height. I have a few pairs of classic pumps that are pretty tall (4″) but they’re not at all trashy and they make my work wear look more polished and professional.

          Many sensible shoes and flats can drag down the dressiness level of an outfit.

          1. KellyK*

            Many sensible shoes and flats can drag down the dressiness level of an outfit.

            Very true.

            That fact is thoroughly annoying to those of us who can’t wear heels. I’ve got all kinds of “business casual” flats, but if I have any interviews or uber-formal meetings, I won’t have any appropriate footwear.

            1. Jamie*

              Really? I like heels for myself, when dressing up, but I wouldn’t look askance at a woman wearing flats as long as they looked like dress shoes and not ballet slippers which could actually be slippers.

              I know enough women who don’t like heels and I think they look perfectly professional and polished in simple dressy flats.

              1. KellyK*

                Maybe I just haven’t been looking hard enough, or in the right places for dressy flats. (I wandered over to Corporette and found a post on the appropriateness of flats in court and the general consensus was that it was fine if they were sufficiently dressy.)

                1. Jamie*

                  I’ve found some cute ones at Payless and Kohl’s (I’m sure you’re all very impressed with my high end shopping habits!)

                  Just plain leather(or leatherette)/suede in black/navy/or brown. For dressier occasions there are some in patent leather(ette) and velvet which Ive seen people wear to super dressy weddings and they looked great.

                  As much as I like heels (within reason – not stilettos as I’d just as soon not suffer death by shoe – I’m clumsy) I have some which look just like plain pumps without the heel for work – since no heels allowed in the factory.

                  Now, I am typically in sneakers, so even flats feel dressy to me as compared to my usual Vans or Chuck Taylor’s – but even at work I don’t think I’m off base on this. I have friend here who won’t wear sneakers and she has the cutest collection of flats with all kinds of sparkly buckles and stuff…she will not let the absence of heels rob her of cute and dressy footwear. :)

          2. mh_76*

            Many sensible shoes and flats can drag down the dressiness level of an outfit.
            Sorry…I disagree. There are plenty of ugly shoes out there of all heights & comfort levels but a nicely polished (or clean cloth) pair of comfortable flats can look very nice. And there are some people who have no clue how to walk in heels & look hysterical trying.

            My own high-heels are “chunky-heeled” because I can’t walk in heels with only a tiny bit touching the ground under my own heel (I have very high arches & insteps). I also have little feet (7.5 US) and shoes higher than 3.5″ don’t work. Mostly, though, I wear flats when I -have to- dress up (either nice-cloth or shined leather) and the -ideal- work shoes for me are tevas (sandals) when it’s warm enough and sneakers or hiking boots when it’s colder. I’m perfectly happy wearing the same pair of shoes/sandals day-in day-out.

          3. ThatAlice*

            What? Oh, I so cringe at this bias towards high heels. It is a phenomenon of the last decade and, like all trends, it will pass. Not to mention that high heels cripple women, literally. Women wear “sensible shoes” for a reason–very often, it is because of the pain they have to deal with from years of conforming to the dressiness ideal. I get where you are coming from, as much of the dominant culture feels this way, but I am eagerly awaiting the inevitable turn back away from high heels .

            1. Bobby Digital*

              I’m a 5’10 woman who regularly wears heels and I’m not crippled, nor am I on my way to being crippled (literally or figuratively), nor am I in pain when I walk, nor am I conforming to a dressiness ideal.

              I also don’t think that all women should wear heels or that a woman in flats is less professional. What I don’t like is the implication that only naive, impressionable, overeager, half-crippled women wear heels. Not all of us are quietly-suffering fashion victims; some of us just likes them shoes.

      2. Anon.*

        Underarms….and chests too. My boss does not do up enough buttons on his shirts. Of the things i wanted to know about my boss, the colour of his chest hair was not on the list (he wears a gold chain too….very classy). Ew!

        1. Kelly O*

          Okay, I also have to laugh at this one. We have one person in particular who is fond of leaving his shirts undone one button too many. And he wears a very shiny gold chain.

    5. EngineerGirl*

      As someone that broke into my industry when there weren’t many women, I find your argument ridiculous. It isn’t about feminism or womens bodies at all. It is about body parts being a distraction (male or female). You would probably need to have the same sort of conversation for pants that show too much when bent over or sitting down. Or jingly jewelry. Or body piercings and tatoos in a conservative office.

      The conversation could go like this:
      Jane, can I please talk to you about something that may be impeding peoples perceptions of your professionalism? Then get into the discussion of how things outside “office norm” can negatively impact peoples careers. It may not be right, but it is pragmatic. If you make people uncomfortable, when you won’t get asked to the “right” meetings or get asked to meet the “right” people. The career stagnates.

      There are now several studies out there that women that dress provocatively are promoted less than women that don’t. Again, it has to do with people feeling comfortable around the person and becaise of that, not wanting to promote them.

      So if you know this person well, you can and should frame it as something that may impact her career. If not, then you’re getting on to thin ice discussing it with her.

      1. Hari*

        +1 I like this method. I am for other women liberating themselves from bras if that is their choice but in a work environment there are just certain norms you need to follow in order to be respected and taken seriously.

