my employee drastically changes her appearance in the middle of the workday

A reader writes:

I’m in management for a Fortune 1000 company. I have been a manager for just over a year, and I am hoping to get some advice on a situation I am having with one of my employees. Michelle (not her real name) has worked here for almost a year. This is her first job after college and her second job ever. There are no issues with the quality of her work, but there is something that I think is an issue — but I am not sure if I should bring it up with her or not.

Michelle makes drastic changes to her appearance, and these changes always happen during the work day. Due to the nature of the work, most employees in my section (including Michelle) are exempt and lunches are generally longer than an hour. Over her lunch, she will drastically change her hair, clothing, and makeup.

For example: On a given day, she has long blonde hair, almost no makeup, and is wearing a gray suit. After lunch, she returns with black hair that’s ear-length on one side and chin-length on the other, with noticeable makeup and a black suit. Or she has shoulder-length curly hair that she is wearing down and she comes back with straight hair that is a different color, in an up-do and with an undercut. Since she started working here, at least once a month she comes back from her lunch wearing drastically different clothes, shoes, makeup, and nails and she has radically changed her hair (color and length) over her lunch half a dozen times.

I don’t know if I should say anything because as her older, male boss I don’t want to seem like I am appearance policing, and also because she is always within the norm for the dress code/appearance within our office and industry (professional clothes, hair only dyed natural colors). However, I feel like her doing this in the middle of the work day is hurting her professional credibility. There was one time when we gave a presentation for both internal and external people and Michelle was present because she had assisted with the preparation. After we broke for lunch, she returned with darker hair, bangs, and completely different clothes. Many people at the presentation thought she was a different person at first. Another time she returned to a meeting with shorter hair, longer nails, and different clothes, and it was the same thing.

Michelle does not have a car and take public transit. There is a large mall right by our office. I haven’t said anything to her directly, but I have heard her telling others she prefers to get her hair and nails done on her breaks because the mall is so convenient and she doesn’t have to do it after work or on weekends. She doesn’t carry a purse or backpack, so when she shows up with different clothes and without her old ones, people do notice. She says she puts her old clothes in a donation bin at the mall and has told people she will buy things at the thrift store near her home for the purpose of wearing to work on days when she is going to buy new stuff at the mall. Sometimes she goes to the mall or surfs the internet just to scope out clothes so she knows what she is going to buy when she actually goes shopping.

Is this something I should be speaking to her about? If so, how do I do it so as to not to make it about her appearance but rather how it affects her professionalism and how people perceive her, even there are no problems with her work and she is making all these changes on her lunch and not when she is expected to be working?

Michelle sounds kind of awesome.

I can see why it feels a little off to you though — I suspect it’s rooted in feeling like part of professionalism is presenting yourself in a way where the attention is on your work rather than on your clothes, hair, nails, or so forth. And it must be hard not to focus on those things when she’s coming in with one set of clothes/hair/nails and then dramatically changing them halfway through the day.

That said … is it really impacting the way she’s perceived? There are some offices where this would come across as being overly focused on appearance in a way that would read as not-serious. But those are probably a minority of offices rather than a majority. If yours is one of them, it would be a kindness to let her know that, so that she can decide if she wants to alter what she’s doing. Hell, there are even some offices where it would be considered enough of a distraction that you could feasibly ask her to rein it in somewhat.

But for the majority of offices, I tend to think it’s not that big of a deal. At most, I’d worry that it will become the thing Michelle is known for rather than her work — but if her work is excellent and people know that, it’s more likely to be seen as an interesting quirk rather than her defining quality.

That said, I do think it’s reasonable to ask her to avoid drastic mid-day appearance changes when she’s helping with a presentation — since that’s more likely to be a distraction. When you’re helping with a presentation, it’s generally best to fade into the background, not to do things that will call attention to your appearance. So in the same way that you might ask her to dress particularly professionally on those days, it would be fine to ask her not to make major mid-day appearance shifts on those days too.

But beyond that? Unless you see real evidence that it’s impacting how seriously people take her — or unless you know your office culture well enough to know that it’s going to — I’d let it go. It’s okay for people to have unusual traits or eccentricities or so forth — and giving people room for that can make you a more interesting and appealing workplace.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 749 comments… read them below }

  1. Pearly Girl*

    I’m just trying to wrap my head around buying thrift-store clothes for the sole purpose of throwing them out mid-day.

    1. New Girl*

      I’m trying to wrap my head around fitting a dye job during a lunch break. My experience has always been that dye jobs take multiple hours.

      1. Stella Maris*

        I thought maybe they were wigs? If she’s changing that dramatically and that quickly? (This just lends credence to the spy backstory.)

        1. Rat in the Sugar*

          Right, but wouldn’t she have to throw the wigs away with the clothes since she doesn’t have anywhere to put them? I would think wigs were too expensive to do that with; I could be very wrong but I don’t think there’s such a thing as a thrift-store wig that looks good enough to wear to work!

          1. Volunteer Coordinator in NOVA*

            I would think that she is coming in with her natural hair in the morning and then buying a wig during lunch and that’s when shes coming in with a new style. If not, she should start sharing how she does that so quickly as it took 4 hours for me to get my hair cut and colored the last time!

            1. Meagain*

              Ugh…. it shouldn’t take four hours unless you’re going brown to blond or back. My last cut and color took under 2 hours.

              1. Volunteer Coordinator in NOVA*

                I was going to a new shade but I also have a lot of hair and hair that doesn’t take dye particularly well so it can be a process which why I have a major regrowth right now!

                1. AwkwardKaterpillar*

                  Same – I have a ton of hair and my colors always take 3 hours, it just takes that much time to get it all over my head and process etc.

          2. Liane*

            You can get wigs for well under $20–not quality of course; my daughter sometimes buys them if she is doing a one-off or “trial run” cosplay. (And yes, she throws them out when they get messed up. But I doubt you could find those in a mall unless there’s a seasonal Halloween store that’s renting for a couple months. But I find it just as hard to believe the employee is buying cheap wigs as I do that she is getting her hair colored & styled in 90 minutes or so.

            But I like Alison’s advice.

          3. Castiel*

            I wear wigs. I’ll wear one for about a month before I get tired of it. When I change, usually, I go to the hair store and get a new one. If they have a stylist there, I have them cut and adjust it for me or I’ll do it myself. Or if it’s a ready to go wig, I wear it out and toss the old one. If the old one is still good I’ll take it home, but I usually toss it. So I could totally see her wearing one for a month and switching it mid-day like that. LW says this happens about once a month. I’ve never switched mid-day like that, but I have gone to the hair store or had my nails/eyebrows done on my break.

      2. Katie the Fed*

        Almost certainly wigs. I have a friend with about 15 different wigs and she loves to change it up.

        1. Coalea*

          I agree that wigs seem more likely than fitting in drastic cut/color appointments into her lunch break … but what does she do with the wigs when she’s done with them? Do they go in the donation bin with her old clothes?

        2. Rincat*

          Also they mentioned different lengths and an undercut one day. As someone who is currently outgrowing an undercut – I can tell ya, you ain’t growing that out in a day.

        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          This was my assumption, as well. The changes in length and style sound too dramatic to fit into a 1-1.5 hour lunch break.

      3. Gen*

        Yeah, I’ve been drastically dying my hair for two decades and I don’t think I’ve ever managed to change colour that much AND still have time to buy new clothes over a normal lunch break.

        Perhaps she wears wigs?

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          I mean, even if she has enough time in a lunch break (the LW says that they have unusually long lunches), her hair couldn’t possibly grow back quickly enough to have made 6 “drastic” changes, including an undercut, over less than a year.

          1. Amadeo*

            Extensions maybe? I’m sort of scratching my head too and thinking either that or wigs. I’d probably get a little irrationally annoyed with her, but that’s more of a personal thing if her work is good. Though I do support asking her to not do this on presentation days!

            1. Liane*

              The coworkers I have had who wear extensions told me that it takes hours, just like elaborate braiding.

              1. Volunteer Coordinator in NOVA*

                It can take forever if you are doing ones that are sewn in or fusion by but now there are lots of options. Clips in are quick and once you get the hang of them, you can do them pretty quickly.

      4. Zip Silver*

        I get my sides and neck trimmed up on lunch breaks, but I can’t imagine taking the time to get a full style change in the middle of the day

      5. Lilly*

        My hair appointments (highlights and cut) take 2 hours so it’s hard to believe that she can make drastic changes over lunch. Wigs would make more sense if she truly wants to transform herself every month. Pricey habit!

      6. Anon Anon*

        No kidding. It takes at least 2 hours to get my hair colored and that doesn’t include any sort of cut.

        I don’t think I could get my hair colored, cut, and shop for a new outfit in less than 3 hours. So I guess I wonder how long is the typical lunch break?

      7. Anonymoose*

        I think she’s a stealth super hero. She doesn’t do any of the mall stuff; just like in The Fifth Element, she can easily change her appearance and then she goes around town busting ass on her breaks. She sounds awesome and I want to be her.


      8. (Another) B*

        Her behavior seems erratic and distracting. I find this truly bizarre and I would say something to her.

    2. Inspector of Gadgets*

      this is also common among runners, particularly when a long or crowded race starts early in the morning and the participants could be standing around in the cold but will later be exercising. races often have crews to pick up and donate these ‘throwaway clothes’. while clothing donation operations (in the US, at least) may not be perfectly efficient at getting those items in the hands of people who need them, it’s not as if Michelle is full-on trashing the items…

      1. Anon Anon*

        Yes. For large marathons it’s usually freezing at the start line so you bring throwaway clothes with you (often a sweatshirt, sweat pants, etc.), that get picked up and donated to charity. Especially because you have to have a bib in order to get into the corals and you have to check a bag with clothes long before you get to the start line. But, the whole disposal of clothes is really limited to marathons, and typically big city marathons at that.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          And Bloomsday in Spokane, WA, where the goal is to throw the clothes into trees lining the street, so by the time the race starts, the trees have bloomed with sweatshirts and other clothing.

          1. Melissa C.*

            I grew up in Spokane, too! I used to be a Bloomie every year until I left for college.

      2. Jaydee*

        But she is apparently finding suits that fit her well enough and are appropriate for the office at a thrift store, wearing them for half a day, and tossing them in a donation bin after buying something new at the mall. I mean, I’m not faulting the logic if she has a long commute by transit and doesn’t want to haul shopping bags with her. But I can’t help thinking that finding a suit at the thrift store is harder (and more expensive) than finding a long-sleeved shirt and some sweatpants.

        1. Nope*

          Depends on the thrift store. I live in a smallish city and there are at least two thrift stores that specialize in high end clothes from prom/quinceanera gowns to business appropriate clothing. I’m a large city (I assume, since they have reliable public transport, a mall and a major business employer), there are likely to be lots of secondhand stores with niche selections.

    3. On Fire*

      It kind of makes sense, though … say she spends $5 on a thrift store outfit (completely plausible in many areas). She buys a new outfit, but since she takes public transit, it’s easier to change into the new outfit and wear it home, than to lug a shopping bag/garment bag/etc. on the bus/train/subway. If she’s doing this kind of thing regularly, it sounds like money isn’t a huge concern for her. And that $5 is better (for her!) than the inconvenience.

      As for the hair, I agree that wigs or extensions might be part of that (although I thought extensions were time-consuming), and I certainly wouldn’t want to throw out a good wig – those are prohibitively expensive.

      1. Sam*

        It also sounds like it’s only happening a couple times a month – I had to reread the letter because I got the impression it was daily at first, but the LW says “Since she started working here, at least once a month she comes back from her lunch wearing drastically different clothes, shoes, makeup, and nails and she has radically changed her hair (color and length) over her lunch half a dozen times.” (She started working there almost a year ago, so that’s a change of cut/color about once every other month.)

      1. Temperance*

        I think it’s bad form to donate clothes that you have worn without washing.

      2. Quirky*

        I wanted to let you know that I am super excited about your answer. I am generally a boring dresser but I aspire to be better than that, and what this woman is doing is fantastic. It takes a level of self worth and motivation to take the time to do it up like this. I appreciate the fact that you are making it known that workplaces can have spunky people and the sky won’t fall!

    4. Ol' Crow*

      I’m trying to wrap my head around this LW caring so much about this that he can provide the numerous details that he does.

      1. paul*

        I mean, I don’t think I’d worry about it but even I’d notice if someone totally changed outfits at lunch every day. I *think* I’d think it was weird but irrelevant but I can’t really say for sure, never run into it.

        1. General Ginger*

          But she’s not doing it every day! The OP says it’s about once a month: “once a month she comes back from her lunch wearing drastically different clothes, shoes, makeup, and nails”.

          1. Anonymoose*

            Exactly. While I jokingly said above that she’s a secret super hero, it sounds like she really just takes advantage of her breaks so she doesn’t have to waste her weekends/evenings shopping and grooming. It sounds more like she’s being efficient to me than anything.

        2. Stranger than fiction*

          It is odd though. And distracting. Why mid day at lunch, because she’s just bored? When I first began to read this letter, I thought she may have some other job after work and not enough time to change in between.

          1. Sara*

            I think it’s only distracting if you care about what women do with their bodies, which I know society encourages, but isn’t actually very appropriate at work

            1. Zombii*

              If I go to a presentation being done by a blonde and after we come back from lunch, there’s a redhead doing the presentation who turns out to be the blonde from before, that’s distracting because of a moment of confusion not because I care what women do with their hair/makeup/etc (and if it was a dude fully changing his appearance during lunch I’d feel roughly the same way).

              Probably all to do with entrenched -isms, but at least when it has to do with interactions with clients I think the concern is valid. When clients aren’t involved, everyone else can just write it off as That One Idiosyncrasy She Has, We All Have One.

            2. Eric*

              I mean, I kind of agree with this, but then again, if a bearded man with shoulder-length hair came back from lunch clean-shaven and with a shaved head, I think I’d be distracted, too.

          2. OhBehave*

            OP overheard her tell a coworker that she likes to do it on her lunch and breaks because the mall is very convenient to her and she doesn’t have to do it after work.
            A little bit of an ick factor to me that she takes off the clothes she’s wearing and donates them. The clothing I donate is clean.

            agree to ask her not to do this on a presentation day, but I don’t see it as a problem. As long as she’s not abusing the time and her work is excellent, leave it alone.

      2. Squeeble*

        I mean, I certainly would care/notice this much. Maybe it’s not actually a big deal but it is strange enough that I would be fascinated and pay close attention.

      3. Lissa*

        Ok, I see this sort of mildly critical comment a lot, and I honestly don’t get it. Different people notice different things, and it doesn’t mean they “care so much.” especially if it is soemthing that stands out a lot. I can remember almost word for word conversations that happened five years ago, not because I am super invested – my brain just works that way. On the other hand it would likely take something as extreme as what Michelle is doing here for me to notice anyone’s clothes or remember them..

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Yeah, I’m almost a Michelle since I live across the street from my job, and even I would notice drastic changes like this. The most I do is change my shoes, refresh/reapply my makeup from scratch, and/or change my pants or dress if I’m no longer feeling it midway through the day.

        2. Augusta Sugarbean*

          Agreed. And the point that Alison made is something worth thinking about: when your professional contacts think of you, do you want them to think “she did great work on X project” or “oh, yeah, she was that person who always changed her clothes mid-day”. If she doesn’t care, then shop away.

        3. Kathleen Adams*

          There used to be a male high-level executive here who one day changed his hair from silvery gray to dark brown and then a couple months later from dark brown to strawberry blond.

          And heck yeah, we *all* noticed. I don’t know if anybody ever said anything to him (I certainly didn’t), but it was incredibly distracting.

          Anyway, I think this woman has a perfect right to change her hair, nails and clothes as much as she wants, of course, but *repeatedly* doing it in the middle of the day like this is just weird. Now and then would be fine, but once a month is weird, weird, weird. As I already noted, it’s certainly well within her rights, but it’s also well within the rights of people who work with her to think “That is so weird.” ‘Cause it is.

          And it’s definitely within the rights of people she’s giving a presentation to, people who barely know her, to think, “Good God, that is so weird!”

          If she’s OK with people thinking she’s weird, there isn’t a problem. If she isn’t OK with that, there s a problem.

          I suspect that she’s perfectly fine with people thinking she’s weird, but hey, I could be wrong about that. If I were the OP, I’d ask her not to do it on presentation days, but let it go other than that. And if he wants to think it weird…well, I for one wouldn’t blame him at all.

    5. Wendy Darling*

      Yeah, wouldn’t it make more sense to carry a bag? Heck, you could put the old clothes in the shopping bag you got the new clothes in!

        1. Temperance*

          I assumed she was chucking them because it’s rude to dump worn clothing in a donation bin.

          1. Trig*

            I always assumed the collecting charities gave everything a thorough cleaning/decontamination before putting it on the shelves, but who knows.

            1. CMart*

              They don’t, which is why it’s extra important to wash thrift store clothes before wearing them.

              My husband likes to go through the pockets of suit jackets at secondhand stores. He’s found a decent amount of money, lighters, lots of receipts, candy, and a pocket watch in one memorable case.

        2. caryatis*

          It’s wasteful of her money. Up to her, I guess, but I’d rather put that money into savings rather than buying clothes that get donated after one morning’s wear. And I have to say, carrying an old outfit home with you is not a big burden–I do it all the time. Clothes are generally not heavy.

      1. OhBehave*

        She’s donating her clothes, not trashing them. It could be seen as odd behavior, but if she’s only doing it once a month, NBD. Also keep in mind that this is a fairly young person fresh out of college (1st job post-college). She’s having fun and is very inventive about doing it!

    1. Future Homesteader*

      My money’s on that, or spy. First thing that came to mind when I thought about this was Sydney Bristow.

      1. Alton*

        I was thinking of The Americans, though they usually change back before returning to their regular personas.

        1. Whats In A Name*

          That is 100% where my mind went first. Escort/Call Girl with after work appointments.

          1. Spice for this*

            I came here to say that she is from another planet (has to change her wigs and clothes as part of her research) or an excort/call girl!

        2. Stranger than fiction*

          Admittedly I thought escort. Like one day she gets a specific request to come with purple hair or whatever the guy’s into.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        Which is why saying something when she’s “on view” during presentations might be fair–I would probably spend the afternoon crafting elaborate scenarios to explain the complete change in the presenter’s hair, makeup, and clothing rather than register the new teapot glazing procedures.

    2. Stella Maris*

      Exactly my response. (I would 100% watch “Michelle”‘s YouTube channel or read her blog. Wow. )

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Seriously. I kind of think she’s awesome and kept reading thinking, “Oh wow, this sounds badass. Why is this unprofessional?” and was waiting for Alison to tell me why.

      I mean, she’s hyper-efficient (with her mall time), put together, a solid performer, and possibly a secret agent. I wish I were this cool.

      1. k*

        If she is managing to pull all of this off in her lunch break and is still a good performer she must have some crazy good time management and organizational skills.

        I’ve been meaning to book a simple haircut for ages and haven’t gotten around to it. I’m jealous.

        1. AD*

          Yes to all of this. Michelle sounds like a rock star (although agreed that she might want to avoid those big makeovers during big presentations with external people).

        2. Shayland*

          Book a simple haircut? I’ve been meaning to pick up my medication refill for two weeks. Still haven’t gotten around to it.

      2. DDJ*

        I was so happy with Alison’s first line. I actually have a hair appointment after work and was considering going for something a little offbeat and I think this awesome woman has inspired me to go for it!

      3. Hrovitnir*

        OK, I’m gonna reply to this comment because it was gold. Agreed on all counts.

        I’m so glad Alison’s response was “she sounds awesome” because I too was thinking “she sounds awesome”. If I could afford it I would be exactly that extreme, and possibly during the day.

        I do realise it could read really weird but I am all kinds of in favour of significant appearance changes on the regular. I get so boooooored.

    4. Ypsiguy*

      No, this is clearly a case of a pair of twins who are switching off on having a single job. Unfortunately, nobody ever told them that trick doesn’t work with fraternal twins.

      The only thing I wonder is whether there is another employer across town who notices the exact same issue with one of their employees.

        1. AMPG*

          This is a major plot point in a movie that came out a few years ago, but of course I don’t want to say which one because it’s a huge spoiler.

          1. On Fire*

            Was this a movie that Sir Michael Caine played a significant role in? If so, I LOVED that movie.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          That… is suddenly really obvious.

          And one reason I love the show, because if someone actually changes their appearance during the day you think “mall” or “spilled soda” or “huh Cosima was a little weird just then” rather than “OMG Cosima must have been replaced by a clone!!!!!”

          (I first wrote this sentence with ‘Alison’ who is my favorite clone, the ninja badass uptight soccer mom, but realized it would be confusing in AAM context.)

          1. Anonymous 40*

            What makes that show so amazing to me is the way you slip into thinking of the characters as wholly separate people, including actresses, even when you know better. My favorite scenes are when one clone is pretending to be another clone. Tatiana Maslany is just amazing. Sarah-playing-Allison is distinctly different from Allison herself, even when Sarah looks exactly like Allison.

            1. Nobody Here By That Name*

              Apparently even Tatiana’s own mother forgets they’re all being played by the same person when she’s watching the show, so we have good company.

            2. Falling Diphthong*

              I love the scenes that illustrate Sarah-as-Allison is distinct from Allison-as-Sarah. Even walking across a room.

              And have had many “Oh right, it’s all the same actress” moments. An interview about someone getting to work with Helena and I wondered why the actress who played Sarah cared. Or Allison is on a marriage retreat and you think “Yeah, the actress needed the week off so they put that line in.” It even works with the different amount of skin shown in sex scenes, which, yup, reads as different actresses.

            3. BPT*

              I always think of Tatiana Maslany as playing Sarah, and think, “she’s so awesome, it’s too bad that all the actors on the show, like Donnie, don’t get to do scenes with her.” Oh wait.

      1. Mitzy Carter*

        Having different hair, nails, and clothes is not what makes you fraternal twins.

    5. Liane*

      Well, OP didn’t mention that she comes back radiating heat or cold or hands sticky with Homemade Web Goop. And fighting aliens, mad scientists, or deities of mischief takes time too, so unless the lunch break is 4 hours and there’s a Y or gym by the mall so she can shower…

      But yeah I vote for Superhero too.

      1. SarahTheEntwife*

        She seems to have appearance-based superpowers, so it seems reasonable that they would extend to personal hygiene cleanup after alien-fighting ;-)

  2. LadyL*

    I am in awe of Michelle, it sounds like she’s living my dream life. I get bored with my look so easily, I would love being as chameleon-like as she is.

    1. Manders*

      Ditto! I don’t have a ton of spare cash for complete wardrobe and hair overhauls, so most of my sudden transformations take place at home with a pair of drugstore hair clippers and a box of dye. Even if I did have the cash, it’s kind of a pain to schedule a hair appointment outside of work hours, so I totally get why she’s doing this in the middle of the day.

      Some people get that periodic itch to make a major change to their appearance, and some people are happy keeping the same clothing style and haircut for 40 years.

    2. Rincat*

      Oh me too, the thing that frustrates me most about my hair is that I can’t change it on a whim. I guess I could invest in some wigs…

    3. Lucky*

      I’m quite positive that Michelle is an international spy, and working for OP’s company is her cover. Just me?

    4. Browneyedgirl*

      I’ve done this once in my life (I’ve occasionally bought new clothes or gotten my hair done over lunch, but I’m talking head to toe reboot). I was temporary assigned to political organizing from the nonprofit was working at before the 2nd Obama election (I did the data on the biggest GOTV office in Michigan). I worked like three weeks straight from 9 in the morning to 2 in the morning and one day there was a miraculous two hour break in the afternoon. I was nowhere near home. I was sweaty. And I suddenly hated everything about myself. So I got a radical haircut (like mid back to pixie), a new outfit (thanks Target!), and a manicure. I went back and the volunteers I’d sent out in the morning came back and were all “are you new?” It was amazing.

      1. JanetM*

        I have bought new clothes over lunch twice: once when I got to work and my Vice Chancellor asked me if I was going to the funeral of a faculty member that afternoon (I hadn’t planned to, but she asked me to attend with her, so I ran out and got a mostly black dress), and once when I ripped a huge triangular tear in my dress. Now that my husband is retired, if I have a wardrobe malfunction I can call and ask him to bring me something :-).

  3. Liet-Kynes*

    “That said, I do think it’s reasonable to ask her to avoid drastic mid-day appearance changes when she’s helping with a presentation — since that’s more likely to be a distraction.”

    If OP says anything – and I think it’s debatable whether he should at all – it should be strictly limited to this. Unless she’s changing her appearance in ways that are objectively not professional, no good can come of a male boss wading into a woman’s grooming decisions. But I do think it’s reasonable to request that she not do it in the midst of a presentation, since that is legitimately distracting.

    1. Sadsack*

      I agree, but not just because the boss is a man. I think it is fair for anyone to ask that the presenter stick to the same outfit all day to avoid confusion and keep the focus on the presentation.

      1. k*

        Yeah, this would be the same conversation, male or female employee. I, like many, am bad with names and faces. If I’m attending a presentation or meeting and there are new people, I use things like hair and clothes to help me keep them straight. I would be very confused if one of them drastically changed appearance mid-meeting.

        As for days without visitors, I say let it be. It’s a bit of an eccentricity, but everyone has their quirks.

        1. Liet-Kynes*

          And as eccentricities go, it’s a pretty awesome one. Better that than “why yes, I do like my salmon piping hot for lunch, why do you ask?”

          1. EmKay*

            I just cannot get behind eating salmon “medium rare”. I’ve tried, I just can’t.

              1. Cath in Canada*

                Yes, and I also saw “chicken sashimi” for real on a menu in Japan. They had a whole spiel about how it was perfectly safe and food poisoning from restaurants is essentially non-existent in Japan, but OH HELL NO.

        2. Ama*

          Yeah and a lot of people use hairstyles as a way to remember new people. I attended an annual conference once that a different coworker had attended the year before. No one who works with both of us would say we look alike at all but we happened to have similar haircuts and glasses. Almost every person I met who had previously met my coworker assumed that I was her until I corrected them.

          But I too think that other than days when there are all day presentations this isn’t that big a deal.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yes, agreed. I do think Liet-Kynes is right to note that there’s an added . . . layer . . . of which to be mindful when there’s this kind of gender and generational difference, and the conversation is focused on the more junior employee’s appearance.

