how to tell an intern her skirt is too short for the office

A reader writes:

I’m hoping for a little advice or maybe a link to get me to the right place. This is my first time supervising an intern. I have two: a woman who is a “family intern” and a man who’s a professional intern. A “family interns” is just a family member of an employee. Most of them aren’t interested in the industry or getting a job here. It’s more of a benefit to their family to provide the work experience.

Anyway, the family intern is wearing a very short skirt, well above the knee-length dress code. While our dress code does prohibit that, most of the dress code isn’t enforced (which is probably a problem within itself, but we are a large corporation and we don’t have much say in that department), so I don’t think I can just make it a dress code issue. Since I think it’s more due to inexperience in appropriateness, I’d like to delicately address it with her.

I’m a woman as well, and I’m maybe two years older than her, so people think I’d be the best one to broach the subject. Any advice on how to talk to her about dressing professionally, even with a relaxed dress code?

Well, first, you’re the best person to talk to her because you’re her manager, not just because you’re a woman, so make sure you keep that in mind — this stuff is part of a manager’s job to handle, and seeing it that way is important because it’ll help you see it not as optional, but as really part of your job.

Talk with her privately, and say something like, “I want to mention something that has nothing to do with your work, but is important. In our environment, we can’t wear skirts quite that short. Generally you need to stick with knee-length.”

Also, if it’s true, you can open with something like, “I appreciate how professional you always are, but …”

And if you sense that she’s receptive to the topic and you want to talk to her more generally about dressing professionally, then you can do that too: “I know if can be tricky when you’re just starting out to figure out what is and isn’t office-appropriate, particularly somewhere with a relatively relaxed dress code like we have, and especially on an intern’s salary. I was there myself a few years ago. Here’s what I found worked…”

Either way, have this conversation toward the end of the day, so that she’s not stuck there the whole day feeling embarrassed but unable to do anything about it. (Or if it’s so short that it’s truly obscene, you can talk with her earlier and send her home for the day, but that’s going to be mortifying on a whole new level, so I’d reserve that for truly egregious situations.)

Related posts:
telling your assistant her shirts are too low-cut
telling someone she needs to look more professional

{ 243 comments… read them below }

  1. Jen

    Whatever you do – don’t send an e-mail to all of the interns saying “Everyone – A reminder on the dress code” and then hope they read between the lines and remember the code. This almost never seems to happen. I’ve worked so many places where they send out a code saying something like “Reminder to everyone, don’t wear open-toed shoes” and everyone is convinced that they didn’t really mean THEM. “No no, they meant Gail in Finance, she always wears flip-flops and I wear open-toed pumps and those are dressier so they didn’t mean ME.” or “Oh when they said no jeans they meant the people who have to deal with customers, I’m just in IT and never see anyone so I am going to keep wearing jeans.”

    One-on-one with the person who is the problem is always a little harder but the more direct way is the better way.

    1. AnonHR

      Or on the flip side of this, it is painfully obvious who the offender is and you just had that private conversation with the employee via email with all the other interns copied in.

        1. tcookson

          Exactly — you can have a situation where everyone in the office knows who the offender is, and knows that the email is directed solely at the offender, and is giddy with excitement that the offender is finally going to be told what-for . . . and once the email comes out the offender has absolutely no clue that she was the intended recipient of the advice.

          1. tcookson

            . . . I don’t know that from bitter experience as one of the ones waiting in giddy anticipation or anything *sigh*

      1. EM

        Yes. And then you have people who are extreme rule-followers (like me) who read it and think, “Ohmigod! Is it me?!? Are they talking about me?” and then spend the rest of the day wondering if you’re dressed appropriately (or filling out the form correctly, or whatever).

        1. MJ

          I’ve been there too! These type of mass emails cause us perfectionist types so much unnecessary anxiety.

          1. Jessa

            Exactly. They’re never specific enough anyway. And I hate the concept of “punish the whole group for one person screwing up,” anyway. If it’s one person, then deal with the one person. Don’t go all rules pushy on the entire place.

        2. Lindsay J

          Yes. I do this all the time. Even when I know I have been doing whatever it is right the email or lecture or whatever still plants this shadow of a doubt in my mind that really I have been wrong all along and just don’t know it. It doesn’t matter whether the note is excessively vague “Please ensure all outfits are appropriate for work” or really specific “Please ensure that all data entered into field X in database form Y is always all caps.”

    2. Natalie

      Argh, this is my biggest pet peeve ever. If you have something to talk about with one person, just talk to them about it!

    3. Vicki

      “Oh when they said no jeans they meant the people who have to deal with customers, I’m just in IT and never see anyone so I am going to keep wearing jeans.”

      I turned down a job offer years ago because they had to hem and haw and “think about it” and finally agreed that, given it was a system admin job and I might have to crawl under a desk, it was ok if I wore pants.

      Across-the-board dress codes are silly.

      1. littlemoose

        So their dress code requirement was that women could only wear skirts or dresses?! That’s ridiculous.

        1. Jazzy Red

          We also had to wear nylons or pantyhose, even in summer. Oh, and no low cut shoes that showed “toe cleavage”.

          At least when I worked in the foundry office, it made sense that I had to wear earplugs, steel toed shoes, and long sleeve shirts.

  2. bearing

    Since you commented that she’s the best person for the job because she’s the manager, and not because she’s female: how would your advice change if the OP was a male?

    (I am assuming that you wouldn’t advise him to say “I was there a few years ago myself.”)

    1. Marmite

      In general dress code terms “I was there a few years ago myself” could still work, men new to the workplace can also need some guidance on professional dress (we have a casual dress code but our manager had to gently tell one new guy that it didn’t extend to board shorts and flip flops!). The “here’s what I found worked…” is more likely to be irrelevant if talking to the opposite gender, if it’s about specific style or shopping tips.

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      I actually think a man could say the same thing: “I want to mention something that has nothing to do with your work, but is important. In our environment, we can’t wear skirts quite that short. Generally you need to stick with knee-length.” (You might reword to get rid of “we,” but the same general thing.)

      1. Chinook

        I think we can all agree, though, that men shouldn’t be wearing skirts/kilts that are above the knee either!

          1. Briggs

            But, of course, your comment was about *SHORT* skirts or kilts, not necessarily about men wearing *ANY* skirts or kilts. Sorry, I was a little too eager to share that story. Realized my assumption too late.

          2. Mike C.

            To be honest, there was a time at the lab where the A/C was out for a week in the summer and all the fridges/freezers/incubators were going nuts. I was quite jealous of the girls wearing skirts and was quite temped to borrow something from my wife.

            It drove me nuts, I can wear a lab coat and shorts while remaining safe but it simply wasn’t allowed. Neither was calling someone to fix the A/C…

          3. Brightwanderer

            I really like that story, mostly because the company’s reaction was basically “As long as the skirts fit the dress code, they can go right ahead.”

  3. ExceptionToTheRule

    I had to bring this problem to our internship coordinator once after several people complained to me about it. I’m pretty sure he was just straight-forwardly professional about it with her. Good luck.

  4. Rebecca

    Thank you for this post! Now I know how to approach my manager about one of my coworkers. She wears low cut pants, and they’re not size appropriate for her, so when she sits down, her entire bare butt sticks out. You can see everything – it’s bare right down to the chair, and no underwear. She sits with her back to a doorway, so anyone who happens to glance that way gets the full picture.

    My manager is one of those “call everyone together, scold everyone” about an issue, and many of us have told her that doesn’t work (to no avail).

    This gives me hope that the situation in our office can be addressed.

    1. Ash

      What? That’s crazy! I can’t believe that someone’s entire bare behind is out and they can’t tell. How is she not aware of this? Are you sure you aren’t overexaggerating and it’s just a minor case of plumber’s crack? This is just astounding to me…

      1. Rebecca

        I am not exaggerating. I’m not trying to be gross, but sometimes you can see her entire butt crack, clear down to the chair. Her pants seem to work their way down the longer she sits. Her shirts ride up, too. I am overweight, and I’m not trying to be insensitive, but her clothes are not size appropriate for her shape. She round in the middle, and she should not be wearing low rise pants and short tops.