      2. Anon*

        But you’re then assuming that this person cares about a career. I have plenty of staff who are happy to just roll along with no promotions or advancement for decades. They come in, do their work, and go home. And occassionally don’t wear a bra.

    6. Anonymous*

      I agree with you that in general, women’s breasts/nipples are treated way differently (see people comparing it to male genitalia already in the comments). But in the workplace, I’d think it just as inappropriate if it was a little too cold and I could see a male co-worker’s nipples clearly through his clothing. (That said… it doesn’t really bother me personally, but I feel a little second-hand embarassment because I’d feel awkward if it were me showing them.)

      1. Anonymous*

        This thread is starting to make me contemplate changing tactics for getting my frigid, drafty office adequately heated this winter. Off with the thick sweaters, on with the clingy shirt.

    7. Camellia*

      It’s not that anyone’s body is offensive. It is that certain parts of the body are ‘sexual’ parts and therefore exposing them in a business setting is not appropriate.

      Exactly which body parts fall into this category varies by culture, of course. In the USA, it is, generally speaking, anything from collarbone to knee, excluding arms.

    8. km*

      My (very laid-back social service) org recently went around and around re: dress code and there were several other managers making the same argument that you’re making here. While I myself am a crunchy lesbian feminist supreme, I found myself on the side of the counter-argument (which was … weird):

      This is my feeling: when a person decides to work for an organization, there is an inherent amount of trade-off to their personal autonomy while they’re being paid to work. Your employer wants to tell you what to wear when you’re at work for the same reason they don’t want you to swear at your customers/clients/consumers. Your employer believes that adherence to a normative standard of appearance and conduct is going to help them achieve the most success. If you disagree with the normative standard? Totally valid. But I would argue (unless in some very rare instances) it’s not your job to try and shift the cultural conversation when you’re at work.

      This can apply in non-profit settings as much as the corporate world. In my workplace, we’re advocating on behalf of marginalized populations who have already been screwed over pretty badly by the system. I don’t feel comfortable putting my right to personal autonomy and my desire to shift the cultural conversation on appropriate dress ahead of the needs of my client, and if a cranky public servant is judging me for not wearing a bra, they’re judging my client too.

      That being said, I did throw down with my colleagues about writing a dress code that only included gender neutral items of clothing in its prohibited examples, because of my concerns about the disproportionate amount of body shaming that gets directed at women.

      1. NewReader*

        KM, bulls eye! Impressive, well put together and well thought out.

        I would like to add that I don’t think anyone is worried about the once in a blue moon mistake in clothing. This makes a difference too. “A garment looked okay in the store… when I tried it on eight months ago… I was running a little late so I grabbed this and….”

        The idea is the unprofessional attire that happens on a regular basis. At best this shows poor wardrobe planning.

      2. Anonymous*

        Any manager needs to be aware that medical problems can influence clothing choices. Some women have medical issues that cause pain when wearing bras, such as costochondritis and post-mastectomy scarring to name just two. Women who have medical foot problems may not be able to wear heels. But questioning an employee about health issues is a delicate issue and could be construed as discrimination to a “disabled (even temporarily disabled) person.” Check with legal before you have that chat! And try to have some sympathy for people who may have such issues.
        No one should be required to wear an item of clothing that causes
        injury or pain in the workplace.
        Proper covering of the breast (nipple) area can be done with layered clothing, vest, jacket, or even well-placed pinned scarves, however a large breasted woman or an older one might have some
        “sway” that will simply need to be ignored if she is disabled from bra-wearing. A “keep your eyes off other people’s bodies” policy might be good if this is the case in your office.

        Requiring bras or heels for women at work could be construed as “sexist” unless the men are also required to wear a tourniquet with weighted shoulder-bands and shoes that slant their feet forward. Ditto skirts and pantyhose requirements, unless men are also required to wear tights with kilts. Rarely are dress codes made that require women NOT to dress in slacks, jacket, shirt and flat shoes, as men do.
        On the other hand, women should not be allowed to wear open-
        toe shoes if men can’t wear sandals with their business attire, and requiring men to wear knotted ties should not be done unless women are required to wear scarves tied tight around the neck!
        (Managers often call open toe shoes a “safety issue” which is really a “worker compensation insurance issue” because closed toe shoes do provide some protection against a work-place injury to the toes!)
        Dress codes need to be checked out by legal staff, or the company
        attorney! Don’t be the manager that gets caught up in a lawsuit!

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          However, the onus is on the employee to raise it if a medical issues means they can’t comply with a dress code. Employers are free to set a dress code; employees can let them know if they have a problem meeting it.

    9. ARM2008*

      This. Totally. Nipples, we all have them. Penises, some do, some don’t. As long as they aren’t hanging out the bottom of your shorts (true work story) I don’t care how it hangs. I find wearing a bra excruciating due to surgical scars. Depending on the shirt, I wear a tank undershirt. A thin material underwire gives the same look as no bra, but you can track the straps and confirm the woman is meeting societal norms. This is probably why I need to win the lottery and leave society, because I find it hard to tolerate the norms.

    10. EL*

      I agree wholeheartedly with EM. It seems to be a unpopular opinion but I stand by it. In the comments I’ve seen people say that women shouldn’t have “jiggle” or nipples. No jiggle, really?

