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

Remember the letter-writer in June whose employee would frequently drastically change her appearance in the middle of the workday (different clothes, hair, and makeup)? Here’s the update.

Thank you for your response and to the commentariat for their responses. As it turns out, the situation changed the day after I wrote in to you.

A manager several levels above me asked to speak to Michelle when she was visiting our office for a meeting. Michelle had made a drastic change during another meeting with external people besides the one I wrote in about. I was off on vacation and not present at this meeting, but the manager was. She (the manager) was at the meeting I wrote in about too and had also attended a five-day seminar/trade show where Michelle was present, and Michelle had apparently made a couple of mid-day appearance changes (clothes, makeup and hairdo) when she was there.

This manager had similar concerns as me. We weren’t trying to imply in any way that Michelle should not change her appearance at all, just that she should not do it in the middle of the work day on days when she had to deal with external people. The manager said there had been comments about it at the trade show and after the meetings, and more than one person had referred to Michelle as the one who always changes when her name came up. Our office is on the conservative side when it comes to the dress code and it definitely stood out in the culture of the company.

This manager let Michelle know that the mid-day changes were affecting people’s perceptions of her and overshadowing her work. This manager told Michelle she was approaching her out of concern because she herself knew how it could be difficult for women to be taken seriously in the workplace. Michelle said she understood and thanked the manager for her help. She then left to take her lunch. Michelle returned from her lunch with a wavy, blue pixie cut. She went to the touchdown office the manager was using with her shirt completely unbuttoned and asked how professional she looked. Then she left the building and has not come back.

On Friday, Michelle emailed me and asked if I would be a reference for her during her job search. I was honest that I would have to tell the truth if I was asked why she left her job and she would be better off to have HR confirm her employment dates, but I cautioned they would also confirm she isn’t eligible for re-hire if they were asked. Michelle said she understood and wished me luck in filling her old job. It is the only contact she has made since she walked out and she never told anyone she quit, she just left.

It was truly bizarre. At no point did the manager tell Michelle not to change her appearance at all and she also praised Michelle’s work and said she wanted the focus to be on Michelle’s good performance. She only told Michelle how mid-day changes during meetings and trade shows were overshadowing her work and making people take her less seriously. The blue hair, unbuttoned shirt, walking out in the middle of the day, and quitting without telling anyone were a shock to everyone. If I had not seen it with my own eyes, I would have a hard time believing it.

(Also to clarify some things and answer some of the questions asked in the comments: I am black, Michelle is white. When I called myself older, I simply meant that I am older than Michelle. She is in her early 20’s and I am 38. Michelle drastically changes her look about once every three weeks but she only does it in the middle of the workday about once a month, the rest of the time it happens over the weekend. She lives around the corner from a mall similar to the one near our office (I have heard her talking about it). Michelle does not wear wigs, it is all her own hair and long extensions. When she changes her look during the work day she always comes back with her hair shorter and/or darker. She gets the lighter colors and/or hair extensions are done over the weekend.)

{ 645 comments… read them below }

  1. Prince of Snarkness*

    Sounds like the company dodged a bullet with Michelle leaving. She was a walking lawsuit time-bomb.

    Showing up with a blue pixie cut and an unbuttoned shirt? Nothing says “I dare you to say something” like that.

    Good riddance and let HR handle it, do not get involved.

    1. a1*

      Right? And it’s not even like it was “don’t change your appearance” request. It was a “it hurts perceptions of you when you drastically change your look, in the middle of the workday when dealing with external clients in that day . I mean, WTH?

      1. Murphy*

        I know, I feel like that’s a totally reasonable request. Big client meeting on Tuesday? Schedule your hair appointment for Wednesday. Done.

        1. Anony*

          As someone who has gotten my hair cut and dyed during the workday several times and likes unnatural colors, I think her behavior was way over the top. Being told that it looks unprofessional to do that when meeting with external clients is not an attack! That should be common sense.

        2. EddieSherbert*

          Especially since this was only a monthly occurrence anyways… so she’s not doing this frequently anyways and they’re not asking her to change her daily routine or anything. Why can’t she just go a different day that month to avoid client interactions? So strange!

          1. Mairsy Doates*

            Since she only did it monthly (more or less), I can’t help but wonder if she was doing it deliberately on days she would be meeting external clients. Just for maximum provocation value.

          2. NorthernSoutherner*

            As quirks go, I thought this was one of the more interesting. My first thought was, big deal, the blonde came back from lunch with black hair. She wants attention. But causing confusion for clients is another matter, and it was right to call her out. Her response was like something out of a ’40s femme fatale flick. So many flourishes! Then flouncing out. Applause?

        3. Else*

          Especially as this is a pretty conservative company! I feel like they were being really flexible with something that was new to them – we’ve all heard about other companies that were much more restrictive.

      2. Prince of Snarkness*

        I’ve been told the same thing. “Dress up”, “Look your best”, “Clients are coming in” and more.

        Completely reasonable.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        As someone who is bad with faces, if I were an external visitor I would probably have no idea who she was after lunch.

        1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          Yes! If I meet a couple new people in a day – and especially if I’m only going to be interacting with them short-term – I mentally classify them as things like “Sam, the guy with the purple tie” and “Clara, the woman with the curly hair.” I’d be super confused by drastic appearance changes mid-day because I’d either think I was dealing with a totally new person, or would worry that I was losing it and had imagined the curly hair I remembered from the morning.

          1. Psychdoc*

            I have a mild case of face blindness, so I just don’t/can’t rely on someone’s face to id them. Instead, I use hair. If someone changed their hair in the middle of the day, I’d be sunk!

            I have gone out to grab a patient I’d seen several times and she had changed the color and styling of her hair, and I didn’t recognize her at all. Good thing she recognized me.

        2. Specialk9*

          Oh yeah, I have a friend with
          face blindness (prosopagnosia?). He memorizes key features, and this kind of change would throw him completely. I always introduce myself by name when I see him, but apparently I am physically distinctive enough that’s not necessary.

          But can I just revel in this update? Spread it on my bed like a stack of brand new bills, and roll in its glory?


          1. Falling Diphthong*

            I don’t have the full blown version, but reading about it was a huge AHA. If this is a thing that can just not work in some people, then it also makes sense that there is a range of functioning. With your great service people instantly recalling you from that time three years ago on one end, and me on the other.

            1. The Cosmic Avenger*

              Absolutely! I think some of us even have a much higher than average sense of facial or voice recognition. Although I don’t always necessarily recall where I know it from, I almost always recognize a voice or face I have seen or heard before, like with voiceovers.

              1. zora*

                Ha, this is me, too! I call it my superpower, I can often identify actors in voiceovers within a few words.

              2. Becca*

                Super recognizers are definitely a thing! Search that term, possibly alongside prosopagnosia since sometimes they’re discussed together as two ends of a spectrum. Some can recognize people that they’ve only known as adults in childhood photos or even baby photos. It took me a long time to even be able to make an educated guess as to who *I* was in any given childhood photo! Had to send old photos to friends to see if they thought This Person on Facebook was my lost cousin, and even they, without any recognition problems, weren’t very sure about it. (She was! But we’d grown too far apart, so we don’t talk much anyway.)

                1. Sonny*

                  My grandma (age 89) ran into her best friend from kindergarten a few years ago and recognized her.

              3. Lissa*

                Yep, I have a good voice memory. If I recognize an actor but can’t come up with why or who it is, I close my eyes and wait for the voice to trigger it.

                I can also identify when my favorite musicians are guest appearing in each other’s music on the radio.

          2. Prince of Snarkness*

            I have it too.

            True story. A coworker was let go, then came back and applied for another position in the company. I ended up introducing myself to her because I didn’t recognize her in her interview clothes, new hair style and makeup.

          3. Mrs. Fenris*

            I have prosopagnosia (not terribly severe-I’m capable of learning people’s faces over time, and occasionally a face will immediately stick with me). I have a really hard time recognizing people I’ve just met. I would literally have no idea who Michelle was after lunch.

          4. another person*

            Hahaha yeah, I can’t recognize my husband out of context (like, if I see him on the street when I’m not expecting him in our neighborhood). If you changed in a business meeting, there is no way that I would remember who you were.

            1. Lise*

              I would assume that this was the other employee’s…sister or something!

              “Do you have a twin with different hair?”

              My facial recognition skills are average, I think, but this would be baffling to me as a client (but kind of amusing in a non-client-facing workplace.)

              1. Lise*

                Oh, and to add – my mother did this in the 60s once (not in the middle of the day, to my knowledge!) She had brown hair, went to the salon and they dyed her hair jet black and gave her a straight bob, and she came to work the next day in a cheongsam dress. She did have a flair for drama.

        3. Amy*

          Yes! The first time I meet someone, hairstyle and clothing are much easier to remember than faces or names. I’d be very thrown off if they suddenly completely changed their appearance midday.

          1. SignalLost*

            I was so glad when I lived with twins in college that one of them had a purple streak in her hair when I met them. It gave me time to figure out how to tell them apart (slightly different facial shapes.)

        4. JulieBulie*

          I once failed to recognize someone I saw regularly, because she started plucking her eyebrows differently.

          I was somewhat on Michelle’s side at first, but that’s because I imagined she’d be reasonable when asked to avoid doing makeovers in the middle of a visit from external people. Or reasonable in general.

          It is really strange reading this update back-to-back with the one about the woman with the skin cancer and the blanket. That woman quit her job because she doesn’t want to have skin cancer. Michelle quit her job because she was told not to confuse the clients.

      4. Red 5*

        Yeah, I mean, that’s honest advice from a supervisor/mentor that a young employee (or younger employee) should WANT to get. It wasn’t even about her, it was framed in a “this is how this is affecting you…” How many times have people said they wish somebody would just tell them stuff like this?

        This hints at some instabilities that just would have emerged in some way or another over time.

    2. Noah*

      I don’t see the “I dare you to say something.” It was a performance. She was quitting and wanted to do it with flair. I agree with you on the bullet dodging, though.

      1. Prince of Snarkness*

        Well, I wouldn’t exactly call that flair, I’d call that a tantrum.

        Now, coming in dressed to the 9’s complete with hat, walking in like she owned the place, and placing a letter written in Calligraphy on 26lb marbled paper, THAT would have been flair.

      2. Lumen*

        Wooooow. I admit I’ve been waiting to hear how this ended up, but did NOT expect that. This sounds like someone who is maybe a little unstable, but it just strikes me as vast immaturity. We all remember that group of interns who tried to challenge the dress code against all advice and were shocked that they were fired? She sounds like that: how dare anyone even comment on her appearance at work or give her some gentle advice! “I’ll show them”, etc.

        I mean… individual freedom and questions of sexism notwithstanding, the company was simply not out of line in pointing out to Michelle that this was impacting people’s view of her despite her excellent work. That was a good thing to do. It doesn’t sound like they threatened her job in any way. Even if it made her decide “huh, maybe this isn’t the job/company/industry for me”, this was a MASSIVE overreaction and an incredibly immature response.

        The thing that gets me most is that she then turned around and tried to get a reference. I mean… WHAT?

        1. Kathleen*

          My initial thought was “This woman is doing this on purpose because she enjoys shocking people.” But then I thought, “Now, now, Kathleen – that’s not very charitable. Just because you still have your original brown hair, that doesn’t mean everybody who has a yen for odd-colored hair is getting it while keeping one eye on the audience so she can enjoy their shocked reaction.”

          Buuuuut…it turns out my first uncharitable thought was the correct one. Bullet dodged, OP!

          1. The OG Anonsie*

            I was solidly in the middle of not being sure whether it was pure obliviousness or intentional shock value, but yep. This definitely answers that question, I guess.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        I enjoy a good rage quit story, but this one is sad and misguided. You want your performance to leave your coworkers thinking “Wow, I always knew management’s ridiculousness would lead good people to start just walking out.” When they’re all thinking “Whoa–bullet dodged” you’ve missed.

      1. snuck*

        (I didn’t make that comment, just thinking it through)

        Possibly because she lives very outside the social norms for the role/company – and might have taken offense to the gentle push to keep her within their protocols.

        If she continued to Radical Restyle in the middle of hte day… and was reprimanded for it… might she then have found grounds to cause union/legal/whatever other fights she could have? A person who is prepared to flout uniform/dress codes and then double flout them by ignoring reasonable directives is rarely reasonable in other areas or at other times.

        Another thing is… if she’s prepared to walk through the office with her shirt unbuttoned… what else might she do, and how might OTHER employees react particularly if she was retained. Having worked with a woman who changed her blouse in her glass walled office “but it had a privacy sticker so you couldnt’ see more than a blur of my bra!” … I’ll say that it probably left a lot of people uncomfortable, and not just women.

    3. Amy*

      While I have not read all the comments, most seem quite rude and judgemental concerning Michelle’s behavior. Quite frankly, her decision to dye her hair blue after the manager talked to her is clearly a sign of total frustration: she perceived the manager’s words as an attack on her self-image, and she clearly became so frustrated with society’s (and company’s) unacceptance of individuality that she snapped. Clearly, her intent was not to keep her job, but a way in which to cope with her frustration. So, perhaps, people need to pay more attention to someone’s personal well-being rather than to judge behaviors. Furthermore, it is heresay what the manager actually said to her. Without knowing the exact words, it is egotistical of us to put her behavior on display and to judge how we see fit. Next time, I advise trying to see things from her perspective.