        I think she should be feeling a major draft. We are trying to figure out a tactful way to bring this up to our manager so she can address it (hopefully).

        1. Anon

          I don’t think this needs to be about her weight–it’s that she is wearing the wrong size or maybe just a non-work-appropriate cut. I once supervised someone who was about a size 4 and wore about a size 2 with the same effect.

        2. Anonicorn

          Is anyone in your office particularly friendly with this woman? The message might be better received as a delicate FYI from a peer than a talking-to from the sort of scolding manager you described above.

          1. Jessa

            Exactly. Someone needs to say something, and if she doesn’t believe you maybe someone has to show her on their phone, but I can’t see that she’d WANT to have everything showing like that.

      2. tcookson

        I have seen people’s whole entire bare butts sticking out from their low pants when they sit, and believe me, you do not want to see that! It is a whole different ballgame than just seeing breast cleavage, which doesn’t really bother me much. You may think it’s an exaggeration, but let me testify — you really can see the whole butt as easily as if they were not wearing pants at all!

    2. Katie the Fed

      It’s such not a big deal for a manager to address, either. “Hey, Katie, your butt is hanging out. You need to cover it.”

      No need to make a huge production out of it. Just address it quickly and early.

      1. Jazzy Red

        +1!

        And if they’re talking baby talk, you say “knock off that stupid baby talk – it’ annoying as hell!”

  5. CollegeAdmin

    I once asked in an open thread about skirt length – no one in the office had said anything to me, I just had the question myself. I’ve given some thought to how I’d want someone to hold this conversation with me, if it ever was necessary. (Turns out it’s not – I dress quite well for my office.)

    I absolutely agree that this should be done at the end of the day, maybe even on Friday – if she has any embarrassment over this, let the weekend soothe it. And definitely do it in private!

    I like Alison’s general phrasing, but I’d skip the “but is important” clause. While I understand that the office dress code should be followed and one should look professional, I think that gives it too much clout and somehow makes it a sterner reprimand.

    I really dislike the possible add-on conversation of “I know if can be tricky when you’re just starting out to figure out what is and isn’t office-appropriate…” If her skirt length is the only issue, then just say the piece about the skirt length. If it’s not, and it’s her whole wardrobe, just say that plainly: “I want to mention something that has nothing to do with your work, but rather your office attire. Your outfits are not quite appropriate/professional enough for our office.” Give her the opportunity to correct it herself; if she doesn’t, that’s when I think you should step in with the “I know it can be difficult to figure out an office dress code, here’s what works for me.” I think that conversation could be tough for her to hear (personally, I’d be mortified), so save it as a last resort.

    1. Marmite

      I agree with the Friday idea as she may need to go out and buy new clothes, which would be easier over a weekend.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I wouldn’t wait for Friday if the issue is just this one skirt — because you wouldn’t want to wait days to address an issue with a skirt she wore several days earlier.

        1. CollegeAdmin

          Good point, I hadn’t thought of that. If it’s just one skirt (as opposed to most/all of her skirts), waiting for a few days would be a little weird/awkward.

        2. CollegeAdmin

          Also, if it’s just the one skirt, I’d consider rewording the discussion with her as well: “That skirt isn’t quite long enough for this office; our dress code calls for knee-length.”

          1. Chinook

            If it just one skirt, could you then point out that the one she was wearing the day before was appropriate? It would reinforce a good choice and maybe dampen the embarrassment.

          2. Ellie H.

            Yeah, I agree. This doesn’t sound like necessarily that big a deal, especially if it’s just the one skirt and not a general trend in her dress. I would honestly be quite embarrassed to get a whole talking to if it were really just the one skirt (and I do have a couple “one skirt”s myself!) and the rest of my appearance was unexceptionable.

          3. Bwmn

            I do think that over emphasizing the written rules of the dress code and “knee length” may miss the point and appear overly rigid when the reality of that rule isn’t followed explicitly.

            There’s a difference between ‘over the knee’ skirts and ‘too short’ – and so mentioning that a specific skirt registers as too short for that professional context is different than “you’re breaking the rules!!!”. Especially when others are breaking the rules. If she was wearing a very tight pleather leopard print pencil skirt, even if it went below the knees – that would also not be appropriate for most professional contexts. Despite following that rule.

            In general, I think when talking about dress codes, emphasizing professional is far more helpful than hiding behing the rules. The same designed top on a flat chested woman might not be professional on a large chested woman. Skirts that end on one part of the leg of a tall woman may look unprofessional, while on a shorter woman don’t.

            There are professional environments with more exacting dress codes, particularly if there are safety issues. But for most of us, it’s more an issue of evaluating the environment where we work.

      2. Yup

        I got the that-one-skirt-too-short talk from my boss when I was a 17 yr old summer employee, and the problem was definitely that I needed to go buy new clothes. I only had a few summer outfits that were appropriate for an office. (Most of my existing summertime clothes were shorts or filmy dresses, and my other summer jobs involved uniforms.) I was trying to stretch out my wardrobe over the three months without buying new things, and thought — wrongly — that I could get away with the short skirt if I wore dark opaque tights.

        I do wish my boss had brought it up more thoughtfully, though. She saw me by the copier in the morning and blurted, “That skirt is too small! I can see everything.” I didn’t wear it again. But I also spent the day hiding in my cubicle.

  6. Ellie H.

    Out of curiosity (this is genuine curiosity – I’m not trying to be difficult or provocative) if the dress code is not strictly enforced, is she the only one who violates the dress code who is in need of being talked to about it? If so why – are her skirts really egregiously, obscenely short, much more obviously dissonant to the dress code than what anyone else is wearing? I wholeheartedly agree that for someone who is seeking professional experience it is a good learning experience about how to maintain a professional demeanor. But it also seems a little strange to me if people frequently violate the dress code but this is the only case requiring intervention.

    1. mollsbot

      You mention that you do not have any say in the overall dress code problem in the office, but you are able to bring up dress code violations with her?

      Is there any way to start fresh with the dress code, make is mandatory for everyone to adhere to it?

      (IMO, knee length is pretty conservative. I have many work-appropriate dresses that hit above the knee.)

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I think that meant that she can’t do anything about the dress code being lax company-wide, but that (a) this skirt is too short even for that context and (b) she manages her, so she has standing to address it with her.

        1. OP

          Yes- this. Our dress code is lax in that we’re supposed to be business casual, but a lot of people wear pretty much anything that isn’t jeans and a t-shirt.

          There are other people that violate the dress code, but I don’t manage them. HR doesn’t take much of an issue with it, so it’s not much of a “violation” as it’s a professional learning experience.

          1. Anonymous

            She is taking her cues from the people around her, though– if she wears something she sees other people in but only she gets corrected, she’s going to be especially embarrassed because she thought she WAS following the rules. And if it means buying new clothes when others are breaking the code all around her, she’s gonna be miffed. So try to address that as well, and maybe consider if this is egregious enough to necessitate an intervention.

            1. Chinook

              If she gets defensive and syas that she thought the skirt was appropriate based on what others are wearing, I would think that pointing out that the OP is her manager and not the manager for the others and, as a result, does not know what has been said to the other offenders.

              BTW, thank you for not even contemplating bringing it up the family intern’s family member and treating them like a separate adult.

              1. Anonymous

                I mean, that makes sense from an institutional perspective, but see it from the intern’s perspective. She dresses like everyone else (presumably) but gets corrected and told she doesn’t understand professional guidelines. It’s not that it’s not fair, it’s that from her POV she had no context to not make this mistake in the first place, so it’s going to feel weird. OP shouldn’t launch into explaining professionalism to the intern unless it seems like she really doesn’t get it, since she would have gleaned dress code standards from observing what others under different managers wear.

                That’s assuming the skirts are just kind of short and not wildly unlike what others are wearing.

                1. bearing

                  I don’t think there is any way to escape feeling weird, but perhaps some of the shame can be mitigated by making it *extremely* clear that she is not being disciplined (as I think the term “corrected” implies) or written up in any way, but is simply receiving a needed clarification of professional attire.