    2. Tomato Frog*

      I think speaking up about the presentations is important, and not optional. If I were attending a presentation and someone did this without explanation, I would not only find it distracting, but I would start questioning my memory and also wonder if they were playing a trick of some sort. It would not leave a good impression.

      1. MicroManagered*

        Agree. And it wouldn’t have to be a big Sit Down conversation–just a casual mention the next time she does one of these mid-day presto-change0’s, OP could say “Nice hair Michelle! I almost didn’t recognize you. Hey, by the way you know you wouldn’t want to do a drastic change like that during the Teapot conference next month? Oh, okay. I thought so, but just wanted to be sure!” or something like that.

        1. Annonymouse*

          I would make it a bit more formal than that since it can really be an issue at a presentation and impact relationships with external partners.

          Michelle, when you change your clothes and hair in the middle of a presentation day it becomes very distracting.

          People (especially outside partners) literally think you are a different person and when they figure out you aren’t it takes the focus off the work we’ve done (which is why they’re here) and confuses them.

          Also as a more junior staff member the way you want people to remember you is for your contributions on those days instead of your metamorphosis.

      2. kittymommy*

        The biggest thing I think is the hair. Such a drastic change would confuse me and make me think it’s another person versus the change Judy being limited to clothing/makeup. The makeup really isn’t a big deal.
        Having said that, IMO, if this is an office setting, especially if it’s on any way conservative, it’s going to come across as odd. While I love it in a private life for an office setting I don’t think such a drastic change on so many levels is appropriate.

        1. Puffyshirt*

          So while I completely think Michelle is awesome and I’d love to have a drink with her, I do think this would read as strange and possibly “young” to other professionals. If this person is asking her supervisor things like “what can I do to be promoted” or “how do I get to the next level”, then I think it would be appropriate to understand how she is being perceived in that office setting. She could get hat feedback and decide she would prefer not to change or she may really not see how others may view her habit. I have an employee I am having a similar conversation with. She wants to be a manager but shows up to work trying to “change up her look” with things like wearing a crown. Yes. A crown. While I dig the confidence, it’s not going to help her be taken seriously.

      3. Cath in Canada*

        One of my colleagues once got a (not drastic, but definitely noticeable) haircut on her lunch break. It was really quite disconcerting – I wondered how I’d completely failed to notice it when she came in that morning.

    3. Quinalla*

      I agree that is it reasonable to ask her to refrain on presentation day, otherwise I don’t really think this is a problem once a month.

      I have certainly gotten a quick trim on a lunch break before, so I totally get the convenience factor of it, but I too think Michelle is kind of bad ass here :) I kind of want to bring a change of clothes to work once a month and change my style during lunch.

  4. L.*

    You gotta be seriously organized and dedicated to be doing costume changes in the middle of the day, like every day you’re hosting the Oscars. I suspect that as Michelle takes on more responsibilities at work and home (I’m assuming she is footloose because she’s so young, though obviously I’m just generalizing) she won’t have time or the energy to be doing it anymore.

    1. Allison*

      Or she might just grow out of it over time, and realize it’s no longer worth the money and energy. I wouldn’t assume a young person will eventually settle down, have babies, and no longer be able to do all the fun stuff they’re doing, but I can see her shifting priorities or developing other interests over time. This may also be in response to a major life change or event we don’t know about.

      1. LNZ*

        As somebody who used to change their hair a lot (like radical dye jobs every few months) It’s also possible you just get tired of all the time and energy you have to put into it. Lord knows thats what made me stop dying my hair, i have a lot of hair and dying it can be a full day event. Nothing else took its place i just got tired of how much effort it took.

        1. kab*

          As someone who has had some radical hair dying done, it takes a lot of energy – not just in the process (takes me 4 hours in the chair), but in the upkeep following the dye job to keep the bleach from all-out wrecking the hair.

  5. WhichSister*

    “Michelle sounds kind of awesome.”

    This 1000 times this….

    I am inspired by Michelle. But I do agree she shouldn’t do a dramatic change in the middle of a day long presentation or meetings. If she comes back and the audience thinks she is new a person, that can impact performance and credibility.

    But other than that…. I heart Michelle.

    1. Dee-Nice*

      It makes me ENDLESSLY happy that “Michelle sounds kind of awesome” was Alison’s first reaction, because it was mine as well. Michelle, if you see this and recognize yourself (yourselves?), know that there are internet people who want to be your friend.

    2. SophieChotek*

      Yes I agree. I have a friend (like Katie the Fed) was has lots of wigs. She doesn’t drastically change her entire look all the time (she has a very quirky personal style that leans towards Steampunk in real life, mixed with a love of carpentry tools and gadgets), but I’ve gotten together with friend for a few hours and she will switch between a wig and her real hair (which is longish) just for fun. I think Michelle is cool too.

    3. Pixel*

      I have a mild case of face blindness – I find it difficult to recognise people who suddenly show up with new hairstyles, facial hair or lack of it, and let’s not talk about recognising actors in different roles/shows. I would totally think there were two different presenters.

      1. Canadian Natasha*

        Hi fellow mildly face blind person. :)
        I don’t even necessarily recognize people I know* when I see them out of the usual context. A deliberate drastic change like this would have me totally confused as well!

        *Unless I know them really well or see them frequently (and recently) in multiple contexts.

      2. AnonymousAndroid*

        Me too :)

        I have been known not to recognise people I see every day when they turn up without glasses, or have a mildly different hairstyle. I’d have no hope of keeping up with Michelle.

        Still think the clothing change sounds awesome, though!

    4. Rebecca in Dallas*

      We have much to learn from Michelle.

      Seriously, if this was my direct report, I’d be asking her so many questions out of curiosity! It’s totally reasonable to ask her to avoid the drastic makeovers when clients are visiting or if it’s a particularly conservative office where it might be hurting her reputation. But like most others, I’d be super impressed!

    5. my two cents*

      Yep, totally agree. Only ask her to avoid super-ultra-drastic changes when there are customers/colleagues visiting. As in, she should maintain whatever look-of-the-day while there are visitors actively in the building, as they might later try to seek her out to ask questions. And even then, I’d think it’s really just a wig/hair switch that’d throw people (but changing an outfit wouldn’t).

  6. On Fire*

    My first thought was that maybe she is doing some smaller-scale, local modeling – like for a local store’s advertising, or for her stylist. The later details, though, sound like she just likes to shake up her look.

    I agree that maybe she should schedule her makeover days for non-presentation days, strictly due to the distraction factor. The rest of the time, though, I don’t see it being a problem. She’s going to come in with a drastically different hair style/color the next day, anyway, so why not at lunch? Especially since she takes public transit, this is probably the best time for her. And there’s no mention of this making her take long lunches. I think this is one that you’ll just need to let slide, OP, unless it is truly affecting her work or perception of her professionalism.

    1. RabbitRabbit*

      That was my thought too. Total makeovers like that are hardcore, and sound like they’d take a small team of stylists to pull off.

      My other thought was – is she actually taking a proper-length lunch? How on earth does she manage to pull all that off in an hour, even with a mall next door? Just getting my hair dyed, cut, and dried takes around an hour and a half.

      1. Tiffin*

        According to the OP, Michelle is exempt and lunches are usually longer than an hour (although I do wonder how she manages to pull off these major changes during lunch breaks from presentations, which tend to be more strict about timing).

    1. Alton*

      The only thing about the wig possibility is how does she carry them if she doesn’t have a bag? Does she keep them in her desk? But it sounds like the length of her hair might be changing frequently, so it’s possible.

  7. WellRed*

    While I don’t think this needs to be addressed for all the reasons mentioned, I am going against the flow a bit to say, I’d find it a little hard to take seriously someone this obsessed with appearance. I suppose I’d get used to it.

      1. SignalLost*

        Because you can be obsessed with anything if it’s what you spend a significant amount of time and money on. It could be collecting ducks, changing clothes, eliminating ants. A constant desire to fiddle with ones appearance in major ways is as obsessive about appearance as someone who spends 20 minutes in the restroom wondering if that spot is a pimple. It doesn’t make Michelle not awesome or unhealthy, but I don’t see how changing your appearance radically during the work day doesn’t read as obsessed with appearance to some people for you.

        1. nonegiven*

          If it’s just once a month, 12 new outfits a year. A manicure once a month. Really not that far out for many people. She probably spends the entire month planning her next switch.

      2. Rana*

        I don’t think one has to be focused on a single look to be obsessed. I mean, clearly, she’s made a major hobby out of these mid-day changes, to the point that she has developed special techniques to make it work. I don’t know if that’s “obsession” per se, but it does suggest an interest above and beyond the usual.

        (Assuming you weren’t being funny, Mike C. I sometimes read comments too literally.)

      3. Not So NewReader*

        You have to think about what you are going to change it to, it takes planning/coordinating. You can just grab whatever and match it up with other random thing and expect it to look okay.

        If you are not thinking about your appearance there is no need to change it midday. It is what it is.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Could you clarify what aspects of this sound obsessive to you? She’s changed her hair about 6x over 2 years, which sounds normal to me. But I may be missing something and am curious what that something is!

      1. Yorick*

        You know, I commented below thinking it was more frequent than that.

        I still think drastic clothing changes is kinda strange, except of course when there is a work reason or there was a wardrobe malfunction.

      2. MegaMoose, Esq.*

        The letter says she does dramatically different outfits at least once a month, though, in addition to the six times hair changes. I can completely understand this being odd enough to cause a little bit of side eye. However, if they’re good at their job, I’m firmly on the side of “you do you, Michelle!”

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Oh, this is very helpful—thanks to you and Yorick!

          So is the “obsessive” element that the outfit changes are midday? Because they would totally be normal if they happened between days, no? Would the other things be quirky but not as weird if the monthly outfit changes were not also occurring?

          1. Yorick*

            The outfit changes are weird to me because it’s midday (and because it’s frequent, I guess – if it happened 1 time, I’d assume she spilled or something).

            Drastic hair changes are uncommon but not that weird, although having it happen in the middle of the day would be a surprise.

            I think Michelle would become “that woman who changes hair/clothes” in people’s minds instead of being known for her work.

            1. JulieBulie*

              Midday doesn’t seem weird to me, given that she uses public transportation and the mall is nearby. She doesn’t want to have to come back to this area on a day when she isn’t working; and it’s probably easier to get an appointment midday than after work.

              1. Yorick*

                It’s not super weird, but it would be quite a shock to have someone come back from lunch with much shorter, different colored hair. People are so shocked when I cut off a few inches (and they see me the next day or week) that I make some casual announcements about my upcoming haircut.

                1. Connie-Lynne*

                  Wait, really? Because I used to regularly book hair appts during the afternoon, leave and come back to the office.

                  It’s like a doctor appt, really, except people can’t tell your meds changed from looking at you.

              2. On Fire*

                Exactly – even the changing clothes seems efficient to me, because it means she isn’t weighed down by shopping bags.

                My guess is that Michelle is building her professional wardrobe – she can buy a cheaper, maybe lower-quality suit at the thrift store, but then replace it at Good Quality Mall Store. The donation box is right there, so she just changes in the fitting room, drops her old clothes in the box as she leaves the mall, and doesn’t have her hands full for the trip home (as opposed to carrying the shopping bag back to the office, then going BACK to the mall after work to make the donation drop).

          2. MegaMoose, Esq.*

            I read the “obsessed” comment to mean that this is a dramatic, involved, probably expensive (the hair at least) and regular hobby of hers. I wouldn’t read more into obsessive than that and I don’t think it’s got to be a huge negative to characterize someone as obsessed with a certain thing. I think SignalLost put it pretty well above. Doing it in mid-day and with this level of variety is probably what makes this especially odd, although really, I think it’s fair to say someone like this would be considered at least a “fashion plate” even if the transformations were happening on their off-hours.

        2. WellRed*

          I read it as she does it most days, but if it’s once a month or so, it’s still a little odd to do during the workday, but falls much more on the side of liking to switch it up.

      3. Kyrielle*

        Over one year – but that’s still about every two months. About every two months is how often hair stylists recommend going in to just maintain a style anyway, assuming it has any short lengths / bangs / framing components / colors.

        The clothes changes are more often, but still not super-often.

        Which is good – it should make it easy for her to avoid doing it on presentation-to-client days, assuming those are not super frequent.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Oh I misread, that is helpful to remember. Once every two months is fairly frequent… although my perception might be skewed. I’m thinking of many of my fellow WOC friends and cancer/alopecia survivors, and changing hair/wigs every two months isn’t that frequent. Maybe that’s why I’m not seeing what others are seeing?

          1. Kyrielle*

            I don’t know anyone who would do this, and I still didn’t think it was unusually frequent. I had long hair for a long time and trims every six months did the job, but having gotten a short hair style? The recommended update time is 6-8 weeks. So in that sense she is right on the normal schedule, it’s just that her changes are more drastically noticeable each time. (I agree with those who suspect wigs because of how long a dye job takes, though.)

            1. Aeryn Sun*

              Yeah, while I’m not great at doing appointments this frequently, my haircut (pixie) should be maintained about once every 6 weeks, so changing up your hair that often doesn’t seem odd to me.

            2. OhNo*

              The shorter your hair gets, the more often you have to get it trimmed. My head is shaved, and I have to do a maintenance trim at least every two or three weeks, or I start looking shaggy.

              If Michelle prefers shorter styles, it makes sense that she has a pretty quick turnaround time for hairstyles, and that she’s able to fit a cut/color appointment in on her lunch break, since short hair would generally take less time to do.

              1. Shamy*

                Absolutely this. I have portions of my head shaved and I see my barber far more frequently than my stylist. and my hair is much easier to color now than it was when long.

          2. Putting Out Fires, Esq*

            My WOC coworkers change hairstyles way more frequently than every two months. I get a haircut every two months, and if I hadn’t found a style I liked, i could be changing that often as well.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Same. Many of mine switch up their hair weekly/biweekly (although I do have a friend who wears a different wig every day. I’m pretty sure she has in excess of 50 wigs.)

    2. Yorick*

      Yeah, I think it’s a little weird. I wouldn’t seriously judge someone about it, but it’s a little eye-rolly.

      I think more workplaces would find this off-putting than Allison suggested.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        Yeah, maybe I’ve just gotten lucky (with casual dress codes!) but this would be super off-putting/outside-the-norm at every company I’ve worked for: Non-profit (for struggling high schoolers), university admin, software company, corporate office for outdoor retailer…

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Yeah, this probably would not fly in a lot of businesses around here. It would undermine a person’s reputation. I have seen this happen in situations that were not as extreme as this. The person involved discredited herself.

      2. Epsilon Delta*

        I was surprised by that assessment too. Everywhere I’ve worked this would become The Thing That Everyone Talks About. And at least one place would have told you to knock it off.

    3. Statler von Waldorf*

      Yeah, I’m with WellRed on this one. I would personally take Michelle far less seriously because of this. I wouldn’t say anything however, as an older male authority there’s just so much nope in critiquing a women’s clothing as long as it’s appropriate for the office. However, I would be quietly eye-rolling, and I would think less of her professionally.

      I also suspect this might be a cultural thing. I could totally see this flying in larger cities and more liberal areas. In smaller towns and more conservative areas, this would stick out in a negative way far more.

      1. excel_fangrrrl*

        *However, I would be quietly eye-rolling, and I would think less of her professionally.*

        you would think less of a woman who buys one new outfit a month, has her nails done once a month, and changes her hairstyle 3 times a year? all because she chooses to be efficient and get it done on her long lunch break from a job that it conveniently located near a mall where all of these services are available? wow.

        1. Statler von Waldorf*

          Any one of those things is very reasonable. It’s the combination of all of the together at once. Completely changing your appearance in the middle of the word day makes a strong “pay-attention-to-me” vibe, and that triggers the eye-rolling.

          1. excel_fangrrrl*

            you’re assuming a lot about Michele’s motivations. it is possible for a woman to go buy a new outfit and get a makeover for her own happiness and amusement, not for the attention of others. and it sounds like it’s convenient for her to do it on her long lunch break, not that she’s timing it for Dramatic Effect and attention seeking.

            1. Rachael*

              Yes! As someone who gets alot of stuff done on my own lunch breaks (because I have no other time otherwise) I completely uinderstand her doing it during lunch. As Allison stated she should avoid doing this one presentation days, but there is no other reason why she should stop. This is another example of people thinking that someone should stop doing something simply because other people think it’s strange. If I had a coworker do this I would look forward to her different looks. It sounds awesome and I am, frankly, a little jealous…lol.

            2. Statler von Waldorf*

              You are also assuming a lot about her motivations. Neither of use know for sure, we are both projecting our own experiences on the situation.

              FWIW, I agree that is is perfectly possible that she is doing this entirely for her own happiness. However, whether she is or not, the optics of the situation to a third party who can’t read her mind are unchanged. I’m not saying that it should be like that, but it is what it is.

            3. Yorick*

              We’re not talking about buying an outfit. We’re talking about leaving work, going to the nearby mall, picking out a new outfit, and wearing it back to work. That’s unusual.

              1. Rachael*

                I think it depends. I worked with women in downtown Seattle and it was pretty normal for one of us to go shopping and come back in with a new outfit or shoes.

                1. Emilia Bedelia*

                  But would you change your outfit during the day? That’s the weird part.

                2. Mirax*

                  I was also used to that as part of the culture when I worked in downtown Seattle! And now that I’m at grad school in England, we’re frequently expected to make midday changes for events with varying levels of formality. Some of my teachers keep extra ties, jewelry, etc in their offices to help save time on it.

                3. Elizabeth H.*

                  I agree that changing your outfit during the work day is very strange. There isn’t anything bad about it, but it is very far from the norm.

                4. Rachael*

                  Yes, I meant that we would change into our new outfit when we got back or even wear it out of the store. Nobody thought it was strange.

                5. Rachael*

                  @ Mirax: Yeah! Good to meet another Seattleite. I guess if you work with people you genuinely like it’s okay to have some fun. And yes, there was some strutting involved. LOL

                6. The OG Anonsie*

                  Oh man, Seattle was all I could think of this whole time!! When I lived there I did some WEIRD stuff to avoid hauling a large bag on my long, arduous transit commutes. I would have thought this was a lot weirder before I lived there, now I’m like… girl’s gotta do what she’s gotta do.

                  I worked downtown so I did a massive amount of my errands during lunch to avoid having to come back downtown for an hour each way on the weekend or be stuck in the traffic later going back home.

              2. Yorick*

                I’ve lived in several cities in the South, Midwest, and Northeast. I think it would have seemed a little off at all my jobs – not something very questionable, but it seems unusual and maybe a bit off from professional norms.

          2. Hrovitnir*

            *sigh* You know, this is why even though I love changing my hair dramatically (it’s an addiction, I’m telling you), I’m excruciatingly uncomfortable with anything that draws attention to me. I do it because it makes me happy, but with gritted teeth. Wearing something other than jeans and a t-shirt is a much bigger hurdle (a bonus to science is the dress code, at least at peon level). I want to be comfortable enough to do what I want without caring but I’m not, and I really hate that “pay attention to me” is something people are so quick to judge and label. Of course there are people who are irritatingly needy like that, but it’s conveyed by behaviour, not appearance.

            1. Another bureaucrat*

              Definitely. I’m among those who would (probably unfairly!) see this as pretty weird. It’s unusual enough at my job to get a haircut during the day, so on the few times that I do, I walk in super self-conscious that anyone can tell that my hair is more styled than usual. If they do, I usually shrug it off with “oh, we’re going to X place tonight.”

              To come back from lunch wearing a completely different outfit, just because….seems weird to me. Reading the comments, it makes me feel embarrassed to say that, but it does. I’m sure she looks bad-a** in person, but this is for sure outside the norm in my world.

          3. N*

            You know, I kind of agree. I personally wouldn’t say anything about it, and I’m not sure if it undermines her professionalism, but it DOES kind of give off those “look-at-me” vibes unintentionally. Does that matter? Eh. But I’d probably be in the eye-rolling corner.

        2. Aeryn Sun*

          Seriously. She’s getting her work done, it doesn’t sound like she’s taking lunches longer than others take them, and it’s not like she’s doing this every day.

        3. Temperance*

          The clothing change is what makes it weird. I would assume she had an accident or something.

      2. Putting Out Fires, Esq*

        You would hate my smallish town Southern workplace then. We change nails and hair and even glasses (gasp!) regularly.

        And we’re lawyers.

    4. KR*

      Eh, OP doesn’t have any concerns with her work. It’s not childish or immature or whatever to want to change up your look a lot. Everyone has hobbies they like, spend money on, and care about.

    5. Kate*

      What makes you think she is obsessed with her appearance? From the sounds of it she dyes her hair and gets a haircut maybe 6 times a year. That’s pretty normal. The *only* unusual thing is that she does it in the middle, not the end of the day.

    6. Jadelyn*

      The idea that being a Serious Person who should be Taken Seriously is somehow mutually exclusive with being someone who spends time and effort on one’s appearance, is so weird to me. I’m going to start calling it the Elle Woods problem.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        Yeah, and troubling. She doesn’t sound any more “obsessed” with her appearance than a woman who gets up an hour early every morning so she can spend an hour on her hair, or a man who spends a lot of time and money picking out clothes and shoes or buys super expensive cars for appearances sake. The only difference is that it’s conspicuous. As long as her work is good, and she’s professional at the office, go ahead and roll your eyes internally, but you shouldn’t think of less of her professionally.

        1. Statler von Waldorf*

          “The only difference is that it’s conspicuous.”

          Exactly. That’s the key point here. Any of the things she does are perfectly fine. However, she is deliberately making her appearance conspicuous. Making your appearance more conspicuous than the work you do will come across as unprofessional in many places.

          1. Liz2*

            Remember- women are supposed to adhere to a strict standard of appearance, but never be noticed putting energy into it.

            (This isn’t a reply to Statler specifically, just pointing out a pervasive issue relevant in the discussion.)

            1. Aeryn Sun*

              It reminds me of the whole idea that the ideal woman is someone who looks flawless but doesn’t wear makeup, to be perfectly made up but not show how they did it. It’s also the ideal of wanting women to eat stuff like pizza and burgers but also just happen to be incredibly thin.

          2. Luv the pets*

            I agree with Statler von Waldorf. When you take all the elements and put them all together, the situation becomes odd, and I, personally, start to question Michelle’s judgement. And, that’s when I take ALL the elements together. It’s fine to switch hairstyles and do so at lunch. Get a new outfit, at lunch, nails, whatever. Maybe even wear it all together. But even if we look past all of this, people with good judgement do not make massive wardrobe, hair, makeup and nail changes during presentations. So, for that one reason alone, when taken all together, it seems to me to be more attention seeking and would therefore make me question her judgement or professionalism, or maturity, or something (without knowing her). I don’t think it is the boss’s role to make her stop (other than on days there are presentations), but personally, I do think it is somewhat questionable behavior.

            1. Anon Town*

              Very well put. It’s the dramatic change midday of hair, makeup, nails, wardrobe and coming back looking drastically different. The focus on her appearance and enjoying variety is fine. But we need to trust what the OP’s saying, that each change is dramatic and causing people to see her as a weird chameleon not a capable colleague.

              She sounds unfamiliar with professional norms, and if I were the OP, I’d counsel her about it. Honestly, Michelle sounds like a spy, a call girl, or weird. And I want people primarily to know my team for how capable they are, not get distracted by their personal attributes.

              1. Gabriela*

                But do we really want to counsel people out of their “weird”-ness if it doesn’t affect the qualify of their work? I think it may come down to a question of reputation and longevity. If Michelle were brand new and an unknown quantity, it would be worth saying something, but if she has already proven herself, isn’t it ok to be a little weird?

                1. Statler von Waldorf*

                  I don’t want to counsel people out of their weirdness. However, especially for newer employees to the workplace, it’s good for them to learn that weird behaviors can have negative long-term consequences on their careers, especially in more conservative fields or locations.

                  From my point of view, one year in the workplace isn’t “proven herself,” it’s “still pretty green.” If she was in her thirties with a decade of experience in the workplace, I might feel differently.

                2. Gabriela*

                  Yes, Statler, you’re right about still being new to the professional world- I must have skipped over that part.

              2. Non Feeling Robot*

                This is more one of those things that is related to the ‘shadows we cast’ as a leader. I have often heard you should dress for the position you want, not the position you are. That is what is at play here. Her behavior technically isn’t anything outrageous but if someone was a mentor to her they may want to mention it because it is affecting how people view her. Now depending on cultural norms, it may show that she is ahead of the pack and a leader. However, whether we admit it or not, perception plays a huge role in office dynamics, particularly in promotions for some.

                (IT world, not alway, you oculd wear a mophead and still get promoted as long as you do quality work).

              3. Avocado Toast*

                Once in a while – probably about the same frequency as “Michelle” – I have an event after work and do up my whole face during my lunch hour. Needless to say, my full-face and my bare face (the latter being what my coworkers usually see) are pretty drastically distinguishable.

                Am I “unprofessional” or “immature” because I have shit to do after work and I like to look good for it?

                Honestly, busybody nitpicking about your coworkers’ appearance instead of just quietly doing your damn job screams “unprofessional” to me.

          3. The OG Anonsie*

            She’s said she does it for convenience, which is not the same as deliberately conspicuous for the sake of drawing attention. So let’s start there. I’ve lived in several of the worst traffic metros in the country and let me tell you, I have (and will again) get hair or nail appointments done during the day if it means not having to spend several more commute hours on it at another time. I don’t like that it might be noticeable, but I don’t dislike that as much as I dislike three extra hours of traffic.

            And, listen, everyone is allowed to think this is weird or stupid or whatever. You can think it’s a dumb choice and that she’s weird for doing it. That’s fine, it’s all personal taste and boundaries. I think the clothing bit is really freakin’ strange. But it does not mean she is unprofessional, of dubious moral or decision making character, or someone you should not take seriously or respect as a professional. That is a hell of a reach, and it says “I think anyone who makes inconsequential choices that are not to my taste are of questionable character and reliability” which is more than a little bit silly.

      2. Browneyedgirl*

        And now I’m listening to legally blonde the musical at work.

        Yeah, she sounds awesome. I don’t think she should be doing it on presentation days but that’s my only note.

