update: what should I wear to an office pool party?

Remember the letter-writer last month who was wondering what to wear to a BBQ and pool party at her boss’s house? Here’s her update.

I ended up buying a full swimsuit and a swim skirt online and nothing fit me right. I was fully intending not to bring anything, but in the morning I ended up throwing my bikini top, boy shorts, and cover-up into my bag, just in case.

Well, it ended up being a great and fun outing. The one other woman who did bring swimwear (also a two-piece like myself) slipped into the pool discreetly with me. And it ended up breaking the ice as it was clear that the men (well, some of them) were uncomfortable with bearing all too because, surprise surprise, none of them had perfectly buff figures either. So it was great, a bunch of us went swimming and a bunch didn’t, and the whole outing was fun and relaxed and not a big deal. Once we got into the water we all really enjoyed it, and we enjoyed our time out of it too.

I didn’t parade around in my bathing suit, as I had my cover-up prior to going into to the pool. Once I came out, I slipped the cover-up back on, then changed to my clothes right away in the bathroom. So I was fully aware that walking around in my two-piece wouldn’t have been appropriate, given it still being amongst coworkers. A few of the guys were in their trunks out of the water, but i guess it just shows the double standard with men vs women!

Thanks to everyone who commented and thanks to you too, Alison! My advice to others – bring a swimsuit or trunks, play it by ear, and see how the day goes.


{ 33 comments… read them below }

  1. mno*

    We just had a company pool party, and some hung out in swimsuits, others were dressed, etc. I would never have thought anything would be inappropriate – though we are a pretty close group.

    1. Emily K*

      When my company has our annual staff retreat there are always plenty of people hanging out by the pool in their swimsuits. Of course there are some people who don’t swim at all and some who prefer a bit more modesty and use coverups, but plenty of women in bikinis and men in swim trunks walk/stand around sipping poolside drinks and nobody is scandalized by it. It’s not like they’re hanging out in the piano bar in a bikini – they’re wearing appropriate clothing for a pool area.

      It’s definitely a know-your-office-culture thing, and it also probably gets easier the larger the staff is – the more people there are, the more you build a critical mass of people with varying preferences so nobody is “the only one” who does/doesn’t want to wear a bathing suit. In our case we have several hundred employees so there’s bound to be a lot of people who are comfortable in bathing suits and a lot of people who aren’t…maybe not so much the case when you have 20 staff members.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      I think the coverup is key. Even if you do have a killer bikini bod, having a coverup handy just somehow keeps things a little more professional somehow.

  2. Stranger than fiction*

    Awesome. I have to admit as an introvert I often build these things up in my mind and then once there it ends up not nearly being as bad. Sounds like that was the case here.

  3. CoffeeLover*

    I don’t really think there’s a double standard. If anything it’s a self-imposed double standard. If you wanted to hang out in your bikini like the guys, you could have. I just think women are more self-conscious about their bodies.

    1. Shannon*

      This. It’s a pool party. As long as your genitals are covered, you are dressed appropriately.

      1. GG*

        Sorry to point it out to you, but you just proved the double-standard. For men, as long as their genitals are covered, they’re dressed appropriately. For women, as long as their genitals *and breasts* are covered, they’re dressed appropriately.

      2. Green*

        That’s not really the case in a lot of work settings though. Which is why work places shouldn’t have pool parties. (I’m glad OP had fun, but there could still have been plenty of men–and women–judging OP for what she was wearing. Pool parties are really just something that should stay friends and families in my book…)

    2. Three Thousand*

      Everyone is more conscious about women’s bodies, not just women. Sure, you can just wear a bikini, but plenty of *men* are going to judge you for it in ways that they wouldn’t judge other men. At this point, if anyone doesn’t see that, it’s because they don’t want to.

      1. CoffeeLover*

        By the same concept, I (as a woman) judge men’s bodies more than women’s as well though. So it’s still equal in my mind. I’m saying women are more conscious of their OWN bodies, not other women’s bodies, so they don’t feel as comfortable being in a bikini. You can disagree with me on this, but I’m someone who feels totally comfortable in a bikini and, as a result, have never felt this double standard.

        1. TL -*

          No, I don’t think that’s true. I’ve never heard of a woman saying she thinks a man dresses like a slut or that he’s showing too much skin and is thus being sexually inappropriate. (I’ve heard unprofessional or gross but never sexually inappropriate.)
          But I’ve certainly heard men and women say such things about women. That’s the double standard.

          1. CoffeeLover*

            I think you’re getting into a much broader discussion of standards. I’m just saying if you want to stand next to the pool in your bikini, the only person stopping you from doing that is yourself. Of course, if you wear an inappropriate bikini (I’m talking g-string thong), you’ll get the same looks a man in a speedo would. (For the record, I have called men out for dressing like sluts; although I don’t like that word, so I used a different one.)