                2. Rana

                  Agreed – if it could be framed as “I know that a lot of people here wear similar skirts, but you should know that they are technically in violation of the dress code, and they have enough experience that they can get away with it. Unfortunately, as an intern, you can’t, so I’m telling this so that you’re prepared when you move on to your next office job.” Or some such – basically, more as mentoring and less as disciplining.

              2. Anonicorn

                That, and the intern should be taking cues from the most professional examples rather than the least.

                Perhaps that could be another consideration – point out a mentor for her.

            2. FiveNine

              She’s not necessarily taking her cues from the people around her, and it’s not her place to be miffed being asked to be professional. She’s an intern.

              1. Natalie

                I don’t find this idea particularly helpful. Regardless of the intern’s place on the corporate hierarchy, this is going to be an uncomfortable conversation no matter what. The OP can smooth things over a little bit by making it clear that she understands why the intern might have thought the skirt was acceptable and why the intern will see other dress code violations. I don’t see the harm in that.

                If the intern pushes back, sure, go to the “I’m the boss, you’re the intern” route. But in the beginning I think it’s better for everyone to give this young woman the benefit of the doubt and treat her like a (albeit young) adult.

          2. Kelly O

            I completely understand where you’re coming from.

            Thing is, in the context of her learning about how to maneuver an office, it’s better to learn that sort of thing as an intern in a more casual environment than showing up in a conservative office on your first day in a skirt that’s too short.

            There are LOTS of “business casual” ideas out there that are wholly inappropriate for most workplaces (in my personal opinion) and she may truly have no idea it’s not appropriate. Better a brief lesson now than a harder one later.

            1. T in Construction

              See every workplace drama on TV for inappropriate “business casual” !!!

              1. Windchime

                Oh, I agree! Lots and lots of plunging necklines and skin-tight skirts that would totally be looked at askance in a real work environment, at least here in my part of the country.

          3. Bwmn

            I mentioned this above – but I strongly think that this should be approached as a professional learning moment and not a “rules violation”.

            I can think of all sorts of clothes that fit into most standard dress codes that still would not be professional for most work environments (leather cat suit, anyone?). I currently work for a place with absolutely no dress code for employees in the office (holes in the seat of your pants are fine) – but when we interact with the public (either attorneys in court, meetings with diplomats) we’re expected to dress “correctly”.

            Where my boss really struggles is in describing what “correctly” means to offenders. Over the years, what I’ve found helpful is pointing out a good version compared to a bad version. (i.e. Yes, Bob is wearing a buttoned down collared shirt, but it’s very wrinkled and looks like it might have a stain on it – however Joe is wearing a clean, pressed collared polo shirt – for this specific meeting that is what I’m looking for, not just any shirt with a collar.)

            If there is another person in the office that wears shorter but appropriate skirts and is considered to look very professional, point her out to the intern.

      2. Marmite

        The OP does say very short skirt, well above the knee, so that sounds like an inappropriate length for a professional environment, not a work-appropriate dress that happens to be above the knee.

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      I took it as them being pretty lax on dress code in general, but this particular skirt being far shorter than anything anyone else would wear.

    3. Bean

      I had the same thought, Ellie.

      Coming from the perspective of the intern (who I assume believes her skirt is office appropriate), I would wonder why I am being singled out for not following the dress code that is not really enforced in the first place. I would especially feel singled out if other women wear skirts or dresses that are above the knee-length rule stated in the dress code.

      1. Anonymous

        There’s above the knee and then there’s ABOVE the knee, if you know what I mean. Like a few inches probably won’t make a difference, but when something is mid-thigh, you’re getting into risky territory. But some girls are just really tall and can’t help their hemlines – knee-length to most people is mid-thigh for them.

        Thank God I have the opposite problem.

        1. Bean

          Anonymous-

          I’m 6′ tall and finding skirts and dresses long enough is really difficult! I work in an office with a VERY casual dress code (beach flipflops anyone?) but I still will never wear a skirt or dress that goes higher than the top of my kneecaps.

        2. Tex

          The shortest skirt I ever saw on an actual human being was on a 15/16 year old tourist in Paris. It was so short that you could see the color of her underwear from the front as she was walking around.

          You know how as a tourist you sometimes feel a bit self-conscious? And how as a teenager you feel everyone is watching? Well, in this case everyone in the Tulieries really did turn and stare and she knew it because she was bright red and desperately trying to pull that thing down.

          Note to potential interns out there: if it’s from Forever21, it’s probably not work appropriate.

      2. Ellie H.

        Yes – from the OP’s reply it sounds like this particular employee is more in violation of the (loose) dress code than anyone else is, so it crosses the (further than it’s technically supposed to be line. Which seems fine and appropriate to me.

        This isn’t the kind of thing that normally bothers me, but if there were, say, a male employee who wore ripped jeans and baseball caps (and again, from the OP’s response, it sounds like this is not really the case), but nobody did anything until the short skirt wearing which is uniquely egregious because it is sexually provocative, that would seem sexist to me. I was hoping that that wasn’t the case, and from the OP’s response it sounds like it indeed isn’t.

        1. Chinook

          But if the ripped jeans being worn by a guy were showing his underwear (i.e. ripped under the butt cheeks), you would still have to point out that they were inappropriate even if others were wearing ripped jeans. There is a world of difference between toeing over the line and taking a leap.

        2. Ellie H.

          @Chinook Of course – I meant that presumably a guy wearing ripped jeans and a baseball cap would be equally egregiously in violation of the dress code, like a male equivalent of the offending skirt. But it’s hard to find exact analogies with this, as with other matters of taste.

          1. Cat

            Yeah, I’ve run into this. For instance, we have had employees who tend to wear skirts that are way too short, plus leggings-as-pants (i.e., with a short blazer rather than a tunic). In each case, these have been young women who started with us straight out of college. So I think it would be a service for someone to explain to them that this isn’t professional dress.* The problem we run into is: well, are leggings-as-pants worse than the senior partner who wears crocs every day? What about the somewhat senior employee who wears white sneakers with her business clothes? Both of those are entirely tolerated; how do we make them comparison? And if we’re not addressing these issues out of dress code concerns, is it right to do so to teach junior employees professionalism when they’re not specifically in a trainee/intern role? I don’t know what the answer is.

            * I’m not their direct supervisor, so haven’t done it; but am above them and we’re small enough that I’ve thought about how/whether we should do so.

            1. COT

              Well, it sounds like your more senior employees are dressing with an appropriate level of coverage, if not business style. Short skirts and leggings-as-pants, on the other hand, are more of a skin-coverage issue. I think that can be an important point of differentiation in dress-code issues, fair or not.

              1. Cat

                I guess the “fair or not” is my question; the distinction certainly can be made, but should we? On one level, I feel like the best argument for business dress is that it marks the workplace as a space where a particular level of formality is warranted and appropriate; if we’re not enforcing it in the service of enforcing that formality, than maybe that’s a problem. On the other hand, we also enforce business dress codes because we want our business to present a certain image and atmosphere; maybe we do need to be aware of existing social standards and how they’re interpreted while doing that.

                I don’t know, I think it’s a hard question.

              2. Chinook

                I have to agree that there is a difference between skin covering and work approriate. As well, the intern doesn’t know why the senior employees are wearing said fotowear because there may be a medical reason (says the one who deal with a ganglion in the middle of the ankle for 2 months and couldn’t wear anything other running shoes due to comfort but only had dresses for business wear).
                Lastly, if the intern really makes a point out of it, you can point out that they are more senior than her and have earned the right to break the rules because they have followed them long enough to understand when and how the rules can be bent.

            2. Anonicorn

              are leggings-as-pants worse than the senior partner who wears crocs every day? What about the somewhat senior employee who wears white sneakers with her business clothes?

              Maybe those people have ongoing podiatric issues? I had to wear a therapeutic boot with a sneaker for almost a month even though we have a specific dress code about footwear.

              I also think senior employees have already proven themselves and built a (presumably) positive reputation, whereas new employees have not. Someone might question whether that’s fair, but that’s not the point. The fact that another person might be violating the dress code does not make someone else’s violation acceptable.