      1. Anonny*

        Nope – Michelle took very reasoned feedback about how her changing looks in the middle of the day caused problems with external clients, and blew the situation up rather than thinking, “Well, perhaps I could change my style completely the day before or the day after a large meeting”.

      2. AZEsq1*

        Oh honey. No. Just no. It’s inappropriate and your average reasonably prudent 18 year old would know that, or at least have parents who knew that. She may or may not have had mental health issues, but she definitely had authority issues. The bottom line is, just like living in your parents’ homes has rules, working for people in their organizations has rules. She was probably not a cultural fit for the organization, but her recourse there was to find a place where she would fit. I hope she did, but she was wrong. I can easily see management taking the tack suggested by the letter writer, but people who are determined to find offense will find offense. The company did nothing wrong and regardless of how it was stated, the way it was framed was professional. She was completely unprofessional and I hope she rethinks her course before she’s completely unemployable.

    1. JD*

      Exactly what I was thinking. Michelle seems like she really wanted attention more than a career. Likely just age and a bit of immaturity but it is a shame as this will be perceived as odd by many employers. Heck, I went from blonde to brown one time in 4 years and my boss couldn’t shut up about it.

      1. Tad Cooper*

        I mean I’ve gone home on a Friday with dark red hair and came back Monday with platinum blond, but I did it over the weekend. I’ve also gone home one night and told my boss conversationally that I was getting a couple inches taken off, my hair was half way down my back. Came in the next morning with a pixie cut. She looked at me bemusedly as said “a couple inches, huh?” Never have done anything more than a trim over lunch.

        1. JD*

          I once interviewed for a job as longer dark hair and showed up short and blonde. I had planned the cut an appointment for months and wondered what the employer would think. It was never once mentioned. I don’t go crazy colors but my natural color is brown….surely….some shade of brown, with grey….eh who really knows… and I tend to have blonde hair until i get a hair up my butt and want to go back to brown.

            1. legalchef*

              I just spit water ALL over my desk. And keyboard. And monitor. And somehow, inexplicably, I got it on my glasses too.

              (It was a big sip of water)

            2. Wintermute*

              I’m more worried about her showing up for the job shorter than when she interviewed! shrinking ins’t normal!

            3. SusanIvanova*

              I used to have waist-length hair. At that length, loose hairs that get caught in the top of your pants… go places you’d never expect.

            4. nonegiven*

              Now, really, when my hair was longer, that’s how I knew it was time to trim it back to waist length.

          1. SQL Coder Cat*

            As someone else whose natural hair color is probably brown and grey, but can’t actualy say for sure since it’s been 15 years since I’ve last seen it, let me just say I emphasize with this comment so much!

        2. Wendy Darling*

          My boss left one day with shoulder-length dark brown hair and came back the next morning with a blonde pixie cut and I think the response can be summarized as “Wow! Looks nice!”

          It’s not that weird to change your hair but if I was meeting with one of the companies we work with and someone from their delegation left at lunch and came back with radically different hair and/or clothes I would be startled/confused. And possibly not recognize them because I’m not faceblind but I am way below average at recognizing faces.

          1. Triumphant Fox*

            I changed my hair from brown – it had always, always been brown – and fairly long, to short and WAY blonder than I intended or have ever been. I ended up loving it, but I was SO self-conscious coming back to work – it felt so not me.

            Everyone was awesome at work though – a huge confidence boost – and my favorite line was one of the partners seeing me in the copy room and saying, “wow, new branding!” (we work in teapot marketing).

        3. Prince of Snarkness*

          I went home with long hair and clean shaven on Friday and came back with a buzzcut and a beard.

          It did shock people.

      2. jk*

        This has nothing to do with age. When I was her age I wasn’t dying my hair work inappropriate colors and dressing provocatively to make a statement to my senior colleagues.

        She probably has some serious personal and mental health issues she needs to look into.

        1. Sam*

          Wow, that’s quite a conclusion to jump to based on the limited information we have. It’s possible, but it’s also possible (and more likely) that it’s simple immaturity. I work mostly with people in the traditional college age range (18-24), and as I’m sure you remember, maturation rates are highly individualized and all over the map. And young adults (I am not old enough to be using that phrase, but here we are) can be generally quite mature and still have decidedly immature moments where they act and react in a way they wouldn’t years later, with more experience under their belt.

        2. Wintermute*

          That’s a HUGE leap to drawn, plus there really isn’t any mental illness that would match that symptom at all.

          Plus deciding that your personal style matters to you more than a job isn’t unreasonable on its face, I may be in the minority (and I certainly wouldn’t quit on the spot over this) but I personally thought this was an employer intruding into someone’s personal life in an unseemly and excessive way and I might quit over that. But I have **very strong** feelings about companies acting like they own their employees’ bodies and time outside work– I see it as a messed up extension of the Victorian semi-ownership mindset where the upper class viewed servants as furniture and property and our society suffers for it to this day.

          1. snuck*

            I think there are some conservative industries… banking, legal, government defence maybe? etc.

            If you work in these fields and are a bit… wobbly… emotionally then it might exacerbate this (I say this as an obvious goth with colourful hair in tech and banking in the past)… you might feel you have to stand out a little more than usual etc.

            I’m going to agree that the girl sounds a bit… emotionally reactive. You just don’t respond to professional norms this way, particularly not if it’s a reasonable request.

            As for the body control outside of hours… do what you like outside of hours, but if your in work hours require you to meet regularly face to face with clients that care … then make sure your purple hair is amazing, and you can carry it off… or swap jobs ?

          2. Annonymouse*

            All the employer did was point out to the employee that drastically changing their apperance during lunch on days they are interacting with external clients was taking away from people noticing her skills and work.

            You might have missed the first letter but it wasn’t just a hair cut. Michelle would come back with hair that was a different cut and colour and completely different clothes

            i.e black skirt and blazer with blue top, long brown hair in the morning, break for lunch.

            return with black pixie cut, grey pants suit and white blouse.

            Did they say “never change your apperance”? No.

            Did they say “hair must be x length or only certain colours allowed”?
            I can’t find it mentioned.

            Michelle seems to deliberately be doing it to “freak the normals” considering she did it 2-3 times at a 5 day trade show and only on days where she is meeting outside clients.

            If your main joy from work is confusing people with your appearance instead of the actual work or even the pay cheque then it’s not the right place for you.

            I’m also just going to say this reminds me very much of the co-worker that wanted everyone to refer to her boyfriend as her master.

              1. Annonymouse*

                Not the sex aspect. Rather this socially unconventional thing I do is openly displayed at work and I’m forcing you to be part of it.

                And if you say anything then you are a bigot/close minded jerk even if it is inappropriate and/or unprofessional

      3. sfigato*

        What I love about this is that Michelle is complaining to all her friends about her awful, squaresville conservative former employer who told her she couldn’t change her hairstyle anymore, and she said SEE YA and left.With zero sense that maybe she was the one in the wrong in the situation.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yeah, there’s a lot going on underneath this story. I was impressed with the people who took the charitable stance that she was awesome for being so in charge of her look. I thought that was a generous perspective that I just was not feeling. But I thought, if this does not escalate, then no real problem. But it escalated. The sad thing is, if I recall correctly, she was an awesome worker. It’s too bad she made this choice.

        People try to help us establish ourselves as professionals. If we want that help then we have to be braced to hear things we may not want to hear and it might be hard advice to adopt. This story here is what happens when a person digs their heals in and makes it a hill to die on.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Seriously. It makes me a little sad. In the original story she sounded kind of awesome. This update makes her sound not entirely stable.

      1. Kathleen*

        Ooh, you’re right, Princess. When first we met our quick-change artist, she could be viewed as a rebel without a cause, but she could also be viewed as a joyful free spirit!

        And it turns out that she’s a sensation junkie, or so it seems to me. Too bad.

        1. The OG Anonsie*

          This was my exact reaction. Here I was hoping there was just a little bit of joy out there, but alas.

      2. paul*

        very strange at least.

        This was….if I was asked to rank a few possible updates this would not have been on my list. Very unexpected

    3. ThisIsNotWhoYouThinkItIs*

      I was just thinking, “Huh. That went off the rails rather quickly.”

      Really wasn’t expecting that plot twist.

    4. Caboodle*

      Yeah, I had to reread that to make sure I was understanding correctly. Such a drastic shift in tone from a reasonable chat.

  2. Windchime*

    Wow, Michelle went out in a blaze of glory! This is an awesome update. She sounds like a very puzzling person.

        1. JanetM*

          Oh, please, please may I add this to my quote file? And if so, how would you like to be credited? (The default would be, “Kyrielle, on Ask a Manager, 20171215.”)

    1. Amber T*

      Yeah… none for OP cuz I don’t think he’d have the answers. More along the lines of, “what the hell was going on inside her head??”

      But…. what… if…..

      Ok, then.

      1. BarkusOrlyus*

        I think probably what was going on inside her head was some combination of “this job is so corporate and I hate it so I’m going to keep it real until I can’t anymore” + a (perhaps willful) misunderstanding of the feedback she got = “I am going to shock the hell out of those uptight jerks with my radical self expression”

        1. Gabriela*

          Totally! I feel like 35 year old Michelle will look back with embarrassment, but will give everyone in friend group a big laugh at her headstrong 20-something year old worldview.

        2. Clever Name*

          This is my assessment as well. I hope she got a lot of social points telling her friends how she shocked the squares and oldsters at her corporate job while she looks for a new one.

          1. Soon to be former fed*

            The corporate world can be small. The squares and oldsters use social media and attend conferences and such. This person was extremely short sighted and perhaps wanted to be an actor. Walking off a job fir any reason short of abuse or risk of harm is unacceptable, full stop.

            1. Pathfinder Ryder*

              As a (stage) actor, none of us change our looks that drastically and frequently – we’d have to get new headshots!

        3. The OG Anonsie*

          And who knows, maybe there had been a lot of smaller things before this that made her feel like she was entangled in corporate BS and this was her one little wiggly thing that felt freeing. Maybe she already hated the job and the environment and just took the low hanging rebellion when they corrected her on it. She just managed to do it in exactly the wrong way and ended up looking the much bigger fool.

          I admit to having this impulse deep down when I’ve worked in places that were highly asinine with their standards. No I’m not going to wear nude trouser socks with my slacks, Susan, it’s the god damn 21st century. No one faints when they see a lady’s ankle anymore. I swear to god one day I will show up here in blue jeans, mark my words.

          1. WillowSunstar*

            And here I work for a company that is fine with us wearing blue jeans and polo shirts during the summer or plaid flannel shirts during the fall/winter. Well, as long as we’re not meeting with anyone important.

  3. I'll come up with a clever name later.*

    Thanks for the update! I had been curious about this one. It’s weird that Michelle reacted so negatively to a reasonable request.

    1. Kyrielle*

      It wasn’t even a request – just advice at that point. As far as I can read, Michelle wasn’t on notice to do anything, and if she’d just come back with a blue pixie cut but not the rest, she might still be working there. (Clearly not her goal at that point.)

      1. eplawyer*

        Her way was more important than a paycheck.
        I cannot fathom that being able to dress whatever way I want whenever I want is more important than being able to pay my bills.

        1. EddieSherbert*

          I can’t imagine her dressing how she wants and paying to change her hair every other week WITHOUT a paycheck… no matter how much she wants to!

          1. Luna*

            Right?! Getting hair and nails done is expensive! And buying all new clothes that often (plus outfits just for the purpose of throwing away? Like why not just go shopping and wait to wear your new outfit the next day?)

        2. Wintermute*

          I can, and I feel the same (though I wouldn’t quit on the spot I’d start looking hard, if finances and professional reputation afforded I might put in notice on the spot).

          My employer doesn’t own my body.

          Employers acting like they own your time outside work or your body is some effed up Victorian, robber-baron industrialist BS. It reminds me of the era where a Footman would be expected to get the kind permission of his housemaster before changing how he groomed himself, the cut of his hair, his facial hair, and so on. Screw that, this is a rental agreement, you pay me for my time you don’t own me.

          1. Annonymouse*

            Then you are in for a sad time in the corporate world.

            It is not unreasonable to expect your employee to adhere to certain dress codes or keep the same outfit/hairstyle for an entire day barring some sort of accident or emergency.

            They aren’t saying never change this or that. Rather it is confusing the clients and making YOU look bad. You’re being remembered for your looks not your talents.

            Which is not something I as a feminist want. I want to be noticed for kicking ass at my job – not that I change clothes mid shift or look great in a skirt and heels.

          2. JustaTech*

            But it wasn’t like that. The big boss said “Hey, when you completely change your appearance during a client meeting it detracts from your excellent work. Going forward could you consider not doing that?”

            Nothing about “you can’t wear this or that”, just “please don’t change drastically in the middle of a meeting, you’re getting a negative reputation”.

            And besides, it’s during the work day, which I would think would count towards your “rental agreement” theory of employment.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Agreed! Showing up with your shirt unbuttoned is O_O enough, but the whole situation sounds incredible.

          1. Wendy Darling*

            I gotta wonder if she was unhappy and/or fed up about this job for some other reason and the costume changes were her way of having some fun a context she otherwise could barely tolerate, because that’s the only way this makes sense to me. Like, “We don’t care what you do with your hair, just please don’t do it in the middle of the work day if we’re meeting with clients” is SO mild that making it your hill to die on is just *weird*.