      Women have breasts and everyone needs to get over it. It sounds like from the description the coworker isn’t flaunting her chest, she just has committed the crime of owning nipples. Wearing layers of padding under a work appropriate top is ridiculous. Our bodies are overpoliced as it is.

      I also think it’s amusing to see the number of straw men thrown up. The tops aren’t low-cut, or see-through, or skintight, or whisper-thin silk. They’re just knits that don’t camouflage the fact that their owner has nipples. BFD.

      To those claiming it’s distracting, if an employee can’t do their job when they see someone wearing something they don’t like, they need to focus more on their own performance and less on the appearance of others.

      Not every woman can wear bras, as one commenter astutely pointed out.

    11. LibKae*

      Not sure that I have any strong feelings on this one over all (not terribly interested in seeing another person’s jiggly bits on display at work, but not terribly offended by it either), but I do want to throw in a totally off topic comment (since we’re discussing being offended in this little portion of the thread): The burkha is not worn because women’s bodies are seen as offensive. It’s worn as a sign of modesty and respect. I know you were just trying to make a point, but I think it’s dangerous to do so at the expense of others.

    12. Bobby Digital*

      I think what has happened here is that you’ve lost track of your own argument.

      Cultures that force women to wear burkhas are simultaneously forcing morality on apparel. Which is why it seems outrageous. You’re right: clothing has no inherent morality and, by the same logic, no morality needs to be attached to undergarments. Wearing lingerie is not immoral. Burning your bra isn’t a one-way ticket to Hell.

      Our clothing, then, doesn’t make us better or worse people. But it might be better or worse for our careers. I don’t think that American workplaces have a diabolical plan to doctrine the “appropriateness” of the “female form,” nor do I think that they are “offended” upon realizing that Jane in accounting probably has boobs.

      Companies are just trying to run a business and they want to pick the most professional people to help them run their business. Dudes need to wear pants and girls need to wear bras. Because that’s the professional requirement–not because we’d all freak out and go fetal if we surmised that, under that lovely t-shirt bra, the lady we work with probably has “natural” parts.

  7. Steve Levy*

    C’mom Allison…lots of visceral reactions here. Let me ask a question – did you ping the reader as to what “everything” means? The way the complaint was written…

    “who I rarely see”
    “her shirts are typically clingy knits”
    “No one else seems to notice or care”
    “I have a hard time taking her seriously”

    and without any insight into whether the nippley-one is “harming” others with her “lascivious” (my fun word for the day) manner of dress or if there’s an adverse impact (no pun intended) of the manner of dress (AKA preferential treatment) then your reader needs to look the other way.

    Change the attitude, change the action.

    Now let’s talk about guys who wear their pants halfway down their arses…

  8. KellyK*

    I agree that there’s not much you can do. You could mention it to the HR person, but only if you know she’s discreet about things like this. If you say something and she doesn’t do anything, you’re no worse off than if you don’t say anything, but if she mentions that you’re the one who said something, that makes it worse.

    I would say something directly to her, as quietly and privately as possible, if a situation comes up where it has the potential to horribly embarrass her (and you can catch her in time for her to actually do something about it). If news media are there with cameras, and her wardrobe malfunctions are likely to end up on the six o’clock news, or if she’s about to go into a meeting with the chamber of commerce.

  9. Sue*

    Leave pasties on her desk.

    I work in a creative design office in NYC and this is VERY common. Also, bright-colored underwear with white pants. SO becoming, right?!

  10. Janet*

    I remember years ago there was a website where you could send anonymous gentle tips to people when you were too scared to do it yourself. The only thing I can find now is this site:
    But it appears “You’re not wearing a bra and I can see your nipples and I’d rather not” isn’t an option.

    But if you really wanted to go the passive route, and HR doesn’t do anything, open a free e-mail account from the Bra Fairy or something and send her a politely worded note saying “I am the bra fairy. A few co-workers of yours at XYZ, Inc. have told me you do not wear a bra to work and they can see more of you than they’d like to see in the office. Just wanted to let you know. Undershirt Fairy was also going to contact you but I told her I had this handled. Either one of us would be able to help though. Peace.”

    1. fposte*

      Oh, I really would discourage anonymous notes from co-workers. I mean, this really ultimately isn’t the co-worker’s business in the first place, so there’s already a problem there, and if something’s sent anonymously it seems more like a dig (and a conspiracy rather than a single opinion) than anything helpful.

      Plus the fact that she doesn’t need a bra per se–she just needs to dress in a less revealing manner.

      1. Jamie*

        I strongly agree with discouraging anonymous notes.

        I can’t imagine a scenario where that would be either effective or professional. If I feel strongly enough about something to mention it, I feel strongly enough to use my name.

        I just cannot think of an instance where an anonymous note about anything wouldn’t be creepy and/or hurtful.

    2. ThatAlice*

      This is horrible advice. OP should learn to be more passive aggressive? Or how about, OP should do as s/he is doing, which is the more difficult and more rewarding work: stimulate (no pun intended) discussion, sift through the answers, think critically. The passive aggressive way is the (no insult intended) mindless way, the way of honoring a knee-jerk reaction. Which is what we, collectively, need much, much less of.