      3. COT

        It’s also possible at some companies for individual departments to have different levels of enforcement for the dress code. So if the intern objects by pointing out that people in other departments wear the exact same things, OP could respond, “Yes, but I hold my team to a different standard” (assuming this is actually the case for the whole team). OP could also talk about how longer skirts are a professional standard in many workplaces and industries, since learning workplace norms is generally part of an internship experience.

      4. FiveNine

        Look, the OP has indicated that people in the office believe she would be the best person to broach the subject with the intern. I think this is important to keep in mind, given the rather large number of responses here that seem to indicate the intern could get miffed if she’s addressed, or maybe the OP isn’t being fair in asking the intern to follow an already lax dress code, and to see how it looks from the intern’s perspective in having it addressed at all, etc. If people who an see that original post are missing the obvious — that it’s not just the OP’s concern but one that’s been discussed in the office as needing to be addressed — then, honestly, maybe OP needs to specifically say this to the intern. (Because so many people apparently are convinced the intern is going to think it’s just the OP’s opinion and it’s an unfair opinion.)

  7. Elizabeth West

    Ugh, what an uncomfortable conversation to have.

    We had a temp come in to sub for me during a company meeting at Oldjob once. She showed up in a nice outfit with a blazer, but her blouse was VERY low-cut. One of the manager/owners got really upset by that and made my supervisor send her home. I had to stay at my desk and miss the meeting (they wouldn’t let me turn the night ring on) because we didn’t have the phone covered.

    She was very young; she might not have known it wasn’t appropriate. The men in the office DEFINITELY didn’t mind! I’m just glad the boss didn’t make me do that. >_< I would not have known what to say.

    It kind of pisses me off that a lot of ladies' blouses these days are all cut so low. When I was interviewing, I had to buy some new shirts, and I also ended up buying some of those little lace fake camisole things you hook to your bra to cover up–I could not find any new shirts that didn't show everything!

    1. Marnie

      Total agreement – what is up with clothing designers today? I swear I’m going to start a clothing chain store called Wardrobe Basics. It would sell only black, navy, khaki, and grey slacks and blazers, and simple, classic sweaters and blouses, and some very basic accessories. Everything would be cut to be workplace-safe. Nothing trendy or bleeding-edge stylish – just things that you can wear every work day and always look put-together and appropriate!

        1. Kelly O

          And a selection of non-fluttery shirts in larger sizes (that are cut to fit a larger bust!) Because seriously y’all it is like pulling teeth to find tailored larger sizes that don’t cost an arm and a leg.

          1. Anon

            Can we add shirts designed for short but busty women? Petite length sleeves but generous sized busts? Not all of me is petite.

            1. ThursdaysGeek

              Yeah, it would be nice to buy something where I don’t have to roll up the sleeves!

          2. LCL

            …and long sleeve button down shirts in women’s large- tall sizes. So the sleeves and the body would be long enough (yeah Lane Bryant I’m calling you out)

            1. Realistic

              isn’t it crazy how tall sizes stop at size 16 or 18?? WTF. I’m 6′ tall and a size 20 on a good day. The Avenue does tall pants just fine, but tall plus-sized blouses are nowhere to be found.

              1. AgilePhalanges

                LongElegantLegs often go up to 20 or 22, but I totally hear you. I’m always complaining that Lane Bryant has two issues. The first is the lack of tall sizes (and the talls they DO have are about an inch too short for me), and the second is that they apparently take clothes that would look good on a size 2, and just make them much larger. They don’t take the actual CUT or STYLE that would look good on a larger woman into consideration, nor the fact that if you’re wearing a size 22, you probably don’t have an A-cup, either. Plus their clothes seem to be poorly made. Grumble grumble grumble.

            1. KellyK

              Oh, my gosh yes! Let’s please assume that clothing size does not somehow magically make you love big bright floral patterns. If it’s a popular pattern or color for a size 6, there are probably plenty of size 16 and 26 who’d want to wear it just as much.

              (I happen to like a very small selection of floral prints—that very narrow range between Laura Ashley/Little House on the Prairie and *giant gaudy flowers*.)

      1. Chinook

        Can you add in button down shirts with generous darts in the bust line so I can actually wear them without bursting a button when inhaling?

        1. anon

          Ooh ooh, I can help with this! They aren’t cheap, but Rebecca & Drew makes nicely tailored button downs that are fit according to bust size. You may also want to check out The Shirt by Rochelle Behrens.

        2. anon

          …and eshakti isn’t bust size- specific, but they offer a ton of customization options (like different types of sleeves or skirt lengths) as well as custom sizing for a small fee. I believe they also offer standard sizes up to 6x/36W.

          1. Emily, admin extraordinaire

            If you do custom measurements on eshakti, then you can get bust-size specific. (I love eshakti!)

            1. HR lady

              Thank you for these ideas about places to shop for tailored shirts that are bust-size specific! I will check them out ASAP.

              Also, CarissaRose (online) sells button-down shirts that are made for larger bust sizes – a little pricey but another good option.

              I’d love a place to ask more work-related clothing questions (maybe an open thread on AAM?). I’m mid-late 30s with some unusual wardrobe needs and have a hard time finding good looking, age-appropriate, fashionable clothes & shoes for work. (And by unusual I mean things like bust too large for normal business shirts, foot problems so I can’t wear high heels, etc.)

              1. KellyK

                Corporette tends to be good for that, although they lean much more toward the business professional side of the dress code.

      2. CollegeAdmin

        Could I add a request for the pants to have actual pockets, not the fake little “oh it adds visual interest” ones?

      3. Lora

        And you should make a chain of them, sited near office parks. That way when some of us spill coffee on ourselves or lose a button near our swimsuit area, we do not have to wear the Cardigan Of Shame. We can just scoot over to your store on our break and buy a new whatever.

        Nice looking steel toe shoes would also be awesome, Ariat does spiffy ones. In general, closed-toe shoes in neutral colors–you know how in summer, suddenly there are nothing but sandals and open toed shoes everywhere, and your favorite pair of loafers just bit the dust.

        I work across from TJ Maxx, and it is seriously helpful.

        1. Chinook

          Actually, in Canada we have Mark’s Workwearhouse (or Mark’s) that does do some of these things. They sell work shoes with nonslip soles and may even have some with steel toes. I know for a fact that they sell women’s workboots (which can be hard to find). I also bought a couple of dresses and tank tops with built in bras that were actually bras (complete with wiring) and not just an extra piece of stretchy fabric. I think I need to check them out the next time I complain about my shirts not fitting. I just discovered that I went up another cup size (but no weight gain) and I think I have to go through my shirts again *sigh*. Growth spurts should not be allowed when youa re getting close to 40!

      4. KellyK

        Skirts would be awesome too. Knee-length pencil or A-line skirts that are work appropriate. Again, grey, black, and khaki.

        Tank tops that don’t show cleavage would be fantastic too.

        1. tcookson

          And tank tops that don’t have gigantic armholes . . . learn to take a dart and give good underarm coverage, clothing manufacturers!

      5. JoAnna

        How about a maternity line as well? It’s murder to find business casual maternity wear that fits well (note to designers: XL pre-pregnancy size does not mean that I have a XXXXXXL bustline), isn’t tacky (e.g., obnoxious floral patterns), and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg (I can’t afford to spend $50 on a single shirt or pair of dress pants that I’m only going to wear for a few months).

        1. Rana

          Oh my hells, yes. There is so much cheap shit out there, and just about everything has a really low neckline and is made of really thin, extremely revealing jersey. I mean, hello.

        2. Rana

          (By the way, you might try looking at the stuff Zulily sells – it’s a bit of a risk, sometimes, because you can’t return anything, but it seems that the “designer” maternity wear is a lot more thoughtful in its design than the stuff at Motherhood Maternity or – aieee – Target. Ann Taylor’s got some nice stuff online too, but I don’t know how their sizing is.)

          1. JoAnna

            Yeah, I’ve looked at their stuff, but I’m leery of ordering anything if I can’t return. Sizing can vary so wildly from brand-to-brand.