    7. JennyFair*

      Would you have difficulty taking seriously someone who read the sports page each day and sometimes took half a vacation day to catch a major league game? Or someone who visited the library one day a week on lunch to trade for the newest zombie novel? Or someone who has a professional shave done twice a week? Because there are two things about not taking Michelle seriously because of the time and effort she puts into her appearance that bothers me. First, it seems very gender-specific, and secondly, it implies that someone who cares about their appearance is an airhead. Which is, again, often gender-specific.

      1. Yorick*

        Imagine a man you worked with regularly changed into a noticeably different suit in the middle of the day. I think people would find that even weirder than if a woman did it.

        1. Observer*

          I would find it weird. But I wouldn’t take him less seriously. A lot of people do some really weird things. Who cares?

        2. JennyFair*

          I actually wouldn’t. I’ve changed clothes when I spilled something on myself at lunch. I keep extra clothes at work because sometimes my job duties change unexpectedly. Every day I might notice, but once every month or two? Nah. And if I did, I would be unlikely to spend more than a moment thinking about it, unless I had a compliment to give on the new suit.

        3. Hrovitnir*

          People probably would be (even) more judgemental of a man who was changing their appearance in a similar way to Michelle, but I think we all know that’s because men doing anything that can be perceived as feminine (like openly caring about their appearance) is very frowned upon. So yes, people would be judgemental – and I think that is a bad thing.

          1. Gabriela*

            That’s so interesting, because I thought, “no one would judge a man for this, they would assume he has a very good reason- like an evening meeting or professional obligation”. That people would default more toward giving him the benefit of the doubt because of the way men and women are perceived at work. Not to derail about sexism and gender constructs, but it is really interesting to me why it’s so hard for people to articulate why it doesn’t feel right to them to say something to Michelle even if they think it’s weird and unprofessional. There’s just so much loaded stuff behind women’s appearances/dress/presentation.

          2. The OG Anonsie*

            I don’t think so, because I think people would assume he had a specific good reason to do it and vanity wasn’t involved. They’d think he needed to be at some event or meeting that required a different outfit or one got stained or something.

        4. Aeryn Sun*

          I probably wouldn’t think anything of it (I genuinely don’t remember what anyone’s wearing, someone could show up in five different suits and I would have no clue) but even if I did it’s not like I would judge him for it – there are a thousand reasons why someone could change clothes during the day.

        5. Anon Town*

          It’s not just changing into a different suit. It’s like a man changing into a different set of clothes AND shaving his beard AND dyeing his hair from blond to black AND adding a monocle or a walking stick. No, it doesn’t affect his ability to design teapot spouts, but I’d just as soon not have the whole office buzzing about Fergus’ midday transformation.

        6. Avocado Toast*

          I sincerely and honestly would not even notice that one of my male colleagues changed clothing. But I don’t spend my time policing what other people are wearing. I come to work to *work*.

          There is a strong tinge of paternalism/sexism in OP’s post, and I can’t help but wonder if there’s a racial component as well. Women of color are policed even more harshly than white women when it comes to standards of dress and decorum.

      2. Statler von Waldorf*

        For the record, I would take a man who did the exact same thing even less seriously than a woman who did it. As Gabriela points out below, there is a lot of loaded stuff with women’s clothing and appearances. However, in this case, I would argue that it works in her favor. I’d bet serious coin that if Michelle was Mike instead, the boss wouldn’t have written to AAM, he would have just told Mike to stop with the fashion shenanigans.

    8. AJ*

      There is a difference in being obsessed with appearance and having your look (clothes/makeup/hair) be a hobby. If someone was really into interior decorating and enjoyed repainting/moving furniture around often they would not be characterized as being obsessed with appearance. Fashion can be a hobby, and it sounds like she is having a lot of fun with it without making herself or others feel bad.

  8. ZSD*

    Donating the clothes mid-day seems pretty bizarre to me. I don’t think this is something the boss should get into, but why can’t she just carry a backpack on those days?
    However, I kind of get where the boss is coming from about this seeming unprofessional. Aside from the part about changing appearance in the middle of a presentation, though, I think this is something that would come best from a work friend or mentor than from a boss. If I were Michelle’s work friend, I might suggest that, since she’s exempt anyway, she take her “lunch” at the end of the day on the days when she wants to get her hair done. That way, she’s showing up with a different look the next day instead of midday, which somehow seems less unprofessional…?

    Also, I’m wondering if some of the seeming unprofessionalism is coming from our association between malls and teenagers. I think the fact that Michelle is going to the mall in the middle of the workday could make her come off as kind of young. Depending on the office, that might not be a problem, of course.

    1. On Fire*

      Meh. A lot of malls in my area, if you go in the middle of the day it’s all retired people who are there doing mallwalks for exercise.

        1. Lady Jay*

          I’m in my early 30s and LOVE mall-walking. It’s a great way to get in a walk when it’s really hot / really cold / really rainy outdoors. Plus, wonderful opportunities for people watching.

    2. Malibu Stacey*

      “why can’t she just carry a backpack on those days?”

      or put the worn clothes in a shopping bag?

      1. Yorick*

        Or buy the clothes and carry them home in the bag instead of changing into them? Why not wear them the following day?

    3. tigerlily*

      She CAN carry a backpack, but she chooses not to. I think you’re looking for an answer where there isn’t one – she’s not donating the clothes because she thinks it’s her only option. It’s one of many options, and it’s the one the she’s decided works best for her.

    4. Parcae*

      The only thing I can think is that she plans these outfit changes in advance and therefore comes to work that morning wearing an outfit she already intends to donate. It’s a bit of a production compared to just bringing a bag of clothes to donate and/or taking a bag of new clothes home with her as needed, but I can see how it would feel fun doing it this way, too.

      1. excel_fangrrrl*

        and if she’s starting out the day in work-appropriate clothing, she’s donating some nice clothes to a good cause midday. i’m not sure why everyone is so miffed that she’s doing this.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          Yeah, I don’t get that.

          I think that some people are uncomfortable because she’s doing things at times they don’t normally expect it. Take her clothes home and put them in a donation bin near her house? Totally fine. Donate them on her lunch break? Suddenly weird. Except it’s not really weird because it’s a time that works for her. She wants to shop on her lunch break. She doesn’t want to cart her now unwanted clothes home. Perfectly logical.

          Same with the shopping and hair. If getting her hair done (or buying a wig) and buying new clothes on her lunch break works for her, why shouldn’t she do it then? I get how it can be distracting or confusing, so it’s not a bad idea for her to be mindful of that–as Alison said, she doesn’t want that to overshadow her work in terms of what people know her for. And I agree that it is confusing to do it when she’s doing presentations all day. But there’s nothing inherently unprofessional with coming to work recoiffed and reclothed in the afternoon as opposed to the next day.

          1. Yorick*

            But the letter says she purposely gets unwanted clothes from the thrift store to wear in the morning so that she can change into new clothes in the middle of the day. This seems so weird to me.

            1. Yorick*

              In contrast, it would be perfectly normal to bring some unwanted clothes (in a bag) and donate them on your lunch break.

              It is possible (and sometimes ideal) to transport clothing from one place to another without wearing it on your body.

          2. PM Jesper Berg*

            Yes, exactly this. OP would be OK with his employee changing her appearance every 24 hours, but not every 12 hours?

      2. Whats In A Name*

        OP writes: She says she puts her old clothes in a donation bin at the mall and has told people she will buy things at the thrift store near her home for the purpose of wearing to work on days when she is going to buy new stuff at the mall.

    5. Super Anon*

      I take public transportation on a regular basis. For work, I have my purse: wallet, comb, lipstick, book, notebook, 2 pens, lens cleaner for my glasses, etc. I have a job with long periods of inactivity, so we are encouraged to bring “something to do”, which in my case is a small craft project. I am low income, so I bring my own lunch. That means I have my purse, and one other bag with the craft project and the lunch.

      Adding a third bag would not only add to the weight I have to carry for blocks on the walk to the transportation stop, but on the bus/train, when I don’t always get a seat and it is sometimes standing room only, so I then have to hold the bags for the whole 45 minute ride. Then there is the walk to the office.

      1. OhNo*

        Agreed. As a longtime public transit commuter, I frequently have to leave stuff I’d like to bring at home just to keep my number of bags down. Heck, it’s gotten to the point where I don’t even carry a gym bag during the week – I bring fresh clothes to the gym on the weekend, swap out the clothes in my locker, and haul the dirty stuff from the past week home in the same bag I carried in.

        I’m going to be honest, if I could afford to buy enough thrift store outfits, I’d store my whole professional wardrobe at work and just toss the cheap stuff after changing every day. It would probably be easier than worrying about sweating through my dress shirts on a crowded, non-air-conditioned bus in the summer.

      2. SarahKay*

        I was thinking this. I have a mile and a half walk to work; especially when it’s hot I don’t want to carry more than I have to. As a result I keep three pairs of smart work shoes under my desk and walk in my comfy flat shoes. I could carry the relevant pair to work each day, but why would I?
        She may feel the same about bags – especially, as you say, if she’s travelling on crowded public transport.

      3. caryatis*

        You wouldn’t have to carry a third bag; you could put the outfit into another bag. And clothes are not that heavy.

    6. Somniloquist*

      I took public transportation for years and I would not have carried a bag of clothes to donate. I already had my work bag, having a backpack or an extra bag would have been too much weight and too bulky to maneuver on a train.

    7. Hrovitnir*

      Why carry around a backpack when you enjoy changing your look without accumulating more clothing, and you have the benefit of donating high quality clothing in good conditions to charities? Sounds like a win-win to me.

  9. Molly*

    Our office would LOVE Michelle. She would be legendary.

    If the only thing I had to worry about managing Michelle is that she changes up her look regularly, I would hire her in a minute.

    I’m actually jealous this is the biggest management issue the OP has

    1. Kyrielle*

      I wouldn’t want to do this myself – I’m not that adventurous. But I’d kinda love to work with Michelle!

  10. DVZ*

    This is hysterical! Hats off to Michelle. That is fantastic.

    I wish I had the confidence to pull this off – I can barely show up to work with a couple inches off my hair without feeling like everyone is staring at me. Sounds like she has a ton of fun with her style and doesn’t take herself too seriously.

    1. On Fire*

      I went from blonde to brown over a weekend once – that got more looks than when I went auburn! (Same cut/style, just a new color.) Agreed that Michelle seems to be having a lot of fun and is confident enough to rock the new look(s). (Or else it’s sad that she’s so insecure she has to keep reinventing herself?)

      1. DDJ*

        I went from shaggy brown to a blonde mohawk (not bald on the sides, just shaved really, really short) a couple years back. My manager told me recently that the mohawk was her favourite look of mine. I’ve been a bit timid since then (definitely some changes, but nothing that drastic), but I think today’s the day for something really cool.

      1. the gold digger*

        Whereas – I work with engineers. I was brunette when I started over two years ago. Went to HQ, met people, including Engineer A.

        Have been going blonde (because Clairol #24, if I remember correctly) no longer covers the gray so I must blend it with blonde instead. (Natural color is a lovely mousey blah drab brownish blonde.)

        Saw Engineer A again a few months ago for only the second time ever. He looked at me and said, “You’ve changed your hair color!”

      2. S*

        I cut my hair ~10 inches last Wednesday (so right at a week) and only one person (who didn’t know beforehand) has noticed at all – NO ONE I work with has noticed.

        My bf thinks I’m being vain to say/jokingly complain that no one has noticed but it was like… a forearm’s worth of hair! I’m just a bit boggled… >.>

        1. nonegiven*

          I’ve gotten my hair cut, or gotten makeup done. My husband feels like something is different. He just can’t quite put his finger on it.

  11. Decimus*

    Because of the appearance issue – older male boss dealing with a younger, female subordinate’s attire – I’d actually think it might be better for the LW to talk to another woman in the company – ideally someone on the same management level as LW. Basically just ask a management coworker for the advice he wrote in for, since a coworker would be more aware of company culture (is it really a distraction).

    And if it is decided to say something, it might even be wise to have the same coworker sit in on the meeting.

  12. Mike C.*

    I have to say, that if the only real problem is presentations, and that ever-nebulous “but what will other people think?!”, then the person in question is in good shape.

    You could instead be dealing with someone who is actively stealing clients, sharing proprietary information, exposing your computer network to ransomware, a serial sexual harasser or workplace bully, someone who never showers or attends klan rallies wearing company logos and so on.

    I’m not trying to be dismissive here, and there’s nothing wrong with asking the question, but all you’ve got to worry about is a five minute chat about not having this happen during meetings. No biggie. :)

    1. MommaTRex*

      Bingo! Not even sure the “what will other people think” is important. Just the client meetings/presentations bit.

  13. Roker Moose*

    I’m tending to agree more with the manager on this one. Maybe I’m being too cautious/sensitive, but it is an unusual thing to do, to completely change clothes and dye your hair (or wear a wig?) in the middle of the day. It’s great that it’s not impacting on the quality of her work, but getting the reputation as ‘the woman who throws away her clothes at lunch’ may cause her issues, especially if it’s a gossipy office.

    To clarify, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing that she’s changing at lunch or that her manager should forbid her from doing so (if such a thing is possible) but it is possible that some people in the office, including higher-ups, have her pegged as a ‘character’.

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      I agree – this is bugging me in a way that I can’t quite put my finger on. I think I would find it distracting even if she were not doing a presentation and this was just a regular work day. It’s not wrong exactly, just a little…unusual. (Although I do admit to thinking she’s kind of awesome as well! I just don’t know if that particular kind of awesome is necessarily appropriate in the office.)

      I do think it’s worth having a gentle conversation about the possibility of her being seen as “quirky,” especially if she’s planning a career in a Fortune-XX company. (And I agree with Decimus above that this should come from a female manager, at the same level as the OP.) Not that quirkiness is necessarily a bad thing, but it’s definitely something she should be aware of. And yes, asking her to limit her long-lunch-and-wardrobe-change routine to the end of the day would be a reasonable request as well.

      1. Marisol*

        It seems indecorous to me, and would definitely not be done in my industry, which is a conservative one. I can appreciate the idea that Michelle is awesome, organized, fun, etc. and I don’t disagree with those sentiments but unless she is working in fashion or a similarly creative field, I can’t imagine this behavior not being a hindrance to her professionally.

        1. Shamy*

          I am genuinely confused why this is labeled indecorous. Not trying to be snarky, just trying to understand. She is still within the boundaries of professionalism for her job and this is occurring once a month if I understood the letter correctly. I figured she is going out after work and has planned her day accordingly. What is the indecorous part, aside from the presentation days which I do agree she shouldn’t do it those days?

          1. OhNo*

            The indecorous part is partially that it’s just unusual, and partially that many people’s definition of “professionalism” includes the idea that people shouldn’t put any attention or effort into their appearance, but still look as though they have.

            Or, to quote Gina from B99, professionals in general (and women in particular) should look, “[Good], but not like we’re trying to. Like, sure we’re trying, but it’s almost effortless.”

            1. Sam*

              So it’s indecorous because it’s just weird? Not because it objectively affects theirs and other employees’ productivity?

          2. Marisol*

            It’s hard to explain; kind of like Matilda Jefferies says above, it’s “bugging me in a way I can’t quite put my finger on.” It’s just something that’s not commonly done and in defying convention, it stands out in a negative way. Kind of like, there’s no practical reason for many of our rules of etiquette that we nevertheless observe. Something about it suggests a lack of savoire faire.

            The closest thing to this that I have seen in my own working life was the time my boss was found napping during lunch time at his country club. Grandboss, who was also a member of this posh club, came back and mentioned it to me derisively. Now my boss was at lunch, he was salaried, and strictly speaking, it was no one’s business but his if he decided to take a catnap during the work week. And yet no one else at this level of responsibility or salary in his industry behaved this way. It was expected that professionals would strive to be productive during the workday and not take a nap. It defied convention and was therefore, wrong.

            I think some fields just have strictly delineated rules about how one is supposed to comport ones self and you get dinged for anything less than rigid adherence to the rules. What my boss should have done was say he was sick and take the afternoon off. That would have been in compliance with the unspoken rule.

            Not sure if that sheds any light on what I am getting at. And I don’t necessarily like these rules I am describing–it’s just what I observe working in a conservative field.

            1. Shamy*

              I see…kind of. I wish we didn’t have so many arbitrary rules that dictate professionalism and etiquette. Seems impossible to please everyone. There will always be something that makes people unhappy. If she is as talented as OP says, I think there are companies that would not see this as a big deal. OP needs to figure out if this is a hill to die on because if I were in Michelle’s place, I would start looking for a new job if my boss told me not to do this, barring the presentation days of course.

              1. Marisol*

                Well there are many people who do not want to trade their personal creative self-expression for their careers, and so they don’t have corporate jobs, and conversely, many people who don’t mind, or are at least willing to make, that sacrifice. I have more of a creative bent generally but honestly I can see both good and bad in both mindsets. It’s not just about clothes and etiquette rules–there are positive attributes that go along with that corporate mentality such as teamwork and discipline, two traits I see much less frequently in my more creative-minded friends, who are more about individuality and spontaneity. I don’t see one as better than the other.

                1. Observer*

                  You seem to have very rigid role definitions. I can tell you from experience that teamwork and discipline are not in any way antithetical to creativity and self expression. To the contrary – to really be able to express yourself requires a lot of discipline, and in many cases teamwork as well.

                2. Marisol*

                  @Observer – I don’t have rigid role definitions. You just misunderstood what I wrote. You’re positing some sort of absolute statement that I didn’t make. Where did I say that teamwork and creativity are antithetical? I didn’t say anything remotely like that.

                3. Observer*

                  @Marisol Seriously? the please explain what you mean by “here are positive attributes that go along with that corporate mentality such as teamwork and discipline, two traits I see much less frequently in my more creative-minded friends, who are more about individuality and spontaneity.

                  What is that if not a dichotomy between Corp = discipline and teamwork vs creative = individuality and spontaneity?

            2. Not So NewReader*

              Look at how much we are talking about it here. And people want to talk to her and ask her questions about how she does this and so on. Maybe her productivity is okay but everyone else’s is sliding because they are all trying to figure out what is up here. There are even questions here and people are speculating this and that. I cannot imagine her office would be any different.

              It could be that people are paying more and more attention to what she is doing. I am wondering if OP thinks her behavior is becoming a distraction from work, but not necessarily HER distraction from HER own work.

              1. Observer*

                Oh come on, we’re speculating because we don’t know ANYTHING. But, after a couple of conversations, that’s it. And, even here, how long do you think the conversation is going to go on for, and how much productivity do you really think it’s sapping? The amount of conversation required to chew over every single fact the op posted, twice over, actually isn’t all that much. Not more than typical water cooler chat. I would actually be stunned if other people’s productivity were sliding because of this. But, if it were that would indicate a seriously dysfunctional culture.

      2. Observer*

        Why is it reasonable to ask her to “limit” her changes to the end of the day? What business need does it serve? And how is it substantially different from forbidding her to do it at all?

    2. MegaMoose, Esq.*

      I’m generally in agreement with you here, but I’ve got to think this person knows she’s got a reputation as a character and is fine with it. Except for aspects concerning the actual work (ie. presentations), I think the manager should let it go.

      1. Roker Moose*

        I guess my fear as her manager (which I’m not haha) would be the possibility that being seen as a character could potentially harm her chances to advance in this company, despite her excellent work. It is entirely possible that no one in upper management cares about this issue at all. But it’s also possible that if Michelle and Suzy are both up for a promotion, and both have excellent work, that they’ll elect to go with a more staid person.

        If Michelle doesn’t care about advancement or optics; great. It’s her life and her career. But given her age and relative inexperience in the working world, it might be a kindness to let her know that her midday changes are not inconspicuous.

        1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

          You know, I reread the post and I had misread that she was one year into her second job out of college, not first job out of college, second job ever. In light of that, I can understand the element of wanting to provide some professional coaching. That said, I think I’d still go with Alison’s advice and make sure there’s something concrete to “coach” on rather than just mention that this might be looked on askance in some situations. And even if we’re talking a young person without much professional experience, she’s got to know already that she’s not being inconspicuous.

    3. k*

      I think you make some valid points. I’ve never worked in a very conservative or traditional office, but if the office leans that way, or if the manager and others are from that background, I can see why it would raise eyebrows. If it is out of the norm with her company culture to the point where her reputation is being hurt it would be kind if a peer could give her a heads up, but agree that in this case the manager is the wrong person to address it.

    4. Liz2*

      Anything will cause problems if it’s a gossipy office- the problem is the gossipy stuff.

      And she’s not throwing them away, she’s donating them. Yes, it’s off the norm, but we were all raised that being different is fun and cool, right? Her performance is great, her changes are all within business norm and code. It’s only the timing and public exposure which is off the beaten path.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        That’s where I land. If we have trouble with something for reasons we can’t articulate, then before we force someone to change their behavior, we should try a little harder to figure out what’s really bothering us. And here, the only thing that seems to be the real issue is the timing of it. As I said earlier, it doesn’t seem like these things would cause a problem if she came into work the next day with the new clothes/hair and donated her clothes after work. So it should not really be a problem that she does it at lunch.

        I totally get why it makes some people uncomfortable. It’s a little bit “off” in the sense that this isn’t something that people usually do. But when you push back and try to figure out why people don’t do it . . . there’s not a good, professional reason why not to do it unless it’s truly overshadowing her work or confusing people. I think it might be helpful for Michelle to know that it will rub some people the wrong way for whatever reason (and she may well already know that), but there’s nothing inherently unprofessional about what she’s doing.

        1. BeautifulVoid*

          Me too. I’ll admit when I first read the letter, my first reaction was “whoa, that’s really weird”. But then a lot of the comments made me see that it isn’t all that weird. She isn’t doing anything “wrong”. However, I’ll also agree with the people who have said it’s the timing that makes it more conspicuous and more of a distraction, rather than if she just came in the next day with a new look.

          So. I completely agree that it wouldn’t be out of line to talk to Michelle and ask her not to do this on presentation days with outside people. Unfortunately, I’m also a little torn over whether or not this could hurt her in the long run, as others have said, and whether or not that should be brought up. It’s great that Michelle does good work. But regardless of whether or not it’s fair, it would be a shame if instead of “Michelle in Teapot Design, the one who’s a whiz at spout attachment”, she becomes known as “Michelle in Teapot Design, you know, the one who comes in looking wildly different after lunch once a month”.

        2. Shamy*

          “If we have trouble with something for reasons we can’t articulate, then before we force someone to change their behavior, we should try a little harder to figure out what’s really bothering us.”

          So much this. I really apperciate this sentiment. Sometimes it is good to confront the reasons why we are uncomfortable with things. It’s a distraction from a key presentation is valid. I just think it’s weird and outside the norm is not.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            People expect consistency. What that consistency is can be from a wide range of choices, but pick a range and use it. Probably people find her radical changes in appearance as being inconsistent. There are other things a person can do that would also be called inconsistent.
            OP said people had trouble recognizing her after some changes. I can’t see how that can help the flow of business transactions, when people cannot even figure out who she is. Why would you want to change yourself into someone who your associates (customer, clients) do not even recognize.

            I think a good way to open the flow of wording here is to explain why we would never recommend to some one that they SHOULD do this. My starting point would be to talk about the importance of consistency. Yes, there is some flex there. But if people can’t recognize her and her coworkers have to explain then that is way too much change within one day.

    5. Making myself nuts...*

      I am happy to be the character and because of the way I do it, I have a quiet notoriety that works to my benefit. I only hate that it took me until my 40’s to develop sufficient courage to express myself.

      1. DDJ*

        Awesome! I’m slowly working towards that. It’s actually pretty amazing how different it feels to be expressing myself and feeling really good about things, versus trying to fit into a narrow view of how I “should” look.

    6. Ask a Manager* Post author

      She’s a little eccentric in this way. If it’s not impacting her work and the OP can’t point to a real impact on how she’s perceived, we shouldn’t be trying to stamp out personal quirks and eccentricities in people. We should be making room for them (if not outright reveling in them!).

      1. K*

        But how would the manager know the impact of how she’s perceived? I’m in the conservative legal industry, and I think this sounds totally bizarre. I would think that Michelle does not understand professional norms, and it would burn her political capital with me. However, I would absolutely not go to my boss on this – what would I even say? Michelle’s failure to observe social norms makes me think less of her soft skills?

        1. Stephanie the Great*

          Respectfully, this sounds like a “you” problem and not a “Michelle” problem. If you’re going to allow how someone looks and what they do with their own time influence how you think of them professionally, you need to sit down and think that one over.

          Also, it’s kind of a manager’s job to be aware of how their employees are perceived. That’s why you gather feedback from those they interact with on a regular basis to ensure everything is on the up-and-up.

          1. K*

            Of course how someone looks influences how I think of them professionally. Perception matters a ton, and clothing is one of the ways you show you understand professional social norms. I’ve seen lawyers show up to court in 5-inch stripper heels and ripped neon clubbing tops. I’ve seen defendants show up to their drug trials with marijuana leaf t-shirts. There is a certain level of decorum expected in the courthouse, and I’d be embarrassed if my lawyer was so unaware of those standards that they dressed for a night out or didn’t advise their client of appropriate court attire. Sure, you could be the greatest lawyer ever and show up in shorts or drag or whatever, but why would you burn your capital on that?

            1. tiny temping teapot*

              But Michelle isn’t wearing clothes that violate the dress code at any point during the day. She comes in professional clothes, over lunch once a month she gets her nails done and sometimes her hair did and buys a fun new outfit which is still professional and comes back to work in that. She’s not wearing shorts to court or even getting pink hair, so what capital specifically is she burning?

            2. Sam*

              Some people need to watch “Legally Blonde” and see how much they come off as old fashioned, judgmental tight asses.

      2. Roker Moose*

        I’m certainly not in favour of stamping out eccentricities or quirks in the workplace, but just because the LW can’t point to specific perception issues, it doesn’t mean there’re not (potentially) there.

        As I said earlier, given Michelle’s age it’s possible she doesn’t realise she’s a (again, potential) target for gossip/prejudice by doing something that in many workplaces would be unusual.