            1. GriefBacon*

              This definitely makes sense. I’m currently in a position that stifles all of my best skills/traits, and while I don’t have/need a workplace-related outlet for that, I can totally understand a “this was the ONLY THING keeping me going and now you’re taking that away from me” sort of mentality. Doesn’t excuse ANY of it, but I can understand the mindset.

              1. Wendy Darling*

                I mean, that storyline doesn’t make it professional or good behavior, but it does drag it out of the wtf zone and into the realm of comprehensible.

                Whatever the circumstances she still went out in a giant blaze of drama.

                1. Specialk9*

                  Yeah. She still walked half naked into a manager’s office, having also done exactly what she was just counseled not to do, and goaded the manager.

            2. Kelsi*

              I almost wonder if she was previously TRYING to get them to say something (because she wanted an excuse to quit), waiting to escalate, and it took longer than she thought?

            3. Falling Diphthong*

              But that’s what makes it a Hill To Die On. There’s nothing exciting about making ‘pushed into moving traffic’ your hill to die on.

            4. The OG Anonsie*

              Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. There must have been other stuff.

              And maybe she’s one of those people who thinks anyone crossing her fun lines is a fascist. Who knows.

            5. Wintermute*

              I don’t know that it’s as mild as people are painting it!

              It reeks of a sense of entitled ownership of your employees body. For some people being told “you cannot express yourself, even off-work” is a perfectly valid hill to die on. We don’t know the reason for these changes, maybe she’s doing something right after work that this is part of, which means the employer was telling her it’s one or the other (there are some club and art scenes where drastic and dramatic personal fashion is strictly de rigur). It seems ugly to me and just drips with a sense of ownership and entitlement that makes me uncomfortable to tell your employee how they can and cannot style and groom themselves.

              1. Wendy Darling*

                But most companies DO tell their employees how they can and cannot style and groom themselves! Things that are *totally normal* for companies to prohibit include unnatural hair colors, visible tattoos, visible piercings anywhere except on women’s earlobes, partially shaved heads, blue jeans, sleeveless shirts, and open-toed shoes. Especially if the employee is public-facing, having some kind of rules about their appearance is super normal. You can argue about whether or not it SHOULD be normal, but it IS normal.

                Michelle’s company wasn’t even asking her not to have wild hair/clothes. All they did was SUGGEST (it wasn’t even an order!) that she not make drastic hair/clothing changes in the middle of interactions with external people. She could have gotten her hair done after work, or on the weekend, or at lunch on a day there were no external people. That’s like the second-tiniest dress code requirement EVER, after the unofficial west coast tech dress code (which is “clothes: you need to wear them”).

              2. Soon to be former fed*

                Fine. Die on this hill, but just be ready for the consequences. Not every work culture is for everybody, and being a poor fit for where you chose to work doesn’t entitle you to burn the place down. You will frustrate yourself trying to change things to be the way you want them. Besides, there are some who like the culture just the way it is. Finds other times to express yourself, life doesn’t have to be all about work.

              3. Annonymouse*

                But the problem is she isn’t doing it on her own time.

                She is doing it in the middle of the work day.

                If she came into work and changed at the end of the day – no biggie.

                Or came in with an unusual style – maybe a few raised brows but nothing terrible.

                Coming in as a long haired blonde and returning to work with a raven pixie or equivalent once a month only on days you have clients over? That’s a very specific kind of weird.

            6. Soon to be former fed*

              Who can ever know what someone behaving in such an unusual manner is thinking? We like to try to make sense out of behavior lime this, but sometimes there is no reasonable rationale.

  4. Sandra*

    I don’t understand why anyone’s age or race is relevant to this at all.

    I also was floored that in comments of the original letter, someone said they have a hard time with change and would not be able to deal well if their coworker did what Michelle did. People said they should ask their coworker to tell them when the changes were going to happen and/or run them by the commentator for approval. I was shocked that this is an acceptable thing to have to get approval about your appearance from a coworker. Apparently I am the only one who felt this way ;/

      1. Specialk9*

        I thought it was because many black women (at my offices at least) wear wigs, so a dramatic hair change wouldn’t be that weird, as opposed to a cut and color at lunch time. It could seem a bit racist-adjacent.

    1. Prince of Snarkness*

      If you’re on the autism spectrum, or have the condition “Face blindness” changes like that can be extremely jarring.

      I have both. IF someone did that at my office, I literally wouldn’t recognize them.

      1. kible*

        same, i have poor vision and probably face blindness, plus don’t like looking at people in the face anyway.

      2. Sandra*

        I empathize that it would be jarring for you, but it is is no way acceptable for anyone to have to run by/get approval from a coworker if they want to change their appearance. At all.

        1. Brandy*

          I agree. I’m getting my hair cut tomorrow. Its no one in here’s business. I mean what if the co-worker says No?

          1. sunny-dee*

            Well tomorrow is Saturday, so presumably you’re not walking in as a redhead with curls down your back in a navy sheath dress at 8am and then getting back at lunch as a blond with ombre in a chin-length bob and a red sweater and jeans.

            It’s the timing and the dramatic nature of the changes that is what is so weird. No one is saying you can’t get a new hairstyle without a vote in the office.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          I get that it might be a kind heads-up if someone finds change really hard to process and needs to think about how “Michelle sits by the ficus and has long ash brown hair” is now “Michelle sits by the ficus and has short red hair.” But not asking for approval–that’s bizarre.

          I’m now thinking of the woman who told her husband, who never noticed her haircuts, that she was going to make a big change and really needed him to notice and comment on it that night. That night he got home and obediently raved about how different she looked, only to learn that the hairdresser had to cancel the appointment.

          1. Specialk9*

            Nobody said she needs approval, that’s not even what was said. They said that changing mid day distracts from her professional reputation.

      3. Katniss*

        Yes, but I doubt you would expect your coworkers to tell you ahead of time about every change in appearance they plan to make.

        1. Prince of Snarkness*

          1)These were not little changes 2)I never said that I would expect anything from anyone

          All I said is that I literally wouldn’t recognize anyone who did that because of my disabilities. Why are you taking issue with that?

          1. Katniss*

            My apologies, it seemed a reasonable conclusion since you were responding to a comment about just that: expecting coworkers to alert someone ahead of time about changes to one’s appearance.

            I am not at all taking issues with the fact that you wouldn’t recognize someone who did that. But because of what you were replying to, I was re-asserting that there isn’t anything out there that would make it okay to require coworkers to get approval ahead of time for even drastic changes to their apperance.

          1. Green*

            No. I’m saying that accommodating your disability is something you guys could easily work out, without your colleagues needing to give you warning about changes. You’re asking for an unreasonable accommodation when a reasonable accommodation would work:
            “I’m sorry, I don’t recognize you.”
            “Oh, it’s Kate! I just changed my hair!”

            1. Green*

              Sorry, I also misread your comment as defending the request that colleagues warn you or ask around before making appearance changes, since you were replying to that.

              I don’t think anyone here has an issue with the disability, just the particular request for accommodation that you apparently didn’t make. :)

              1. Prince of Snarkness*

                Right, sorry.

                I was just trying to say it would be jarring. And yes, if I were to make such a request, it would be unreasonable.

      4. Magenta Sky*

        I feel your pain (though very mildly). It confuses me when someone changes their appearance suddenly.

        But that’s about *me*, not them. Plus, I think it’s kind funny (my reaction, not their change).

        1. Wendy Darling*

          My partner used to let his hair get really shaggy and then get it all buzzed really short, and it took me 2-3 days to get used to it every time for YEARS. Every time I saw him for a few days it would take me a second to realize he wasn’t a stranger. I’m used to it now but we’ve also been together for 10 years now.

      5. Wendy Darling*

        I’m not face-blind but I’m like… face-nearsighted. I can recognize faces, I just suuuuuck at it. It takes me a really long time to be able to recognize someone by face alone, and I tend to use hair as a crutch until I can manage it. (I’m also REALLY good at recognizing people by voice.)

        If Michelle had been someone I’d met 1-2 times for a couple hours and she left, drastically changed her hair and clothes, and came back an hour later, I probably wouldn’t realize she was the same person (and be really confused about why I recognized her voice).

        I’m definitely not offended by anyone changing their look and I don’t expect them to consult or warn me at all. (I would appreciate them cutting me a little slack if I don’t recognize them from across the room, though!) I do understand how it could be a distraction in the context of a business meeting with people who don’t know the person well, though, and I don’t think “please do not drastically change your entire look in the middle of the workday when we are meeting with external people, it makes them focus on that instead of how badass your work is” is a big ask at all.

        1. Kelsi*

          This is a good way to put it! I also am not technically face-blind, but I have to meet someone like, 6-10 times, relatively close together, to be able to recognize them by their face vs. by context clues. Even then, if I see them outside of their usual context, it’s like “this person seems familiar but I don’t know who they are.” It caused me no end of anxiety in school, and still occasionally stresses me out when I know I’m going to be expected to meet up with someone and don’t feel confident about getting the right cues (like, meeting up with a newish coworker at another office, where I don’t know if they’ll be wearing a hat and coat, and I’m not sure if they’ll be the only one waiting or if I will have to pick them out of several people).

        2. Nita*

          Aha! Now I know how to call what I have. I remember people’s names and faces only after I’ve met them twice. And this stuff seems to run in my family.

        3. Lynxa*

          I am SO the same way. It’s really embarrassing because I can never remember where I know someone from if they’re familiar. In a new office it takes DAYS for me to remember peoples’ faces and connect them to a name.

        4. Noobtastic*

          I imagine a client going through this:

          Morning meeting, thinks: “This is a very interesting presentation. I need to ask a question of this presenter. Whoops! Didn’t have time to do it before lunch. I’ll have to ask it after lunch.

          After lunch: Well, this sucks! We have a new presenter, and now I can’t ask the question of that smart blonde in the red shirt. I don’t know if this brunette in the green suit knows anything about this subject!

          That’s the whole point. She can make the changes, drastic as can be, on literally *any other day* than when they have external people coming in, without any adverse reactions, at all. But the clients were confused, and thus, they did not think as well of Michelle as they should/could have, because she basically cut their time with her in half. Now, they are judging Michelle 1, who gave that morning presentation, and then disappeared completely, without warning, and Michelle 2, who showed up late, and gave the afternoon presentation, without even bothering to apologize for her tardiness, or adequately introduce herself.

          That’s it. That was all they *suggested* (not commanded, demanded, ordered, or asked), and she had a level-10 snit-fit.

      6. Marie*

        I would have thought in such cases the solution would be for the co-worker to warn you in advance. They should not have to get approval for how they change their hair from you but if you literally won’t recognise them (I used to go to school with someone with face blindness she regularly blanked people by mistake so I sort of understand your issue) a warning that they will return from lunch or the weekend with blue hair or whatever would be polite.

        1. Prince of Snarkness*

          A coworker was let go, came back to apply for another position, and I introduced myself to her, not knowing who she was.

          It’s unnerving.

      7. BooBoo*

        In my first job I often changed my hair color/cut (Brown to Blonde to Red to Black, all of varying lengths). One of our clients who came in every Friday said he had trouble recognizing me when I would drastically change my hair and just asked if I would email him if I changed styles before he came in so he didn’t embarrass himself by not recognizing me in front of other clients/staff. It wasn’t asking me to get his permission, just give him a heads up so we could both save face.

      8. BananaPants*

        Well, then you’d just have to deal if I was your coworker. I’m not running haircuts and appearance changes by coworkers.

      9. WillowSunstar*

        I have a co-worker who obviously uses extensions, but even she would only change it after work and never in the middle of the day.

        I guess I just have never bothered with hair extensions. If I want my hair long, I just don’t get it cut. If I want it short, I get it cut short. It’s not that hard and probably is less expensive.

    2. kible*

      i think the age/race thing at the end of the update was just clarification from LW because the comments on the original were wondering. there’s no harm in being curious.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Because people were asking in the comments on the first post whether race could be at play because significant hair changes can be seen as much more normal in some cultural or racial demographics than others, and if the OP was white and Michelle wasn’t, there might be cultural issues at play. Age could cause similar differences in points of view/biases.

      1. Elizabeth H.*

        I was amazed and pleased at how succinctly and precisely the OP answered all of the questions about logistical factors that were debated so hotly: how she gets her hair dyed a lighter color during a lunchbreak (she doesn’t), if she makes her hair longer if it’s via extensions (yes), does she do it outside of work also (yes), are there any cultural factors that affect behavior and perception (probably not), and so forth. I feel 100% satisfied by this update. The only missing piece is what Michelle herself thinks about all this. But Windchime said it best above, she sounds like a puzzling person.

    4. sunny-dee*

      I don’t think it’s approval for the change — it’s the timing and frequency which is off-putting. Changing your entire outfit, hair color, and hair length in the middle of a day-long customer meeting is just bizarre behavior.

      1. Mockingjay*

        I’d like to know what kind of work Michelle did that she had time for all these drastic hair and wardrobe changes. When we have meetings with the program sponsor, I rarely have time to use the restroom. Lunches are usually an extension of the meeting – no break there! If I don’t go out, I swallow a sandwich while prepping for the afternoon session. I have to wonder about the quality of her work.