      6. Kat M

        I would totally shop there. How about a wash-and-wear pencil skirt that doesn’t fall apart at the seams? Also, shirts and sweaters that have sleeves that end just above the elbow. I need my forearms bare, but I don’t want to be flashing pits for all my clients!

      7. Anonymous

        Please, some colours, please. There’s something horribly dystopian about watching an office block empty at 5 pm, rank on rank of uniform black and navy blue. Gives me the urge run off and join the rebel alliance.

        There are grown up colours. Dark reds, blues, and greens.

        Also, trousers proportioned for a woman’s pelvis. And, PS, if a woman shorter than 5’7″ has to hem her trousers, they’re not petite!

        1. Editor

          Yes to the colors. And not-too-structured jackets with pockets, too, as a compromise between a stiff jacket and a cardigan; the sleeves should be loose enough to go over something short-sleeved, not so snug I have to wear one of those shells we’ve all been complaining about.

          My desire is for washable skirts made of cotton knits in A-line and pencil styles that hit just above mid-calf. Or else pants in women’s sizes that have longer legs for taller women, because even though I’m 5’7″ I am shortwaisted, and women’s pants all look like badly designed cropped pants on me.

          Sometimes I wish clothing merchants would preview their lines so people could order in advance plus critique, so someone could say, “Love this top and will order one in advance for weekend wear. If you offer it in blue and also in lavender with a higher neckline suitable for work, I would buy those, too.” Then the company could look through the comments and count up the advance orders plus decide whether to modify the line to meet requests.

          1. Cruella Da Boss

            I’d just settle for pants with a decent rise and waistline. Most of my shopping is spent looking for pants that the waistband reaches somewhere in the neighborhood of my belly button. If I find a pair of pants that fit through the waist, I look like I’m wearing jodpurs. Not all women are blessed with generous hips.

            My tailor is making a fortune off of me.

        2. KellyK

          I’d say colors for the tops, but standard black, grey or khaki for the bottoms, jackets, and blazers, so that you can do a lot of mixing and matching.

    2. -X-

      “got really upset”

      People have to relax a bit. I guess if you know you have an important and conservative client coming in that very day, it’s worth getting annoyed at this. But otherwise, I think the manager/owner should have just said “Please dress more conservatively in this office in the future, with less cleavage showing” or whatever. But getting upset? Chill.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I think it’s more likely that “really upset” didn’t mean “really upset” in the way you’re imaging it; it’s a casual figure of speech. I doubt the manager was teary or screaming or even totally worked up.

        I mention this because I know you’ve made similar points here before (apologies if I’m misremembering!) and often people aren’t as truly upset as I think you might be reading it.

        1. -X-

          OK, then how about stopping the hyperbole, or dialing it back?

          If they weren’t really upset and instead just annoyed and sent the person home, then just say that: “The owner/manager didn’t like it and sent the person home.” It’s clear and still a strong story. And then if someone is actually really upset, the term will have more meaning.

          1. -X-

            PS – I have seen people get really upset at work – yelling, tears, etc. Not common, but it can and does happen. The phrase has meaning in those circumstances.

          2. Ask a Manager Post author

            You’re fighting a losing battle there; this is just the way many people talk. I think you’re better off adjusting to it rather than trying to get the world to change!

            1. -X-

              Not in my office they don’t. At least not to me – they speak clearly because if they say/write something that’ shard to believe I ask them about it.

              “I think you’re better off adjusting to it rather than trying to get the world to change!”

              Do you have the same attitude about university career offices that you complain about here? Why do you repeatedly talk about that? I assume it’s in the hope that a few people will learn from your comments and bring about some change.

              Ditto for me and hyperbole. It makes people less believable and I think they should be aware of that.

              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                It’s not the same thing at all. You’re protesting against a conversational style that’s widespread and that few people seem to interpret as you do. (Versus speaking out against what basically amounts to professional malpractice, in the case of the career centers.)

                We can agree to disagree, of course, but I’d appreciate it if you at least stopped complaining about it here since it tends to discourage people from contributing to the discussion.

                1. -X-

                  No, it’s perhaps not the same in degree, not not the same at all.

                  So I guess I can’t offer advice on what I believe is a legitimate critique of communication – one that undermines the credibility of the speaker. You’ve heard the story of the boy who cries wolf I assume – I can’t help but wonder how EW will describe someone actually getting “really upset” at her workplace. Will it be “really really upset”? “Literally really upset”?

                  Seems counter-productive in terms of trying to help people in the workplace to let that stuff slide to me. But it’s your blog and your rules.

                  “and that few people seem to interpret as you do.”

                  I work in communications in a very multicultural, international organization – we had people born in at least 9 different countries at a 35-person meeting last week, and have an extra-net with people from over 40 different countries. I don’t think “few” people take things are face value. Surely this blog is rather multinational too, but I can’t help but think that in talking about work in today’s professional environment, it’s worth either being clearly joking, or speaking more accurately. And that it would be worth encouraging that.

                  But your blog, your rules.

              2. Jazzy Red

                X, you and I think a lot alike. It seems like I’m always trying to get people to be more accurate in their speech. What really gets me is someone saying they “literally” did something that’s impossible (jumped out of their skin, for example).

                Those people sound silly and I have a hard time taking them seriously about anything.

                1. fposte

                  That’s slightly different, though, in that’s a usage error–X is objecting to hyperbole, which is a classic rhetorical device along with irony, figures of speech, etc. that are part of our daily communication. Since I’m pretty sure I’ve seen X employing other non-literal rhetorical devices, there’s no particular grounds to single out this one except for taste, and I’d certainly be vehemently opposed to any plan to make language as literal as possible anyway.

    3. SB

      Bah, I have the same problem. I tried to buy some nice button-up blouses recently. Most of the blouses didn’t have buttons halfway down the chest. The few I found that had buttons all the way up were boxy and/or had shoulder pads. I’m not yet 30, and finding age-appropriate office-wear is hard. I don’t want to look like I’m playing dress up, either as my mother or like I’m auditioning for the part of “sexy librarian”.

      1. CollegeAdmin

        Agreed! All of my button-ups are basically v-necks – the buttons don’t go up far enough and they’re cut so I can’t even sew some on myself.

      2. LPBB

        Button-downs are the worst!! I am a busty woman with a small frame, so I generally have to buy shirts that are too big for the rest of me to accommodate my full bust. Then I look silly because I’m swimming in the rest of the shirt. Or, like you said, the buttons start so low that I’m giving a show even if I’m just standing straight up.

        Yes, I know that I can alter the shirts, but my sewing machine is packed away and I can’t really justify spending the money to have someone else do it.

        1. -X-

          Get your clothes tailored. Include the cost of tailoring in your calculus of what you can afford.

            1. fposte

              And if you’re buying more than one thing at the clearance rack at Target, it might be worth picking the best and getting it altered instead of buying that second thing. Ditto if you’re buying at Goodwill.

              1. LPBB

                That response came out a little harsh, I’m just frustrated with my financial situation right now. I do believe in buying one high quality item vs multiple cheapo pieces, but sometimes it’s not in the cards.

                I usually hit the big redline clearances during the summer once a year and splurge (usually about $150 and that is a huge extravagance for me) and that’s all the clothes shopping I do for the year. This year it doesn’t look like I’ll afford to be able to do even that.

        2. Elizabeth West

          That happens to me–I’m tall and have broad shoulders. To address -X-‘s comment right below: I would love to, but most of my clothes aren’t worth it. Once I can afford really good clothes I just might.

          1. Natalie

            I obviously don’t know your budget, so disregard if this just isn’t feasible. But – I wouldn’t reserve tailoring just for clothes that are “worth it”. It’s worth it to look and feel good NOW, with the clothes you have! And, with some care, you can keep lower quality clothes going for a long time, so the investment in tailoring may well be worth it.

          2. fposte

            Seconding Natalie’s point. Don’t compare the alteration cost to the item cost–think of whether you’d pay the total for a top like the one you bought only cut really well for you.

          3. Bwmn

            Finding a good tailor was amazing for me – not just because it helps clothing fit better, but it’s also helped me hold onto clothes longer instead of always having to buy new. Getting a winter coat relined is far cheaper than buying a new one.