    7. Mike C.*

      This whole thing reminds me of some experiment about five monkeys in a large enclosure. In the middle is a large, red button. When a monkey hits a button, the entire enclosure is sprayed with cold water, upsetting all the monkeys. They quickly realize the casual relationship between the button and the water. They stop touching it and start preventing other monkeys from pushing the button. The people watching the monkeys disconnect the button so that it no longer functions.

      Next, one monkey is removed and a new one is placed inside. The new one is curious about the button but is physically prevented from pressing the button by the other monkeys. New monkeys rotate in while those from the original group rotate out, each doing the same thing – preventing anyone from pressing the disconnected big red button.

      Now we get to the fifth and final rotation. No monkey in the cage has ever been sprayed with water nor has experienced any ill effects from pressing the button, yet each one prevents a new monkey from pressing the button, because that’s what they’ve always been taught and everyone else punishes them for trying to do so.

      My point here is this – there may have been a time where this sort of thing was a terrible idea, but unless you can point to actual bad things happening, you’re worrying about this situation only because it goes against what you’ve been told that other people might think. That’s a really shaky ground upon which to judge someone for.

      1. RB*

        I love this story. When I found it online, it involved a ladder and a bunch of bananas. The lesson of the story was, don’t try to innovate, keep doing things the same way they’ve always been done.

    8. Observer*

      If this is a “gossipy” office where someone will have their character assassinated over this, then you’ve got major major problems, and what Michelle does is utterly irrelevant. Even if it’s just a “regular gossipy” office, that’s the real problem, not Michelle. And I say this as someone who does think what she is going is weird. And if Michelles antics has made the boss realize how gossipy the office is, it’s a good time to address that issue. Because you can be sure that the kind of gossip that could hurt Michelle will hurt a lot of other people, including others why may not have a lot of choice about the oddities.

    9. Courageous Cat*

      I agree. Like, I wouldn’t necessarily do anything about it, but I can’t help but find this all really strange. And what I almost find stranger is that I’m in the minority on it! I especially think buying clothes for this sole purpose and then donating them midday is just… really weird?

      I don’t have any really good explanation for how I feel on this one. It just seems so off.

  14. Alton*

    If I were better at wearing them realistically, I would be very tempted to wear a variety of wigs (my hairline is really tough to hide, though), so I’m a little in awe of Michelle.

    This is definitely unusual, but it sounds pretty benign.

    1. JamieS*

      I might be reading the letter wrong but I don’t think Michelle is wearing wigs. It sounds like she dyes her hair during her monthly hair appointment.

      1. Alton*

        It’s hard to tell. I get the impression that she’s probably dyeing and cutting her hair, too. But for me, wigs would be a better option because I don’t want to have to bleach my hair.

      2. Marisol*

        People are speculating that Michelle is wearing wigs because the drastic hairstyle changes the OP describes usually take a few hours to do, as opposed to say, getting a trim or getting roots done.

  15. Nervous Accountant*

    I’m a little bit guilty of this. There was an H&M near my old office so I liked to shop there on my lunch break and possibly chnage if time permitting. I’ve had more than a few days of “i really hate what I’m waeringa nd feel like crap and only something new will cheer me up”.

    I have on more than one albeit rare occasion had my hair washed/styled during my break just bc I didn’t have time earlier in the day.

    On a more regular basis, I do put on my makeup in the middle of the day but it’s just not super noticeable.

    But drastically different changes is a little bit off.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Agreed. It’s the drastic nature of the changes that I find kind of odd and a little off-putting. Nails? Don’t even blink. New top or even outfit? Eh, I can see it. Different hairstyle? I’ve had a mid-day blowout, and 4 days out of 5, the hair starts down and ends up. But I still look like the person who came in that morning.

      I can’t really put my finger on why I find this odd. Probably the “look at me” factor. But I do find it odd.

      1. the cake is a pie*

        +1 to not being able to figure out why this feels odd

        I think there are some people who are more sensitive to norm violations than others. It doesn’t mean it should necessarily stop someone else from doing their thing and goodness knows that life would be boring if no one pushed boundaries. Just that some of us (myself included) have an internal pearl clutcher that we have to wrestle with.

    2. Oryx*

      I’m actually regretting NOT ever doing some lunchtime shopping / changing when I used to work right next to a mall.

    3. KR*

      Though I have never done it with the frequency Michelle has I have done what you have done. There have been more than a couple of days especially when. I was attending college 45+ minutes away and then going straight to work that I wouldn’t have my usual clothes clean and would get to school and discover I was very uncomfortable and felt self conscious all day – so off to the local mall/department store to find something on super clearance that will make me feel better. Bonus, some of these items have become my favorite pieces and I still have them and wear them to this day. I could also take that as a sign that I really didn’t like the clothes I had originally worn and could donate them.

    4. Chicken*

      It’s doing everything at once that seems unusual to me. Hair cut & color during lunch? Sure, people do that. Manicure during lunch? Seems normal / common. Shopping and change your clothing during lunch? Seems normal if a bit less common. Get a makeover during lunch? Sure, why not.

      Drastic change cut and color, new outfit, manicure, and a makeover all during lunch? That is a) super unusual and b) seems hard to pull off without a 3-4 hour lunch!

  16. DietCokeHead*

    I think that it sounds like Michelle has found a fun way to spend her lunch and I’m a little bit jealous that I can’t do the same. It would be distracting to have her do an appearance change mid-day during presentations though, especially for external folks who aren’t used to her super hero costumes changes.

    1. MMDD*

      I was thinking that too. What a great way to break up your work day! I would be completely refreshed and recharged for the afternoon, honestly.

  17. Cringing 24/7*

    Oh. My. Glob. She sounds so cool. Hats (and wigs) off to her for managing such drastic changes so quickly.

  18. Jenn*

    I’ve worked with a Michelle where the hair was concerned! She had alopecia and her hair changed all the time as she owned it, and sometimes she would change a wig midday especially if it was a hot day. It was striking but it wasn’t a huge deal in the long run.

    1. Zooey*

      This is a really good point and another reason LW should just let it go. Michelle could have alopecia or another condition that causes hair loss, and the appearance changes are a coping mechanism.

    2. Miss Elaine E.*

      Oooh, that’s a good point. My husband had alopecia and wore a hair piece for most of his school/working life. His mother has just taken to wearing a hair piece after losing her hair during chemotherapy and has repeatedly said she doesn’t know how my husband dealt with hair pieces for so long as they can be very uncomfortable.

  19. Jesmlet*

    This is awesome, it definitely would add some whimsy to my office whenever she comes in mid-day looking totally different. Stick with Alison’s advice, only mention it in reference to external meetings where she’s interacting with people who don’t know her. Maybe suggest she goes at the end of the day when you have meetings instead so it’s not a distraction.

      1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

        I’m thinking it’s not at all unreasonable to ask her to schedule her once-a-month costume changes around external meetings, though, regardless of bus schedules.

        1. tigerlily*

          I don’t know what it is exactly, but there’s something very off-putting to me about using the phrase “costume changes” in regards to this woman’s activities. I’ve noticed it a handful of times on this thread, and it’s coming across to me as incredibly dismissive and condescending in a very gendered way. I can’t put my finger on exactly why, but there you have it.

          1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

            Hm, you have a good point – I didn’t mean it that way, but I do see it coming across as dismissive and condescending. I think my brain went for those specific words as shorthand for the fact that she’s changing so many elements of her appearance at the same time. But thank you for pointing that out!

            1. Hedgehog*

              I don’t know, I think if a man were doing anything like this, people would be throwing all kinds of shade at him, not saying this is his quirkiness that needs to be accepted.

              1. tiny temping teapot*

                Thanks to rigid ideas about what’s girly and what isn’t, a man really can’t do the kind of changes Michelle does in more conservative office. They wouldn’t be getting their nails done and in most offices men can’t get away with hair long enough to change up that much. Some guys could do the full beard and mustache to clean-shaven and back again over the course of two months, but there would still be the in between scruffy period so it wasn’t drastic change. Even at my conservative office there a few fellows who wear suits, ties, shirts and shoes that aren’t the typical colors (one guy even wears pink!!!) – I would notice if they switched up their suit and shoes but I would think , hey, Fergus went shopping over lunch, that’s neat. (Or Fergus went by his tailor and picked up a suit.)

                1. Yorick*

                  If Fergus had a full beard in the morning, and shaved it during his lunch break? I’m quite sure people would be shocked and also wonder why he didn’t wait.

              2. Hrovitnir*

                Yeah, but realistically the intense pushback against men openly making an effort with their appearance is a fun mishmash of misogyny and homophobia. I think “men would get more crap for this” is an argument for being aware of that thought pattern and avoiding it, not for reinforcing it.

              3. dawbs*

                There would be and there wouldn’t be.

                IF a man were doing this, he’d get all sorts of unreasonable crap–way more than Michelle. He’d get less ‘she seems awesome!”

                BUT, IMO part of the reason this ENTIRE thing merited a discussion is that fashion/appearance/hair/clothes/etc is considered a ‘woman’s hobby’. If it were something masculine (and here is where I fail, I have been trying for a long while to come up w/ a comparative masculine hobby–my comparison below isn’t as apt as I’d like), I doubt it would be greeted with as much ‘oh, that’s weird’…because male hobbies are more admired (not universally–some of them much less than others. Some get derision too) than women’s hobbies.

                I think if Michael left mid-day every 2 months and came back having changed into head-to-toe office-appropriate clothing that supported his local sports team, explaining that he spent his entire lunch time doing major things w/ his fantasy sports league, I have to bet very few people would bat an eye.

                1. Yorick*

                  I really think they would find that odd though. Why wouldn’t he have worn green to support Green Team all day?

                2. dawbs*

                  I know, that’s part of why I don’t like it–it’s still ‘fashion’ based. I can’t think of a non-‘fashion’ issue that would work.

                  But I do think the hometown sportsteam midday makeover would be received differently. It might still be seen as weird, but I wouldn’t expect it to get the same amount of “attention seeking” “wow, she’s shallow”, “how wasteful” pointed toward it.

      2. Jesmlet*

        Yeah she can just go on a different day then. Unless they have meetings with external people every day of the week, there’s a pretty easy way to make it so they’re not confused about who she is.

  20. Mrs. Frankweiler*

    One thing to consider: are there cultural differences that might impact a manager’s perception? I do not wear a wig, but in my experience with friends of other races who do, changing hairstyles isn’t unusual. I understand that the midday thing is an issue (and I could see a presentation day being one where you’d ideally want to keep it consistent), but I think that’s a factor worth considering.

    1. K.*

      Yeah, I know and have worked with a lot of Black women who change their hair very often with wigs or extensions, or who alternate between natural curls and straightened hair often. With the wig-wearers, you might see several in a week.

    2. The OG Anonsie*

      Yeah I’ve been scrolling through comments and debating whether or not to bring this up, as it is a whole conversation by itself. But changing out hair pieces is something that’s considered way more normal to some demographics than others and is definitely going to contribute to how people perceive it.

      I have heard A LOT of stories from black women about how much trouble they’ve gotten into at work for changing their hair too dramatically, too often, wearing it natural, wearing it blonde, whatever. Women who change their hair on weekends get a constant line of questions and attention on it every Monday. Folks I know are pretty tired of having to play cultural ambassador every time they change their hair, because there is a divide on this.

      Hell, they even made a crack about it in Orange is the New Black. When Healy is yelling at Berdie with all his random misdirected anger at her he throws in “and you change your hair too much!”

  21. Bend & Snap*

    Michelle has her stuff together! I can hardly get myself dressed once a day.

    I do get my nails done at lunch, gels every couple of weeks, takes 30 minutes or so. I could never fit a hair appointment in because cut & color take about 3 1/2 hours. I can and do work during my hair appointments though because it’s a lot of processing time.

    I don’t think this is worth addressing except as a point of consistency when there are clients in the office. As a client myself, I can’t always put names with faces when I’ve met people a few times. I would never recognize someone who looked different every time I saw them, even superficially.

    1. AnotherHRPro*

      Ha! I was thinking how exhausting it sounds to pull this off. My work wears me out so I can not imagine having the gumption to go to the mall, buy clothes, change clothes, get hair (or buy wig) and nails done during lunch. I’m tired thinking about it.

    2. EddieSherbert*

      Same! This is just crazy impressive. My first reaction was…. and here I am in my jeans and sweatshirt, no makeup, hoping I remembered to put deodorant on this morning (I did!).

      Also, as someone who 110% would hate all of that on me, I would probably be a little thrown off by her, but as long as she’s nice and does good work, I would get over it and just know “that’s just her”.

  22. Fictional Butt*

    Ok, I have to admit this would bother me a bit. I can understand her wanting to get her hair and nails done at lunch, but throwing away her clothes and buying new ones in the middle of the day just seems like childish, attention-seeking behavior (not to mention super wasteful). But, this is definitely one of those quirks that you have to let ride, at least when it doesn’t mess with presentations. If she’s an awesome employee it will become a facet of her awesomeness. If she’s a bad employee, it will be a good office story when she’s gone.

      1. Fictional Butt*

        Because I don’t want my planet to be covered in landfills.

        And I wouldn’t be super upset about it or anything, I would just roll my eyes a little bit at someone who felt the need to change everything about their appearance–to the extent that they literally threw away their clothes–in the middle of a workday. She can’t even just bring a bag when she goes shopping? Like I said, if she was a great employee it wouldn’t matter, but if she showed other signs of immaturity I think this would push me to BEC mode.

          1. Allison*

            To be fair, I wouldn’t be surprised if some organizations that collect clothing end up with more than what they need, and may end up throwing away clothing that no one needs in order to free up space.

            1. fish*

              No, excess (and unsuitable) clothing can be recycled as rag, and charities get money for rag sale too! Rag is recycled and used for all kinds of things, including making banknotes!

            2. AMPG*

              Yeah, but that’s not a reason to judge her – we all get rid of clothing we don’t want, and donating is a better option than trashing.

            3. The Other Katie*

              When charities collect more clothes than they need, they tend to sort them and either sell them for rag recycling or sell them for bulk resale in poorer countries. This is actually problematic, but they don’t typically end up in a landfill. It’s perhaps still a bit wasteful, but since Michelle is buying them from a thrift shop in the first place she’s not really changing anything (except funnelling a bit of money to charity).

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          What landfills? She’s donating these items, the same way that literally thousands of people donate old clothing.

        2. Bits and Bobs*

          She’s not throwing the clothes in the bin – it sounds like she’s donating them:

          “She says she puts her old clothes in a donation bin at the mall and has told people she will buy things at the thrift store near her home for the purpose of wearing to work on days when she is going to buy new stuff at the mall.”

          So long as her clothing is work appropriate, I fail to see the problem.

        3. AW*

          Not only is she donating the clothing, the clothing being donated are clothes she originally bought from the thrift store in the first place.

          If anything, her recycling game is too strong.

          1. Yorick*

            This makes it a much less meaningful donation, then, since she buys from the thrift store in order to be able to donate them when she buys new clothes

            1. The OG Anonsie*

              Oh come on. It has to be a meaningful sacrifice to be different than putting it in the garbage?

        4. fposte*

          There’s a separate rant my brain that agrees with you, since donating clothing really isn’t a solution to conspicuous consumption and tons of donated stuff gets thrown away since nobody wants it.

          But I don’t think Michelle is any more an offender here than most people, and since she’s buying used she’s a lot less of a problem than sport shoppers who buy stuff weekly that they never wear or only wear once; they’re not less wasteful just because they wear the same outfit all day.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      That seems really judgmental for an activity that many people do pretty frequently (just not in the middle of the day). What about this strikes you as childish and attention-seeking? That she’s excited to have a new outfit?

      1. Fictional Butt*

        Well, as I said to someone in a comment yesterday, I’m a judgmental person. (I’m working on it!) So I might be more judgmental than an average coworker, although I have to admit I’m really surprised so many AAMers think Michelle is cool–I can’t see this flying in a lot of offices. The “childish and attention-seeking” part, to me, is that she’s drastically changing her appearance during the workday and (in my mind) even going to extra lengths to do it–she is specifically buying clothes at thrift stores so she can throw them out when she gets her makeover. I can understand that it might be more efficient for her to get her hair and nails done during work, but it seems like she’s making a bigger production out of it than is really necessary. That might not be true, and it might be ok at some offices, but I’m assuming it reads as weird at OP’s office, or he wouldn’t have written in.

        1. Nervous Accountant*

          I think I’m going to agree with you here, I’m confused as to why people think she’s super awesome–I mean shes’ not horrible or BEC or whatever but I also don’t think she’s super amazing.. I’m not against minor tweaks as I wrote above but as others have said there’s something about this that’s just….idk.

          Btw, my coworker snuck up on me when I was posting yesterday and snickered at your nick lol

        2. excel_fangrrrl*

          again: she IS NOT throwing her clothes out. she is donating them.

          and she is donating work-appropriate clothing, which is something most thrift stores need *more* off.

          1. fposte*

            And even if she did throw them out, that wouldn’t be her employer’s business.

          2. Temperance*

            Yes, but she should be donating CLEAN clothing. Not stuff she’s worn for a morning.

          3. Yorick*

            She’s throwing them out, just not in the trash. She’s getting rid of clothes forever so that she can have a costume change at work.

            I know some people have argued against the term “costume change” here, but it is exactly what it sounds like to me, because why else would you go to so much trouble to change your clothes in the middle of the day?

            This is not the same as spilling something on your shirt and changing it. This is not the same as changing your shoes because you like to wear sneakers during your commute. It is not the same as having a more formal event in the afternoon and not wanting to wear your super formal clothes all day. These are all normal things that the OP wouldn’t have written in about.

            1. Liz2*

              Interestingly, I consider all clothing to be costumes. As a teen I was fat and no self esteem and wore huge clothes to hide. In college I realized wearing clothes that fit actually made me look great and got much better about my sense of self- and realized I could USE clothes as a way to shape people’s image of me. And that never went away.

              Now, I actually have a super boring coded work wardrobe because I’m not a morning person and want to be comfy. I have a series of basic tops and basic pants and basic jackets which all mostly work together and I can just grab one of each every day. I want to spend my money on my actual cosplay clothing and fun stuff, but that doesn’t make everyday wear any less of a crafted costume image I consciously chose for various reasons.

              Michelle is just showing how true that tends to really be. As for her donations being “less meaningful” I’m not sure there’s any judgement panel to make that sort of assessment- clothes are clothes.

              I get the sense in these comments that some people consider “weird/unusual/unexpected” behavior to automatically be put in the suspicious/bad bin for work stuff.

        3. JB (not in Houston)*

          But you’re assuming she is doing this for attention, and that she’s childish. I don’t know Michelle, but if I had the time I would change my hairstyles all the time, and I certainly wouldn’t be doing it for the attention. I wouldn’t care if nobody noticed. It’s my hair, and I like doing fun things with it. Same with my clothes. If I had the time and money to go shopping on my lunch break and rotate my wardrobe, I would. Why are you assuming she’s doing this to “make a production” and for attention rather than this is how she likes to spend her lunch break, and this is when she has time to shop and get her hair done? You are reading an awful lot into the motivations of someone you don’t even know, with nothing to base it on.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Yeah, this is what’s tripping me up. I can understand not liking it or thinking it’s not a cool skill. But I’m having a hard time finding evidence to support the assumption that she’s doing it for others’ attention (as opposed to doing it for convenience in light of all the information we’ve been given).

            (But I appreciate that Fictional Butt took time to respond! I was genuinely curious/confused, and the response was interesting, even if I disagree with it.)

          2. Renee*

            Agreed. The judginess here is really weird to me. I used to go to the mall every three weeks or so and get my nails done (gel). If I maintained my hair (it’s long and curly so I go a long time between cuts), I would probably get my hair done about every other time, and I’d probably buy some new clothes about every time I go. Because of my work schedule, those mall visits happen on the weekend, but if I worked near a mall with the flexibility to go during the day, I don’t see why I wouldn’t run those errands during the week.

            I also remember my fresh from college years as a time of experimentation with appearance. It doesn’t seem beyond reason for a 20-something to switch things up every couple of months. It just sounds like she’s practical and she doesn’t want to carry things on the bus, so she saves up her mall errands and does her thing during the day in a way that means she doesn’t have to haul extra bags on the bus. There’s nothing about this that seems that weird to me. Maybe she just likes fashion and trying new things. The fact that she researches her outfits before buying them seems to support that it’s a special interest of hers.

        4. Marillenbaum*

          I think for me (a fellow judgy person, hi!) it would really depend on the level of respect I had for Michelle and her work outside of this. If she were competent, polite, and responsive, it would be delightful. If she were tough to get a hold of, or her work needed a bunch of revisions, it would prompt “It’d be nice if you paid as much attention to your work product as you do to your outfits”.
          I mean, I’m a former costumer, I love clothes, but also chill. Just a little.

        5. MCMonkeyBean*

          You have this all backwards. She isn’t going to extra lengths to do it in the work day. She does it during the work day because it’s easier to do so. It sounds like she does spend time planning in advance to make it as efficient as possible, but she doesn’t have a car and relies on public transportation so going to the mall right by the office on her lunch break is the best use of her time.

        6. Hrovitnir*

          Oh hey, if you’re legitimately interested in where people are coming from I have a few thoughts. I mostly feel like it’s worth examining first what makes this “attention seeking” and why that’s bad.

          I don’t think anyone’s wrong that this wouldn’t fly everywhere and could give a bad impression, but I also don’t feel like that’s a problem with her so much as a reality she’ll have to decide how she wants to deal with.

          But putting aside people who honest-to-god try and turn everything into a way to get attention (seriously, that is annoying), don’t you think it’s a little messed up that a hell of a lot of cultures push putting an intense amount of energy and work into how you present yourself, particularly women, but violently resents people openly caring about it?

          It’s like the “experiments” where women refuse to talk themselves down when complimented on dating sites and instantly catch huge amounts of flack. Including people just saying “thanks”.

          It costs time and money to look good. It can cost a lot of time and money to look good. People absolutely can suffer in their (white collar) career by not putting adequate work into how they look. But if you show an indication that all the time you have to put into getting your hair to be unnaturally cooperative interests you, suddenly you’re shallow.

          There’s nothing wrong with wanting positive attention. It’s kind of a central tenet of being a social species. Again, I’m not denying there are shallow or attention-seeking people, but someone enjoying compliments on their hair or nails is not a bad thing! You shouldn’t have to feel guilty about taking pleasure in something you do for yourself. There’s nothing inherently more shallow about learning the intricate details of light and shadow in makeup application than learning how to, say, restore furniture.

          This is excessively long and rambly, but since you seem genuinely interested in others’ opinions have mine. :P For reference, I am a weird mix of incredibly strongly wanting to not be noticed and resenting that womens’ appearance just doesn’t ever get to be quite as neutral as a man wearing tidy, plain clothing – and of loving fluorescent hair and corsets and crazy heels (obviously those don’t apply to work, haha). My friend in her 40s wears stripey tights and short skirts and bells in her hair and looks great and it’s nothing to do with attention! She likes people and is sociable, but that’s just how she feels like herself. She works in police comms now and is so good at her job that she’s managed to get them to let her wear some of her weirder clothes… she just can’t deal with wearing suits and all the rest for too long!

    2. Patrice*

      She has the time and opportunity to clothes shop at lunch Why is that childish and attention-seeking, exactly? What an unkind and judgemental way to approach people.

      1. GustoMatic*

        If it were JUST clothes shopping, or just a trim or small color job I couldn’t necessarily see it as attention-seeking. BUT since she’s coming in looking like a completely different person, and because she’s younger (and I LOVED drastically changing my appearance at that age, for attention), I can see it as attention-seeking. She knows the reaction she’s going to get and she HAS to know that she looks like someone else when she comes in having changed.

        Also, assuming someone is attention-seeking in this case isn’t judgemental or unkind – it’s a theory. I’m sure a lot of us reading this are wondering what Michelle’s train of thought is while going through her transformation process and we are all probably making some kind of assumption. I also agree with Fictional Butt’s (lol) opinion that this wouldn’t fly in a lot of offices – I don’t know that anyone would ever really pull me aside and call me out on it but I’m sure everybody would be wondering what my deal was! I know I am still wondering! Maybe she’s living a double life? Maybe she just loves costumes and excitement? Could be a lot of things.

        1. fposte*

          Well, I also think it’s worth considering that attention-seeking isn’t inherently bad, either; many of us like to be admired for our style and taste, even if for some of us it doesn’t happen all that often :-). That’s not the same thing as hoping for shock value.

        2. Liz2*

          I feel super sad that someone deciding on their free time to do something they enjoy, which impacts no one else on any measurable level, who makes no mention of it, asks no one how they think about it, is perceived as attention seeking. No wonder people feel guilty over enjoying anything in their lives, even if it was earned and deserved.

          We supposedly care about diversity and enjoy that people are unique and will do things their own way. Yet the moment a real life example comes up with an opportunity to stand by it- it all gets tossed out the window.

          1. AD*

            Agree with you, and also want to reiterate that as this doesn’t seem to be impacting Michelle’s work performance at all (with the caveat that she might want to avoid changing looks during the times external folks are around in presentations) then there seems little to no basis for making this an issue.

            I think a lot of us are admiring Michelle for having the time management skills to do her job well and juggle attention to personal style and appearance. I’m not sure why admiration of that is mysterious to some.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Yes. Thank you for raising this. It makes me sad, as well.

          3. Fictional Butt*

            Ok, I want to be clear about 1 thing: I don’t think “attention-seeking” is a bad characteristic. (“Childish” is, but that was just me being an a**hole.) Everyone wants attention, and it’s good to actively seek what you want. But I think lots of people, especially young people or people in new situations, have a tendency to seek attention in ways that aren’t especially beneficial, and they may not even realize what they’re doing. That’s why I think OP should say something, especially since Michelle is a newer employee. It’s possible that Michelle is totally cool with getting attention because she’s “that lady who turns into someone else on her lunch break, who I guess also works in teapot design?” or it’s possible that she would rather be known as “that awesome teapot designer who also has a great sense of style.” If she were more experienced, I think she would have enough of a reputation and enough sense to navigate this on her own. But since she’s young, and this seems to be a common trip-up for young people, I think she deserves an outside perspective on how other people are viewing her.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              People go with the identifier that is easiest to grab. I work with 3 Steves, there’s Tall Steve, New Steve and Steve Who Drives the Red Car. I can see her becoming Karen Who Always Looks Different After Lunch. It’s pretty much human nature to attach some identifier to a name for purposes of clarity.