  11. anon*

    Anonymous note in her mailbox? Create an anonymous gmail account and forward her this post? :-)
    All joking aside, given how much my coworkers gossip I’ve often wondered what they say about me when I’m not in the room – I’d hate to find out someone is so concerned about my appearance they have to write in to AAM

  12. The Bookworm*

    I don’t normally watch Kelly Ripa – but for one show the dress she wore had darts in the chest area. The darts made it appear she was cold, VERY cold. People posted comments about how “cold” she appeared.

    She ended up hunched over & covering herself with her arms for the rest of the show.

    Just goes to show, that anyone can have a blind spot about how they appear.

  13. OP*

    For the record, I’d be equally uncomfortable if the offender was male! I haven’t got a problem at all with the female figure, I just think it’s unprofessional and embarrassing to have nipples, etc. showing.

    1. Anon2*

      Are they showing as in you can see the color of her aureola or they nipple is peaking? If it’s the former, then I think I would do a “I’m not sure if you’re aware, the lighting in here is super good and your shirt may have seemed opaque at home but it’s see-through here”. I know I would want someone to let me know if I consistently wore a something that revealed my nipples to the world and I seemed oblivious of it. You would have to be prepared for her to be angry, defensive or completely aware, but this would also give her an “out”.

      If it’s just nips coming up periodically, eh, I don’t personally care about it but you could try the sweater route. Every woman I know that has especially nipply nipples, knows about it though. I used to have a coworker who told anyone who’s listen that management told her she should wear bandaids – she was a completely unreliable person though, so no one believed her. She did have almost permanently erect nipples, even with padded bras. Sometimes, there is no good solution to this – especially in the summer when layering is problematic. My stepsister is downright paranoid about hers, though I don’t find them hugely obvious – but I’m also not looking and never noticed until she started freaking out about them.

    2. fposte*

      I agree, but that doesn’t automatically translate into its being something you can take action on.

      Do you have any sense of whether she knows about the display or is oblivious? If it’s the latter, you might (presuming you’re female and are otherwise friendly with her) be able to quietly mention something about the lights maybe making her top more revealing than she realized, and did she want to borrow a sweater for the rest of the day? But I honestly don’t think that there’s a way to politely or usefully inform her unsolicitedly that she’s regularly showing body parts that you find inappropriate at work, even though I agree with you.

  14. some1*

    As for the different take, years ago I worked in an office where the female receptionist wore tops that were deemed too low-cut. The (female) Office Manager (the receptionist’s supervidor) was going to say something to the receptionist, but the Division Director (a male) insisted because he was the same race as the receptionist and thought it would be better received than coming from the Office Manager, who was of a different race.

    1. Sara*

      Wow….so how did that work out?

      I want to ask, how does race matter in this? why combine 2 potentially explosive topics (race and women’s dressing)….is beyond me. Honestly, if a woman said “in my culture women wear low cut dresses and your’e being racist if you have a problem with it”….well…..I’d think she was an idiot.

      1. some1*

        I honestly don’t know, I was told about it way after the fact. As a white woman, it was something I had never thought about in terms of race. The Office Manager was white, and the Div Director and receptionist were black. Apparently the Div Director felt that the receptionist would rather be told something like that from a black person than a white person, like that the receptionist might think she was being targeted for her race.

        Honestly, I have been on both sides of the “your work clothing is too revealing” discussion, and while it’s necessary, it’s also awkward. I think any way to set it up so it will be received in the best light is the ultimate goal.

        1. Jamie*

          Wow – that’s a really crazy way to look at it, if you ask me.

          I can’t imagine race even entering my mind for a conversation like this.

          Maybe the next time I get feedback at work I can request that it be delivered by someone who shares my exact ethnicity. However, like many white people I’m a mix from various parts of Europe…so they’d have to get my brother to come in and do it…to get the blend just right.

          Kidding – of course.

          1. some1*

            As I pointed out, I never would have thought about in terms of race, either, but I have never been targeted for my race. I think it’s a little unfair to assume it’s “crazy” that a white woman would ever over-scrutinize a black’s woman outfit because I’ve never personally witnessed it.

            Also, with all due respect to you, it’s a little unfair to lump this in with “feedback”. Allison and pretty much every commenter has acknowledged that this isn’t an every day discussion, and it’s awkward to have for everyone involved.

              1. some1*

                Right, but it’s kind of hyperbolic for you to equate it with having to bring your brother in to “give feedback” that could be as minor as stapling papers a different way.

                1. Jamie*

                  I was merely pointing out the absurdity of injecting race into an issue where it’s clearly not relevant – similar to the way you equated my use of feedback with stapling papers.

                  I’ve been given feedback before, never for stapling…so it’s taking the example to the nth degree.

                  Yes, I was using hyperbole to make a point – it’s a common convention.

                  Not getting into a debate about this – just wanted to clarify my meaning.

                2. some1*

                  Right, but my point is neither one of us is a minority so it’s not necessarily for us to say when race is or isn’t relevant. You were so derisive about it and I don’t understand why.

          2. Anonymous*

            African American have been unfairly targeted for their hairdos (very curly hair) so race can enter the appearance issue. Probably not in this case, but that may explain why the manager was being careful.