            That being said, just because you visit a tailor and see how much something costs doesn’t mean you’re obligated to buy. I’ve found most tailors to be far cheaper than I thought they would – possibly because of the ways tailors are pictured in the films fitting tuxedos or wedding dressings. Getting darts put in a shirt or a pair of pants hemmed is far far cheaper.

            1. Natalie

              Also a good point. Most of the tailors near me charge around $10 for shortening pants. Worth it!

      3. Kelly O

        The best solution I’ve found (and granted this was when I had more disposable income) was to buy the shirt a size too large and have it tailored. Find the best fit in the chest and then take the other things in from there.

        Unfortunately I’m still not able to wear those yet, but you can bet I saved them. I do not for the life of me understand how designers come up with their fit models.

        1. Chinook

          I think designer models are supposed to be clothes hangers for the clothers. Unfortunately, hangers don’t breastfeed!

      4. annie

        Me too! And if you have an ample chest, I find it even harder, because even non-low-cut things end up looking like they are low cut. Camisoles/tank tops are great, but it sucks in the summer when they add an extra layer.

      5. Rebecca

        I bought a few small brooches, some made out of antique buttons, off Etsy recently so that I can use them to make an additional “button” on my buttonups to maintain modesty and look professional. They seem to work well and be essential since so many retailers seem to be skimping on quality/cost by eliminating the highest button and buttonhole.

    4. Anonymous

      Can the pants sizes be listed like men’s are in waist x in-seem and not in the arbitrary sizes that aren’t even consistent?

      1. Chinook

        Ooohhh…I would like that and prefer to shop at a store that does give women’s pant size in waist & inseam measurements. Those are the only ones I don’t have to hem!

      2. Rana

        I would just be happy if designers realized that women can have both waists and hips, and aren’t all shaped like tubes or carrots. Seriously, I’ve had pants I had to struggle to get over my thighs that were baggy at the waist. WTH.

        1. Windchime

          Yep. I have to buy a size up in pants so that they don’t strangle my hips and thighs, but then I have a huge gap at the back of the waist, or big gobs of material in the crotch.

          And when pants say “fitted through the thigh”, I just keep on walking. Because I know that I will lose circulation in my lower legs if I try to wear those pants.

  8. TrainerGirl

    I’m guessing that this manager feels that the young lady’s skirt is an inappropriate length no matter how many folks at the company are violating the dress code. And that’s a good point…it doesn’t matter that lots of other people are doing it. It still doesn’t make it okay.

    1. Anonymous

      Other dress code violations could be more in the vein of wearing sleeveless tops (assuming they aren’t allowed) or necklines that are too low. Possibly showing too much skin, but skirts that are too short are usually a bigger issue, especially when the wearers sit down or bend over . . .

  9. Anonymous

    I would DEFINITELY want someone to tell me if my skirts were too short! I mean, I’m not trying to “show leg,” but sometimes the dresses I like happen to be a bit short, and unless someone says something I’ll assume it’s not a big deal.

    Avoid what we call “slut shaming” though. Don’t lecture her about self respect, reputation, or the importance of modesty, simply explain that her skirt is shorter than what’s generally considered acceptable in the professional world, and it may be a turn-off to employers down the road. After all, she’s an intern and there to learn and get experience, if she’s lead to believe that skirt length flies now it’s gonna be a problem later on.

    I had a not-so-great experience with this when I worked at a bookstore, and the dress code didn’t specify skirt length so I wore what I thought were pretty skirts. No one said it was a problem except for one particularly conservative co-worker that finally said, loudly and while on the floor “what’s with all the LEG-showing?”

    1. A Bug!

      Your post actually made me realize something. It’s not really super relevant to the OP’s question because the reason for the short skirt doesn’t really matter as long as the OP is tactful in addressing it, but I just wanted to share it because it’s an example of a way a person might not realize that her skirt’s too short for the office.

      I had a skirt once that was pretty conservative length and sat relatively low at waist and hit my legs just below the knee, and I loved the heck out of it. And because I’m an oblivious person, I didn’t really notice when I put on a few pounds and my pant size went up a size or two as I replaced worn-out clothes (I don’t pay attention to my size; I just try stuff on until I find something that fits).

      But my skirt wasn’t worn out, so I kept wearing it, and (again, obliviously) didn’t notice that it was fitting higher and higher on my waist until one day it occurred to me that hey, this skirt wasn’t above the knee when I bought it…

      Fortunately, I did notice before it became an issue and I did not have to suffer the mortification of that lecture.

  10. OP

    Thanks for answering same day! I haven’t broached the subject yet but I will this afternoon.

    I’d like to clarify what I meant by me being nominated.. the interns report to our entire team, so we’re all technically their managers. There are 4 of us, and we had a brief “come together” discussion about it, and they decided that since I was closest to the situation in age and gender and I was most recently an intern myself, it’d be best if I talked to her.

    1. EM

      Meh. We have plenty of family interns. They do stuff like copying and scanning, re-formatting documents, and even things like painting or taking out the recycling. They get paid. My coworker and I were joking about having our boys be drillers’ helpers (helping the person operating a drill rig) when they are teenagers, but quickly dismissed the idea due to safety concerns. :)

      1. LPBB

        My niece is a family intern at her dad’s law firm. She is helping out in the HR dept screening resumes! *eyeroll* (That’s according to my mom, so it is third hand and something may have been lost in re-re-transmission).

      2. Chinook

        I like the phrase “family intern” because it emphasizes that they are not being groomed for anything and it is nepotism but nepotism that is available to all employees. Everyone needs to start somewhere after all.

        I had my first job at a dealership that unofficially did this. Many of the summer employees were children of staff members or their friends (I was a family friend of the boss) and there was definitely extra pressure to not goof off because a)Mom or Dad could walk in on you at anytime b) what you did at work could affect your parent’s job (even the owner’s son because if he messed up it affected the bottom line) and c) it was much more fun and better paid than flipping burgers.

        1. Jessa

          I did mailing envelopes at my mother’s office in the summer as a kid. Back in the day where to make envelopes you had to type out each one or type out labels (no computers yet.) Then you had to stuff em and label em. I don’t remember what I got paid but they did pay me.

          In my fa’s office I did keypunching and card sorting. I got paid in decorative china (it was more of kid visiting,) I’d get taken to the showroom by his big boss and told pick something out of china that cost probably $150 in the early 60s. Very nice Rosenthal dogs and things. I got a dog and a collection of their butterflies and I got a hand that they made for companies that made rubber gloves. I put rings on it. It was cool.

    2. SB

      I was once a “family intern”. I worked during breaks doing filing, scanning and copying. It wasn’t a real “internship” where I was there to learn something relevant to my major or field of work. It was more like paid, seasonal drudgery. It wasn’t a real job in the sense that the company wouldn’t have hired someone full, or even part time to do the work. It was really just a perk for employees who had kids that needed a summer job.

      1. Chinook

        They may also hire a summer student instead of a random joe of the street. My brother spent one summer digging ditches at the friend’s car dealership.

      2. Joey

        Maybe this is why it doesn’t sound like such a hot idea. I’m not insinuating you were like this, but it just sounds like a recipe for people to not take it seriously.

        1. Chinook

          I am not too sure why someone who is in on a family internship wouldn’t take it any more seriously than a different summer job. When you are 16, you are going to have the samw work ethic regardless of where you work – either goof off or take it as an opportunity. Most of the kids I know who worked summers did it with a goal in mind (whether it is saving for university, paying family bills or earning spending money) and those of us who worked at our family’s employer(s) knew we were lucky not to be standing over deep fryer or dishwasher. Plus grunt work like filing or digging ditches is a great way to reinforce that this may not be something you want to be doing for the next 50 years. And if it happens to be something you do want to do, then you have your first “in.”

          1. Joey

            I’m just saying I would expect people who are given jobs as favors probably aren’t as a whole going to be as productive

            1. Jessa

              Except when it’s a favour to ma da or auntie there’s additional “you will NOT goof off and embarrass me” pressure involved. You actually probably do get pretty good workers.