        1. Antilles*

          There are a lot of ways this could work.
          >Maybe it’s a meeting where people come and go as needed – from 9-11 we’re going to have engineering meet with the client to get a picture of their needs, but then from 11-12 we’ll be discussing budget so we don’t need the engineers here for that, and then we reconvene after lunch with the full team – so Michelle can use that time from 11 until after lunch to change her appearance back.
          >Maybe it’s a high end client so the boss takes them to lunch, but Michelle (being a more junior person) isn’t invited to attend because of the dynamics/cost.
          >Maybe everybody goes to lunch and Michelle just skips out because she has an appointment.

        2. Thlayli*

          Op answered some of that in the original post (or possibly in the comments?) they have hour long lunches and they are near a big mall.

        3. Lara*

          Eh? Having time for a lunch break doesn’t mean you’re a poor quality worker. And OP said Michelle was actually excellent in many ways.

    5. LaurenB*

      I looked at the original thread quickly and couldn’t find anything like that. Are you sure it wasn’t sarcasm? The comments on the original thread definitely swayed in favour of letting Michelle do Michelle, so I imagine that there could have been some ironic pushback on people saying they’d find it offputting or distracting.

      People also speculated that Michelle was black and that the OP didn’t understand the cultural context for her wearing wigs.

        1. Lissa*

          I’m puzzled as to how those comments would make you feel you’re the “only one who felt that waY” when the majority of the comments on the original posts were pro Michelle and some very defensive of her! This thread you quoted was one person who has a disability and a discussion about what would be reasonable, with some of the other replies seeming to think it would not be a reasonable accommodation.

          1. Pudgy Patty*

            No kidding. I remember that thread as being VERY pro-Michelle, and was curious how the reaction to this update would be.

        2. Jesca*

          That is small thread within hundreds of other comments where no said anything like that. I’m not sure why you thought “no one agreed with you” to think otherwise?

        3. Mustache Cat*

          Wow, those comments in no way resemble the way you’d represented them. The anon only wanted a heads-up, and talked about doing extensive therapy before even considering getting to that point.

    6. Louise*

      Race is important because black women are frequently told that their natural hair is “unprofessional” and are a lot more likely to have their hair touched/commented on/policed by others. A group of all white employees telling a black woman that her hair is unprofessional would have some not insignificant racist undertones.

      1. LBK*

        I also think black women are much more likely to have short natural hair and wear wigs/weaves over it that could change dramatically from day to day and cause surprising, unnatural changes to hairstyle like suddenly getting 2 feet longer overnight. I’ve had two black, female coworkers who’ve changed up their hairstyle regularly like this, and I do think it could be jarring if you’re not culturally accustomed to it.

        1. Soon to be former fed*

          Not really. This is a stereotype. Lots of black women have longer hair. Black woman here.

      2. Chalupa Batman*

        This was my thought as well. I’m a black woman (well, biracial-looks-black), and I’ve been thinking of changing my hair, which I currently wear natural. I think I may be the youngest person in my department and the only POC. The style I’m considering is a little more radical, and it’s very much on my radar that various styles on natural hair is considered unprofessional much more quickly than most common white textures. Luckily, I don’t expect blowback from my coworkers except maybe one or two that are kind of jerks anyway, but that doesn’t include my boss, so I don’t care.

      3. Soon to be former fed*

        THIS. Black woman here. Its not the hair changes that stood out to me, bit the complete midday makeover thing I found astounding. An hour would not be enough time for me to do all of that.

    7. Say what, now?*

      Nope, Sandra. I thought it was out of line as well. I can’t imagine a point where I’d care (provided they were in the parameters of our very, very lax dress code).

    8. Annabelle*

      I’m not sure about age, but I believe the race thing came up because lots of WOC wear wigs and commenters figured that might account for the hair changes.

    9. NaoNao*

      I think the reason the OP mentioned it is because when the letter initially ran, some people were asking (nicely) if there were some cultural norms at play here and noting that the letter writer might want to be extra careful in that case. For example, some commenters noted that it’s more common in some cultures to use wigs/extensions and to change hair do’s dramatically from day to day and perhaps that was part of the issue.
      Or, for example, a younger generation may be more comfortable with dramatic mid day changes due to a variety of factors.

      So that’s what race and age have to do with it.

    10. Observer*

      I don’t understand why anyone’s age or race is relevant to this at all.

      It shouldn’t be, but some people on the original thread asked about the possibility that age and race might be playing into perception.

      In any case, the issue was not that the OP was expecting Michele to ask permission for these changes. They were concerned that under some circumstances it’s distracting and overshadows the work that they are trying to do. And, based on what the manager said, it sounds like that was a valid concern. When this is the thing you get known for that’s not a good thing. For example, I make awesome latkes, but I don’t want to be known in my office as “the person who makes latkes. Oh and she’s really great with the computers.” I want to be know as “the person who makes all the computer stuff work, and work well. Oh, and she makes great latkes.”

    11. Fashonista*

      Definitely not the only one. Frankly, I don’t see what the big deal is. So she changed outfits during the day. Big whoop.

    12. Tuxedo Cat*

      I think if the change is extreme in a conservative or not super artsy environment, I think asking a trusted colleague or your manager is smart. I’m thinking people who might go for blue, green, and purple hair. Probably bright red hair is unacceptable in some environments too.

      However, when the changes were going happen? That seems odd to inform someone about unless it had some bearing on the grander scheme of things, like if you needed an updated headshot ASAP for some reason.

    13. Lindsay J*

      That was like one comment thread in the whole thing.

      And nobody advocated that the changes needed to be run by the coworker for approval. Just give them a head’s up.

      There a huge difference between, “Is it okay if I change my hair-style to being long and black with face framing pieces with layers in the back?”

      I would never say someone should have to run that by a coworker (unless they’re some sort of performance artist/actor where their natural hair is important).


      “Hey, I’m on my way to the salon. I think I’m going black with extensions today!”

      It doesn’t give the coworker (again, with medical issues that specifically make changes like these distressing to them) the right to veto the change, it just gives them a bit of time to mentally prepare (perhaps over their own lunch) before the coworker comes back looking completely different.

      And this is coming from someone who is pretty anti-changing my personal routine to acommodate people unless necessary. (Like, it’s taken me a long time to find a beauty regimen that works for my skin and hair. If a coworker has extreme scent issues, I would really prefer other accommodations be looked into before I am required to change what products I use at home.)

      But nobody was advocating that she stop request a coworker like this to stop changing, nor that she should be able to veto the changes, just that a quick friendly heads-up before it happened would be nice and not out of line to ask for if the change was going to be drastic and happen in the middle of the day.

      And really, someone with Autism’s right to go through the workday without being unduly distressed by sudden, drastic changes outweighs any perceived “right” that there might be for someone to go get their hair cut and change their clothes at lunch time. So even if they were being asked to not change their appearance midday at all, I don’t think it would be all that out-of-line. (It would be if they were asked not to change their appearance ever to not upset the coworker, but frequent midday changes are far out of the norm for most people, while going from blonde to brown overnight or over the course of a weekend is not.)

      1. Nichelle*

        Seriously? As someone with two decades of experience in HR and employment law, in two different countries (including the USA) and who is the sibling and niece of people on the autism spectrum, you could not be more wrong or wildly misinformed.

        The fact that you put “right” in quotes and used the word perceived (And really, someone with Autism’s right to go through the workday without being unduly distressed by sudden, drastic changes outweighs any perceived “right” that there might be for someone to go get their hair cut and change their clothes…) shows how misguided you are. Changing ones clothes or hair or anything else about their appearance is personal and no one can tell you that you have to run it by someone else. If an individual on the Autism spectrum or with any other kind of mental health issue has trouble with change, the onus is on them to work on that through therapy or other means. Suggesting that people can’t change their appearance when it suits them and putting “right” in quotes is wildly off base and out of touch with reality.

        Incorrect opinions like yours contribute to a lot of misunderstandings about employment law and stigma and misunderstanding around the Autism spectrum disorder. Frankly, your statement is probably the dumbest thing I have ever read.

        1. Lindsay J*

          But in most jobs you don’t have a right to look however you want to look at all.

          Plenty of jobs can require you to not have unnatural hair colors, or to wear the same exact uniform with no variation day after day, etc. I’ve worked several places where there was specific guidance about makeup as well, indicating that it had to be neutral colors and contribute to “a fresh outdoorsy look” or something similar to that (it wasn’t the direct wording, but it was close).

          That is more of what I was getting at with the right comment with right in quotes than anything else, because, as far as I know you don’t have a right to express yourself that way in a work context.

          1. Nichelle*

            The conversation wasn’t about uniforms or what a company can require. You said:

            And really, someone with Autism’s right to go through the workday without being unduly distressed by sudden, drastic changes outweighs any perceived “right” that there might be for someone to go get their hair cut and change their clothes…

            That statement is wrong. There is nothing about uniforms, dress codes or anything like that. Alison posted a comment below mine from a person who works with people on the Autism spectrum. Your statement that I quoted above is harmful, misinformed and contributes to the stigma.

          2. JamieS*

            True but there’s a pretty distinct difference between a company saying “we have a conservative image so the dress code doesn’t allow wild blue hair” and a company saying “Jane in marketing doesn’t like changes to appearance so everyone has to run any plans for a haircut by her first”.

            Also, far as I’m aware, there’s no “right” to not feel distressed.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I received an email from someone who works at an organization that provides support to people with autism and I wanted to pass on what she said. She felt strongly that this kind of comment perpetuates the stigma around autism by making people with autism sound unreasonable — and noted and that people with autism would expect to deal with this kind of thing through behavior therapy or other means. She said, “If anyone suggested this as an accommodation to a person with Autism I would be horrified and if it were anyone who used the services of my nonprofit that kind of talk would be shut down immediately. Stuff like this makes persons with Autism seem less than human.”

        I think that’s really valuable input and wanted to make sure it was included here (with her permission).

        1. Lindsay J*

          I was just making my comment based off of the comment that Sandra indicated she was talking about in the original thread. She linked it on one of her below comments.

          In that poster, the commenter indicated that she had autism and anxiety and that thus type of change would make her feel deeply unsettled and caused her to be able to concentrate on her work and would be something she did have to spend hours working on in therapy, and was wondering what she could do about it if she were coworkers with Michelle.

          I was just trying to point out that I felt that Sasha was taking that comment thread deeply out of context because nowhere in that thread did anybody express that the coworker should have approval or veto power at all, just that if the person doing the change were willing to give a friendly heads-up before it happened that that might be helpful.

          I was just going on the original commenters word that the change would make it very difficult for her to work and that it would be distressing to her, and on what her specific diagnoses are. I did not mean to stereotype people with Autism or other mental disorders at all.

          The accommodation thing was meant to be more rhetorical than anything else and perhaps I went too far with that.

          However, as far as I know you actually don’t have the right to drastically change your appearance in the middle if the work day, do you? I mean, if companies can have a uniform that you are required to wear every day, or a dresscode that states you can only wear black, or rules that you can never have unnatural colored hair or “extreme” hair styles, or can tell you that they have a scent free environment and so you need to change your shampoo and hand soap and laundry detergent, can’t they just as easily make a rule for no reason at all stating that you must wear the same clothing throughout the entire work day? That was more what I was getting at, that Michelle or whiever theoretical person that likes to do this probably doesn’t actually have any sort of right to be able to do this at all?

          Not that I ever would recommend that as an official accommodation. I was, again, more just being extreme because I felt Sasha was completely misrepresenting the original comment she was referring to, because she indicated that everyone seemed to believe that Michelle should need to gain approval from her co-workers for every change, when it was one small thread of maybe a couple dozen posts in a seceral hundred comment post, it was not even really discussing Michelle and the original OP and more discussing what the commenter asked, at no point was permission or approval ever discussed, and it wasn’t the coworker wanting to police Michelle’s appearance because they thought they should be able to control their coworker but someone asking how to cope with something someone was asking that was causing them acute distress. It really seemed to me like Sasha was distorting the comment thread to imply that the vast majority of commenters thought that every coworker should have a say in everything someone does to their bodies when that wasn’t whst was being said at all.

          (And I do admit that I clearly do not know where the actual line is as far as what companies can and cannot require as far as personal appearance at work. Because clearly you can require some things as part of a dress code, but requiring everyone to dye their hair brown seems like it would clearly not be okay or on the right side of the law. And dresscodes can be vague (like referencing extreme hair styles) which seems like it can result in people having to run changes in appearance by someone in power for approval to determine whether it is extreme or not. (Are buzzcuts extreme? What about undercuts?)

          And I kind of feel like Nichelle calling my comment the “dumbest thing she has ever read” was a bit harsh.

          1. Helena*

            A company can certainly require employees to wear a uniform.

            A company can certainly require employees to only have natural hair colors (and not ones like blue or pink)

            A company CANNOT tell an employee they can’t get a haircut at lunch because it distresses or upsets their coworker. It is not a perceived right as you said. It is a right. No workplace can forbid changes to clothing or appearance because it upsets or distresses another person. Period.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I do see what you’re trying to say! I think you’re hearing disagreement with the idea that it would be reasonable to expect someone to give that kind of heads-up beforehand (and when you frame it in terms of rights, I think that gets problematic) … and raising the concern that by framing it that way, you’re inadvertently making people with autism seem unreasonable or like they’d require pretty unusual hand-holding. That’s where the push-back is coming from!

            And yes, agreed re: that comment from Nichelle — sorry, I just saw that when you pointed it out. (But yes, Nichelle, please be kind and polite to other commenters here even when you strongly disagree!)