  15. Elizabeth West*

    I don’t have anything against bodies, but I don’t want to see your bewbies, your junk, your crack, your toes, or anything your SO sees. I understand if you have a wardrobe malfunction–those happen. I will try to tell you if you are in trouble (ripped pants, open fly, spinach teeth, ketchup tie, etc.) and don’t know it. If not, and I’m the only one it seems to be bothering, I’ll put my head down and keep doing my work, because it’s not really my problem unless customers are complaining about it.

    1. Jeb-Ray Gumpeater*


      I especially like this part, “…If not, and I’m the only one it seems to be bothering, I’ll put my head down and keep doing my work, because it’s not really my problem unless customers are complaining about it.”

  16. Jellen*

    I heartily agree with approaching this in a professional dress context rather than a bra because sometimes you just can’t wear a bra. Many years ago I had radiation therapy for breast cancer. As a very fair-skinned person, the skin was especially sensitive and wearing a bra was not possible if I wanted to finish my treatment on time. I was mortified by this, but wore loose shirts covered by loose, buttoned jackets. I checked with a few friends who knew what was going on so be sure I didn’t look awful.

    I don’t think that’s what’s going on here, because no one going through that would wear clingy shirts! But just thought I’d toss this in.

    1. Anonymous*

      I have a friend who has a colostomy bag that they positioned awkwardly close to her breasts – she also finds bras unbearable during this time. She needs a bra for lift, but just can’t do it and layers her clothing to try to minimize things.

      1. ThatAlice*

        Geez, this post reminds me of what real problems are. Cf. the letter “I’m a big snarky meanie and waaahhhh my boss is coming down on me.”

  17. JB*

    I agree that it’s not about the bra, but about looking professional. My girlfriend (who isn’t flat) hates to wear a bra, but she experimented and researched thoroughly until she found a way to look professional without being obviously “bra-less”. I honestly can’t tell now when she’s wearing a bra or not.

    On the other hand, a woman in my office wears clothing that makes it clear that she isn’t wearing a bra, and is kind of in your face about it. I never brought up her bra-less state, because it’s none of my business, but she’s mentioned all the “haters” who can’t understand that she has “nippies” quite a few times. Awkward!

    Deciding to wear a bra (or not wear a bra) is a personal decision, and it really doesn’t factor into the workplace. When any wardrobe decision crosses into an “unprofessional” look, then you’ve got a problem.

  18. AnotherAlison*

    When I was in engineering school, there was a heavyset Chinese grad student who had recently had a baby and chose to go braless. It was much more offensive than just “headlights”. Lots of swinging an displacement. I tried to ignore it because I figured it was possibly a cultural issue, but I felt bad b.ecause the 18-22 undergrad males used to make fun of her. Now I like to think I would have the guts to say something to someone if it was affecting her reputation

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Of course…didn’t mean to offend.

        My thinking was more on the cultural + motherhood thing. Some culturals are more natural than others.

  19. Jeb-Ray Gumpeater*

    I didn’t have to ready too far down to see that I’m in the minority here, but IMO, the OP needs to keep her eyes on her own paper and stop worrying about what the other kids are wearing. She even says it herself, “…No one else seems to notice or care…” C’mon OP, surely you have better things to think about when you’re at work.

    1. Anonymous*

      Me, too. Maybe it’s having worked in patient care, maybe it’s having done various sports, including swimming, but I’m just not terribly fussed about other people’s wardrobe indiscretions. (As long as they don’t expect me to emulate them.) If the wearer is obviously out to épater la bourgeoisie, that will Be Ignored in best British style. The exception is if it’s part of a pattern of sexual harrassment directed at myself or a coworker.

      1. Jamie*

        “épater la bourgeoisie”

        I am on a mission to use this in conversation with as many people as possible today. I am heading out to conduct a company wide audit – so this should be interesting…

  20. The Girls*

    Be very clear with yourself about what the problem is. Focus on professional appearance as viewed by potential donors, other nonprofits, and constituents–if that is really really the problem. Talk to your coworker in private, be compassionate and clear, and be realistic about what can and can’t change. And don’t make it a big deal. If you treat it as a standard everyone has to follow, and a side effect of nature, it doesn’t feel like a personal attack — but “Wear a bra! Jane, you ignorant slob!” gets you nowhere.

    Here’s my context: I had a boss who did this all wrong years ago, in my first office job. Out of the blue, Boss joked about how she and her high school friends invented the term “ping poing” for noticeably cold nips. I thought this was weird and inappropriate. A week or two later, she joked about it again (as in “Ha ha, ping-poing is so funny!”). A week after that, she barked, “I’ve talked to you about this, and I’m going to send you home if you don’t put on a jacket. I’ve already talked to HR, and I’ll write you up.” I was gobsmacked. She had never said clearly that her joke had any connection to me, and I didn’t get the very immature hint. I’d have appreciated, “I’m sure you don’t realize this, but when you get cold, it’s very obvious. It happens to all of us, but look at how some of the senior women dress so it’s not an issue.” Thinking back, she never was direct or clear about what she wanted, but she sure reacted strongly when she didn’t get it. She’s on my list of managers not to emulate.