        3. AW*

          Regional/cultural differences here? Lots of people where I live wouldn’t bat an eye at someone wearing the clothes they just bought out of the store. I have a relative that always does that with new suits.

          She knows the reaction she’s going to get…

          Yes, but knowing you’re going to get a reaction doesn’t mean you’re doing it just to get that reaction. She may be doing it in spite of the reaction she gets. Also, if she’s been doing this every month she may be expecting people to eventually get over it.

          1. fposte*

            Or she’s expecting the reaction of people saying “Wow, cool, I like the blonde–you weren’t blonde this morning!”

            We get “don’t be a showoff” beaten into our heads when we’re kids, but I think we can overdo it as adults. I think it’s okay to hope for a reaction. (Isn’t that half the point of geeky t-shirts, after all?) You just want to make sure you’re choosing a reaction that works for you.

          2. The OG Anonsie*

            Yeah, I’ve had hair appointments at lunch. While I do not like that people can tell it’s different (re: in spite of the reaction) I would sometimes rather do that than slog the hours in traffic necessary to do it at another time.

            Just because you know people will notice something doesn’t mean you are doing it because you just craaaave them to pay attention to you.

        4. Shamy*

          See, to me, if she’s doing it in preparation for an after work event, it makes sense to do all this at the same time. If I have a party or date or whatever, and had time at lunch, I would totally plan to go get my hair and nails done while buying a new outfit, and changing then so I didn’t have to carry the clothes home on public transportation. The OP also made it clear this was not an every day thing. I’m sure she knows people will have a reaction, but we don’t have enough info to say she is seeking that reaction.

    3. Cleopatra Jones*

      Everyone is entitled to their own idea of happiness! If this makes her happy then so be it. I’m sure there are things that you do in your life that make you happy that other people would hate/think is stupid, petty, or childish.

      I spend copious amounts of time cooking & baking, practicing different cooking techniques, buying cooking/baking supplies, taking cooking classes, and just browsing stores for cool cooking/baking stuff. I still get people who pass judgment on that activity. I get waaaaaayyyyyy too many comments or sidelong glances about how they don’t have time to do that, or the implication that I’m forced to do it as part of my wifely duties.
      Um nope, food is my hobby so I’d rather do food stuff than other stuff (except working out). And I know how to plan my week & grocery shopping so that I can cook/bake as much as I want.

      1. Fictional Butt*

        I’m sure there are things that you do in your life that make you happy that other people would hate/think is stupid, petty, or childish.

        Yes, there definitely are. If I was doing one of those things at work and it was affecting other people’s opinion of me as a professional, I’d want my boss to tell me to knock it off. And I understand that not everyone wants that–some people are just going to do what they want when they want, and that’s awesome. But since Michelle is young, I think she deserves a heads-up that her behavior is weird, because she might not realize how weird it is. (I can see myself being in Michelle’s shoes and not realizing.)

        1. Cleopatra Jones*

          Or maybe she really doesn’t care what other people think, and is just living her life the way she wants.

          I agree that she shouldn’t do this on presentation days because it causes confusion to external people but for internal people, she just may not care.

      2. Sam*

        Strange that people look down on what is an essential life skill. Might they be jealous of your culinary self sufficiency? Especially if you are noticeably fitter and healthier than those who rely on takeout.

  23. voyager1*

    I would just ask her not to do the appearance changes on days she is presenting to people/clients. As for any other time I would be okay with it. Though I would be curious to know why she was doing it tho, wouldn’t ask unless she brought it up.

  24. Nan*

    She sounds fun to me. If it’s her lunch hour, she can spend the time as she pleases. I’d be annoyed if my manager dictated how I can spend my lunch time. I’d ask her not do it on days there are meeting/presentations without outsiders, mentioning that it’s confused them in the past because they think they have a different presenter. Other than that, unless her lunches are way longer thatn what’s typical for the office, I’d let it go.

    1. Orfeo*

      I think that the attention to time as well as appearance is significant. Observing and possibly commenting on this is not just about how Michelle dresses and presents herself, but about how she spends her break, and whether her coworkers think that is normal or appropriate. If Michelle had a different hairstyle and outfit after going to the gym and showering, this would probably a different conversation.

  25. AnotherAlison*

    The OP didn’t mention race, but some of the African American women I work with (of various ages & experience levels) have fairly dramatic and frequent hair changes. I have personally been preparing for a beach vacation & come back to work after lunch a little more tan, and have had people comment on that. I have also had a bunch of people comment on my “new hair color” this week when I haven’t changed my hair color since October. To me, it seems more of an issue of the OP’s curiosity than professionalism. Even on the presentation days, these may be appts scheduled in advance. I may ask Michelle to not schedule appointments on presentation days, but if you have frequent last minute presentations, that may not be reasonable.

    1. kavm*

      All of this!

      I also recently received a comment about my “new” blonde hair… I had dyed it red over a month prior lol

      You bring up a great point about presentations – that’s the only portion that would be reasonable to request her to change her behavior around, but you’re absolutely right that her appointments may be scheduled long in advance.

      I can easily imagine Michelle writing in to ask for advice when her manager tries to tell her what she can/can’t do on her lunch breaks! Sometimes it’s beneficial to think of situations like this from the opposite point of view.

      1. nonegiven*

        It sounds tightly coordinated, it would have to be to get it all done, including nails and makeup, over a long lunch period.

  26. micromanaged rat*

    That sounds like wigs. Are you sure she has hair? She may rely on wigs and really like to switch them up, in which case it could be uncomfortable to say anything.

  27. Moon Elf Tempest Cleric*

    I mean this mostly in jest, but is there any chance Michelle has an identical twin and they both work for you?

    1. Lucy in the sky*

      I was wondering this, too! Although, you’d think that if they were trying to pull of a Parent Trap scenario, they’d at least try to look alike!

    2. miki*

      As a twin myself I chuckled on this prospect. It did happen back when I was in grad school and visiting my twin working for a big firm in Chicago that her manager saw me at the stoplight (July in Chicago: me in shorts, tank top, flip flops, big backpack on my back) and me aka my twin looking blankly at him and not saying HI. He walked in the office and asked her how come she changed so quickly (professional makeup, straight hair, mine is curly always long pants….) and didn’t acknowledge him. Took her a while to figure out that he saw me.

    3. Marillenbaum*

      I used to work for a man who was an identical twin, and he and his brother accidentally did something like this once: my boss was supposed to be in a community float with his family, and asked his brother to join. Boss had a sick kid and couldn’t go, but his brother showed up on time and ended up in the float. Everyone thought it was my boss, when it was actually his brother.

  28. Ann O'Nemity*

    Eh, I don’t think this sounds “cool.” I would consider it unnecessarily distracting, but not bothersome enough to address.

    1. PaperTowel*

      Yeah, I’m really surprised at how many people think this is awesome. It’s not something that would bother me (her choice) or give me cause to say something out loud, but someone purposefully repeatedly switching up their hairstyle that dramatically in the middle of the working day on top of regular outfit changes is so out of the norm it screams eccentric or attention seeky.

      It’s a little tone deaf I think to simply go ‘wow that’s so cool!’, and it’d be really helpful i think to sit back and consider exactly how this would go down in our own workplaces. I have as casual a workplace as you can imagine and a brilliant chilled boss but after a few occasions of this I think he’d be sitting me down in my review to ask if everything was okay as it comes across very bizarrely. My first thought was some kind of compulsive shopping behaviour or some body dysmorphia issue where nothing is enough to hide the perceived ‘flaw’ and so by the middle of the day the anxiety has built up so much it’s time for another costume/hair/makeup/nail change.

      It could be totally innocent but I think it’s wise for her to consider how the way she presents herself in the workplace is working out. It might not be fair but she may get a reputation that precedes her and not necessarily for the quality of her work. As for the OP I think it’s fine to mention it to her and ask what’s up, stress that she’s doing nothing wrong and you don’t expect her to stop (other than presentations) but check she isn’t going through some stuff and have a gentle chat about workplace norms and perception. This can be helpful early in ones career when coming from somewhere like college where your appearance is largely irrelevant.

      1. Observer*

        If you really think that something like body dysmorphia or anxiety is at the root of this, then I can’t think of a worse thing for the manager to do than to actually ASK her about it. There is no upside, but you’ve just added another layer of anxiety and you’ve put pressure on her to discuss something that she clearly had no intention of sharing. After all, assuming the OP gets her to spill the beans, what is he really going to be able to do?

      2. tiny temping teapot*

        I think it’s cool because Michelle must be amazingly organized to get so much done during her lunch hour plus. Getting her nails done, getting her hair done, picking out a cute, professional outfit that fits, finding the right shoes – that is seriously impressive to me. It’s not tone deaf to think it’s cool for someone to have skills I wish I did, or admire her styling skills.

    2. JulieBulie*

      Of all the different ways that coworkers can distract one another, this seems like absolutely the least annoying.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        I would take “coworker who gets a new hairstyle at lunch” over “coworker who hums all day,” “coworker who loudly talks on personal phone calls,” or (what I misread a comment to say once) “coworker who leans over and breaths into your mouth when shaking hands” every time.

      2. Kate*

        Right? It’s super weird to me that we get letters about coworkers who snack in the office all day long on crunchy foods with their mouth open, actively distracting others, and commenters here say it should just be put up with, and “they aren’t doing anything wrong”.

        But someone changing their appearance, “distracting” coworkers maybe once for like 5 minutes when they first come back to the office is getting this reaction???

        Somehow we still have these Puritan ideals about vanity, thinking too much about your appearance, and being a woman. She isn’t hurting *anyone* or “distracting” anyone with her appearance (which smacks of “your skirt is too short, you are distracting your male classmates, you are asking for attention, to be catcalled). Why does this annoy and anger so many people???

        It reminds me of the woman who was being harassed by her boss for being young and pretty and thin, and even though the OP admitted it, commenters shamed the young woman for being so vain as to think she was being harassed for being young and thin and pretty . . . WHICH SHE WAS.

    3. CM*

      I agree, it seems kind of silly to me and would semi-bother me because I have trouble recognizing people that I haven’t seen a million times before. But those are my issues, not Michelle’s. I think it’s great advice, as usual, to focus on the impact this is having rather than the unusual behavior itself. I also agree with PaperTowel that even if it’s unfair, making dramatic changes to your appearance in the middle of a workday is a good way to be noticed for your appearance rather than your work.

    4. Deschain*

      I can’t answer for others, but for me she sounds fun and cool because I live with varying levels of pain day in and day out. I’ve had to cut off my long, glorious hair and give up all my fun clothes and shoes for loose clothing and boy’s sneakers (they have a wider toebox) due to serious health issues just so that my everyday life is easier. To hear of someone enjoying their youth and their energy and their body makes me happy–you never know when it will be taken away from you.

    5. Courageous Cat*

      I also want to touch on the fact that (and it’s possible I’ve worked for some very dysfunctional places), but at most of my former places of work (and current) – as a salaried employee, you are expected to use your lunch break to eat and some light errands. If you were to use your lunch break for more superfluous things, you would be looked down upon for not just coming back to the building and continuing to work. I once got negative comments because I went to the park and went for a walk on my lunch break, and apparently it gave off an air of being unproductive/unmotivated for not wanting to come right back once I was done and using that time to just “do nothing”.

      I don’t agree with it, but I do think that’s the reality of some workplaces.

      1. Courageous Cat*

        Yikes, this was supposed to be its own comment, not a reply? No idea how that happened.

  29. Katie Fay*

    If I were Michelle’s co-worker, I’d be looking forward to each and every day with her – how entertaining!! And if her work is good, this is just an added entertainment bonus.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      And that kind of concerned me, before you even said it, KF. I don’t think that being an entertainment bonus at work is a good thing. I know I would be upset if I found out I was everyone’s entertainment.

  30. Jwal*

    Wen I started reading I was hoping that it was going to end with Michelle having a twin sister and the two of them swapping over halfway through the day…

    I an see why it’s unnerving to the OP (it would be for me too!), and I think that not wanting to confuse meeting participants is a legitimate concern, but aside from those times I think I come down on the side that it’s just too weird a conversation to have.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Yes! I played it together with a group of friends, with all of us contributing to solve it. So much fun!

  31. AW*

    Getting hair/nails done once a month doesn’t seem that unusual. I get that the drastic change midday feels odd though.

    I can guess why she’d prefer to buy and re-donate clothing rather than carry around a bag. If she’s taking public transit that means she’s on foot at least part of the time. I don’t know what crime is like where she is but perhaps carrying a bag (even a non-descript one) would make her a target? Or maybe she just finds having bags on public transit a pain (she’s probably already carrying a purse).

    1. SignalLost*

      OP says she doesn’t carry a purse. I feel like that’s what sticks out to me about all this: because she doesn’t want to be burdened with bags, she has a fairly complex schedule of picking out clothes at a thrift store, cleaning them, wearing them, buying new clothes and donating the old. That sounds like a great deal of work. At the same time, the number of things women carry that men don’t or carry differently is definitely gendered and possibly misogyny-as-culture, so she may not want to carry any bags as a statement about that.

      1. AW*

        Ah, sorry, missed that part about the purse.

        I don’t know that the system is that complicated: the thrift store is near her home and the donation bin is in the mall. It’s more work than most people usually do to shop but it doesn’t sound like she has to go out of her way.

        1. SignalLost*

          Well, it’s complex for me because I usually just wear one outfit during the day unless I have a really bad accident fail. :) I’d find it easier and more comfortable to buy things at lunch, take them home, and wear them the next day. But that’s me!

      2. Marisol*

        It does seem like carrying a bag occasionally would be significantly easier than the thrift-store-re-donating scheme.

        1. Observer*

          That’s your opinion. But it’s not anyone’s place to tell her what is easier for her.

          1. Marisol*

            Actually you’re mistaken on both counts. Firstly, it’s not just *my* opinion–it’s the opinion of the Pope, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Christiane Laguarde, Oprah Winfrey, Niall Ferguson, kd lang, Amal Clooney, Charles Krauthammer, and Pema Chodron. They ALL agree, and have said so publicly numerous times.

            Secondly, you were apparently not aware that I have just been declared the World-Dictator-Of-How-People-Should-Travel-With-Shopping-Bags-When-Taking-Mass-Transit-After-Purchasing-New-Clothes, and that I will be issuing my edicts to the citizens of the world shortly, beginning with the commenters on this site.

            To any commenters who thought my previous comment above was just an innocuous musing, I have this to say: disabuse yourself of that notion! My previous comment was nothing less than a literal, concrete assertion of 1) my judgement of this woman’s process, and 2) my dominion over said process. ALL NON-SHOPPING BAG CARRIERS ARE MY INFERIORS AND WILL BOW DOWN BEFORE ME!!!

  32. Hannah*

    Sometimes people do weird things that don’t actually hurt anyone. I think this is one of those times.

    With the exception of changing your appearance in the middle of a day of presentations to people who don’t know you well and are relying on cues like “the lady with the red hair and glasses” to distinguish people, I don’t think the frequency with which you change your appearance is anyone’s business.

    1. peachie*

      Totally agreed. (I personally think it’s cool-weird and would probably get along splendidly with Michelle, but in any case, I can’t see how this should be an issue for anyone.)

    2. Em*

      Agreed. This is something unusual, and because it’s something people aren’t used to, it’s rubbing people the wrong way. But what exactly is the harm? She follows the company’s dress code. She is doing this on her break. She is DONATING the clothes she gets rid of. Any element of what she does is fine in other circumstances — changing during the day? Happens sometimes if your clothes get dirty/wet etc. Changing hairstyles? Fine from one day to the next. Buying thrift store clothing? Fantastic. Donating thrift store clothing back when you don’t want them anymore, even if you only wore them one time? Acceptable.

      There is NOTHING wrong with this, barring what has been mentioned about changing during the presentation, which could cause confusion for clients. In a way, this reminds me of when my cousin got married and had chocolate cake for her wedding cake. Some of us thought it was great and why hadn’t anyone thought of that before? But there were a few people who were bothered by it because (back then) wedding cake was always fruit cake. It challenged a social convention, but turns out there was nothing inherently superior about the social convention.

      When I first read the letter, it felt odd or off to me, but there more I think about it, the more I like what she’s doing. It’s different, so it takes me some getting used to the idea (I’m pretty conventional), and a little bit I’m jealous that she can do that.

      Often people don’t like it when other people don’t follow the rules, even if there isn’t a really good reason to have the rule in the first place.

      1. nonegiven*

        Weddings were always white cake around here, until they started adding a groom’s cake in chocolate.

  33. beem*

    Everyone is being ridiculous. Michele clearly (CLEARLY!) has several different clones.

    [Dear Ask A Manager, my clones and I want to apply for the same job. If only one of us gets it, can we share without telling anyone?]

    1. CM*

      What will you do when your clone decides to end your relationship out of jealousy after you get the job over them? Then your clone will run all over town disguised as you, wreaking havoc on your life. I think you and Michelle should rethink this clone situation. The whole thing reminds me of the Calvin and Hobbes where Calvin creates duplicates of himself to send to school and do chores in his place, but none of the duplicates want to go to school or do chores either.

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      [Insert near-obligatory plug for Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty here, for anyone who needs more clone shenanigans in their life!]

  34. AnotherHRPro*

    Ok, I totally agree with everyone that Michelle is very, very cool. As her manager, the OP needs to assess if her radical appearance changes really is impacting how she is being perceived in a negative way and if you realistically think it could pose a problem with her career advancement (if she is interested in that) long term. If (and only if) it is, then I think you or someone else (a mentor maybe) could talk to her about this with the focus being on what people are focused on. Does she want people discussing her great work or her radical appearance changes? And it is absolutely ok for her to say she does not care. But the reality is that in some office environments this type of thing would matter. I’m not saying it should, but it could. And as her boss, I would think you would want her to be aware of this.

    Also as her boss, you would be doing her a great service to squash any gossiping about this. When talking with other leaders, don’t engage in conversations about her appearance and when you do hear it, switch the conversation to her good work and capability. After all, a key role of being a manager is to be an advocate for your employee.

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      This is great – exactly what I was trying to get at above, only more articulate. :) It shouldn’t matter, but it might, and Michelle needs to be aware of that possibility so she can decide how much she cares.

    2. MsMaryMary*

      This is what I was thinking too. I think we’ve had similar questions from people with distinct personal styles, such as vintage looks or frilly/feminine (or I could be thinking of a Corporette post). There are plenty of outfits that fall within the dress code but don’t read as professional or “serious” to everyone. Michelle, people who dress like an extra in Mad Men, and folks who consider khakis as dressed up as they ever need to be, can absolutely wear what they want to work. I think a good manager would let them know how their clothes impact how they are perceived, as well as advocating for them when other coworkers dismiss their performance because of their appearance.

      1. CM*

        Yes, when I worked at a big law firm, if somebody wore eccentric clothing, you knew they were either powerful, very senior lawyers, or completely out of touch with workplace culture and about to be shown the door.

    3. Risha*

      Old Job had a vague policy against “extreme” grooming. My department manager was an older man, very religious and generally somewhat conservative.

      When I switched one day (overnight, not over lunch!) from strawberry blonde to hot pink and got pulled into his office late in the day, I was entirely prepared to be told that I had gone too far and to change it back. Instead, he was just checking in with me because everyone was talking about the change and he wanted to know if it was making me uncomfortable, and if so, he would make them stop. I assured him that you don’t change to a color like that if you’re uncomfortable with people commenting on it, and that I was fine and he didn’t need to say anything. Still, I’ve always been grateful that he cared enough to ask, and for never once treating me any differently after the hair or the half sleeve I also got during my time at that job. It’s one of many reasons I look back on my time with him with affection.

      1. Hrovitnir*

        Aww, I was all prepared for that to be unpleasant and instead it was really nice. :) :)

  35. Volunteer Coordinator in NOVA*

    Maybe she’s struggling to keep her pop star identity secret a la Jem/Jerrica? I think Alison has great advice and it seems like of all the unusual things employees can do, I’d be careful about how you approach it as most times it doesn’t effect her work.

      1. Volunteer Coordinator in NOVA*

        It’s a fantasy that she can be anyone that she wants to be. I do think her real theme would be “Depends on the mood I’m in” though.

    1. voluptuousfire*

      If she’s sporting huge, ruby earrings, that would be a sign. :)

      Thanks for the Jem reference.

  36. Stop That Goat*

    It definitely shouldn’t happen during presentations. Personally, I’d note mentally that it was a bit weird to be so focused on appearance but I’d shrug it off. It’s odd and quirky but that’s about it.

  37. The Southern Gothic*

    My mind went to “second job” – maybe in retail or some other fashion based customer facing role, or maybe modeling calls?
    Playing with your look that often and that drastically does sound a little like “disguises” to me, but good models are able to morph into many different looks and convincingly carry them all off. I’d love to know what she’s really up to!

  38. FlyingFergus*

    I feel like such a stick-in-the-mud, but I really can’t imagine this being perceived non-negatively at any of the 20ish places I have worked — start-ups, not-profits, and gigantic organizations. (I’m not remotely close to retirement age; I just change jobs a lot and worked through college).

    Getting a haircut or color, even a full makeup job, during lunch seems fine. It’s the combination of that with *changing the entire outfit* on days when she interacts with non-employees which pushes it to CrazyTown for me.

    Listen, I already have a lot of trouble watching movies. I’m the annoying person constantly whispering to my friends, “is this the bad guy? Or is this someone new I haven’t seen before?” because I can’t tell anyone on the screen apart. (Frankly, my ideal movie stars one white guy, one black woman, and one Asian person, maybe also a dog. And everyone including the dog each wears only one distinct outfit the entire length of the movie.)

    So no wonder clients/external people are confused and think she’s a different person after a lunch like this. I just can’t see how this reflects well on the company, because it introduces an admittedly not negative action (if taken alone) into a situation which magnifies confusion and gets people distracted from the main purpose they are there.

    1. Fictional Butt*

      Yeah, this is kind of what I was trying to get at above, although my comment was a little too harsh. Each behavior on its own would be fine, but all together… it’s a lot. And people will react weirdly to it, even though it’s not “wrong.”

      1. FlyingFergus*

        I haven’t, but if it stars one person wearing a t-shirt labeled “Dr. Strange,” then I’m on board!

        1. CM*

          LOL, I would love this in movies too. I always wince when people make comments about others being racist because they can’t tell people of a certain race apart. My brain just doesn’t work that way. I can’t tell apart people of my own ethnicity either. In movies, there are often a bunch of white men wearing suits or a bunch of thin women with long brown hair, and it takes me forever before I can distinguish between them. I fully support the proposal that everybody in movies wears a T-shirt labeled with their name that they never take off.

          1. General Ginger*

            I have the worst time with The Chrises (Hemsworth, Pine, Evans, etc). The only way I can successfully reference them is by saying which superhero/sci-fi character they played, and hope I have the right Chris (“you know, Captain America, and I think he was in some kind of train movie?”)

        2. kitryan*

          My old costuming joke was that I wanted someone to let me do Shakespeare with everyone wearing athletic jersey type shirts. They’d be colored based on your allegiance and have your ‘team’ name and character name on them. Obviously it best fits Romeo and Juliet but could work for many of the other plays too, like most of the histories, the Scottish play, twelfth night, and so forth.

  39. Ashie*

    I also think Michelle is kind of awesome. That said, I’m a little bit face-blind so I usually recognize people by their hair/clothes/glasses/body type before I get to know them. If I was attending a conference and someone did this, it never would have occurred to me that it was the same person, I would have just wondered why I didn’t remember seeing that person earlier in the day.

  40. KatieKate*

    All I can think of is that if I worked with Michelle, my face blindness would completely mess me up! From those changes mentioned, I would not recognize her when she came back it. Otherwise she sounds awesome :D

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      I’m not sure if I wouldn’t recognizer her or wouldn’t notice the change. The guy across from my cube cut off his mustache recently, one he’s worn for 40 years (so I’d never seen him without), and it wasn’t until he told me that I noticed anything had changed. I know I wouldn’t notice clothing changes.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      I might do okay with recognizing Michelle at work, but I would probably pass by her on the street without realizing it was her. I have a hard time recognizing people out of context. Or I think they’re the other person I know who kind of looks like them. (My apologies to short blond Tracy from high school, who I called short blond Kelly from high school when we bumped into each other at our kid’s elementary school a decade later. And to Luke and Mike at work. And the two Latina body builders at my gym who I thought were one person until a few weeks ago).

    3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Oh my god, yes. Face-blind fistbump, I think I’d resort to “Michelle is the one who always looks like a stranger” out of pure self-defense.

  41. Julia*

    I guess I’m in the minority, but I find this behavior totally bizarre. The fact that it’s happening in the middle of presentations seems like a major oversight of professional norms on Michelle’s part. If you can get your work done well while switching outfits and hairstyles in the middle of the day, great, but if it’s impacting anyone else, that’s a problem – and it seems like that’s the case here.

    I think it’s very much a “know your audience” type of issue. At my workplace, someone who did this wouldn’t be taken seriously, and they would find it hard to get promoted, because this behavior is so outside the norm. The fact that the OP is concerned about it makes me think that this workplace might also have the same reaction.

    1. Amadeo*

      I’m kind of in the minority too, it seems. Were I a manager I wouldn’t find this behavior ‘cool’. I could probably agree with ‘harmless’…mostly; but it really does depend on the office and the culture there as to whether or not I’d call it that. Call me an old fogy but if this happened during the middle of the day, and so often that people noticed, my professional opinion of this person would slip. Coming back from the weekend with a brand new look I can get with, coming back from lunch? Not so much.

      I get it, some of the commentariat here will think me judgey, and perhaps to them I am, but such drastic changes, so often, and in the middle of the work day just don’t read as totally mature to me (see ‘old fogy’). Would I do anything about it? I don’t know. Again, depends.

        1. Amadeo*

          I reckon that depends on the situation and your audience. I don’t think ‘maturity is overrated’ is always the case.

      1. Observer*

        Seriously? You would hold back someone who does excellent work and gets along with people over this? Don’t these other items count towards her “maturity quotient” on the issues that count?

        The only exception is the one time it happened during a presentation – that needs to be called out.