              1. Jamie

                This. One of my kids is starting at my office part time this week and trust me, she wouldn’t have taken it if she wasn’t willing to work a lot harder than if I didn’t work there.

                She reflects on me – the stakes are higher.

          2. Anonymous

            I knew a woman whose son was not living up to his potential in school. She was a state representative so she got him a summer job on a crew picking up roadkill on state highways. She made her point – he got his grades up and got into college.

  11. EM

    This is a very timely topic, as I literally just had a conversation with another coworker about the sartorial choices of one our high school interns. She has already been spoken to about not wearing tops that show visible cleavage. Today she is wearing a too-short skirt with platform wedges. Great for a casual Saturday, but not for the office. We need to have another conversation with her, and maybe give examples of what is and isn’t appropriate for a professional setting.

    It’s a really tricky topic for our office because we have no official dress code. We’re a small company of scientists and engineers, and most of us do at least some field work. We’re pretty casual, which I know is deceptive. We’re definitely not “anything goes”. No shorts, and I personally feel that toes should never be seen in the office, but many women wear sandals. I’m sure I push the edge with skinny jeans and bright blue denim, but I pair those items with longer sweaters, or more professional tops. Plus I’m in my mid-30s and I’m an expert at what I do.

    1. COT

      I think that the idea of “casual” dress code can vary so much by generation that some young workers may think, “They’re dressed casually and I’m dressed casually, so it’s all okay.” I had this happen with my most recent (excellent) intern–her idea of casual was just a little different than ours; I think she just felt more comfortable in less-covering clothing than the rest of the staff would have. For instance, she showed up for her interview dressed in an appropriately interview-y style, except that her skirt was a few inches shorter than what anyone else in the office wears. I chalked it up to a generational difference (although I’m not that much older), hired her anyway, and provided guidance along the way about appropriate dress for various workplace situations.

      1. Rana

        And some of it is how clothes are sold to younger people, especially women. If you want professional wear that’s age-appropriate, and you’re young and don’t have a lot of money to spend, it’s pretty hard to find stuff that’s conservative but not dowdy. The “casual but nice” clothes aimed at 20-somethings are often much more revealing than the same niche aimed at 30-somethings or older. Compare what you see in Ann Taylor or J. Crew with Charlotte Russe or Forever 21, for example.

      2. BCW

        Yes. This is so true. Even in my office it varies. One of our senior people is probably in her 50s. I’m in my early 30s, most of the office is mid 30s. We have a casual dress code, but she defintely has a different opinion of casual than most of the rest of us. Its tough because no one is necessarily “right” or “wrong” the opinions are just different.

    2. Jen in RO

      You know, it would have never occurred to me that sandals might not be OK in the office. Is this a location thing? Because today it’s gonna be 33C outside (91F) and I can’t imagine wearing anything closed toed. Actually, I’m planning on wearing a long dress with strappy straps and strappy sandals… this would probably horrify a lot of AAM readers, but it’s fine in my casual office. Or at least I hope it’s fine and people aren’t walking around going “OMG look at what she’s wearing!”.

      1. Judy

        Certainly the truly “professional” (lawyers in court) dress code would be closed in pumps, rather than sandals.

        We’re in an office in a manufacturing environment, so our dress code says shoes need to be closed heel and toe, heels less than 2 inches tall, and heel size more than 1 square inch. So pumps, loafers, etc.

  12. KarenT

    This is actually my comment from a thread last year, but I copied and pasted here, because it’s relevant to this thread.

    A lot our interns come in so eager and with great skills but don’t know how to conduct themselves in a professional setting.
    Oh, the things I’ve had to say:
    “You can’t come to meetings and tell people they are pretty.”
    “Don’t tell me (or anyone else) they smell good.”
    “It’s not okay to call in sick because your AC is broken and you were really hot last night.”
    “WEAR A BRA!” This, of course , had to be paired with “stop telling people you are not wearing a bra.”

    1. KarenT

      And this is a new one for me, but earlier this year I actually told an intern: “If you are having a party called “Boats and Ho’s,” you can’t hand out invites to work, even if the invitees are your friends. That goes double when you’re asking someone to come as your “ho”

          1. KarenT

            I think it’s a frat party thing. Guys come dressed like boat captain and you can imagine what the girls dress like….
            I’d never heard of it either, until that day.

      1. KarenT

        I’ve always said my life could be a tv show! To be fair Cerie was being deliberately provocative, while my intern came to work in her pajama shirt and forgot to put on a bra. And then proceeded to tell anyone who would listen…

    2. Cat

      I wouldn’t phrase it that way, but I have seen people call in sick because they didn’t get any sleep the night before and can’t be functional. If it only happens once in a great while, that doesn’t seem crazy to me.

      1. KarenT

        To be honest, I don’t really care why someone takes a day off. But this intern came back the next day and was bragging to everyone about how she ‘got away’ with using a sick day.
        Our internship program is tied with a major university in our field, and part of the deal about us using interns is we teach them about workplace behaviour and norms.

    3. SB

      We just had a new global dress code go around that was very vague, but in a random act of specificity, stated that “club dresses” were not work appropriate. I’m not entirely sure what qualifies as a club dress, but I imagine it’s something like the roadside stands I’ve seen in the less favorable part of town that sell dresses that are more mesh inserts and slits and less fabric.

      1. KarenT

        Our new dress code went out saying “no undershirts.” Two hours later HR sent out a correction saying, “to clarify, no dress shirts as outerwear. They may be worn as undergarments.”

    4. gabrielle

      “WEAR A BRA!” This, of course , had to be paired with “stop telling people you are not wearing a bra.”

      Whaaaa??? I think my eyebrows just merged into my hairline.

  13. Lanya

    Simply watch Episode 4 of Season 1 of 3o Rock, in which Liz Lemon attempts to approach intern Cerie about her clothes. Or lack of them.

    Liz Lemon: Okay, this is gonna sound really weird. But, um, you need to wear a bra.
    Cerie: Oh, no. I… I don’t actually. They kinda just stay up on their own.

  14. Emily

    I hate these conversations! I had a high school intern where I had no problem with the length of her skirt — she was well put together, looked dressier than some of our regular employees — but my boss disapproved. I just let her know that the skirt she wore the previous day was a little shorter than we’d expect going forward and that a rule of thumb was just above the knee. Since we’re in HR I also let her know that sometimes are standards are a little “higher” as we’re expected to set the example.

    We also did a big thing on dress code when we onboarded the group. We did it every year, even though they came three years in a row. It’s just a good reminder.

  15. Katie the Fed

    I think this is actually an easier conversation the less of A Big Deal you make it. It can just be a quick “oh, you know, that skirt’s definitely too short for this place!” and move right along. If it continues to be an issue then you can have A Big Formal Sit Down. But I’ve found it much easier to address potentially dicey issues with this briefly and quickly.

    1. fposte

      I completely agree with this. I can understand why people start thinking “Ooh, tricky conversation,” but it doesn’t have to be. Especially in a case like this where somebody really doesn’t know and is there to learn–this is just a piece of information, not a comment on her character.

  16. Anonymous

    I’d like to know how to tell undergrads going on their first jobs or onto professional school that their shirt/skirt/shorts/dress/flip flops is inappropriate in a professional environment. One undergrad who just graduated would wear some trendy clothing while doing research in the lab which was not appropriate for the lab (short shorts, flip flops, bra clearly visible under shirt), but which is not going to help her when she gets to med school, especially since she is petite too (looks to be ~16, not 22 in that clothing).

    1. Katie the Fed

      well some of that should be a safety issue, no? Flip flops and shorts in a lab?

      1. Anonymous

        Yeah, you need closed-too shoes for the lab. Heel-less like crocs is sometimes banned too. She kept a pair of slip-ons in the lab for labwork.

    2. Joey

      I will never understand the flip flop thing at work. Unless you’re a lifeguard or work at the counter of the surf shop how are flip flops ever appropriate at work? Blows my mind.

      1. some1

        It’s not even having to look at someone’s bare feet as much as having to listen to that “thwack, thwack, thwack” when they walk anywhere.