    1. Zee*

      Good grief. I would have filled her desk drawers up with actual ping pong balls after that. She has much more serious issues than worrying whether or not her employee is wearing a bra. If she was (maybe still is) living her high school days, it lends much to her mentality. While it embarrassed you at the time, no one is going to remember a bra-less day, but they will remember her immaturity.

      1. The Girls*

        Oh, I always wore bras–giant, substantial underwires. Her issue was nips, even with layers of clothes. After a point, it’s just biology and there’s a not a lot that a reasonable person can do.

  21. Chassity*

    I have a condition called costochondritis, which is inflammation in the cartilage that connects the ribs to the sternum. In addition to causing heart attack-like pain from doing simple tasks like driving or pulling clothes out of the dryer, it makes it unbearable to wear a bra, even a wire-free one. To not attract attention, I layer my shirts with a thick tank top on bottom. So, maybe this woman has a physical ailment that her boss is aware of and is sympathetic to. Sure, she could do a better job of covering up, and her boss, HR manager, or a friend could certainly bring that to her attention, but others should still consider that there are things in peoples’ lives that are complicated and not what they seem, so we should all be hesitant to judge and even more hesitant to offer advice when it’s not our place to do so–especially when we want to offer advice not out of concern, but because we look down on the person’s decision.

    1. Nodumbunny*

      Ugh, I had this as a teen and have had a few flare-ups as an adult, and it is super painful! And yes, when I’ve had it, breathing is agony so I can’t imagine wearing a bra. You have my sympathy!

    2. M-C*

      There are many medical conditions that might make it uncomfortable or impossible to wear a bra. There are none that decree you must wear a thin clingy top with that condition though.

      1. KellyK*

        I don’t think anyone’s arguing that there are, just that the problem is the unprofessional appearance. What undergarments/layers/fabric choices someone wears to avoid showing too much is irrelevant, as long as they fix the problem.

  22. Tami*

    We have had this discussion at work recently, as I sit next to the office manager who often must enforce the company dress code. (much to her chagrin). If everyone, male and female, would simply follow one rule, it would make life easier for everyone: Cover your sh*t.

    OK, maybe 2 rules: 1) Cover your sh*t; 2) Look in the mirror before you leave to ensure your sh*t is sufficiently covered.

    That is all.

  23. Crystal Fiquette*

    Just be up front with her, tell her that the way she is dressed is offending you and causing you to be distracted. You could also possibly through in how, yes its ok to be proud of who you are and how you look, but there’s a difference between being professional and just not giving a damn. Also, probably want to say it a bit more tactifully than I did, but the idea is to get the idea across. Yes, she may respond negatively, but it will also get her thinking. And pull her off to the side, don’t make it into a big show. Just ask her if you can talk to her for a minute where there are limited people around, so as not to cause her undo embarrassment and to show that you respect her privacy.

    1. Jamie*

      I think this would be fine if the OP was her manager – she’s not though.

      If it’s as obvious as it sounds there is management that’s choosing not to address this, a co-worker doing it can break badly for the OP as it’s not her place to make these kind of criticisms.

      If they were friends that would be one thing – but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

  24. Ask a Manager* Post author

    For whatever it’s worth, why is everyone assuming the problem is nipples? I assumed it was more the whole situation — jiggling all over the place, uncontained, etc.

    1. Kelly O*

      That’s sort of what I assumed too Alison. It’s not necessarily just the nipple issue, but more the general floppage.

      And whether or not the OP knows of anyone else noticing or not is sort of a moot point. We had a “work in your comfy clothes” cleaning day not too long ago. We were moving files, doing deeper cleanings on our cubes and offices, that sort of thing.

      Since we’re usually jeans-friendly, we had people showing up in sweatpants and t-shirts, which is fine. Except for one person, who showed up in sweatpants so tight I could literally see her cellulite through them, and a t-shirt so tight I think I could have read her bra size through it if I were close enough (which I did not want to be, thank you.)

      I noticed, but did not say anything. I overheard other people in the office talking in groups of two about it, but no one wanted to say anything because who wants to be the one to say, “couldn’t help but notice you prefer the Playtex 18-hour bra” only in a much nicer way.

      So it’s not even about the undergarment itself, it’s about the way you choose to present yourself in an office environment, even a casual one. People might not be openly gawking, because that’s not exactly polite, but they notice.

      If you had to choose between Jane and Mary for an important client visit, and they were equally qualified, but Jane was fond of letting her breasts flop around openly under her shirts and Mary wasn’t, who would you want to represent your company? Or if your lead investor came in unannounced, would you want him to meet her in the hallway?

      (And I know, before I hit submit, some of you are going to say you wouldn’t work for a company like that, and I get it. I’m just talking general socially accepted clothing standards.)

      1. Jeb-Ray Gumpeater*

        “…whether or not the OP knows of anyone else noticing or not is sort of a moot point.”

        On the contrary, this is a critically important point. If the OP is the only one who notices or cares about what her coworker is wearing, the problem is only in the OP’s mind.

        I would agree that if multiple people saw a problem, then management needs to act, however, if only one person has a problem and management refuses to act, that one person needs to settle down and re-evaluate her perception of the issue.