      2. Kate*

        Mature is in the eyes of the perceiver, and quite frankly, a lot of things are not seen as mature, so much so, that I don’t think anyone should care about what looks mature or not. For instance, certain shades of pink, a particular shade of purple, certain prints, some dress styles, etc. A lot of people, think these are immature, and yet, people wearing a barbie pink buttondown, or carrying a leopard print purse manage to be intelligent, hard working, responsible adults anyway.

        It is a failing on our parts, not on anyone else’s, if we choose to judge people for their appearance, rather than their behavior.

      3. Sam*

        You know what’s not mature? Judging people solely by their physical appearance. You might want to check your definition of maturity.

    2. Stop That Goat*

      You aren’t alone. I do find it a bit off-putting but I can’t figure out exactly why. Maybe because it’s so outside the norms to have people changing outfits in the middle of work (short of spills, etc). I’d find it oddly jarring.

      I think whether it’s serious enough to warrant a discussion depends a lot on the work atmosphere. If the OP is worried about it, it’s probably questionable for their culture though.

    3. Myrin*

      Yeah, I agree (and I’m happy to see at least some comments mirroring my reaction – I know that I was born an eighty-year-old curmudgeonly stick-in-the-mud but I’ve still found that most of my opinions are usually pretty mainstream).

      It’s the “in the middle of the day” part that gets me – I wouldn’t think anything beyond “Michelle is really into trying out different styles” if this happend from one day to another but the lunch break timing pushes this into “strange” territory for me. I don’t feel particularly strongly about it – another commenter above said it perfectly in that they wouldn’t seriously judge someone over it but still find it eye-rolly, which is where I’m at – but I am surprised that so many people seem to think this is “cool” and “awesome”.

    4. slinky*

      I’m in the minority too. It doesn’t seem cool or awesome to me. Like Myrin said, I think it might be the middle of the day thing with changing outfits and leaving the old one in the donation box. As much as people say appearances don’t matter, they do. People will make judgements based on the way you look. If she’s new to the working world, this could influence the way people regard her work. Once you’re more established in your career, you have more leeway to do eccentric things.

      As far as advice to the OP, I think he should advise her not to do this on presentation days. Otherwise if her work product is good, then I don’t think there’s much else that can be said.

    5. Project Manager*

      You’re not alone. This would definitely get her at least talked about, if not outright made fun of, at my office. That being said, it is something I as a manager would find bizarre but still let go (outside of the external presentation aspect).

    6. Fiddlesticks*

      You’re very not alone. I kept whispering, “What — WHAT?” under my breath as I read through this letter, and then another, “WHAT,” for good measure at everybody in the comment section talking about how cool this was.

      I’m coming at this as someone who does most of her clothes/beauty shopping during my lunch breaks, and someone who keeps her bag of daily makeup in my desk because I do it once I get to the office in the bathroom. I also have a fairly infamously distinct fashion sense that’s a step to the left of the rest of my office, and which I get away with because I’ve been around for a while.

      With all of that caveated in? This whole situation sounds so, so strange to me. It’s also one of those where I’m struggling to identify the root/reason for my discomfort. I think it goes back to something several other commenters have raised: it’s the combination of all of her changes. Changing your shirt mid-day or heck, scheduling your nails done or a blowout, all of that makes sense. Donating your old clothes and doing a full-on TV movie spy transformation over lunch break? Weird. Weird and weirdly off-putting.

    7. Not So NewReader*

      Yeah, I am kind of sad about this one myself. I see people saying that they are jealous and how does she do it, maybe she is superwoman and so on. As a woman, I want people to focus on my work, my abilities, and my contributions. What is happening here is the very thing I don’t want. People talking about my clothes, nails, hair, etc. and almost look at me like I am entertainment to them. I think that is the very thing women should be wary of.
      So Michelle can handle this whatever way she wants to, but if the comments here are any guide people in the office will be talking about how they are jealous, how does she do it and comparing her to superwoman or whatever.

    8. The OG Anonsie*

      Don’t get me wrong, I find this super weird. Not any one piece of it but all of them together, all at once, is really really weird to me.

      But I also don’t feel that someone being weird and making choices that don’t make sense to me means something about their professionalism or professional ability. If she did a great job and I had always found her reliable, this would just be a quirk on someone I otherwise respected.

      You’re right, though, that if this is something where the manager does in fact know that this is going to stall her out at this company, they should mention it along with the meeting thing. Not to let her know she needs to change, but so she knows what the risk level is and can make a fully informed decision about it.

  42. Some sort of Management Consultant*

    Are we sure she’s not a clone from Orphan Black and/or Tatiana Maslany?

    Just checking.

  43. Miss Elaine E.*

    In my humble opinion, if it’s not affecting her work performance, let it lie. Except of course, if it is too distracting on presentation/client meeting days.

    I can’t help wondering about the reason she does this — perhaps alopecia or some other hair disorder. Maybe time of the month caught her off guard one too many times. Maybe this is her workday stress release — retail therapy, if you will.

    I also wonder if maybe she doesn’t have easy access to laundry facilities: Maybe she cannot wash her clothes and this is how she deals.

  44. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I think this is super weird, but since it doesn’t seem to impact her work performance, it shouldn’t be a hill to die on.

    I do think it’s worth requesting that she not make any drastic changes when there are special events/presentations happening though.

    1. EddieSherbert*


      I think this is where I fall to. It’d throw me off quite a bit, but I wouldn’t care enough to do anything about it. And, as long as she’s nice, approachable, and does good work, I’d probably stop caring about her appearance(s).

  45. BigSigh*

    I find it so odd that everyone thinks this is awesome. This is insanely distracting.

    At first, I thought the clothes aspect of it was that she worked out over her break period and showered and changed. That is a great perk that I’m all for. Went it comes to her hair and nails, sure, I can also see doing that on a very long lunch.

    Putting on makeup during lunch tells me she probably rushes in the morning and didn’t have time. Is she just looking for ways to waste time during the lunch hour? The and the hair and nails make sense and I’d leave alone. The changing clothes following a presentation is not ok and absolutely should be stopped. Honestly, the changing clothes on other days is very weird, I don’t like it, but I wouldn’t see it as something that needs to be stopped.

    I am a woman in my early 30s, living in a major city, as demographics can factor into how a viewpoint is received.

    1. Amber Rose*

      How is it distracting? I don’t get it. It makes no sound and is not like she’s doing it in front of people. Distracting to me is my coworker constantly mumbling to himself or giggling at nothing. How is appearance distracting, beyond the initial brief “oh, you look different. Neat.”

      I’m just getting uncomfortable associations between this being distracting, and young girls being told that their clothes are distracting. A person’s appearance, as long as it’s within the bounds of acceptable for what they’re doing (no swimsuits in an office kind of thing), should be nobody’s business.

      1. Statler von Waldorf*

        I’ll agree with you that it shouldn’t be anybody’s business, but the real word facts are that people judge other people by their appearance all the time, and I don’t see that changing in the future.

      2. Is it Friday Yet?*

        When you come back to work looking like a different person after lunch, that’s distracting. It’s not her appearance. It’s that she’s making such drastic changes mid-day. It’s not an all day distraction that would interfere with most people’s work, but it is eccentric as Allison mentioned.

      3. Fictional Butt*

        People literally don’t recognize her when she comes back to the office–I’d say that’s distracting. I’m not great with faces, and I pay lots of attention to hair color/length/outfits/glasses/etc when I’m meeting new people. Obviously if one of my coworkers got a haircut I would deal with it, but if someone is routinely changing their entire appearance in the middle of days of meetings with outsiders, that is definitely distracting.

      4. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I think it’s the drastic changes that are distracting, not her actual clothes. And I think that’s an important distinction. I would find it odd if I had a meeting with Michelle in the morning and she was wearing a pink dress and then when I went to an afternoon meeting with her she was wearing a black pantsuit. Most likely, I would assume there was some kind of wardrobe malfunction, but if it was ongoing, it would just strike me as odd.

        1. Is it Friday Yet?*

          Yes, and I’d find it distracting no matter who did it. Male or female. If one of my male co-workers came back to work after lunch and had a whole new outfit, hair color/style, etc., I’d find it a bit strange — particularly if it was happening on a regular basis. But it’s not something that would bother me (unless we had a presentation). As I mentioned, I’d just find it interesting.

      5. Marisol*

        In some work cultures, particularly corporate work cultures, conformity is valued and an inability to conform to dress norms, or any other norms, makes one look less competent and/or less of a team player. Some workplaces expect you to play the game a certain way, so you do, if you want to get ahead. I don’t see this as a feminist issue, at least not in the way you are framing it, because men are judged by the same, if not harsher, standards. Where I work, the men wear either charcoal grey dress pants, or navy dress pants every. single. day. except on Friday when khaki chinos are permitted. Their clothing choices are much more heavily restricted than women’s. When we have client meetings, people frequently ask if the big boss put a tie or jacket on, and if he did, then they open their desk drawer and put on the tie they have permanently stashed there. If one of these guys decided to wear, say, burgundy ankle pants instead of charcoal dress pants, it would be considered highly distracting and that guy would be talked to.

        I think it really depends on the office culture you come from. Not every office is primarily concerned with results rather than image.

      6. excel_fangrrrl*

        I’m just getting uncomfortable associations between this being distracting, and young girls being told that their clothes are distracting.

        i’ve been trying to put my finger on something and THIS IS IT! the word “distracting”. it’s clothes, hair, makeup, and nails. it was one way and now it’s another way. what is “distracting” about that?

        How is appearance distracting, beyond the initial brief “oh, you look different. Neat.”

        exactly. unless she’s coming back reeking of perfume and causing everyone a headache or draped in a thousand jingle bell bracelets that make a non-stop racket, her coworkers should be grown adults capable of getting on with their work even if Michele’s hair is 6″ shorter than it was before lunch.

        1. DDJ*

          Thank you! I don’t understand why people think this is so terrible. In the case of the meeting, or if you’re dealing with external clients both before AND after the change, I understand that it might be perceived as a little bit odd.

          But if one of my coworkers came back from lunch after a full makeover, I would say “That’s awesome!” and then go about my day.

        2. The OG Anonsie*

          Same. You’re right, I would notice this! For a hot five seconds, after which I would get back to what I’m supposed to be doing. Because I’m an adult who is capable of getting work done even if, god forbid, someone does something weird or quirky around me at work. And I say that as someone who thinks this is super weird and not advisable, because it really just does not affect me and I can get over it.

          Whenever I hear people talk about something like this being distracting I always read it as, and let me apologize preemptively for how harsh this is, “it’s distracting to me because I insist on dedicating time and attention to how much I dislike it, and I feel no one should do things that cause me to waste time judging them rather than work on refocusing myself when I see something I don’t like.”

      7. AD*

        Thank you, Amber. And to all those who are continuing to harp on the “this is distracting” element, let’s step back a bit and re-read the OP’s post and see that this is happening once or twice a month.

        This really isn’t anyone’s business, frankly, and the comments are making it sound like it’s happening every single day. It isn’t, and we can acknowledge Alison’s message that people’s quirks should be respected if they are not impacting work or morale. I cannot imagine a colleague changing her appearance mid-day once or twice a month reaching the point of manager must become involved.

      8. BeautifulVoid*

        “I’m just getting uncomfortable associations between this being distracting, and young girls being told that their clothes are distracting.”

        I don’t think that’s a fair comparison, as OP says that all of her changes have been within professional norms. The clothes/her appearance on their own are not the issue. It’s all the different aspects of the situation combined that’s making some people think this is odd. And yes, maybe even distracting. If we break it down:

        – Wearing one outfit in the morning and another in the afternoon. Nothing wrong with that. Most people would probably assume spilled coffee or something.
        – Coming in to work one morning with a drastically different hairstyle. Good for her!
        – Popping over to the mall at lunch to get her nails or makeup done. Hey, the mall’s right there, why not?
        – Popping over to the mall at lunch to buy new clothes. So normal it hurts!

        And so on. But I think it’s that all of this is happening at the same time and right in the middle of the workday is what’s throwing people. And no, there isn’t anything inherently “wrong” with what she’s doing. But it’s the timing and the combination that’s making it a bigger deal than it would be otherwise.

        1. LCL*

          Honestly, I don’t notice what other people wear that much. I check that people in our group are wearing their required PPE, but if they changed at lunch it would go right over my head.

          I did notice when one of our admins would wear something flashy to work, and I would say something nice about it. But I knew, because she had told me, she loved to shop thrift stores and try different things and didn’t like to wear the same thing twice. I never thought her odd because of her constantly changing wardrobe.

    2. MegaMoose, Esq.*

      It’s only once a month, though, so although I understand that it would be distracting, it’s seems like the distraction would be pretty limited, especially since it’ll quickly become “that thing she does” as people get used to it.

      I’m not really following your third point, though. It sounds like she’s making very deliberate choices about her appearance that sometimes include makeup and sometimes don’t, but either way, lunch hour is free time so you’re not really “wasting” it, are you?

    3. MommaTRex*

      I’m lucky enough to work in an office that would see this as awesome, but maybe we’ve all a little quirky here and it will take a lot more to drive anyone to insanity. Or maybe finding this insanely distracting is the quirk. I guess it is all relative and just depends upon one’s perspective.

    4. CheeryO*

      Yeah, I’m finding this super bizarre. There are so many ways to do this differently that don’t call immediate attention to your appearance. If she doesn’t mind being seen as eccentric, that’s fine, but it’s unrealistic to expect that it won’t impact her reputation at some (many? most?) workplaces. If nothing else, I’ll admit to being a little judge-y for donating her clothes from the morning without washing them.

    5. Observer*

      Distracting? For more than 5 minutes the first few times it happens? I don’t buy it. If it’s that distracting, Michelle is not the problem.

    6. Kate*

      I don’t believe it says anywhere that she doesn’t put makeup on in the morning, just that she changes it at lunch.

      “Wasting time” Is it appropriate to judge others for how they spend their lunch breaks?
      It sounds like you are making a value judgement here, that you find going to the gym at lunch normal and within the bounds of your own values, so you are comfortable with it, but see changing clothing, getting a haircut and altering makeup once a month or less as wasteful, and abnormal, and therefore says something about her character.

    7. Not So NewReader*

      I am chuckling. I am wondering what it would be like if everyone did this, if they all came back from lunch barely recognizable.

  46. Cass*

    Yeah, I wouldn’t choose to address this. Seriously. If Michelle is otherwise a rockstar I wouldn’t care about how she chose to spend her lunch. If someone else brought this to my attention about Michelle my response would be a resounding “Why are you telling me this?”

    1. DDJ*

      And who knows, maybe part of her being a rockstar at the office comes from being in a place where she’s NOT reprimanded for expressing herself. Where she feels really good about herself and appreciates that it’s the quality of her work that’s noticed, not the fact that she enjoys the occasional makeover.

  47. Sfigato*

    This is reminding me of my first office job where I dressed in vintage 40s clothes and ties every day and didn’t understand why people thought it was strange. Then I went through a glam period where I wore lipstick and eye makeup when I went out, and didn’t understand why I didn’t have a girlfriend (I’m a straight male).

    In other words, being twenty is awesome, and way more fun than being 40.

    1. Manders*

      Some 40s styles are coming back into fashion! I saw a great presentation by someone who rocked a pair of suspenders. The one thing I’d suggest staying away from in male fashion right now is fedoras, because they’ve developed an unfortunate association with awful people.

      I really hope I get to continue experimenting with my look as I leave my 20s. In my experience, people in their 20s often have less political capital to spend on stuff like choosing an unconventional look, but people in their 30s and 40s have enough seniority to do their own thing.

      1. Whats In A Name*

        As an almost-40-something I find this news about fedoras disheartening. But I am a female so maybe the rules are different?

        1. Manders*

          I think it might be different for women’s fashion and for older people. Unfortunately, in my 20-something generation, fedoras (and trilbies, which people sometimes mistake for fedoras) have become associated with a particularly loathsome type of dude who wants to bring back the “good old days” when men were men and women and minorities didn’t have money or power.

          It’s fascinating how we can send such complicated signals with fashion! OP’s employee is doing some particularly daring things with asymmetric cuts that probably wouldn’t have been work-appropriate 10 or 20 years ago. I think that may be part of what’s throwing OP off; I don’t think he would be quite as surprised if Michelle was returning to the office with a blow-out or a fresh set of layers or bangs.

          1. Kate*

            Yeah, but that’s a Jezebel article about a Reddit thread in which a guy asked what women thought of the “fedora persona”, not fedoras, and went on to describe behavior that sounds pretty odd.

            1. The OG Anonsie*

              It’s called that because those dudes, for a long time, had a big fashion trend of bringing back the fedora. Since no one else really wears/wore them for some decades now, the association has stuck.

          2. Elizabeth H.*

            I think of fedoras as exclusively a trying too hard nerd culture thing not even a 40’s fashion item. I think it’s incredibly difficult to pull off any kind of hat as a guy. Even baseball hats, there aren’t as many guys who can pull those off and like exponentially smaller for any other kind of hat.

      1. MommaTRex*

        Here! Here!
        People often talk about how boring it is to grow old – for example, I heard someone mention how great it is to be a kid and play with Legos. I replied that I’d much rather be an adult because I can buy my own Legos now.
        Keep that young spirit!

        I was just thinking last night that I would love to see more experimentation with men’s clothing. The suit and tie is so boring. Well, at least you can have fun ties. But I am so glad that as a woman I’ll never be expected to wear one. (I’m just young enough to have missed the 80s attempt at “women’s ties” with those dorky ribbon things.)

    2. JennyFair*

      I know just the young woman for your 20 year old self, Sfigato. She rocks vintage clothes like no one I know, and she would appreciate the on-point makeup.

      1. With2Hearts*

        I can appreciate a man who rocks on-point makeup and isn’t afraid to be himself.

    3. General Ginger*

      Oh, man, where were you when our friend group was in our early 20s! My college friends would have loved you.

    4. Hrovitnir*

      Man, I like your life choices, and hope you still express some of that at 40! 40’s not old. ;) And frankly, I am full of awe for people who have the guts to keep having fun with it way past what society sees as acceptable.

      I can’t wait to have ridiculous coloured hair when I’m oooooold. It was amazing how many older (70+) women (often old money given the area) would sound wistful as they complimented my fire engine-red hair. I always encouraged them to give it a go but they always demurred.

  48. anon for this*

    This is probably a niche position. But this would bother me. I have anxiety/ am on the autism spectrum/ have other psychological issues. I handle change incredibly poorly. For the most part I can and do suck it up, because change happens, that’s life, and I do not expect everyone to cater to my issues. (I am in regular therapy) Something like this would be at a minimum distracting and could have the potential to be acutely distressing (particularly given that it’s unpredictable). I would do my utmost to see if I could manage it myself, and probably spend a lot of therapy time dealing with it. But it could have the potential to have a real impact on my work, at which point I would have to speak up. I don’t want to stop anyone from changing their appearance, and again I do work hard to overcome or manage my anxiety, but this has the potential to be over the line for me. (I suppose it could be mitigated- if Michelle gave me a heads up that that was on the cards today/ this week so I could steel myself?)

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      If you spoke up, what would you ask for? A heads up? For her not to change her appearance?

      1. Amadeo*

        I don’t know, if it was really affecting anon for this to the point of driving them frantic, would it really be too much to ask for her to not do it in the middle of the day? Of course, this is assuming that anon would not also have a similar reaction in intensity to it happening the next morning instead.

      2. Nea*

        Anon for this didn’t ask Michelle to stop changing, but to give a heads up, which doesn’t strike me as being out of line. Anon has two ways of asking that I can see, depending on whether Anon wants to out themself or not:

        1) The outing version: Michelle, could you please let me know the days that you plan to change your appearance over lunch? I don’t want to go into detail about myself and of course I’m not asking you to stop, but I get really distracted when someone changes and I’d just like a heads up before I’m surprised.

        2) The not outing version: Michelle, I’m so fascinated by the way you change yourself! I’d love it if you tell me when you’re going to do it so I can appreciate the “before” and “after.” (With, of course, the intent to not go see, although Michelle may figure it out)

        1. Manders*

          I might even recommend being more specific about needing advanced notice for script #2. If someone used the script in #2 on me, I would think it meant, “Feel free to drop by my office right after making a major change so I can fully appreciate your new look.” That’s definitely not what Anon wants.

          I’m someone who appreciates seeing major transformations, but I’m also kind of face-blind, so sometimes after a makeover I honestly can’t recognize an acquaintance. If I were Anon, I might use a script along the lines of, “Hey, I get confused sometimes when people change their appearance suddenly, could you give me a heads up in advance so I don’t end up trying to kick a person I don’t recognize out of the office?”

          1. Nea*

            Your edits also nicely dovetail with the advice to the OP about asking Michelle not to change during presentations – it’s essentially the same message.

      3. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        I didn’t mean to criticize — I’m genuinely wondering what they would ask for. I suppose my question is grounded in a belief that some things would be reasonable to ask for and others would not.

        1. Nea*

          I think you’re right in that some things are reasonable to ask for and others not. In this situation, it’s unreasonable for someone to ask Michelle to stop doing something to herself for herself because it doesn’t affect how she does her job.

          But it’s perfectly reasonable for someone to ask for a minor accommodation over something that affects *that person* from doing *their* job – in this case, asking Michelle for advance warning of an upcoming change. Anon didn’t say how much mental prep time would be needed, but I could imagine that Michelle popping her head in Anon’s office to say “brace yourself, I’m going blonde!” on her way out to change would be enough.

    2. Alton*

      I can understand your concern and understand why Michelle’s changes in appearance could be distracting, but I’m not sure if this is something that could be accommodated. I think requiring other staff members to alter their appearance to accommodate someone can cross a line (I’m reminded of the letter a while back where no one in the office was allowed to wear just one ring because asymmetry triggered an employee’s OCD). It’s not that I think you’re wrong to feel this way, or that you’d be wrong to maybe ask Michelle if she could give you a heads up as a courtesy–I just don’t see how it could be accommodated beyond that, especially without creating a rule that applies to everyone.

    3. nonegiven*

      Maybe if she showed you the wig and wardrobe pieces online and told you what day she had her change planned for?

  49. Some sort of Management Consultant*

    I’m someone who looks VERY different depending on hair, clothes, makeup and sometimes for no reason at all.

    It was literally one of the reasons I got a pixie cut – it gives me one distinguishing feature.
    That’s not always enough though.

    People have literally told me countless of times that it simply can’t be me in a picture (including bouncers and border guards…!) and it’s the norm rather than the exception that it takes several tries (and different looks) for people to understand they’ve met me before.

    I’m very careful to try and have a similar appearance the second time I meet someone, if they’re important, to minimize the confusion, but there’s only so much I can do.

    Given all the comments I get for my unwilling (and in my opinion not that drastic) changes in appearance, I’m having a hard time imaging doing it willingly and not commenting on it. Like, it’s such a irregular thing it feels like something one would explain to coworkers.

    (I do think it’s awesome of Michelle to be so bold in her looks though!)

    1. peachie*

      Oh gosh, me too! I went overseas last month and the customs agent didn’t believe at first that it was me in my passport. I’m sure it didn’t help that in the photo, I had long, dark blonde hair tied back and no glasses, while now, I have a short, light blonde/peach bob with bangs and glasses–and I also had noticeable ptosis (droopy eyelid) in the photo that has since been surgically corrected. I get it–I just wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do! There really isn’t a great response to “You look really different in this picture.”

      (That said, I do change my appearance pretty dramatically from time to time–not very often, but still, I’m used to having to remind people who I am sometimes. :) )

      1. DDJ*

        In my old passport picture I had long, dark hair. I realized as I was waiting at Border Services with my passport and my platinum blonde pixie cut that I might be in for some trouble!

        The guy looked at my passport, looked at me, looked at my passport, handed it back and said “The new hairstyle looks great on you!”

  50. Marcy*

    I think this is a problem you should let peer pressure handle and stay out of it as her boss. If you have any women at all in your office, I can guarantee you that they will or have said something to Michelle to alert her to how quirky her behavior is. Unless she is very young or naive, I think she probably already knows how quirky her behavior is. As someone who works in a conservative office, I frowned a bit at this behavior. Then I thought about it a bit more. There’s really nothing unprofessional about it, but it is different, and we frown on such conspicuous differences where I work. The theory is that The Work Is So Important and We’re So Busy that we’d never have time to do this; someone who does must either be lazy and not doing work, or not doing important work. A total logical fallacy of course, and one that contributes to the Cult of Busyness that I so hate.

    If Michelle is doing this in an office where suits are the norm, chances are she is not doing it unknowningly. She’s doing it against immense peer pressure already, and she’s doing it for a reason that’s important to her. No need to add boss level pressure to the situation.

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      I agree that it’s purposeful, but there is a need to mention it in context of presentations, as it impacted the work.

    2. Temperance*

      Quite frankly, I wouldn’t say anything to a female peer if she was acting like this.

    3. Jenny*

      Yep, that’s exactly the reaction my (fairly casual) office would have to this, even if it’s not really fair.

  51. JeanB in NC*

    All I can think of is that she’s wearing clothes that she hasn’t washed? I would never wear an unwashed item.

    Oh, second thing I can think of – she read some Jack Reacher novels and decided his clothing choices sounded good. (He buys thrift-store clothes and wears them for a few days, then throws them away.)

    1. Camellia*

      Yay for a hero that is always going to win! I love the Jack Reacher novels. I hate that Tom Cruise was chosen to play him. I mean, seriously??? Size and attitude are totally wrong!

      1. JeanB in NC*

        I was thinking the other day that Viggo Mortensen would have been a MUCH better choice for Reacher. Tom Cruise was a ludicrous choice.

    2. MommaTRex*

      Do you mean that you wash all your new clothes before wearing them? It has never occurred to me to do that.

      1. Stellaaaaa*

        I do that when I shop at a place like TJ Maxx, where the clothes are a season or two old and have moved through a bunch of different stores and likely been tried on a lot. I wouldn’t bother with something that was clearly just put on the rack.

        1. LavaLamp*

          I do because sometimes clothes irritate my skin. I’m not sure if it’s that there’s extra dye, or if factories put some sort of chemical on them.