      2. Elizabeth West

        My company lets us do that on Fridays in the summer (along with shorts). I am not doing it because the office is freezing. I have to keep a sweater in my cube!

      3. BCW

        My company lets us wear them. They are comfortable in the summer. If you aren’t in a client facing position, I don’t see the big deal

        1. Joey

          They’re about as professional as wearing pj’s. sorry, but I just can’t take you that seriously unless you’re selling surfboards or sno-cones.

          1. Bwmn

            I think the point being made is that in the professional contexts where it’s ok to wear flip flops – you’re probably not going to interact with them face to face.

      4. Rana

        It doesn’t help that a lot of the shoe companies are now making “dress” flip-flops – you know, made out of leather with metal accents, etc. instead of out of cheap rubber and foam – which makes them more like “real” shoes.

        (Honestly, given a choice between dressy flip-flops and ballerina flats, I’d go with the former – but my feet are wide and my heels are tender. Most of my shoes are clog-like things as a result.)

    3. Kou

      They would not even LET us in the lab with open toed shoes when I was a student.

      That said, I always wonder why people assume students don’t know to change clothes before doing something important. I have rolled into classes in some unfortunate outfits (particularly during weather extremes since I had to walk to class, ugh) that I would never wear anywhere near my job/internship/whathaveyou.

      1. fposte

        1) because students often *don’t* know to change before job stuff and 2) because people think class is also something important and are considering how you dress there to be how you dress for important stuff.

  17. Katie the Fed

    On a slightly unrelated note, I see young women all the time with the vent in a skirt or jacket still having the stitch in place. You know that one x-shaped stitch they have to make the clothes hang nicely, that you’re supposed to remove? Drives me crazy. I want to go around telling them all to cut it already!

    1. Joey

      If it makes you feel any better guys do the same with the pockets and vents of their suit jackets.

      1. some1

        I’ve seen a couple guys who forgot to cut the designer label off their sport coat sleeve.

    2. Jubilance

      You should – most of them keep it there cause they don’t know to remove it. Same with the little tag on the sleeve of their nice coats. I luckily had a mentor tell me about those things and I felt so embarassed afterward. Even tho my mom has been a professional all my life, she never made a point to tell me those 2 things.

      1. Katie the Fed

        Yeah, I will tell people I actually know. I’m not quite ready to go up to strangers and tell them.

        I remember my first pair of suit pants I was shocked to discover there were actually pockets – they had been sewn up so I didn’t realize they weren’t just for decoration.

    3. MJ

      Honestly, if it’s someone you know, you should tell them! When I got my first office job, I had to buy a whole professional wardrobe at once as I’d never worked in this type of setting before and previously had no experience buying pencil skirts or jackets. I didn’t realize I was supposed to cut those until I met up with my mother after work one day and she pointed it out! I was mortified I’d been walking around like that for days – I would have appreciated the heads up, especially since unlike telling someone their skirt is too short this can be fixed immediately during the work day.

    4. Natalie

      I almost made that mistake, too – they should really put something on the tag – cut vent before wearing.

      Then again, when I bought my fancy interview suit I was advised to keep the pockets sewed shut if I could stand it, since they would look better. I don’t mind carrying a bag and I don’t wear the suit that often, so I’ve followed that suggestion thus far.

      1. fposte

        See, I always mean to cut the pockets, and then I forget. Then I wear the jacket/pants and try to stick my hand in a pocket and look like I haven’t mastered the fine art of using pockets, but by the time I’m home I forget to cut them and it all starts over again the next time.

          1. Ellie H.

            I do that with shorts and pants too. Not even professional wear/dress pants, just regular clothes. It really does keep a nicer line.

              1. Jamie

                What do women keep in their pockets? I can’t remember the last time I used my pockets for a functional purpose besides keeping my hands warm.

    5. Janelle

      Actually, I leave the stitch in on a few things because I prefer them closed. I should probably just put in a tacking stitch instead, but I never seem to get around to it.

    6. Jen in RO

      I have no idea what you’re talking about and I’m thinking I should be worried… then again, I don’t own any dress skirts or jackets so that might explain it?

      1. Natalie

        Slimmer fitting separates (primarily pencil skirts and blazers/jackets) may have a slit in the bottom. Typically when you buy the skirt/blazer/jacket, the vent is sewn shut with a loose X of thread.

        If you google “jacket vent”, there are a lot of photos and men’s style blog articles with pictures, if that helps.

  18. some1

    Ugh, I am embarrassed that I made this mistake at my first office job. It was only because I didn’t know better and I thought looking “dressy” was more important than looking “professional”. Also, I had just come from a retail job where mini skirts were acceptable.

    I really like Allison’s take on how to handle this. When my then-sup confronted me, she phrased it, “People have complained about the way you dress, so you need to wear longer skirts”. Ultimately my boss was right, but the way she phrased it just made me defensive at first and trying to figure out who complained about me, rather than focusing on the issue.

    1. Joey

      The more common mistake I’ve seen 20somethings make is they look more appropriate for a night out at a bar than an office.

    2. Katie the Fed

      I hate the “people have said XXX about you” approach. It makes you paranoid and nervous.

  19. Anon

    I’d recommend the website Corporette to her as well (and this one, but maybe not until some time has passed since this post!)

  20. Kate

    Vintage/thrift shopping may not be for everyone but I found the nicest pencil skirts from the 40s, 50s and hell – even the 80s! Appropriate work length, not too tight, NOT EXPENSIVE! Nothing falls out. Same with secretary blouses! My boobs fit, nothing is on the vergebof popping, good-length sleeves..I love dressing vintage “to a t” but all my clothes work for my office as well even though I tone it down by about 90% (no victory rolls, etc, haha).

  21. M

    Sigh…

    Yeah, I need to have that conversation with my intern, too.

    Today, she showed up in a tube top and hot pants over leggings. Quite a few heads were spinning.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Please talk to her tomorrow and don’t put it off. The longer you let it go on, the more damage to her reputation you’re allowing her to do.

  22. Michelle

    Too many posts to read them all, so I appologize if someone already said this. I find an effective way to address this with women is to let them know that the way they are dressing is distracting from the quality of their work. If people are talking about your clothes choices instead of your contribution. It is a question of what you want to be known for – creative, smart, hard worker, etc. or wears short skirts?

  23. Georgiana Mihalache

    It doesn’t matter if she’s just a family intern, you need to tell her. Since there’s a clear dress code available as well, this is a clear must. The others in the office are expecting you to do it since everybody complies. Otherwise, you will lose their respect. How to do it: take her privately to a separate room and just remind her about the dress code and about the fact that there are no exceptions to it. If she doesn’t comply, you need to discuss to your manager and find a way to send her home.

  24. Miri

    I was asked to tell a colleague about her clothing twice.

    Once was 34 years ago in my law firm, where senior partners wore big plaid suits with white patent shoes and belts to match. One carried a pony skin brief case.

    The second was at a bank legal department. My boss asked me to talk to my secretary about the way she dressed. True, she looked unlovely – overweight, cheap, tight ill-fitting clothes and sneakers. And my boss was a very lovely person. I refused him, since there wasn’t any dress code.

    I probably broke the dress mores back in the early 1980s, being the first woman at my firm, and probably any others in the city, to wear dresses instead of the mens’ wear suits with the little bow ribbons around the neck. I also had a couple of pairs of shoes with open toes. Always very low heels. No one talked to me about my style. They may have been tsk-tsking behind my back. I was not a litigator, so courtroom dress was not an issue.

  25. JuliaS

    Is it just me, or is it bizarre that a firm’s dress code would say knee-length skirts only? I’m an executive in a moderately conservative industry in the Northeast – and I spent ten years in Big 4 accounting before that. I wear skirt and pant suits, and NONE of my suits (or that of the president of my organization) are at or below the knee. Seriously? No one shops at Talbotts anymore.

    I wear Elie Tahari, Hugo Boss, Theory – and I’m 42.

    That said, I have an issue with some of my interns wearing jeans or tank tops and it is a most unpleasant conversation to have. They just don’t get it.

    But knee-length? Let’s go back to the loopy tie blouses I wore when I started working.

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