    14. Wintermute*

      You’re not the only one! I’m stunned!

      It’s some serious old-school classist BS that reminds me of Victorian footmen that would have to get the permission of their master before they could change their grooming or hair. Modern-day employment is strictly a rental agreement, they don’t own you.

    15. Michelle is a Bad-Ass*

      Agreed. I thought she handled that with complete on-point badassery.

      All those negative Nellies: if they had said something in her first month or two about it, she probably would have probably just graciously quit. Instead, it was brought up *several* months under the guise of “we’re looking out for you” when they really meant “we’re uncomfortable with you.”

      1. Anonny*

        Nope – Michelle was causing problems with external clients because she’d change not only her hairstyle/color drastically, but also her clothes mid-way through the days where they had meetings. That’s just plain confusing for clients (and there were complaints made by clients).

  5. MoinMoin*

    Wow! Thanks so much for an update, OP. In the first couple paragraphs I was thinking the manager did a really good job framing the issue and being supportive, so it’s unfortunate that it still ended like that.

    1. Green*

      I wasn’t big on the “women can have a hard time being taken seriously in the workplace” framing. Presumably if a male colleague changed hair color and styles dramatically, the problem would be the same.

      1. Clever Name*

        Eh, but women do sometimes have a hard time being taken seriously at work. If a woman wears any clothing that goes outside of a very narrow range – too “frumpy”, too tight/revealing (which can be totally not too much of either, but too much for your colleagues) – people focus on the clothing rather than the work.

        Men’s work wear functions almost like a uniform – you see the guy, not the clothes. For women, it is different.

        Yes, a man changing in the middle of the day would also make it hard to take him seriously, but women in general, in many industries, already start on the “not serious” side of things. We typically have to do more to prove ourselves than our male counterparts. We usually have to earn being taken seriously, more so than men.

        1. Jesca*

          Yeah its like when is the last time you heard someone make a comment about a male politician’s wardrobe? When was the last time you heard comments about a woman’s? I mean that is just one example. When people say things like that, this is what they mean. They do not mean that is will never happen to a man; they mean it happens regularly for women.

          1. Hello...ello...ello..ello..llo..llo..lo*

            Oddly enough just this week (or last maybe). I was listening to talk radio and there was a whole segment on the ties all of the Congressmen were wearing. I’m not sure how it came up in the story but there was an entire 5 min interlude to the story to discuss the ties, how they were all wearing the same color, the description of the color, and how stupid they all looked. Total Bipartisan Tie Mockery.

            I do get your point though, it isn’t very often that men are mocked for their clothing choices.

          2. Politico*

            You’re kidding, right? Oh, let me count the ways.

            1. Lamar Alexander and his Paul Bunyan-esque red checkered shirts.
            2. The late Senator Paul Simon and his bow tie. (They made an SNL skit out of it.)
            3. “Mitt Romney, who dresses like the guy who fired you.”
            4. Barack Obama and his suits — well-tailored, but all of the same color.
            5. Donald Trump and his oversized suits, too-long ties, and scotch-taped tie clips.
            6. Al Gore and the earth tones.
            7. Gerhard Schroeder (OK, outside the US) and his hair dye.
            8. Jeff Bingaman and his keds sneakers.
            9. Gov. Brian Schweitzer and his bolo tie crusade.
            10. Jimmy Carter and his cardigans.
            11. Ronald Reagan, Marlboro man
            12. Justin Amash and the colored socks.
            13. Rudy Giuliani and *his* oversized suits.
            14. Bill Clinton and the “no neckties” summit with Pres Yeltsin
            15. W and his “always neckties” rule in the Oval Office.

            1. Mike C.*

              I’m a massive political junkie (domestic and international) and I’ve never seen half of these references. Up until recently nearly every time I saw a female politician her clothing was mentioned as though she were walking a runway.

                1. Wintermute*

                  “my good man if I had two faces, do you think I would be wearing this one?”

                  One of the most brutal political comebacks of all history.

            2. Prince of Snarkness*

              16: John Edward’s hair
              17: Richard Nixon sweating during the debate
              18: All the “Curious George” references to George W. Bush’s appearance
              19: Reagan’s age, which he turned around well though
              20: James Buchanan being called “Aunt Nancy”
              21: Abraham Lincoln’s appearance being likened to that of a gorilla

            3. Ask a Manager* Post author

              It’s really well established that women are criticized far more frequently and harshly for their appearance and clothing choices than men. A list like this doesn’t change that reality.

            4. Kate 2*

              You are including examples from completely different decades to make your list of 15. I think that shows what a stretch this is.

              1. Lynxa*

                Right? Let’s see the same list for female politicians.

                (I’ll note that I’m a fairly old political junkie and I don’t recognize most of the things on this list. Trump’s ties and bad suits, and Obama’s tan suit are the only recent ones I remember.)

              2. Just Jess*

                “Meanwhile, here are 1,500 links from today specifically about the looks of women in politics…”

        2. Green*

          But a manager should not perpetuate that. The request was not out of bounds in this situation, but I think the framing was.

          If you’re a manager, in response to comments disproportionately impacting women, you should put a stop to the comments, not ask the woman to change something that would go unnoticed if she were a man.

          1. Lindsay J*

            They were not perpetuating it. Perpetuating it would be saying to other people, “Michelle doesn’t concentrate on her work, obviously just her clothes.” Or ranking Michelle lower on her reviews, or not giving her a raise because of her choices with her appearance.

            Just explaining that things are how they are is sometimes necessary, and useful to the person being given advice. One manager is not going to be able to change the opinions of everyone in their workplace, never mind everywhere Michelle might work in her career. They can call out people who comment on it, and maybe they will change people’s opinions or maybe people will just stop voicing that particular opinion in front of that particular manager.

            We can work to change the framework, while acknowledging that the shitty, sexist framework still currently exists.

            And for what it’s worth, I think this behavior would not go unnoticed if it were a man (if anything it could possibly be amplified because men are not “supposed” to care about their appearance so drastically changing outfits or hairstyles frequently could be seen as even more out of the norm.)

            But even if it weren’t, acknowledging that sexism exists isn’t automatically sexist in itself.

          2. Annonymouse*

            That’s the way it is in society though.

            Pointing out that people are perceiving you a certain way because of your actions doesn’t make you a bad guy.

            A bad guy would spread rumours around or tear you down behind your back and never bring the issue to your attention to get it fixed.

      2. Drew*

        If a man did that, it wouldn’t feed into the same stereotypes of women being overly concerned about appearance, “flighty,” etc. We can’t fight stereotypes by denying that they exist.

        1. SarcasticFringehead*

          Exactly – if a man does it, the response is going to be “what a weird dude,” but for a woman, you’re going to get some of that “ugh, women are so shallow and obsessed with their appearance.”

        2. Green*

          No, but if you’re a manager, you fight stereotypes by saying, “Jane’s one of our best accountants” and shutting down sexist comment.

          1. Samata*

            I am not sure how not recognizing someone when they leave for lunch with long dark hair and come back with a blue pixie cut is sexist? It’s not recognizing them. If a guy left a meeting with a bushy beard and dark hair and came back clean shaven with green hair I’d probably not recognize them. Is that sexist too?

            I realize this sounds shitty and I don’t mean it to, but I don’t know how to frame my question and after multiple retypes this is as good as I can get.

          2. MoinMoin*

            You can do this while also letting the employee in on how she’s perceived, though, especially when it’s part of a bigger picture of addressing a work issue. I would agree it’s not helpful in cases where the only issue are other coworkers being stereotyping jerks.

          3. Lindsay J*

            But you’re not going to be able to say that to everyone Jane encounters over the course of their career.

            And, saying that might not change the person’s opinion – they will just learn not to make comments about Jane to you, while still thinking that Jane is flighty or not good at her job.

            That doesn’t mean that we stop calling out people who make comments like that. But it does mean that if you’re gunning for a promotion and you know that your boss or company are stodgy that maybe you stop changing appearances midday unless you feel that changing your appearance midday is more important to you than the promotion.

            I mean. I work in a warehouse. I don’t see customers. I really think I should be able to come into work without brushing my hair because brushing my hair doesn’t affect how I do my job. Nor does wearing a ratty old hoodie. (Heck, those two things didn’t affect my ability to do my job when I was a cashier either – I was still just as courteous, knowledgeable, fast, and competent with unbrushed hair and a dirty hoodie as I was dressed up and with my hair and makeup done.) But in order to be seen as competent and promotable in a lot of industries you need to dress and act the part as well as being good at your job.

            1. Green*

              Just to be clear: you CAN make a gender neutral request that she not radically alter her appearance in the midst of meeting with external stakeholders.

              You SHOULD NOT frame it as “because it’s hard for women to be taken seriously, I’m making this request” as the manager in this letter did. Make sense?

              1. a1*

                But that’s not why she was make the request. The request was being made due to client comments/feedback. The management was also acknowledging that being judged on appearances is harder on women, but that was not the reason for the request. And it was quite a mild request – please don’t do this on days where you’re working with external clients. Not please don’t do this at all, or any restrictions on hair color or clothes. I’m not sure what the big deal is here.

                1. Green*

                  Bringing gender into it was wholly unnecessary, particularly in noting (and appearing to reinforce) that women struggle for credibility in the workplace in some fields.

      3. LawBee*

        When dress codes are as focused on menswear as they are on women’s, then yeah. But that’s not the reality. It starts in school (no tank tops for girls! No yoga pants! No visible bra straps [which good luck with that because those things fall down all the time]! No open-toed shoes!) and never really ends.

      4. Observer*

        It should be, but in real life, not likely. For a man it will probably be better – seen as just a quirk rather than proof that he’s a lightweight OR it will be worse as he’ll be seen as having a PROBLEM of some sort. A woman will often just be seen as “oh, just one of these women who are too obsessed with their clothes to spend to much thought on anything else.”

        Should it be that way? Of course not. But reality doesn’t always act the way we want it to.

      5. Tuxedo Cat*

        I get what you’re saying and agree in principle. However, in theory, I have to operate as a woman (and a woman of color) in the workplace. If I want to succeed, I have to play by some rules I don’t like or agree with. I still fight those rules, but at the same time, I also know that there’s a limit to what I can do.

      6. Luna*

        I see what you mean, but at the same time I think that’s a more diplomatic way to put it, and less likely to make someone feel attacked personally, than something closer to “what your doing is strange and is weirding people out.”

        1. Green*

          In all seriousness, as a lawyer advising companies, I would NOT recommend offloading otherwise valid criticism as related to gender as the *more* diplomatic approach to soften it, at last not in the US. The manager would be facing a compliance investigation in many companies for that framing.

      7. JamieS*

        I agree a guy could have the same issues if a change in appearance is truly dramatic. Given cultural norms I’d go so far as to argue it’d be more of an issue for men since dramatic changes to hair or clothes are more unexpected for men so more noticeable.

        However, by the same token, I think it’s much less likely a man getting a haircut or changing his clothes will actually be a dramatic change so men are much less likely to be in a position to encounter that kind of bias.

  6. RabbitRabbit*

    Holy crap. I can’t imagine asking for a reference after you just no-showed/ghosted your JOB because a manager dared try to give you feedback on perception.

    1. Else*

      Even more than that, she marched out, did the thing she was asked not to do, marched back in, and FLASHED HER GRANDBOSS. Seriously, flashing people is not okay outside of certain very very specific circumstances (mostly involving Mardi Gras).

  7. Renamis*

    Wow. That’s an unexpected turn of events there. I’m flabbergasted that she dared to ask for a reference after quitting that way! Did she honestly think that wasn’t a nuclear option, or figure her performance was so amazing that no one would care?

    1. Amber Rose*

      If I plant myself into the shoes of someone for whom everything makes a statement and everything is a battle against The Man (or whatever we’re calling it now) then I kinda get it. She was told she was an awesome employee, and then she was given some unreasonable sexist feedback from upper management, which she responded to by walking out, which is a reasonable reaction to sexist unreasonable awful demands.

      Since in her mind all of this makes sense, it probably also makes sense to ask for a reference from her direct manager, who must obviously agree that walking out was the right thing to do in the face of such horrible treatment.

      This is the only narrative I can come up with where any of this makes sense.

      1. sunny-dee*

        It wasn’t sexist though. I’m sure if a dude were doing exactly the same thing, he would have gotten the same feedback. Her behavior was attention-grabbing and odd. Not evil or wrong or anything, just weird. People noticed and were commenting on it. In fact, the major problem with it was that it seemed to indicate that her focus was on her clothes and hair and getting attention rather than her work, and her reaction to that feedback kind of validated that.

        1. RabbitRabbit*

          She could have mentally reframed it that way, though, as a “women may have trouble being taken seriously in this field” = “holy shit, they are repressing me for expressing myself” sense.

          1. Say what, now?*

            Yeah, but that’s a hard truth that she’s going to have to learn. It’s not easy for us. We step out of line and the professional image we worked for falls completely. It’s not right and it’s not fair but it’s true and the manager who talked to her probably knows this better than anyone.

            In retrospect, the OP should be happy that a female manager was the one who talked to Michelle about this and not him. Had he done it she might have become litigious.

          2. Green*

            Managers do not have any business perpetuating how hard it is for women to be taken seriously in a work environment. (You can also sue for women exhibiting gender bias against other women.)

            The framing here is legally problematic, not the request that she not change her appearance mid day with external partners.