          1. kitryan*

            There’s sometimes chemical treatments on fabrics in new clothes that can cause a reaction. Like sizing and stiffeners, or dyes that haven’t fully rinsed out. If you’re sensitive to that, washing items that will be next to the skin first should fix things.

          2. The OG Anonsie*

            Starches or softeners, usually softeners. My skin hates fabric softener so I wash things before I wear them now, but I never used to until I made the association.

      2. Alton*

        I always do unless it’s a dry-clean only thing or a piece of outerwear like a coat. For one thing, I’m a little grossed out by the possibility that people have tried on the clothes I bought. But mainly, I have sensitive skin and the sizing they put on a lot of new clothes gives me rashes. Even just trying the clothes on for a few minutes is enough to cause a reaction.

      3. Ann O'Nemity*

        Oh my gosh, yes I definitely wash all new clothes. The biggest reason is to wash off some off wrinkle-free chemicals and dyes. Also, potential bugs. Also, potential germs and fecal matter from people who tried on the outfits before me.

      4. MCMonkeyBean*

        I would never have thought to do that, but there was an episode of House once where the cause of their sickness was their store bought clothes and they talked about how you should wash them first lol.

        (I still don’t though)

        1. Kate*

          You really, really should though. One of the chemicals used in “sizing” (the chemical all companies use to keep clothes from wrinkling) is formaldehyde, which is very bad for humans. Try googling “brazilian blowout chemicals dangerous”. One of the ingredients is formaldehyde. The chemicals in that case are probably easier to breathe in, but you can also absorb them through the skin. Repeated exposure makes it worse.

          1. The OG Anonsie*

            I got curious about this so I looked, the average for the US (among fabrics actually containing formaldehyde) 75ppm detectable formaldehyde. That’s low enough that the only time it would harm your skin is if you had a specific sensitivity, though it is quite a bit more than is typically in the air or water. For reference, formalin used for tissue preservation is at least some 40% formaldehyde.

            1. The OG Anonsie*

              For clarity– formaldehyde is naturally occurring and our own bodies produce it, it’s circulating around in our blood all the time. Like a lot of things, concentration of exposures is the issue.

      5. Student*

        I wash all my clothes before I wear them. Didn’t always do that. Wore a new shirt that dyed my skin black – highlighting every single pore with dye, especially – was super grossed out by it, wash everything before wearing it now.

        I think they “feel” better after washing once for the most part, too – softer. I assume they put some sort of chemicals on them for initial transport, or treatment, or or maybe hanging, to make them attractive or easy to separate or whatnot. Shirt non-caking agent?

      6. Not So NewReader*

        My mother was rigid about this. I could not understand why.
        Then I worked in a clothing factory for a while. Now I wash everything that is washable before using. It’s not just the chemicals, which are amazing, you get to go home half stoned everyday, but it’s also the fact that you do not know where that garment has been. No, they are not kept clean and no, they are not stored in clean places.

        I do remember one horror story involving jeans. Women ended up having problems with skin tissue between the legs. Yeah. The jeans were transported in a tractor trailer that had just moved some pesticides. The pesticides permeated the jeans.
        While this particular incident may not ever happen again, I think it is really wise to wash clothes, bedding, etc before using them the first time.

  52. Elizabeth West*

    I immediately thought Michelle has some kind of shopping addiction. However, if it’s not impacting her work, there’s not much to do. I can see how it might be problematic with the presentations, though.

    1. Liz2*

      Maybe, I know of people who grew up in the depression and became wealthy and would donate their entire kitchen so they could re-buy everything. It was their way of coping and feeling good about taking care of themselves.

  53. Jessesgirl72*

    So I think Michelle is adding a little harmless excitement to the work week. I know I’d love to wait to see what she was going to show up as next!

    But since her drastic quick changes during presentations/meetings has caused confusion, it’s reasonable for the OP to ask her to maintain a consistent look for the duration of those.

  54. Bridget*

    Honestly, my first thought was maybe she has a stalker and changes her appearance regularly to avoid this person being able to follow/identify her? If this is at all possible I’d step really carefully around this issue because it could impact her personal safety.

    If not, I definitely find it a little weird but not so weird that it needs to be addressed as a performance issue.

  55. Stellaaaaa*

    I’ve done similar things (changed into a drastically different outfit, applied a new full face of makeup, put in a wacky hairstyle) if I was going straight from work to a date or a concert. I think this is a somewhat common thing to do if you take a long public transit trip from your home town to a bigger city – you end up spending your personal funtime in the city and you don’t want to go home in between.

    1. Yorick*

      That is quite different from buying clothes you don’t want and wearing them to work so you can change in the middle of the day. I’m also assuming you did this at the end of the day and then left, right?

      1. Stellaaaaa*

        No I did it during my built-in lunch hour, while my office building was still open and I therefore had access to a clean-ish bathroom. Otherwise I’d have to find a public restroom to change in and do my makeup, and I’d be an hour late getting started on my night out.

        When you put on clothes around 6 AM and then wear them on your morning commute, it’s not all that odd or wasteful to consider changing them at around noon or 1 if you’re going somewhere later and that’s just where the timing falls in your day.

  56. JAM*

    I work at a remote office near a nicer district so a ton of my workers use their remote office day to get hair done or shop. I’m used to someone coming back from lunch with a sandwich and a new hairdo.

    One girl who works the front desk at my last job changes her hair color monthly. So many people there can’t remember that the girl with the pink hair had teal hair last month and they attempt to treat her like “the new girl”, which she uses to her advantage since 90% of her job is keeping people from getting in the door unless they already scheduled an appointment. Everyone who is there regularly knows her, though they do get thrown off if she needs brown hair that month. She models in her offtime (wedding and cosplay) so she’s always switching her look up. It’s just who she is and it’s definitely not as distracting as the LuLaRoe mailroom squad squees and displays that used to come daily.

  57. DevAssist*

    I’m super curious as to how she manages a full makeover in so little time! Last time I got my hair done, it took like 4 or more hours!

    1. Manders*

      It looks like the progression has been towards darker colors, which take less time in my experience, especially if you’re going for the same color all over rather than trying to mimic a natural look with highlights. Plus, some of the drastic changes are stuff like straightening curly hair, which could happen pretty quickly if she has naturally straight hair, she curled it in the morning, and then the stylist washed her hair before cutting it.

      I’m super impressed by the quick outfit changes, though–I always have to budget at least 2 hours for clothing shopping to find an outfit that fits right.

    2. Stellaaaaa*

      It takes over an hour just to take up my length and layers while keeping my hair within the same basic cut/style. I’d bet that a lot of Michelle’s hairstyles are wigs and extensions, especially if she seems to get and then lose bangs pretty quickly.

  58. Noah*

    Seems like doing this during a conference is a bit awkward. Otherwise, this seems unusual but Not A Big Deal.

  59. LittleLove*

    I wonder if she will be arrested at some point for shop-lifting. That was my first thought, since she doesn’t carry a bag. I’d wonder if she has some compulsive habit that was going to catch up to her. Manager can’t do anything about it but I’d keep wondering if she was a kleptomaniac.

    1. Alton*

      She probably carries her wallet, phone, and keys in her pockets, like a lot of people do. I doubt she comes to work with *nothing* on her.

    2. SoCalHR*

      I thought the same thing! This is just too weird. I also feel it would have to be wigs, because unless she’s gone for multiple hours at lunch, it would be hard to get a while new hairstyle and clothes in an hour or even two. Even if the expectation is that people take lunches longer than an hour, OP may want to keep an eye on how long she’s gone. Even exempt people shouldn’t be just missing from the office for most of a business day.

  60. Old Admin*

    joking mode on
    … maybe she is suffering from multiple personalitoes??
    joking mode off

    (just kidding!)

  61. Danae*

    I’m going to guess that she’s going out after work on the days that she has her hair and makeup done and gets a new outfit on her lunch hour. That means she can go directly from work to wherever she’s going without having to bus home to change and refresh her makeup–and nobody wants to take a backpack out on a date with them!

    I didn’t have my life nearly this together when I was taking public transit instead of having a car, but this is totally something I would have done if I had. I’m impressed that she has the time for these drastic hair changes and shopping for a new outfit over the same lunch break. Clearly, she has superior organizational skills and does her prep work thoroughly! She sounds super chic and awesome.

    1. Alton*

      Yes, that was one of my first thoughts. I don’t do anything drastic like Michelle, but I often time haircuts, etc. around when I have special things going on outside of work. I’ve been tempted to bring changes if clothing occasionally, but I don’t want to weigh my backpack down.

      I do tend to do my transformations at the beginning or end of the day rather than in the middle, though. I occasionally bring my chest binder so that I can change into it in the bathroom before I leave for the day (my ribs would not be happy if I wore a binder all day).

    2. MashaKasha*

      Me three (or four/five?). I had the same thought. I bring makeup and a change of clothes to work in these situations, but I have a car.

    3. Librarianne*

      Exactly my thought. I’d sometimes do this back when I was dating if I had a date scheduled for right after work (and our hours are late, so weekday dates usually were right after work.) I never had time to get my hair cut, but I’d pick up/apply makeup or a new outfit.

  62. Shamy*

    I tend to have a bit of an unusual look, think shaved portions of my head complete with designs along with funky cuts, so maybe this is coloring my view, but I really fail to see the issue here aside from the presentation day changes, which she could be asked to cease with. She is still looking professional and does good work. If I interpreted the letter correctly, the clothing changes occur once a month and hair once every 2 months. My first thought was perhaps she had an afterwork event she was going to and worked all this out ahead of time. I find it very unlikely she is changing clothes midday just because, but even if she is, so long as she is still maintaining professionalism, there is no problem here.

    I am sure my appearance makes people think less of me, but truthfully, I don’t care. And I work in a field with vast variations of what is acceptable professionally. I am great at what I do and if that is what they choose to focus on, then we won’t be a good fit. I have a feeling Michelle knows that this could impact people’s perceptions and has decided she is willing to accept that.

  63. Anonymous Poster*

    I work in a large organization, and have trouble enough keeping track of who’s who. This would confuse me even more about who this person is as an outsider. If I interacted with her commonly I wouldn’t have a problem, but if she were in a group I interface with only periodically I wouldn’t know who she was because of the very common major appearance changes, and probably go elsewhere in her group.

    I understand the desire to do these things during lunch, but the outfit changes are really the hard one for me to wrap my mind around. I think the other changes are fine because many people run these sorts of errands in the middle of the day when nail/hair establishments are less busy (I love getting my haircut in the middle of the day when I’m working from home and make up the time later), but the clothing changes in the middle of the day too are odd to me. Maybe she doesn’t realize how that can come off to people, but I would address how that may be perceived and make sure she consciously knows and accepts that.

    Maybe she isn’t aware of how this looks professionally, and if these aren’t issues because of the nature of her work, then it’s not worth bringing up because it’s irrelevant. I’d at least say that these sorts of drastic changes on presentation days aren’t appropriate because it confuses people that may not know who you are and wonder who this new person is in the presentation.

    1. Yorick*

      I totally agree. It is confusing, especially on presentation days. I would probably let it go except for asking that she not do it when clients/whoever will be there.

  64. Sabba*

    I have to say in my consevative office I would find this bizarre and unprofessional…not sure why, perhaps because the focus seems off of work. But I would find it less so if it weren’t happening midday.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I definitely think it’s reasonable to find it bizarre. But bizarre doesn’t inherently mean “something a manager needs to intervene on.” People can be bizarre in small ways without it being a problem.

      1. Sabba*

        Agreed, with this and your advice. My office would definitely fall into that minority category you mention. I think I’d be inclined to mention it to my employee if I thought it was hurting perception of him/her and I knew them to have ambitions within the company.

      2. Temperance*

        I’m thinking, though, that as a manager, it might be good if LW could give her a heads up that people might take her less seriously. My opinion of this is colored because I work at a fairly conservative org (law firm) and this would be seen as extremely strange.

  65. Gov Worker*

    Sorry, I find this a bit strange. Depending on how conservative the office is, such drastic changes midday may seem off-putting even if she remains within professional norms. I don’t think its awesome unless she is in the fashion industry. I love clothes, hair, makeup, and accessories, and may switch up styles day to day but not intra-daily, and not this drastically.

    This woman needs to decide if this is what she wants to be known for, like she is trying to ditch a stalker or something. But the OP should probably let it go, the woman’s an adult.

  66. Misquoted*

    Holy crow, I can barely get it together to be presentable ONCE a day. Hair, clothes, make-up, nails changed up more than once? Rock star.

    This might be the universe cluing me in that I oughta go change out of my robe now.

  67. VivaL*

    I wonder if Michelle is some kind of performer in her free time, and these appearance changes happen during the day bc she doesnt have time after work?

    Agreed it can be distracting, but I also think women’s appearance is one of those areas that used to be crazy-policed (and still is in some places) and the prevailing attitudes really need to be updated, so I think it’s one of those things the OP should say “Huh. That seems strange to me, but I’m sure there’s a good reason for it.” Obv if her performance suffered due to this, the answer would be different. But it’s part of the ‘if it doesnt affect their performance, let it go’ mentality.

    Though I also agree with Alison that asking someone not to drastically change appearance during a presentation/all day meeting is reasonable – it’s not about policing appearance, it’s more about sending a message to clients/others about what you are focused on at high-impact moments (and yes, not being distracting during a presentation, etc. – which I agree is the distracted person’s problem, but… a little effort on her side isnt so oppressive in this case.)

    1. Gabriela*

      I think this is where I am with this as well. In theory, I love it. In practice, I’m not sure I would but I don’t feel great about why that is. Also, doing a thought experiment, would I care if Michelle was Michael? Would I even notice, given that men’s clothing doesn’t have the same wide berth that women’s clothing does?

    2. Girl, You'll Be a Womon Soon*

      Why on earth should clients care about what someone has worn in the morning? (Particularly if they haven’t seen her in the morning.) Yes, this is an attempt by privileged male managers to control womyn’s bodies. No, it is not OK. Deal with that.

      1. Nea*

        I’m a woman and I’d be really distracted if the redhead in a black suit teaching me something in the morning was suddenly a blonde in a blue dress teaching me in the afternoon. I’d spend more of my time wondering why and if that’s a wig and what happened to the suit, it was a nice suit, but where could I get a dress like that?

        It’s not a “guy” thing and it’s not a policing thing, it really is a consistency thing.

        1. PM Jesper Berg*

          Well, I’m a guy, and I think the earlier poster is right to see it as a way of controlling women’s bodies. Complaining about how women “distract” men by how they dress *is* a sign of sexism; look at the controversy that United Airlines generated over leggings a couple of weeks ago. And really, if she wear a a wig in the afternoon, so what?

      2. Yorick*

        I mean, what if you just need to find a certain person who works there? Earlier she looked completely different.

        This is not common behavior, I don’t know why everyone here acts like it is perfectly normal. Not that it is morally wrong or anything, but it’s outside of social norms (and certainly professional norms).

        The fact that the manager is a man is not important.

        1. Racheal*

          I don’t see anyone saying it’s “perfectly normal” (most are finding it surprising), just that it’s not a big deal. It’s happening once every few weeks at most, not on a daily basis! And social and professional norms vary, so it really depends.

  68. LS*

    I wouldn’t be bothered by the nails and hair. People do have their hair and nails done at lunchtime. But in a long career in casual and creative environments, I’ve never seen anyone come back from lunch in a change of clothes. People go clothes shopping, but the new clothes come back in shopping bags. I would find that distinctly odd :-/

    1. LS*

      And just to add, this is not a gender thing. A man who came back from lunch in a different suit would be just as startling. To me.

      1. Gabriela*

        See, I kind of think it would be less noticeable on a man, just because they don’t have as much latitude on what constitutes professional dress. Maybe I’m just not that observant, but I would not notice if any of the men I worked with were in a charcoal grey suit in the morning but came back in a navy blue suit in the afternoon (I’d probably think my eyes were playing tricks on me).

        1. Student*

          Think this is more akin to a man with a new facial hair style. Their clothes just aren’t designed to attract attention, and their hair is usually all the same (sorry guys – it all looks the same to me in slightly different colors), but the facial hair changes can be profoundly appearance-changing.

          Comes in one morning with an Star Trek Evil Twin Goatee, arrives at lunch with a Barbershop Quartet Waxed Handlebar Mustache.

          Arrives in another morning with The Wild West Beard, comes back from lunch with The Babyface Clean-Shave.

        1. Avocado Toast*

          It’s really fascinating to see how Alison’s attitude has changed in just 4 years. In that last post, she deems “using 6 makeup brushes and contouring” and a “30 minute” routine, excessive, and akin to “prepping for the Oscars”. (Nevermind that runway makeup would take literally twice to 3x as long and use way more than 6 brushes… 6 brushes is not excessive. 30 minutes is not excessive. Contouring is a trend, and no more excessive than applying blush and bronzer carefully.)

          I am Team Michelle through and through, so I wonder if Alison has come to realize the inherent sexism in her criticism of that previous coworker. And yes, there is – without a doubt – at the very least internalized misogyny that makes us think a woman using her lunch time to put on her best face as “weird”.

  69. pomme de terre*

    I’m on the fence — it might been seen as quirky or harmless or fun in some offices but it’s not right everywhere. Actually, it made me think of this AAM Q from a while back. As with someone who does a huge make-up routine in the work bathroom, frequent dramatic mid-day wardrobe changes would make me think she’s not that focused on work. If it’s just a job to her, that’s probably OK. If she’s looking to rise at the company, a mentor or friend might want to give her a heads up. (OP may not be that person.)

  70. Observer*

    To be honest she sounds like a strange fish. But who really cares? If she were doing something that’s really out of the dress norms, that would be one thing. But I do think that Allison is right – in most offices this wouldn’t be all that distracting – at least after a few instances. Other than when outsiders are involved, I’d leave it be.

  71. Lunchy*

    It’s kind of funny how some people are trying to find something wrong with this aside from drastic changes in the middle of presentations. Society likes to stamp out individuality and quaint or unique traits even when they’re 100% harmless.

    Michelle marches to the beat of her own drum, and I’m super jealous that she doesn’t give a flying fudge what others think (something I lost after being bullied over every little thing growing up). Let her light shine, let this beautiful flower sway against the wind. Let the woman be!

    “Michelle,” if you see this, we’d love it if you revealed yourself. You sound like such an awesome person to work/be friends with!

    1. Kate*

      Yep, I love how the commenters who don’t like it can’t come up with any better reasons than “it’s distracting” and “it’s weird and different and I don’t like it! I just don’t!” And we all know that in order to progress peacefully to our Stepford/Borg future, all harmless differences must be stamped out.

      1. Gabriela*

        We seem to be split on whether this is delightfully weird or off-putting-ly weird.

    2. Temperance*

      I genuinely don’t understand the comments calling her “awesome”, but I’m in the camp that finds this to be oDD and attetion-seeking.

      1. Twilight Gleam*

        I don’t understand the attention-seeking comments – it seems to be to be reaching WAY to far to ascribe a motivation to someone based solely on a second-hand description of one of their activities. I can think of half a dozen other motivations that could apply here. Why jump straight to the one that dismisses and invalidates her?

        1. Twilight Gleam*

          I just saw a comment below about seeing this as attention-seeking because it was when the other commentor did something similar themselves. I wonder if this is happening in other comments too. Like, people think “oh, if I did that it would totally be a way to getting attention” then ascribe that motive to Michelle?! Hmmmm. Maybe it’s just the attention-seekers who are reading her behavior that way!

  72. Christian Troy*

    I think that ultimately her behavior sounds kind of immature and that can lead to it being seen as unprofessional. But I’m not really sure how much you can really say to her without it being seen as weird, barring the presentation day thing or if there are specific dress code guidelines in place.

    1. Kate*

      Why immature? What do maturity and getting a hair cut every two months, clothes change once a month have to do with each other?

  73. Crafty*

    This is kinda sorta me. I love changing my look up, and I work near a mall so I’ll get my nails done on my lunch break, pop into a Sephora to change my makeup, etc. etc. Agreeing with Allison and the majority of the commentariat — only say something if clients don’t recognize her to the point that it’s a regular problem and affecting her work.

  74. the cake is a pie*

    I wonder if a lot of us might be projecting past experiences on Michelle? If you had a great colleague who was also a style chameleon, then Michelle sounds awesome. If you had a crummy colleague who made their style part of their “me, me, me” personality, then you can’t separate it from this. Perhaps the OP (who sounds like he’s genuinely trying to do the right thing) might have some of the same thing going on?

  75. Lora*

    Oh boy. You guys would hate me. I am the most nondescript person in the world, as near as I can tell: multiple people do not recognize me at all, people I’ve known for years, if I change my hairstyle. Not the color, just whether it is in a ponytail or a bun or down. Also if I wear glasses instead of contacts or vice versa. On days where I have to make a presentation to outside people, and I wear my hair differently and put on makeup and dress nicely instead of my usual safety glasses / bun look, colleagues who have seen me every day for years don’t recognize me. Plus, I have a very loud, confident on-stage “personality” when I am doing a presentation to a large group and day to day I’m pretty introverted.

    As near as I can tell I just don’t look very individual. I’m routinely introduced to the same person multiple times. I need a name tag or something. To make matters worse, there are a LOT of Lauras and Loris in my generation. At my last job there was a woman about my age who actually had the same exact name. You’d think people would assume (not without reason) that all American women aged 40-ish are named Laura or Jen.

  76. Rachel*

    I’m sure other coworkers have asked her what’s up before.. I find it hard to believe NO ONE has brought it up to her or made a joke like, “Wow, you look like a different person!”

  77. MCMonkeyBean*

    Man, I get nervous that people will think I’m weird if I put on a different shade of lipstick in the afternoon than I did in the morning. I have bought new shoes on my lunch break before and agonized over whether it would be weird to switch.

    I am very jealous of Michelle’s confidence. I agree that she sounds awesome.

    But I do also agree that it’s probably not a great idea for a full-day presentation or meeting that includes people other than her everyday coworkers.

  78. Contrarian Annie*

    Is it possible that she’s moonlighting (as a “process server” or something else that might require a disguise) during these long lunches?

  79. Agile Phalanges*

    I don’t think I have clinical-level face-blindness, but I have a really hard time recognizing people. Often, the cues I use include things like clothing or hairstyle on that given day (especially to tell the difference between two people who are nearly indistinguishable to me). This would be REALLY disconcerting to me even as a regular everyday co-worker of this person, but especially as an outside attendee at a presentation she was involved with. Wow. I would be totally thrown for a loop if anyone, but especially a major-ish player in the event changed so drastically. I’d be so confused.

    I agree with Alison that it would be within your purview to at least ask her to keep those drastic changes to times outside of meetings/presentations/conferences with outside clients or colleagues. And for me, that would even mean don’t change hair color in the evening, even. I mean, going from an updo to hair down is reasonable. Going from blonde Monday to black hair on Tuesday would be a distraction even to people who don’t have my issues, I would think–making it a conversation piece when the conversation should mostly be work-related.

    It sounds like extended lunches are acceptable in your workplace, but if there were “optics” around her extended absence in the middle of the day being devoted solely to personal appearance, even with clients or whomever, it might be worth asking her to keep those appointments to the beginning or end of the day (even if they cut into her work hours, leaving at 3 for a hair appointment then coming in with the new ‘do the next day looks less “slacker”-y, IMO, than taking a three hour lunch and coming back with a makeover.

    1. Kate*

      If a hair color change becomes a conversation piece instead of work, that is on the busybodies choosing to talk about someone else’s hair color instead of work. They need to be reprimanded, not the person who dyed her hair. I mean, would you demand that people only dye their hair on the weekends? No dying your hair more than once a month? A year?

      1. Girl, You'll Be a Womon Soon*

        Exactly. People (almost invariably men) who find this ‘distracting’ should work on their on reactions.

        1. Gabriela*

          I think you’re being unnecessarily harsh on the OP. He understands the gender issues at play here:

          “I don’t know if I should say anything because as her older, male boss I don’t want to seem like I am appearance policing…”

          1. Avocado Toast*

            ““I don’t know if I should say anything because as her older, male boss I don’t want to seem like I am appearance policing…””

            This is really in-line with “I’m not racist but…” (immediately followed by something terribly racist). If he is aware that what he is doing qualifies to many as appearance policing, and he recognizes that such policing is inappropriate, then the next step is to correct *his* behavior, not hold her responsible for the fact that HE (OP) finds HER (Michelle) distracting.

  80. Mr Eclecticism*

    Is her real name Sarah? Do the names Cosima or Kira mean anything to her?

  81. Shayland*

    I love all the speculating in the comments.
    Wig? Dye job? Spy? Superhero? Model?

  82. Van Wilder*

    I think part of the reason this is bothering me is that it reminds me of some attention seeking behavior I had early in my career and I’m retroactively embarrassed. However, setting my baggage aside…

    If you’re in a position to mentor her, I would focus on what Alison said about her not becoming known for this. There was a guy at my old company who did good work, who also happened to bring in a George Foreman grill to cook chicken at his desk. Which, what’s wrong with that? Nothing really. But it was a big company and people that didn’t work with him directly knew of him as the Foreman grill guy. Just like I was probably known as the woman with the heels so high she can’t even walk in them (oops slipped back to my baggage again). I would just want people to know her for her work, not her stunts.

  83. non y mous*

    Why is no one speculating that she is meeting a lover at lunch and indulging in role play that involves wigs, outfits, characters…?

  84. Free Meerkats (formerly Gene)*

    Sounds to me that she’s doing an awesome job of time and resource management!

    Day 1 – Scope out the clothing and accessories in the mall, make the nail appointment.
    Day 2 – Hit the thrift store on the way home for donation clothing (that likely go back to the same charity store.
    Day 3 – Hit the door at exactly lunch time, nail appointment, change into new clothes in the dressing room, don wig, put old clothes in bin, back at her desk by 1300.
    Weekend – Chill and relax, catch up on Game of Thrones.

    I fail t see the problem here.

  85. Looc64*

    It might be good to ask Michelle to wear a name tag. I don’t remember faces well, and it sounds like Michelle changes literally everything I use to recognize people. If there’s anyone like me at the office, they would probably be pretty confused by that

  86. KaraLynn*

    None of this is normal or cool. Something is wrong with this woman and she may actually need help. This is not in any way common behavior and unless I’m way off base, I think Michele has an undiagnosed condition that’s going to come to the surface sometime fairly soon.