            1. Liz T.*

              No one’s stopping you from doing any of this. “Double-standard” doesn’t necessarily entail people barring you from certain behaviors. Here, people are referring to the fact that women have to walk a finer line in terms of sexual propriety. It is far, far easier for a woman to be judged sexually inappropriate than for a man.

              This isn’t about judging whether or not people are attractive; this is about judging whether or not people are professional. Women are overall (whether or not by any one of us individually) judged more harshly.

            2. Green*

              Nobody is stopping you from running around your office with your middle fingers up shouting expletives either. (At least until someone calls security!) But balancing your personal preferences with professional norms (which include other people’s judgments) is more beneficial to your career.

  4. Gwen*

    Glad you had fun! For the record, I’ve hung out in a two-piece with coworkers at a conference, and it really wasn’t a big deal. I was a bit unsure about it, but other conference goers were wearing WAY skimpier bikinis than me! I don’t think it’s necessarily unprofessional to lounge poolside in a two piece with coworkers, though of course wearing a cover-up is totally normal too if that’s more comfortable.

  5. Career Counselorette*

    I have to say, it seems strange to host a pool party where you expect people to get in the pool but then shame or judge them for walking around without a cover-up.

    1. Green*

      Well, the “person” hosting it may not be the persons shaming or judging. There are also differences between “sexy” swimsuits and athletic swimsuits, and there are swimsuits that may look work appropriate on one person but not another. It’s the same as if someone told you to wear a Halloween costume (which is also ugh for work) and someone shows up in “sexy [fill in the blank]” costume. Meanwhile, standing around holding a cocktail without a cover-up on while talking to your boss and his wife could quickly feel awkward when you realize that you are basically standing around in what would be considered your underwear in other contexts. It is just such a culture-specific thing that it would be ideal to avoid it all together.

      1. Career Counselorette*

        That’s what I mean, though- unless you’re planning to wear a banana hammock or a string bikini to the office pool party, there’s nothing inappropriate about wearing a bathing suit. If you’re so worried about people feeling awkward being in a bathing suit and a cover up, maybe yeah, don’t have a pool party, because it’s not realistic (or sanitary, for that matter) to ask a bunch of adults to wear T-shirts in the pool like they’re in puberty. (And while athletic bathing suits exist, I feel like “sexy” is kind of subjective. Sexy to whom?)

        1. Liz T.*

          “I feel like ‘sexy’ is kind of subjective. Sexy to whom?”

          Exactly! It’s really hard to tell who’s going to think what. And the issue here isn’t “sexy” so much as “sexual.”

          It’s not that straightforward, at least for women. I’m very curvy, so even a conservative two-piece is going to read as more sexual to some people than the same suit would on a more slender woman. (And I prefer two pieces for various reasons. Okay, mostly the reason that I like having shorts on the bottom, and having a one-piece/tankini AND shorts reads as very dowdy.)

          It’s great if these aren’t issues that concern you personally, but plenty of people worry about how coworkers will judge their bodies. They have reason to!

        2. Green*

          : (And while athletic bathing suits exist, I feel like “sexy” is kind of subjective. Sexy to whom?)”

          Sexual might be the better choice of words. And because it’s subjective and along a spectrum, I think the goal would be to steer clear of the majority of people’s subjective assessment of a “sexual” swimsuit, which inevitably means covering more skin.

          I mean we worry about whether women should do voluntary administrative or events planning work or bring cookies to the office here; walking around with your boobs out and in underwear equivalent may feel comfortable to some people, but is generally not desirable from a professional development standpoint.

  6. Splishy*

    Off topic, but I was amused that one of the YOU MAY ALSO LIKE links was “ask the readers: who should replace the office water cooler jug?”

    Now I’m curious as to how those “you may also like” links are decided. Is there some sort of bot/automated tool that picks them out?

    1. TK*

      I assume the relation between the posts (which I would guess is automated based on words used) relates to the mention of gender-based double standards, which could certainly come into play with water-cooler-replacement related issues.

  7. Erin*

    Sounds like solid advice. That’s probably what I would do – bring my two piece suit cause I’d be too frugal to buy a one piece just for one occasion, then play it by ear. I’m not going in the pool unless other people are, cause I’m four years old like that. :)

  8. mel*

    Would it be a double standard if no one else felt that way? Is there a difference if you’re wearing a cover-up anyway?

    Anyway, I hope my workplace doesn’t consider this one… all of my coworkers are very young and very fit! Being seemingly the least-fit person during company relay races was humiliating enough.

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