    2. KellyK*

      For me, I think it was the bit about “clingy knits” that implied it wouldn’t be obvious if she were wearing something less thin and close-fitting. A shirt would have to be a lot looser to hide general jiggliness than it would be to hide nipples.

      1. A Bug!*

        When I initially read “clingy knit” my mind was drawn to a particular knit sweater of my own. Although it’s a turtleneck, knit from fairly thick wool and the sweater itself is quite heavy, certain aspects of my anatomy mean I need to wear not just a bra but a dark camisole underneath. But I didn’t learn that until one day I wore a white camisole under it, and saw myself in the mirror under the harsher lighting of my office.

        I have never been more glad that I habitually wear camisoles under my sweaters. What might have been a mortifying conversation with my boss and a rush home to change (actually I’d probably melt down and light the building on fire in an attempt to erase the incident) was merely a wardrobe misstep.

        1. Jamie*

          I think every woman has had something similar happen – this is why I’m such a big fan of cardigans.

          I keep a black cardigan in my office at all times as a safety precaution. It also comes in handy when you spill coffee on a light colored top – which I do so frequently I’m thinking of investing in a sippy cup.

          Also because the temp in my office will vacillate between 65 and 85 on any given day. I have never worked in an office with consistent temp control – am I just unlucky or do HVAC engineers just hate office workers?

          1. KellyK*

            I think HVAC people just hate office workers. Based on my previous life teaching middle school, they’re not fond of teachers either.

    3. Rana*

      Probably projection on my part, based on what I have to worry about. I’m petite up top, so I can get away without wearing a bra under most clothes… except clingy knits, and then it’s entirely a matter of nipples. It’s somewhat frustrating, actually.

      Most of the bustier women I know also need to wear a bra just for comfort’s sake, so it’s harder for me to picture a full-figured woman going without any support.

  25. Luckygrl*

    I have a “floozey” co-worker that often looks like she should be on the street corner vs our uber conservation professional office. She does save her bras to wear with jeans or skirts (sans shirt or any top) when she goes out on her personal time LOL. She doesn’t know the difference between the bra-like tops and crop tops that are intended to be worn this way vs actual undergarmets though. Frankly I just ignore it – the bare midriff, undies hanging out, “highbeams”. I think she is hurting her advancement opportunities here and I can see that she is not taken as seriously as she could be. She certainly is not viewed for her intelligence. Frankly her lack of hygiene issues are far more bothersome anyhow.

    I think as a co-worker you have a right to say something to HR or mangement if someone’s dress is distracting. It seems that so many people are either clueless or inconsiderate when it comes to co-workers, whether by behavior or by dress.

    Still laughing at the feminist comment due to irrelevance to the topic. I work in an conservative office not a hippy commune. The fact that my office expects a certain appearance does not mean my form or body is offensive and I’ve never perceived it that way. Professional dress during the week to me, means that I present myself in a certain way, a way in which I want to be viewed. I would much rather be viewed for my brain and abilities as a team player and individual contributor than I would by my large chest and tiny waist.

    I think it is normal for a certain level or style of dress to be expected in certain situations.

  26. Jill*

    I’m not clear as to whether OP is male or female, but I (as a female) would assume that she’s not aware of how much she’s showing. Some women don’t think they need to wear a bra when they actually do. I’d take her aside privately and in a concerned voice say, “I don’t mean to put you on the spot, but if the roles were reversed, I’d sure want someone to tell me this. I don’t know if you realize it but your shirts are awfully revealing and it’s pretty clear that you don’t wear any undergarments. Just thought I’d let you know”

    From there, it’s up to her where to go from there. Maybe she’s truly oblvious…maybe she’s a skank on purpose. Either way, you tried to at least be discreat about your concerns.

    It’s just a shame that management is too afraid to say anything to her. I think men in this office would have a legitmate claim of sexual harassment if a female co-worker was constantly flashing the goods.

  27. some1*

    I’m disappointed in the remarks like “skank” or “floozy” to describe this situation. I think the consensus is that in most offices it’s unacceptable to dress too revealing, but as a woman I should be able to wear whatever I feel like anyplace, anytime, and not have judgments made about my personal life.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      As people — both men and women — people judge as by how we present ourselves, meaning things like clothing, hairstyle, hygiene, etc. I don’t think we can realistically argue that any of us have the right be go unjudged by others regardless of how we choose to present ourselves.

      1. some1*

        I totally understand that. I don’t want to buy a gown from a salesperson dressed like s/he’s about to clean the basement. However, in all the comments that mentioned men who dress too revealing at work, no one called the male co-workers floozies, skanks, or any other term which means he has a less than honorable reputation.

        1. Jeb-Ray Gumpeater*

          I see your point. On the other hand, your freedom to dress as you please does not nullify my freedom to form an opinion of you. If you dress like a floozy, I will think you’re a floozy. You’re free to do what you want, and I’m free to think what I want.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I think some1’s point is that a man dressed revealingly does not get called a floozy or anything like that. (He does get sometimes get called slimy or sleazy, but it has a different connotation.)

        2. Kelly O*

          I have actually used “man-ho” as a descriptor. Sometimes “pimp daddy” is a little more accurate.

          It does happen.