            1. A grad student*

              How is that perpetuating how hard it is for women? Friendly advice based on (presumably) years longer experience than Michelle’s, with a *suggestion* that she not change during client meetings, to help show herself in the best light, to not play into a stereotype that everyone acknowledges exists? I think you’re really reading into something that isn’t there. You can’t work toward fixing a problem you don’t name.

            2. CM*

              Acknowledging isn’t the same as perpetuating. The manager said she understands firsthand that it can be hard to be taken seriously, so she wants to give Michelle advice. Now I agree that if the advice was “blondes are perceived as dumb, so change your hair color,” that would be perpetuating the problem. But here, the advice was very reasonable advice that would apply to someone of either gender: don’t dramatically change your appearance in the middle of a workday so that clients are focused on your blue hair rather than what you are saying.

            3. Kate 2*

              Just because we don’t acknowledge it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I first learned here, on Alison’s blog, of the sexism surrounding women’s voices, and how women with higher-pitched voices are especially faced with this.

              It was a HUGE relief to find out about and to get ammunition to fight back with (links to studies proving the existence of this bias). Even before Alison acknowledged it and I found out, I was getting a lot of criticism from my (50 year old male bosses) about how there was *something* wrong with my voice. They didn’t know what it was, couldn’t tell me what to fix, but they wanted me to figure it out and fix it to make them happy. They made comments about how I didn’t sound “serious” and “professional”.

              Come to find out, thanks to Alison giving me a place to look, my female predecessor had a deeper voice than I do.

              Women need to acknowledge, to each other and make it clear to men, that sexism exists and how it affects us. We need to help each other avoid it where we can and fight it where we can. Because of that sharing I was able to fight back and keep my job.

        2. Shiara*

          Especially if Michelle has, in the past, gotten sexist feedback on her style and choices, it could be easy for her to see this as more of the same. Even though it wasn’t the same thing at all, and the manager had a genuine concern about Michelle being remembered as “the one who changes all the time” instead of “the one who does awesome work” as she deserved. Her overreaction may be her being overly dramatic out of nowhere, or her having dealt with something worse before and being over it in a really inappropriate way.

        3. Sigrid*

          Yes, objectively that is true, but Amber Rose wasn’t commenting on what is objectively true, she was describing the thought process that leads to such decisions. It doesn’t make sense to us, but it makes sense inside the person’s head. Her actions are rational *to her*.

        4. kb*

          It wasn’t sexist, but it seems possible Michelle interpreted it that way. It kind of reminds me a little bit of when I was a teen and my mom told me I shouldn’t wear a certain pair of shorts anymore. I was so offended and thought my mom was really out of line– why couldn’t I express myself the way I wanted to?? But now I look at photos of me in my beloved shorts and …. my butt was hanging out of them. Mom was right. Not that Michelle was being inappropriate in anyway (before her dramatic exit), but sometimes you’re too close to a situation to see that the other person is completely reasonable.

        5. Elizabeth H.*

          I am not positive that if it were a dude doing the same thing he would have gotten the same feedback. It’s so hard to imagine because women’s appearance is usually much more stylized, emphasized and variable than men’s. I’m having a hard time expressing what I mean but I feel like it is somewhat gendered because this type of drastic style change, within the guidelines of professional workwear (which if I remember correctly, Michelle always dressed/presented herself professionally . . . just *differently*) is only available for women.

          1. Green*

            If a male colleague with dark hair came back from lunch once a month wearing a wig, people would still say something, even if the wig was not unprofessional.

          2. kb*

            I thought about this too, but Michelle was making very dramatic changes. I think it’s harder to picture a man doing the same because the standard for men’s business apparel is much narrower and it seems like most men stick to the center of the acceptable range. But if a man did go from one edge to the other, it’d be very noticeable. Say a male coworker had a neat ponytail and was wearing a burgundy suit in the morning, but after lunch showed up in a grey suit with a bleached, short hair in the afternoon, people would definitely have questions. If he did that regularly, I think he’d get the same conversation as Michelle.

          3. Lindsay J*

            I think he would be likely to be perceived as “gay” or “effeminate” because men aren’t “supposed” to care about their appearance, never mind enough to change it midday. So a man doing that would be perceived to be “like a woman” and therefore “not a normal guy”.

            1. Green*

              Lindsay J, you should meet my heterosexual male friends …. they care much more about their tailoring, shoes, shirts, hair, physique than either I or my homosexual male friends do. I’m thinking that’s a regional/generational difference? :)

              1. Lindsay J*

                I’m not saying that men don’t care about their appearance.

                Just that certain bits if grooming (like say, getting a manicure, even though there is nothing inherently feminine about wanting clean, well trimmed fingernails) or frequent discussion of fashion and style often gets read as being in the female domain, and often that results in men partaking in them getting belittled because of it even though the perception is not really based in reality.

                And I think changing outfits in the middle of the day would put the perception of someone over that line in the way that just coming in in a well-tailored suit would not.

                And I definitely agree that it definitely depends on generations, probably regional, and likely socioeconomic and a lot of other things as well. I don’t think my friends and I would bat an eye either way. But some of the people I’ve worked with would definitely be participating in wgst they viewed as “friendly ribbing” that the target night not see that way (and would be reinforcing rigid gender roles whether the target were okay with it or not). And I’m sure there are places in the country where it could be met with outright hostility.

                There are a lot of things like this (like the whole nursing profession) that get coded as feminine for some reason not really inherent to the activity, then when men participate in it they get seen as though they are doing something wrong by strict adherents/enforcers of gender roles.

          4. Student*

            If a guy shaves his huge beard off, the following happens:

            (1) Everyone makes (obnoxious/obvious/complimentary/snarky/etc.) comments about it for a couple of days.
            (2) They all get over it. No business is lost, clients adapt to the now-beardless spokesperson, no explosions occur. Crucially, nobody sane suddenly stops taking the now-beardless guy less seriously in his profession.

            If a client made similar comments because their company POC shaved a huge beard off, the manager would probably not have felt it appropriate to go to the man in question and say, “Consider not abruptly shaving your huge beard off once per month. It confuses and upsets clients, and causes us to take you less seriously.”

    2. Jesmlet*

      I’m more amused than shocked. This totally tracks with how she’d acted in the past. If she thought it was reasonable to do what she did with her hair in the middle of meetings with external people then of course she’d think it’s reasonable to quit that way, and of course she’d think it’s reasonable to ask for a reference afterwards. Most irrational people are consistent in their irrationality.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I agree. I saw some yellow warning lights going off there. I was happy to see that others were more generous than I was.

  8. Emmie*

    I thought she did a good job addressing a complicated situation too, and I learned from her approach. Bravo.

  9. nnn*

    I envy Michelle having a hairdresser who can do drastic changes in a lunch hour! I wish my hairdresser was that efficient!

    1. JD*

      I totally thought this when I read the letter. I have to go get a partial weave next week and the three hours I will be sitting there give me anxiety just thinking about it. Thank goodness they have wine there.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        I think I’d give in and get my hair dyed if they had wine where I go. Maybe I should suggest it. It already takes 50 minutes to wash, cut, and dry my hair, and I think dye is an additional 60-90 minutes minimum.

          1. Wendy Darling*

            I live in WA, which is weirdly puritanical about booze despite being super liberal in most ways, so if they wanted to serve wine they’d have to get a liquor license. I assume that’s the holdup. They do serve tea, but…. not the same.

            They’re reasonably priced and cut my curly hair in a way that it looks nice for a full 8-12 weeks and I do not look like Bozo the Clown or a cocker spaniel at any point, so basically as far as I’m concerned they could be disposing of bodies for the mob in the back and I’d still go there.

            1. JD*

              You only need a license to sell wine not serve. Coming from someone who worked in the restaurant industry in WA.

              1. Wendy Darling*

                Oho, important distinction.

                Well in that case they’re just being cheap and they need to get some box wine in the back.

            2. Epiphyta*

              One WA curly girl to another, please tell me where you’re going! (Bring it over to the Open Thread so we don’t get off-track here, but I’m begging you, here.)

            3. Catherine*

              Pinup Salon in Ravenna gives you a glass of wine if you come in around your birthday! My friend swears by them to take care of her curls, and they’re the only American salon I trust to cut my hair without destroying my digiperm.

        1. Drew*

          My favorite barbershop won my loyalty instantly when I walked in without an appointment and they said, “It’s going to be about 45 minutes. Do you want a beer while you wait?” and then they handed me a GOOD beer.

          On the other hand, it may have reinforced bad behavior, because I still don’t make appointments.

      2. CS Rep by Day, Writer by Night*

        It takes 2.5-3 hours to color my hair (I have to go through 3 processes for the unnatural colors I sport) and I would be beyond grateful if the salon I go to offered wine!

      3. Thlayli*

        You can have wine in a hairdressers in the US? Awesome! I always though America was much less in favour of alcohol than Europe.

        1. Cheers*

          My Australian hairdresser also has wine! It’s a nice option to have. They also serve tea, or other non-alcoholic drinks.

    2. Guacamole Bob*

      I envy Michelle having hair that grows fast enough to make these kinds of changes so regularly! I know OP mentioned extensions, but still, getting it majorly altered monthly?

      I’ve spent the last 6 months growing out a pixie cut and can finally put my hair in a ponytail again, so the idea of monthly cuts that change the style a lot is just weird to me.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        She must have REALLY healthy hair, too, to withstand all of that! Someone I worked with had to get a pixie cut because she went platinum blonde and a couple months in her hair was ruined despite her stylist’s best efforts.

        1. K.*

          I had a friend who wore her hair in a pixie cut because she bleached it regularly and it was very weak. She went from platinum to black once and her hair was pretty shot. She doesn’t color it anymore (it’s naturally ash blonde) and wears it longer, but it took a lot of work to nurture it back to health!

          1. Wendy Darling*

            I have naturally curly super-dry very sensitive hair and I’m terrified to do any kind of processing because it took me like four years to get it healthy once I learned how to care for it properly. Even if I just use a shampoo it dislikes one time it looks like I have a haystack on my head for at least a week. I don’t even heat style it more than once every 2 months.

      2. Thlayli*

        I’ve spent the last YEAR growing out a pixie cut and it’s not even down to my shoulders. I have really reallly slow growing hair. It’s also really fine – I had dreadlocks once and there were 11 of them. On my whole head. They weren’t even that thick.

    3. Natalie*

      Never mind the time, can you imagine how much that costs? Extensions and professional dye jobs (especially if they have to lift already existing dye) are not cheap.

      1. Jesca*

        I know. I live in an area where costs are a little lower than a lot of the country, and the lowest price you can get (like a super cuts) cut and one color dye is like over a hundred for short hair! And then adding in extensions and highlights and crazy colors, you are talking like 250 to 500 and more!

    4. Super Nintendo Chalmers*

      Honestly, this is why I think this letter is fake. This seems like it’s written by someone who’s never had serious hair coloring done, or even a drastic change in length/style. That stuff takes a reeeally long time!

      It’s entertaining either way, though.

  10. Justin*

    And then she asked for a reference….?

    I can’t.

    You know, I’m not knocking fellow millenials. In fact, this is one of those things that people who knock millenials point to to say how bad we are. Booooo.

    Such a reasonable request made by the manager, too. I bet no one ever told this Michelle “no” before.

    1. Prince of Snarkness*

      You know, I tend to knock millenials, but I’m willing to give y’all a pass on this. This one was just…. I have no words. Strange!

    2. Shiara*

      Alternatively, she’s so used to people telling her “No” about things that are largely ridiculous or none of their business, that when someone tells her a very narrowly scoped reasonable “Consider not doing this” she sees it as the same thing and pushes back in the same way.

      Some of the most stubborn people I know got that way from learning early on that they’d have to fight for their own way at every turn or be steamrolled.

    3. LKW*

      Yeah – this is definitely not a millennial thing – this is more an overall approach to life thing. My guess is that this is something that has worked for her in other arenas of her life and got her interest and attention. She clearly didn’t react well when told that the attention she was garnering wasn’t altogether positive.

      Maybe she should start a style blog or something. Call it the “Quick Change Artist”.

      1. Justin*

        ” My guess is that this is something that has worked for her in other arenas of her life and got her interest and attention. ” Oh 100%

      1. Natalie*

        Yesp. Even though the years aren’t universally agreed on, pretty much every variation ends at 1997 or later.

    4. Super Nintendo Chalmers*

      If she’s in her early 20’s then she’s not a Millennial, she’s a Generation Z-er.

    5. Madame X*

      This has nothing to do with millennials. There are plenty of people who have walked out of their jobs who are well outside the age bracket of millennials.

  11. Amber Rose*

    Some people just wanna have a battle more than they wanna have a job. I refer you to the letter regarding the woman who wanted people to call her boyfriend Master.

    1. Thlayli*

      This is really similar isn’t it. Same overtones of “sticking it to the man”. I bet they both posted it on tumblr as soon as they got home.

    2. kb*

      Both parties may be so in the mindset of fighting for mainstream acceptance that they don’t realize when they’ve crossed a line or someone is asking for something reasonable

  12. NYCer*

    The ONLY way that could remotely make any sense to me is if she took it like the manager was saying, “You’re a woman and people won’t take you seriously because of your sex, so you have to conform.”

    I say that because I’ve had a lot of sexist recruiters tell me I’m too “girly” because I cross my legs and wear heels and have a high voice and just tell me generally really sexist reasons why I won’t get a job and should ask for less pay for the same experience. I’m not saying that’s what the manager said, but with that reaction, that might’ve been what she heard.