    1. Kate*

      I mean, it’s pretty normal to buy new clothes once a month. And a lot of people dye their hair every couple of months, even drastically changing it.

        1. KR*

          No what, lol? Just because it isn’t something you’ve personally experienced doesn’t mean it’s not true.

        2. Ash*

          LOL What a peculiar response!

          I do both those things, and so do most of my friends. You must be living a weirdly sheltered life if no one you know does!

      1. paul*

        uncommon does not equate to pathological. It’s weird but it’s also harmless, so why worry?

    2. Hrovitnir*

      Haha, OK that is ridiculous. It is *possible* she has an undiagnosed condition, but absolutely 100% not guaranteed or even probable. Believe it or not, some people find significant appearance changes fun, and it really doesn’t say anything about either their mental health or their maturity.

      You can feel free to change your appearance as much or as little as you like, but no amount of believing it will make this behaviour inherently pathological.

    3. Kyrielle*

      This is definitely not *common* behavior.

      But that doesn’t mean it’s *pathological* either.

      If she were doing it at the end of the day on Friday, or on a Saturday, every other month, instead of at lunch, it would fall well within the bounds of normal – it wouldn’t even be terribly noteworthy.

    4. SQL Coder Cat*

      Seriously? As I’ve mentioned here before, I dye my hair fashion colors, and I change it every 4 to 8 weeks, depending on the season and my mood. Last month is was black/teal/purple, this month I’m three different shades of pink. My work makeup is generally light, but when I’ve got a big meeting I go for the full ‘power face up’. If I got longer lunches at work I would love to be a Michelle. As long as she’s within the company’s dress code, the only possible issue I see is when she’s doing all day meetings with clients who might not be familiar enough with her to recognize her following a big change.

      Being different does not mean being ill.

      1. KaraLynn*

        A man with long hair, a full beard wearing a suit runs out at lunch, shaves his beard, gets a buzz cut, and comes back in sweat clothes. He does this once a month. Is that still “So awesome!” and “Cool!”?

        1. Kyrielle*

          It’s unusual, same as Michelle’s behavior. But no big deal. (Although his ability to get it done on lunch is less surprising/impressive, since a buzzcut is faster to get than a dye job.)

          Except the sweats, but the OP states that Michelle is still business-appropriate – so more like if he went out in a grey suit and came back in a navy suit.

          Doing it in the middle of a day of meetings with a client would be a problem, which is also the one area Michelle is being consistently called out on. But doing it is not a problem otherwise.

          Also, once a month is more often than Michelle is getting her hair done (but, your example posits a buzzcut, and those are going to need more frequent maintenance).

          1. KaraLynn*

            I just feel like so many people here are bending over backwards to make all this normal. Think of it this way – if these drastic changes were so acceptable, why did the OP bother to write in? It’s not because this was all slightly strange – it’s because the whole thing is borderline disturbing.

            It’s too easy to be contrarian and work to find reasons why supposedly none of this is bizarre. But if that were the case, the letter probably wouldn’t have been written in the first place.

        2. Morning Glory*

          The only thing wrong with that is the sweat clothes part, because that is not office-appropriate.

          From the letter, it seems like all of Michelle’s outfits and hairstyles are professional, it’s just the timing of the changes that seem weird to the OP.

        3. SQL Coder Cat*

          If he came back in a different office acceptable outfit, I’d probably think he was MORE awesome and cool than I think Michelle is. There is generally way more pressure on guys to dress a certain way in an office (I sometimes feel like three of my male coworkers share about five outfits between them) so as long as he was professional and did good work (which the OP said Michelle does) I would definitely consider it terrific that he was comfortable enough to make those kind of changes, especially during the work day.

  87. Sunshine*

    Are her client meetings in the morning? I second your employee being all of the awesome.

  88. Anon Reader*

    It seems like shopping may be a hobby of hers and this could be her way of managing her lifestyle/ budget. She takes public transportation, doesn’t have a car payment, insurance payment, or need to pay for gas. She is wise enough to shop a thrift stores and maybe has a timeframe when she will treat herself to a new outfit. Or, not carrying a bag and donating her current clothes may also help her only buy one outfit when she goes and keep a handle on how much clothing she has. I also suspect, she may be wearing wigs, because I don’t know how she could go shopping, change, and get her hair dyed and cut, even during a long lunch. She does not go missing from work. Is it possible, maybe she has a medical condition, like alopecia, and looking nice, getting new clothes, and changing her style builds her confidence? I am also wondering if the presentation was last minute, so she was not originally planning on going shopping during it, or if because of the presentation, she had even more of a lunch, for some reason.

  89. Barb*

    This is hilarious! Maybe it’s one of those identical twin things. On days when she doesn’t feel like going back to the office after lunch she calls in her secret identical twin. In fact, now that I wrote that down, I’m quite certain that’s the case! :)

  90. That Marketing Chick*

    As her boss, I would probably point out that she is calling way too much attention to her appearance from her peers. I can totally understand the thought process of shopping at the mall on your lunch hour (although… just bring your old clothes back in a bag and leave it at your desk so you don’t have to give away so many clothes!), but don’t *wear them back to the office* *with different hair* *with different makeup*. Weird.
    That’s not what you want to be known for in a professional environment – especially so early in her career.

  91. Barney Stinson*

    My money is on witness protection program. She’s on the run from the mob.

  92. Non-profiteer*

    I didn’t read all 500+ comments, but I don’t think anyone else has posed this theory: maybe she’s going to the gym/working out at lunchtime. When I go to my Friday lunchtime zumba class, I feel like I come back looking drastically different. I go from looking very put together to looking like I just got out of the shower – and sometimes change articles of clothing because I’m running hotter when I come back after all the cardio.

    This theory doesn’t match all the details of the question, but, I guess I bring it up because: my post-zumba self is still perfectly professional, no one acknowledges it, and we all just move on with our day. If I’m in a situation where I think people may be wondering why I look different, I’ll mention offhand that I went to zumba. No big deal. If Michelle were the OP, I might suggest mentioning an explanation just so people don’t fixate on their questions during a meeting – in other words, the distraction is in the lack of explanation.

    1. SoCalHR*

      That’s what I thought when I saw the headline of this article. But the details don’t really support a simple trip to the gym (and why put on a completely…in this case drastically… different outfit post-gym?). Side note: I would love to do Zumba at lunch but I hate the post-gym look at work :-/

  93. CaliforniaGurl*

    I’m in the camp that thinks this behavior is bizarre. At first I couldn’t really describe why, but the more I think about it the way how she drastically changes is very strange. If she got her nails done one day, changed the outfit another day or came with a new haircut, it would not seem so sudden and dramatic. But the way how she changes four or more items of her appearance is very weird.
    Also, throwing away clothes and wearing new ones. I think buying thrift store clothes with the sole purpose of getting rid of them mid-day is unusual and requires more planning than simply packing newly purchased clothes in a bag and taking them home.
    I think none of the things she does are highly unusual by itself but combining them in one lunch break makes them uncomfortably noticeable.

    1. Student*

      You can get some decent thrift store clothes for very cheap in some places. She could easily buy enough clothes to do this several times in one trip to the thrift store on $20, depending on local stores.

      I did something similar once to make souvenir room on a trip to Europe. I bought a bunch of really cheap clothes averaging $1 a piece- in that case, horrid ones that I was doing the world a favor by retiring – I wore them across Europe to visit places I’d never go to again with no shame, and threw them out after wearing them. My empty luggage at the end of the trip fit a lot of souvenirs, some of which I still have. Worked great, not something I’m inclined to repeat.

  94. nonegiven*

    It sounds like she is carefully orchestrating this. Picked out the outfit, the wig, the shoes, made the appointments ahead of time, probably has everything waiting at customer service in various stores, plus picked a suitable outfit that she picked up for cheap at her local thrift. She is probably coming in with her natural hair or a wig that she may leave to be restyled or to be traded in.

    It sounds amazing. I’m lucky to spend a whole day in a mall and come out with anything at all that fits.

    1. Wommmp*

      I thought the same – especially about having the clothes already waiting. She could be putting them on hold earlier in the week or shopping online with in-store pickup.

      The other thing I haven’t seen anyone else speculate on is, what’s the proximity of these transformations to payday? That would be a reason why she’s doing the various changes all at once instead of spacing them out – maybe payday was that day or the day before and she wants to Treat Yo Self.

      1. Wommmp*

        Also if she’s a common size it shouldn’t be too hard to find thrift clothes that are professional and cheap.

  95. Regina 2*

    Wow, very surprised at the reaction to this. I’m clearly in the minority here.

    This would be way out of the norm for every office I’ve ever worked in, and that includes in the performing arts in a quirky city. While I am sure you all can’t be wrong in your experiences, this would be so wildly distracting to me. I’m a woman in my 30s, FWTW. I’m not saying this attitude is right, and she could choose to work elsewhere that isn’t so fuddy duddy, but from my POV, it’s not worth the risk to stray outside the norms, especially in such a shitty economy. I’m also fairly conservative when it comes to dress and workplace appearance, so my mileage varies, but this is very bizarre to me.

    Even if her work product is good, in my office at least, she would eventually be passed over by someone who fits the norms more. And in my view, that is something to take note of when it comes to workplace advancement, right or wrong.

    1. paul*

      It’s weird, but if it’s only once a month like the OP says I’m not sure it’d be a huge deal IF she’s professionally dressed in both outfits like the OP says she is.

    2. Avocado Toast*

      “Even if her work product is good, in my office at least, she would eventually be passed over by someone who fits the norms more. And in my view, that is something to take note of when it comes to workplace advancement, right or wrong.”

      Is this supposed to be acceptable? You realize it is unfounded prejudice based only on your own level of comfort and perception of propriety, right?

  96. Student*

    On the flip side, she certainly got her manager to notice and recognize her. OP – any chance she’s doing this to stand out and make sure she’s “known” for something? Like, a misguided “personal brand” thing?

    It strikes me as more of a personal choice/preference/quirk/thing. But it sounds like it’s captured the office’s, and your, attention and imagination. When I was young, I did something fashion-related intended to be very distinct, personal, and make me stand out – not at this level of performance. My motivations were mixed – found it utilitarian, intended the obvious fashion item to dominate all discussions of my appearance (which, as a young woman in that time and place, were inevitable, frequent, and otherwise profoundly unwelcome to me), used the fashion item mystery to indulge my flair for the dramatic and build some personal mystique/brand/reputation.

    Incidentally, people telling me it was “inappropriate” to wear that fashion item and who lacked the ability or wherewithal to forbid me from wearing it always inflamed my rebellious streak – I would use it as an opportunity to play rebel, martyr, or drum up people who liked the fashion item to petition the complainer. If you do decide to raise it as an issue, I suggest the following tact – flatter the quirk first, then ask if she’d do you a personal favor by toning it down during Very Important Meeting because the clients are a bit square or you want their sole focus to be the fantastic thing you’re selling them and of course they’d otherwise be fascinated by the lunch makeover thing.

    Eventually I grew up and knocked it off.

  97. Jenny*

    Surprised how many people thinks this is the coolest thing ever. All that time and effort (and probably money) devoted to one’s appearance sounds terribly narcissistic. Surely people have commented on this? If you haven’t said anything you should probably bring it up just to satisfy her need for attention. Sure it’s an entertaining thing to observe but does no one wonder if she has some sort of underlying issue that’s manifesting itself this way?

    1. Gilmore67*

      Yeah,… I agree. I do not find it awesome or cool. I am not sure what about it makes it that way to some people.
      I mean what are people really saying to themselves( each other…) at work. And yes she is looking for attention. You can’t know that people are not going to take a second glance and a huh??

      Are people really thinking that coming in at 8am with a short blonde pixie cut and a pink dress and coming back from lunch as a long curly haired brunette in a black pant suit is SO COOL?

      And how many others would really do it as well. Being so cool and awesome I’d think others would want to follow?

      I mean really, who cares, let her be. But I just do not understand what makes it cool.

      1. KaraLynn*

        No, they’re trying in some strange way to show support to another woman. “She’s doing something really strange? So strange that someone wrote a letter about her behavior and how odd it is? Well, that’s… that’s got to be cool!”

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              It’s not optional here. If you can’t control it, you need to move on from the post rather than commenting on it. The alternative is getting banned from commenting.

              1. SQL Coder Cat*

                Thank you, Alison, for working so hard to keep the commenting community here respectful. I can’t imagine it’s easy or fun, but it definitely makes this a better place than many.

            2. Sam*

              It’s hard? Would you be okay with “it’s hard” as an excuse for someone refusing to respect your right to an opinion?

    2. Chickaletta*

      Yeah, I think the narcissism is what’s weird about it to me too.

      There seem to be two kinds of people in this thread: the kind who finds this level of devotion to one’s appearance as a positive thing, and the kind who think it’s a negative trait. I kinda lean towards the later because that’s how I was raised, but I can understand how some people would think it shows confidence.

      1. Liz2*

        As others have broken down though- if it’s only once a month, that’s not really at all above average in yearly costs and appointments. It’s just the timing and pushing it together which is abnormal.

        I used to wear a collar which I knew would get attention, but I didn’t wear it for the attention. Assigning a motivation is a big step.

    3. Sam*

      What’s terribly narcissistic is projecting motivations to someone’s harmless actions all because you don’t personally approve of it. Is it your time and money that’s being sacrificed for this person’s makeover? If no, then mind your business.

  98. Catnip Melba Toast*

    I want to meet Michelle so she can tell me all her secrets to transforming herself in less time than it takes me to decide what I’m going to eat for lunch.
    She just sounds totally awesome!

  99. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I think I finally figured out what is bugging me about this.

    It’s perfectly reasonable for someone to use their lunch break to get their hair or nails done or do some shopping, especially if they rely on public transportation. But changing your clothes in the middle of the day to something you’ve just bought seems to lack impulse control. Except that doesn’t quite fit because she obviously plans to do this and wears thrift store clothes that she doesn’t mind donating.

    There just doesn’t seem to be any reason other than a rip or spill to change your clothes in the middle of the day.

    1. paul*

      yeah, it’s totally bizzare to me, but eh, so are lots of things that don’t hurt me.

    2. New Bee*

      It doesn’t bug me, but I think part of what might be bothering people about this (the OP and commenters) is a bit of oversharing. If the OP didn’t know so many details about what she does with the clothes and the thrift store and such, maybe it would still read as bizarre, but the assumption would be she had a date/gig/some other mundane reason, rather than that it’s an attention-seeking production.

  100. Georgie Girl*

    I once had a boss who would be completely thrown if I had started the day with my hair down and put it back into a ponytail to do some editing. She would literally jump when she saw me with the changed hair, and later she would get startled if I put it back down. It was very confusing for her, but my hair was so thick I had no choice. We worked together for at least three years like this.

  101. Dee in Texas*

    I find the tone of both the original question and many commenters to be rather condensing. I’d recommend the original poster suspend his age and gender bias (and perhaps racial bias too).

    The are many reasons why a person may change her clothes during the workday: the office temperature is too hot/too cold, there’s a big presentation/meeting that one needs to dress (up) for, spilling coffee, beet juice, or tomato sauce on clothing, female period accident, after work plans require different attire, and more.

    The employee explained her reasons: “she prefers to get her hair and nails done on her breaks because the mall is so convenient and she doesn’t have to do it after work or on weekends.” She’s saving time and transportation money.

    I am a director at a Fortune 10 company, and I enjoyed the years when I was able to get a haircut during lunch. It was much better than extra driving on a Saturday. I keep two full changes of clothes in my cube. Probably once every other month, I completely change my clothes during the work day for one of the reasons that I listed.

  102. Lindsey*

    My first thought was that she may be black/Latina/some race/ethnicity where weaves/wigs are common. I know several people who change their hair up frequently, pretty drastically, and I don’t think much of it. But there have definitely been cases where it’s taken me a few minutes to recognize someone after they’ve changed their hair (like a neighbor in my apartment building who I see often but don’t know too well going from long black to short red hair or something). Just wanted to point this out because if she isn’t white, OP should realize that this could be more of a culturally sensitive issue than he initially thought.

  103. Jenny*

    It seems like I’m in the minority here, but this would not go over well in my office. I’m trying to put my finger on why exactly, but I think it would be seen as Michelle not being focused on her work. I imagine her supervisor would tell her she needs to stop if she wants others at the company to take her seriously. But we also have a culture of being “all work all the time,” and people rarely leave the office for more than picking up lunch/coffee to go (almost everyone eats at their desk), so that would stick out on its own, which sounds like it’s not the case here.

  104. Observer*

    I’m really bothered by the judgemental tone of a lot of the reactions. I get why a lot of people think it’s not especially cool, or think it’s weird or even bizarre. But a lot of the reaction goes waaay beyond that. And I’m not seeing any sort of rationale for this that has any basis in fact or coherent reasoning. “It’s just too unusual” just doesn’t cut it. There is a very strong undercurrent of “she’s spending time or money is ways *I* wouldn’t so it must be bad” – to the point of, in many cases, clearly misreading what the OP wrote (I’ve seen several commenters, for instance, turn up their noses at her throwing away perfectly good clothes, even though she’s actually NOT throwing them away.) Then you get the insults (accusation of being an attention hound or a narcissist) and armchair diagnoses of mental health issues. To me THAT is far more bizarre than what this young woman is doing.

  105. mimsie*

    I’m trying to understand the timing. So let’s say she starts with long blonde hair and then on one of these days she comes back from lunch with the short black hair. What does she look like for the rest of the week? Does she stick with the short black hair persona for the entire month or so before she changes to something else?

    If she’s sticking to one “look” for a duration of time before she changes to another dramatically different look, this is not that weird to me. I’d view her as a really interesting caterpillar/butterfly person that metamorphosizes on a regular basis. I think it would be kind of fun and I would look forward to seeing what she did next if I was her co-worker!

    Now if she’s just doing a dramatic ‘switch’ one day a month but the rest of the time she’s got a ‘default’ look that stays the same that’s a bit more odd and I am in Camp Sydney Bristow.

  106. only acting normal*

    It’s her clothes, her hair, her makeup, her money, and her lunch-hour – and what she does with any of those things is her business. The thing bothering the OP appears to be timing: I assume it wouldn’t be an issue if she came in Monday morning with a new look, as long as each individual “look” is suitable for their workplace.
    The only thing I’d suggest is that she doesn’t change in the middle of a presentation day, to avoid confusing people who are unfamiliar with her (e.g. I latch onto a distinctive hairstyles and clothing as short cuts to recognising individuals in a group of new people), but other than that… I’m kind of envious of Michelle. The only times I’ve worked in city centres with great shopping I’ve had really short & strict lunch breaks. And now I have the flexibility, I work in the middle of nowhere: an hour would get me to a decent shopping centre and back again but no time to shop.

  107. Need patrol*

    When I start to get bored in a position, or in a personal rut, I’ll make physical changes like dye my hair, cut it off, get a tattoo. This prevents me from job surfing and keeps the boredom at bay. This is potentially how she handles keeping herself from getting bored at work or home. I find that when I change things up, it’s easier to refocus on the project I’ve lost interest in. This could just be her way of blowing off steam and keeping herself occupied, especially since she’s still young and may feel “stuck” in a 9-5 job fresh out of college.

  108. Elizabeth H.*

    I feel like so many of the comments are trying to come up with ways it’s not at all weird (financially sensible, boredom at work, I dye my hair crazy colors too, she got too hot or too cold, she just likes to donate her clothes, she has some special event that night, makes sense to get hair cut at lunch etc.) when in reality it is just weird. It’s weird because virtually everyone wears the same outfit all day at work and even moreso wears the same makeup and nail color all day at work. It’s normal to change outfits, hair or nails in the course of a day when you’re going to different stuff like if I were working in the morning, then going for errands, then going on a date I would probably wear different outfits for all three. I think all these comments trying to justify her behavior and comments arguing against those justifications are missing the point, the point is that yes this is really weird but it’s OK to be weird (except when it confuses people because it’s in the middle of a day long meeting). Not much more to say beyond that.

    1. Observer*

      Actually, I think you are mischaracterizing the reactions. Some people think it’s cool, albeit very different. Others agree that it’s odd or weird but don’t think it’s a big deal.

      I think the reason who so many people are pushing do hard on it is because there is such strong condemnation and judgement. Comments about her mental health, being a narcissist, wasteful (based on a misreading of the letter), clearly being non-serious about her work, etc. are being made. What on earth is that all about?!

      1. Elizabeth H.*

        Right, I don’t think that it’s OK either to disparage her work ethic, cast doubts on her character, say she needs mental help, all of that. I am really bothered by those aspersions. I just meant to say like a lot of the comments saying “this actually isn’t so weird because we could explain it by x, y, z” just ended up with tons of prevaricating on both sides of the issue. I do think it tips a little toward ‘weird’ (beyond ‘different’) on the scale of typical behavior but there are tons of cool things that are weird, they are not mutually exclusive and more often perhaps mutually inclusive. I work at an art school and tons of the students do stuff that is weird but cool, I love ‘weird’ art, etc.

  109. Julia*

    To me it sounds like Michelle is very distracting. If I had to work closely with her, I would be a little uncomfortable and more than a little distracted. (I’m female, so it’s not a man-woman thing)
    When we’re supposed to be focusing on work, I would be wondering what she’ll look like, and after I saw her I’d be wondering why all the changes. I wonder if she does this for attention. I can completely understand a manager being concerned about the distraction.
    Also, my boss is overloaded and can be very scattered, and at times he’s easily distracted by bright colors and pretty things. I’m careful with my colors and accessories to minimize distracting him – it’s already hard enough to get time with him and get him to focus!
    As a person who never made more than 30,000 until I was 49, it seems like Michelle is wasting a lot of money. If she can find good suits at the thrift store, why buy them new? Does she really need a new suit every month? I suppose if she can afford it, it does benefit the charities and the economy…
    It would be really cool if Michelle does this in her social life, especially if she hangs out with artists and actors who would appreciate it. I think it’s inappropriate at work – unless she’s the star of a show.

  110. Nieve*

    As another woman I am just having a really hard time grasping how she has so much money to spend on such changes (or how she even justified spending so much on it so frequently)… Maybe its her only single vice

  111. Toph*

    I don’t have a problem putting my finger on why it rubs me the wrong way. The full change, including nails and hairstyle, even if they are wigs, begs the question: how long did this take? I know the LW said their corporate culture is that lunch hour need not be a literal hour. But I can’t imagine the type of changes he described as being doable in under 2 hours. It might seem like, sure but they’re lax about the lunch hour, and that may be true, but I’d expect it to be to a certain point. Take an hour and 20 minutes? OK nbd. but there is a limit at which one exceeds the lenience of the policy and veers into “you really should be working” territory. I don’t begrudge anyone who wants to run an errand midday over lunch, but doing so presumes they can mostly fit it in a normal lunch like time frame. The LW didn’t indicate this person was clearly, conspicuously taking excessively long lunches, but it does sound to me like a potential concern. It’s not just the change of multiple aspects of one’s appearance, it’s “how did you manage to do all that in this amount of time”. Now maybe she’s got this down and really can do it in such a short span. If so, then I’d agree the primary concern is don’t confuse the clients who met you 4 hours ago. If not, and if this is truly a once a month thing, while that might seem infrequent, if it’s that consistent and there is concern that on the days this happens, lunch is more like a 2-3 hour break, that’s way too frequent and to me, an abuse of the lax lunch policy. It’s intended to be a mealbreak. You’re still “at work” for the day. These excursions seem more like leaving, and then coming back to finish up in the evening. I’m not saying that’s what literally happens, and maybe this person is just super efficient at work that she doesn’t need to stay later to finish her daily responsibilities, but unless they have flex schedules, there’s a reasonable expectation that during work hours, other than standardish breaks, you’re at work, working. The red flags to me are entirely in the timing. But if the policy is fairly lax and everyone takes longish lunches, it may be difficult to quantify how long this is taking (and you don’t know she’s done it until she returns), and would seem odd to single out one person to suddenly attempt to track their ins and outs for lunch. So then it becomes awkward to confirm/deny the suspicion that this is might habit also entails her kind of abusing the length of the lunch break. All of which would bug me.

    Then again, there’s a reason I’m not a manager. If I were a coworker, I’d probably start noticing her ins and outs and might get resentful (if they were indeed longer than normal for the company).

    If she somehow is managing to pull off her makeovers within something close to a common length lunch break at this company, then, sure, her behaviour is unusual, but it’s also not at all actionable beyond the “don’t confuse the clients” scenario.

  112. Vicki*

    Did anyone else read this letter and think “Michelle has some serious personality issues”.

    Once a month, come in with a new look? OK. Odd, but OK.

    Once a day, come in after lunch as a completely different person? Not OK.

    1. Julia*

      Yes, it could be!

      Some of my friends like to change their hair and makeup, and some even enter modeling or photo contests. It’s a creative outlet for them. It also involves vintage and period clothes, costumes… some are performers…

      Maybe that’s all Michelle is doing, is exercising her creativity. But I still don’t think it’s appropriate at work – unless she’s in show business, not an office.

      If it’s not that it could be identity issues? general flakiness? selfishness? (not thinking of how it affects her colleagues and clients.)
      Or maybe something worse?

      1. Sam*

        “selfishness? (not thinking of how it affects her colleagues and clients.)”

        Just how does it affect her colleagues? Ooh, it makes them uncomfortable because they don’t like change? It’s selfish to not cater to people who cling to conformity?

  113. Rajesh*

    She is a witch from the Harry Potter universe. That explains all the points:
    – Change hair as required (like Nymphadora Tonks)
    – Has magic bags where she can store all items that she requires without the size of bag been obvious (similar to what Hermione carried in Deathly Hallows)

  114. CoordinatorSuperStar*

    IMHO she should not have to restrict these makeovers.

    In short, this employee gets a makeover once a month. If she did this overnight, it wouldn’t even be an issue. Once people get used to working with her and knowing her unique schedule, I don’t see how it should be distracting. This is how she makes best use of her time to do something she obviously enjoys and plans out ahead of time.

  115. Karinna*

    Yessssss Sydney Bristow!

    Honestly, I’d like to read an interview with Michelle, the international woman of mystery. This is one of the most interesting posts I’ve read here, and they are ALWAYS interesting.

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