          1. some1*

            The fact that you would say “man-ho” instead of “ho” completely proves my point. Of course it’s unprofessional to dress too revealing in most workplaces. Of course people are going to make judgments about men or women who do it anyway. But it’s not ok to bring terms like skank and floozy that are female-centric into it because it has really unfair implications.

          2. mh_76*

            I’ve used “slut” to describe a man. example: [baseball player] is such a slut! Is there a super-model he hasn’t slept with?!?
            /* used to describe a specific b-ball player, not the whole of MLB. */

    2. A Bug!*

      I agree that some of the language being used in the comments is a bit disheartening. One can say “unprofessional” without going so far as to use words like “floozy” or “skank”. It seems kind of unnecessarily mean to me.

    3. Crystal Fiquette*

      Well as we are all human, we will judge as we were raised. But I disagree that you should be able to wear what you want anytime you want, if a workplace has a dress code, you need to follow it or not, and its about PROFESSIONALISM not about doing what you want. As this is a forum, we are allowed to express our opinions on the matter, if it hurts your feelings, maybe your in the wrong place.

      1. some1*

        It’s too bad that you didn’t read my entire post. I never said I should be able to wear whatever I want to work and have no consequences. If I came to work dressed in a revealing outfit &/or without the necessary undergarments, think I’m unprofessional, looking for attention, trying to act younger than I am, naive, and by all means I should be sent home to change. It’s still not ok to call me a name that implies anything about my professional life. If you see a woman dressed over-modestly, I doubt you would say she’s dressed frigidly or like a prude.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          In fairness, you actually did write, “I should be able to wear whatever I feel like anyplace, anytime, and not have judgments made about my personal life.”

          I get the point you’re making, but that sentence is what some people are understandably responding to (and is not what I think you meant to say).

  28. Lorraine*

    I don’t even understand how a conversation like this can be legal in most states. Until the co-worker starts walking around in see-through or sheer things, live and let live. I don’t think bra use should even be mentioned. If it’s offensive when a woman with breasts doesn’t wear a bra, what about obese men who also have large enough pecs that they should also wear one?

    Until she is wearing a top/blouse that in of itself is unprofessional (see through, sheer, et cetera), then I wouldn’t touch it either. How do you know she doesn’t have medical reasons for doing so? That’s extremely personal, and she really shouldn’t have to answer to anyone about not having to wear a bra because of reasons like that.

    I agree that it can (and does) appear unprofessional, but point-blank: bras alone are not legally required to perform business in public. Clothes are. I like Jill’s comment about addressing a concern that allows the woman to make her own choice without opening up any harassment issues.

  29. Liv*

    uhhhhhh….. because women’s natural body shapes are so disgusting that you can’t possibly be burdened with having to look at something so un-structured? Women should NEVER have to wear a bra. If they make you feel good, that’s one thing. I apologize for having a natural body shape… I didn’t realize it was so horrific

  30. Marie*

    Phew, this really is an American site, isn’t it?

    I get that in the US, employees are meant to be genderless characters in anonymous suits (or perhaps overall masculine-looking) but I really feel that this is storm in a teacup.
    I genuinely think the reader cares way too much. What does it have to do with you anyway?

    I’m not offended by braless females, nor seeing nipples through a man’s shirt or some chest hair. At worst, a woman can experience too much unwanted attention from men, but then again, that’s her problem. And it’s not usually that much of a problem – it’s mainly women creating problems for other women.

    It’s a body. Even if you’re American – try to get over it.

    1. Freedom*


      You have better sense than most. God made us all beautifully. Our bodies are as diverse as sunsets and are meant to be enjoyed.

  31. Freedom*

    Her choice to either wear or not wear a bra is hers to make. My goodness, they are only breasts. Her nipples can also be used to feed her baby. She should be free to do either, where and whenever she chooses. This is not obscene, the human body is beautiful with all it’s curves and bumps. She is wearing clothing that covers her breasts. Some bra’s are very uncomfortable and some research shows a link between breast cancer and wearing bra’s. This is certainly no more inappropriate than the deep plunging necklines popular today. You can see the whole breast with some shirts. Also, the huge boobie bra’s make the appearance of some breasts 2 cup sizes larger. At least she’s not enhancing anything. The push up bra enhanced breasts are most certainly trying to draw attention to their chests, should these be prohibited too? (no) I really don’t see what the big deal is. If she’s comfortable with a jiggle and allowing the beautiful natural curves of her breasts to be seen, so be it. At least she’s not wearing iron basketballs under her shirt. You may choose to be a prude and shun her or accept that she is a woman with fatty tissue on her chest crowned by a nipple. So what!

  32. Martin*

    I wonder from where the insecurity expressed by the original writer stems. It really has nothing to do with you what this co-worker wears. It seems to me that you are the person with the problem. See a counselor for some help with your self esteem. If management were concerned about it they would have done something about it.

  33. Penny Grace*

    Not wearing a bra is not unprofessional in and of itself. It’s more the outfit. I have not worn a bra to work in over a year (office setting). I just take extra to make sure that my clothes do not reveal too much. Maybe it is the coworkers dress that is the problem and not her lack of wearing a bra.

    Bras are not required for work/school/play

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