    1. sunny-dee*

      I’m still stymied how that could translate into a blue pixie cut and flashing her boobs at her executive and walking out. Even if she took it that way.

      1. NYCer*

        Well, I’m not saying I’d do that, or saying it’s normal behavior. I’m saying, if I look at the emotional context of the situation, I’ve felt that kind of “wtf f*** you” way when people have told me that my appearance specifically related to my gender is the reason I won’t get a job.

        Personally, I wouldn’t dye my hair and flash them in retaliation…

        I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe changing her hair at lunchtime is just *that* important to her. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        1. SignalLost*

          Well … it sounds like you’re describing people being critical of aspects of your appearance you can’t reasonably change (your voice), aspects you could but it would be a pain (not sitting with your legs crossed which wtf how is that “girly”), and one piece you could change pretty easily of you wanted to (your shoes). Michelle was given advice that her entirely self-selected choices were overshadowing her professional accomplishments. I feel like you have a genuine reason to be angry (it is YOUR VOICE, omg, not a vocal dye job where today you’re soprano but next week you might go basso profundo) and Michelle kind of does not.

      1. NYCer*

        Well, you have to add up all the factors to get your total “girliness”/”unhirabity” score, so you only have to uncross them if your total score is over 30.

        1. Wendy Darling*

          The problem is that there is a narrow band in which your girliness level is acceptable — I have back problems and it’s most comfortable for me to sit with my knees slightly apart and my feet flat on the floor, but that’s ALSO looked down upon. Can’t win.

          1. JD*

            Funny because I HAVE to cross my legs due to a bad back, thanks to being run over many years ago and breaking my femur. My one leg kind of turns the wrong way (really fun to freak people out though) and if I don’t cross them I’d be giving A LOT of information. We just can’t win I guess. Maybe next time I’ll just put my legs up on the desk, lean back and take a load off.

          2. Jesca*

            Don’t feel bad. I man spread a good bit. My hips lack flexibility haha. I just never wear skirts or dresses.

        2. JD*

          If I am too girly to hire then someone give me some money to stay at home and cook this pot roast and vacuum in my pearls. Fun fact I am working from home today and have a roast in the crock pot. Smells soooooooo yummy.

    2. Jesca*

      Yeah I think this is one of those things that when you are young and a little more black and white with your thinking you might take offense to. As you get older, I think you tend to stand back a second and really gauge if your perceptions are true or not. But coming back with your shirt hanging open make me believe it was all for attention anyway. I could see quitting without notice as the most over the top over reaction, but that was like – I don’t even know? Why?

    3. Specialk9*

      That’s weird that even one said, much less multiple. Meanwhile, everywhere on the internet, men are denying that there is really sexism.

    4. Specialk9*

      That’s weird that even one said, much less multiple. (But of course I believe you! Just urkkkkk.) Meanwhile, everywhere on the internet, men are denying that there is really sexism.

  13. Anonymous Poster*


    I think there are good examples of proper managerial conversations here, like that this is an issue of how one is perceived in the workplace, regardless of other factors at play, and staying focused on the main issue of it not happening on days where presentations are given. I mean, otherwise it’s a quirk that might be okay in many organizations, but during presentations to external parties it would be unusual enough to make those folks wonder what else is going on.

    I really fail to see how it’s a racial issue like some commentators on the original thread thought, because I don’t think dramatic hairstyle changes are more typical in one racial group based on my experience, but maybe I’m missing something?

    Either way, good on the managerial team for how they tried to address the problem and being so straightforward and honest. That’s something that would make me want to work for y’all! A shame Michelle didn’t want to hear it, apparently, and thought it was an acceptable reason to ghost on a job.

    1. K.*

      Wigs and weaves are very common among Black women. I’m Black and wear my own hair but I know many, many Black women who wear wigs and weaves and extensions. There’s a (stunning) Black woman that I work with who wears wigs and changes her hair quite often, though never in the middle of the day.

      1. Anonymous Poster*

        Hm, you’re right, I’ve worked with black women that do dramatically change their hair styles. I’ve also worked with white and Asian women that have had similarly dramatic hair style changes, and known a Jewish woman that would regularly get extensions… I wonder if it’s more an indicator of my industry and field, and less about society as a whole? Something for me to ponder.


        1. LBK*

          This is heavily anecdotal but I do think it’s more frequent with black women – I had a coworker who would show up in 2 different wigs plus a day or two of just her natural hair within the span of a week. Not that I’ve never seen a non-black woman have a dramatic hair change but it’s usually been, like, once every few months or once a year, not literally daily.

          1. Specialk9*

            Yeah, at my workplace too. If you have paid a lot of money for a number of wigs, you’re going to use them! If that means you’re straight blonde one day and curly short redhead the next, so be it.

          2. SignalLost*

            Yeah, I worked with a biracial woman who wore wigs almost always – I saw her hair once. The two wigs she wore were very different in style, but mostly I was focused on why wear a wig in this hot-ass manufacturing facility??? I’ve known white women to get dramatic changes of cut and color, but if I have worked with any white women who wore wigs, they wore the same wig or close enough for me not to know they had more than one. And I tend to assume they didn’t wear wigs, but I’m not really sure why I assume that.

      2. Soon to be former fed*

        Black woman here. Hair changes are a thing. That wasn’t even noteworthy, it was the complete midday clothing changes that stood out to me. Black women don’t typically do that, well most women don’t.

  14. beanie beans*

    I feel like there had to have been more going on that we don’t know about. That sounds like some pent-up issues!

    1. a1*

      Maybe she’s related to the woman that dressed up for Halloween and went trick or treating in an exeuctive/client meeting and they were both trying to loosen up a stuffy offices.

    2. MeowThai*

      I feel like there’s more to the story when the manager met with The Chameleon–like maybe the way the advice was given was more rude or harsh than what we’re getting? Idk, but with everything at face value, it really does seem like an overreaction.

      1. Specialk9*

        It’s hard to imagine a situation in which we’d all be like, oh ok, the unbuttoned shirt is actually reasonable. I mean, we ended up being mostly ok with a work biting, so I won’t say never, but I mean… Unbuttoned shirt and taunting.

  15. MuseumChick*

    “Michelle returned from her lunch with a wavy, blue pixie cut. She went to the touchdown office the manager was using with her shirt completely unbuttoned and asked how professional she looked. Then she left the building and has not come back.”

    Trying to pick my jaw up from the floor. OMG. Michelle sounds like the kind of person who will follow rules only if they make sense to *her*. Good on you for being straightforward with her about the reference. I hope she learns from this.

    1. Raise a Toast*

      Michelle sounds like the kind of person who will follow rules only if they make sense to *her*.

      Sounds like my kinda gal! Here’s to Michelle!

      1. MuseumChick*

        It’s really not a good thing. Especially in a work place. What if say, she personally didn’t feel it was reasonable to have to come in at X time everyday or a 1 hour lunch just wasn’t long enough for her. Plus, they didn’t even tell her she couldn’t changer her look. All they really said was 1) This is a distraction from your talents. You will be seen as “the girl who changes her look” instead of “the woman who does awesome work” 2) To please avoid doing this on days you will be interacting with external clients as we have gotten comments about it.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Some people enjoy rebellion just for the sake of rebellion. For these folks there does not have to be a point.

  16. CatCat*

    Dang… I wanted Michelle not to be a loon. Her reaction was just so incredibly over the top! I mean, wow!

  17. Kiki*

    Michelle might be my DGAF hero. At least the hero of the part of me that wants to run away from it all and start anew. I’m amused, confused, and hope Michelle finds her thing out there in this crazy world.

    1. Drew*

      Yeah, this reads like the opening montage of a spring movie about Michelle quitting her oppressive job and finding her bliss. Not saying that OP is making it up at all, just that Michelle’s behavior is THAT far out there.

      1. Gabriela*

        YES! Either that or when the male protagonist realizes that his manic pixie dream girl is not just quirky, but legitimately mentally ill.

    2. RabbitRabbit*

      Not in a conservative-dress Fortune 1000 company, it seems. And that’s fine, ‘you do you’ and all of that, but dang.

    3. Super Nintendo Chalmers*

      I’m pretty convinced that this entire story is fiction, but I agree! I’m still totally on Michelle’s side here. She needs to find herself a job in a creative field.

  18. Boop*

    I can barely get dressed once a day; managing to completely change my hair, makeup, and clothes in the middle of the work day sounds EXHAUSTING. How much mental and emotional capital did Michelle waste on this hobby?!

    Honestly, the changes sound pretty cool and I wouldn’t have a problem with someone coming in on a Monday with a radically different hair color. The problem I run up against is the fact that this obviously takes significant timing, planning, and effort in the middle of work day. It’s not the act that is the problem, it’s what the performance of the act implies about her dedication and commitment to work – especially to outsiders.

    Also, that was a totally crazy overreaction to some well-meaning advice. Imagine her reaction if you had given her performance feedback!

    1. Lindsay J*

      I mean, people like different things.

      Shopping is like a great emotional break for me most days. (Now with stores super crowded for Christmas shopping, not so much.)

      I also really like box dying my hair.

      So doing those things don’t take up any of my mental/emotional capital at all, and sometimes actually replenish it.

      (On the other hand going to the salon does take up my emotional and emotional capital because I struggle to communicate what it is that I want, and worry about A. Being judged for not knowing or using the right terms and B. Having my hair come out all wrong because I didn’t communicate right or because my stylist ignored my wishes.

  19. Snark*

    Me, reading this:

    Hmm, reasonable enough….good script….oh, well, I might have said it a little differently than that….glad she took it well….


    Oh myyyyyyyyyyy.

    1. No Parking or Waiting*

      I remember when this letter first appeared. I thought that Michele sounded flaky and immature. Then I read Allison’s response. “She sounds awesome.” And I rethought my position. I had to admit that I was jealous in some part, that 1) she was brave enough to change her appearance and 2) worked in a cool place where this was not an automatic no.
      So I left the post thinking this woman might be on her way to greatness and that would be cool. Victory favors the bold.
      Then, the first time she gets any push back, she throws a temper tantrum and storms out.
      Yeah, good luck replacing her.
      And to those stating she’s a lawsuit waiting to happen, yup, yup. YUP.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        I think I have modified my stance to “She sounds pretty awesome but in need of a priority adjustment.”

        I mean I want to go to ALL the happy hours with her still, for sure. And possibly for her to be my shopping/hairstyle buddy. But I do not at this time want to work with her because oof.

        1. No Parking or Waiting*

          Yes, because she will have the best stories about everything. But I think she is “on” all the time. Please just let me get my work done. I can’t be your captive audience.

        2. Aurion*

          She sounds awesome in small doses, but my god, she sounds exhausting to be around for any length of time.

          If she reacts this disproportionately to what is a pretty reasonable request, I can’t imagine spending more time than an occasional happy hour with her.

          1. Specialk9*

            She sounds like exactly the kind of BFF I sought out when younger. And then I learned not to, the hard way.

      2. Luna*

        That first letter was the only time I’ve ever been really confused/disagreed with Allison’s response because…this never sounded awesome? This was always so, so weird, and not at all appropriate.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I agree, but this is part of the many reasons I read here to get myself outside of my own thinking and look at other people’s perspectives. I tried to settle on this is okay until it’s not okay anymore. What I saw was a person with a lot of internal restlessness and just a general dissatisfaction in life. I hope Michelle finds what she is looking for in life.

      3. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Yeah, I was one who was not super impressed with Michelle reading the first letter and, while I wasn’t exactly expecting this, I can’t say I’m terribly shocked by how it played out.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Right, she confirmed people’s perceptions/concerns as being correct with her own actions by walking out like that.

    2. No Parking or Waiting*

      Sorry, don’t know how I posted this comment under you. But OHMYGOD, RIGHT?
      like, my, that escalated quickly!

  20. OlympiasEpiriot*


    I don’t tend to put much effort into making changes to my appearance — I’m more of a this-works-i’m-too-lazy-to-see-if-something-else-works-too person. But, I appreciate others’ doing so. I enjoy seeing what some people do as far as personal decoration. But, no one I know would make any more drastic change at lunchtime (especially when dealing with clients in an all-day event) than a nail polish color change unless there had been a clothing emergency (like coffee down the side).

    There’s something cinematic about this vignette. LW, any interest in developing some totally out-there screenplay about someone who was using an office job for temporary cover?

    1. OlympiasEpiriot*

      Actually, I’m already casting this for some reason. Would you think it would work with you being played by Karen Pittman and Michelle played by Miley Cyrus?

  21. Bea*

    Sweet baby Jesus…what a truly unique woman she is. I’m glad she didn’t create more drama and you handled it well.

    I think she’s in need of a job who can allow her eccentric ways, they do exist. Everyone is better off now.

    1. Snark*

      A neon-blue, wavy thread in life’s rich tapestry. Somehow I’m glad she exists, even if she sounds like one of the most perplexingly nightmarish employees a boss could have.

    2. Myrin*

      You know, I think that might actually be the crux of the matter. She sees herself like one of these “eccentric bachelor wearing only yellow clothes living in an abandoned flower shop and mystifying the mundanes with his always shoe-less appearance” types that people find charming in books or movies but who often have tendencies which wouldn’t translate well into real life.
      (I personally already got that vibe from the original letter and am not surprised by this update at all but between that and my strange insight into hypochondria yesterday, I just seem to be weirdly in tune with this week’s updates. Maybe I am the mystifying eccentric.)

      1. No Parking or Waiting*

        I’m with you on that. I thought Alison was being overly optimistic, but attributed it to my own shortcomings. The truth, as always, is somewhere in between.

  22. KHB*

    I can’t help but wonder if there’s some crucial piece of the story we’re not hearing. Because otherwise: What in the world?

    1. Prince of Snarkness*

      Believe it or not, I’ve seen stranger things. Sometimes a crazy person is just a crazy person.

    2. Specialk9*

      I’m fascinated by the idea that there exists a piece of mitigating information to this. I just can’t even imagine it.

      1. SignalLost*

        Yeah, as a clothes horse who loves hair dye (I am going to try a unicorn dye job this weekend!) I’m not sure there’s anything that gets over the crucial bridge to “and then I decided to assault my boss and rage quit.”

  23. Annastasia von Beaverhausen*


    This was not how I thought this was going to turn out.

    For the reference issue, my office had someone embezzle $$, lie to their boss’s face about the theft in the meeting with Finance and HR while holding the (reams) of evidence in their hands, get frog marched out by security, and still put the old boss down as a reference. Blue hair and boobs seems positively tame.

    1. Drew*

      “For legal reasons, I am unable to comment on Ex-Minion’s time at this company other than to confirm his dates of employment: August 15, 2012 through 11:43 a.m. October 1, 2017, as verified on security footage.”

  24. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

    If the mere suggestion that she might want to think about not drastically altering her appearance during the workday caused such a dramatic flounce, I wonder what an actual critique/change of her work would have stirred up.
    Boss: “Michelle, I need you to stop submitting your TPS reports late on Friday. They need to be on my desk before the end of business on Thursday so I can review them before the Friday meeting.”
    Michelle: sets TPS report on bosses desk and lights it on fire, “Is this hot off the printer enough for you?” dons neon-lit parachute, strips naked, and jumps off roof.

    1. OlympiasEpiriot*

      I think this needs to be included in the screenplay I want LW to write for us.

      WE WILL PAY FOR IT!!!! (At least, I know I will, anyone else here want to pitch into a kickstarter for this??)

            1. rainbrawlian*

              I am truly blessed for reading the comments today. Thank you. (I can’t wait for what LMM does next regardless, but this would be astonishing. In the meantime, we can enjoy monthly new songs via the hamildrop :D )

              (On topic: I did get my hair dyed into a rainbow for political reasons without discussing it with my company first… but there’s nothing specific in the dress code + my position rarely has face-to-face with externals unless they’re trying to sell us something – so it was fine. I did it on my own time though!)

    2. LBK*

      Thank you for this, it’s been a while since I’ve had to stuff my fist in my mouth to avoid startling my whole office with laughter.

  25. irritable vowel*

    This was one of the posts I was hoping would be updated! I’m still not convinced that Michelle isn’t a spy. And I question whether she’s having all this done at the mall, since she also did this during the trade show, which I assume was in a different location? I think she’s stashing this stuff (including wigs – it has to be wigs*) somewhere, either on her person or in a hidey-hole somewhere nearby, and does it herself. I would pay good money to find someone who looks kind of like Michelle, send her to the mall restroom at lunchtime to pretend to be doing one of these quick changes, and see if another mall regular says something to her.

    * The OP says that Michelle doesn’t wear wigs, but honestly, how could you know for sure, if they’re really good ones? If she’s coming back from lunch with shorter hair every month or so, wouldn’t she eventually have no hair if it was all her own? (And I don’t know a lot about extensions, but I’m pretty sure you have to have at least collar-length hair for them to work.)

    1. palomar*

      Two seconds with Google, and I learned that as long as your shortest piece of hair reaches your occipital bone (that’s the middle of the back of your skull), you can have extensions. Googling stuff is so great when you don’t actually know much about a subject but still want to comment on it…

      1. irritable vowel*

        I googled it, too, and saw something that said your hair should be at least 3-4 inches long. No need for the snark.

  26. Mary Quite Contrary*

    Wow what an update, thanks OP! Michelle is seriously punk rock. Totally unprofessional behavior – but I can’t help but cheer for her.

    1. Gabriela*

      I’m picturing her having drinks with friends later that night and feeling victorious at “being true to herself”. I still kind of like Michelle.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I still kind of like Michelle too. I mean, I think this was bizarre and naive and unnecessarily self-destructive, and I would not hire Michelle, but I would definitely have drinks with Michelle.

        1. Snark*

          “Michelle, I will buy you a drink if you promise to get a little tipsy and tell your side of the story.”

            1. Specialk9*

              I’ve been friends with Michelle too many times. It’s exhausting and she never asks how *your* day was, and then she’s also unstable and sheds chaos everywhere. Fun until one already has a toddler.

        2. Wendy Darling*

          I want to be Michelle’s happy hour and shopping buddy but not her coworker. She sounds like a lot of fun if you do not have to try to be the boss of her.

        3. Prince of Snarkness*

          There are plenty of people I’d like to have drinks with that I would never want to work with.

          1. Half-Caf Latte*

            There are plenty of people I’ve worked with that I don’t want to get drinks with. At one place, the Venn Diagram looked like this:

            O O

        4. Soon to be former fed*

          Nah, I would pass. Anyone so irresponsible and self-absorbed as to abandon her responsibilities to her employer is not someone I would want to hang out with.

    2. bohtie*

      I know, right? It’s terrible and I kinda love it at the same time. Like, I’m crying with laughter over here. I once gave myself a dark purple mohawk and my boss didn’t even NOTICE until another coworker pointed out that she really liked the shade of dye I had used.

    3. Jesmlet*

      Totally someone I’d like to be friends with but totally not someone I’d want to work with. Maybe 2023 Michelle and I could work together. Slightly older and maybe tamed down, imagine all the things she’ll have accomplished and the stories she’ll have to tell.

    4. MuseumChick*

      Yeah, I think she is kind life…Luna Lovegood. Totally and completely comfortable being 100% herself 100% of the time. But as Alison says, bizarre and naive.

      1. Emi.*

        Nah, if you gave Luna feedback like Michelle got, she would just say “Oh…interesting…” and then go back to examining the nargles in your desk plant. You only freak out this way if you’re actually insecure and feel like you have to prove to everyone that you’re right.

  27. Don*

    I can’t remember the last time I felt this out of step with a bunch of other commenters. Good for Michelle on all fronts. The suggestion that she is somehow doing anything inappropriate by deciding to change her outfit mid-day is inane and bringing it up to her was similarly dopey. Good on her for taking a walk on that cruddy place. I don’t even blame her for a bit of dramatic in how she took a walk; a place makes such a bizarre issue out of nothing, the temptation to laugh straight in their face would be pretty strong.

    As far as asking for a recommendation, perhaps she wrongly thought that LW felt as she did that doing a good job and being made to feel unwelcome over some minor sartorial things was silly. I’d give someone a recommendation if they’d been a quality employee whose only flaw was not matching with a lousy culture.

    Lest someone just lump me in as some sort of entitled millennial, you’ll need to slander GenX if you want it to apply to me.

    1. Don*

      And I feel like I need to add – it’s hard for me not to smell sexism in having a problem with this. If I walked back into any office I have ever worked in after lunch, sporting a new suit? If anyone bothered to notice they’d do so to compliment it, or perhaps joke to ask if I’d spilled coffee on the other one.

      1. Shiara*

        If she was -just- changing clothes that’d be one thing. But we’re talking going from long black hair to short and blonde and wavy curls to stick straight with a colour change. If you went from having long brown hair in a pony tail, and then dyed it red and wore it in short curls, I guarantee people would notice and comment on it, let alone the shiny new suit.

      2. Jesmlet*

        But there’s no chance she accidentally spilled hair dye all over her head in the middle of a day of external meetings. Pick a different work day, do it on the weekends, this is not the same thing as coming back with a different suit. Flashing your boss is not just a little dramatic.

      3. Murphy*

        If you came to a morning meeting wearing a blue seersucker suit, and your hair pulled back in a brown ponytail, and came into the afternoon meeting with a black suit, and a bleach blond buzz cut, I think someone would notice.

      4. MI Dawn*

        Seriously, Don?
        As a woman, who works professionally, Michelle was very out of place. They didn’t ask her to stop doing the hair color. They didn’t ask her to stop doing the changes. They pointed out *it was affecting the perception people had of her* especially when dealing with clients. And yes, if you went out regularly and changed your hair color and clothing during lunch, especially several times during a 5 day trade show, I’d have the same reaction about YOU.
        This isn’t sexist. This is about what is appropriate behavior in the business setting. And if you decided to dye your hair platinum blonde and walk into my office with your pants unzipped, then never return to the office, I would have the same reaction regarding your lack of professionalism and refuse a reference, also.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          It’s not sexist to expect everyone to have some continuity or consistency in their presentation. By presentation I mean everything, actions, words, appearance etc. She is changing her appearance so much that people don’t even recognize her when she comes back from lunch. I am wondering if she enjoyed watching people struggle.

      5. Annabelle*

        I mean, I’m with you that the reactions to her changes are a little casually sexist. I don’t think a man switching outfits midday would create such hubbub.

        But I also think there’s a time and a place for an all-out “burn it down; smash the patriarchy” attitude. Tbh I think reacting in such an explosive way comes from a place of either privilege, instability, or both.

        1. Decima Dewey*

          Michelle was meeting with clients, presumably to give them the message “If you need help with X, go to Michelle. She’s the Hitchcockian blonde in the houndstooth suit.” Only, in midday she becomes Michelle, the brunette with a hairstyle like Madonna’s in Desperately Seeking Susan. In the leather jacket and the cat tapestry miniskirt.”

        2. Prince of Snarkness*

          If a man came in looking entirely different, it would get comments.

          I got no end of them when I went home one weekend with long hair and clean-shaven and came back on Monday with a beard and a crew cut.

      6. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Thank you for mansplaining sexism in the workplace to us, Don. We are truly blessed to revel in your knowledge.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            You’re right, I was overly harsh.

            However, men who want to be good allies do need to listen when women say something *isn’t* sexism, as was the case in this post.

          2. Prince of Snarkness*

            Yes, but when people start seeing it under their beds, in the back of closets, and in every crack and crevice…. er, no.

      7. Someone else*

        She didn’t just change her outfit midday. As everyone already said, she completely changed her hair cut, hair color, outfit and makeup, on days where she was in an all-day meeting with external people. So, a group of people show up at work, meet you for the first time at 9 am today and who will probably only ever interact with you in-person for the next three days, and you’re a shoulder-length blonde in a black suit. After lunch, you’re suddenly a redhead with a bob cut in a green dress. The next day, after lunch she’s in a red skirt and has a black pixie cut. Repeat similarly drastic changes on day 3. You really seriously don’t think that would be confusing for that group of people who just came in to see Michelle give presentations over those few days and who will probably never see her in person again? You really think it’s dopey that clients would find that distracting? And it’s not speculation that it was distracting, the company heard from the clients and knew it was. You wouldn’t even blink if some you just met changed hair cut, color and clothes in the middle of the day? On multiple consecutive days? They didn’t even tell her not to do it at all. They suggested not doing it in the middle of a client meeting.

    2. Shiara*

      They didn’t really make an issue of it though. Basically someone sat Michelle down and said “Hey, people outside this company are starting to remember you as “the one who changes her appearance all the time” rather than “the one who did that awesome presentation/did that amazing work/explained x so well” and also are occasionally confused because they think you’re a different person in the afternoon when you’re trying to rep the company. You might want to save the drastic appearance changes for days when you don’t have full-day outsider interactions.”

      It’s not “dopey” to see someone who does amazing work not getting the credit she deserves and to point out that if she just shifted her hair appointment by a day it would be less of an issue. And while it’s totally Michelle’s prerogative to go “I don’t care, I like being known for my constantly changing looks rather than my work I’m getting paid for” she doesn’t need to flash her executive to do it.

    3. Snark*

      “The suggestion that she is somehow doing anything inappropriate by deciding to change her outfit mid-day is inane ”

      Ohhhh, no it’s not.

    4. Lissa*

      But…the criticism just seemed so mild, not “made to feel unwelcome” or even told to *never* change her appearance. I mean, it could’ve been phrased better but at least on my scale, this wouldn’t even come close to making something a cruddy work environment. I mean, even letting out her dramatic quitting, I just feel like if she reacts this badly to “don’t drastically change your appearance when meeting with clients” she’ll find something at least that severe anywhere she works….

      I mean, this is just my POV so maybe I’m wrong here but in both my own personal experience and also reading on this site, even if the suggestion was “inane” and “dopey” (I don’t personally, but even if), quitting in a rage over an inane/dopey request made once would seem to let out like 99% of workplaces.

      1. Don*

        It would absolutely make me feel unwelcome if a superior called a meeting with me to take issue with something I felt was reasonable, personal, and nobody else’s business. “Hey Don, listen, we see you keep drinking coffee in the afternoon and we’re really kind of an afternoon tea sort of shop.” The fact that is seems like such a nothing would make it all the more uncomfortable. If you’re willing to try to steer me on this, what else will you now make issue with?

        As far as the “rage” quit? Isn’t something I would have done, but then I can’t think of many cases in my life when I had the financial freedom to do something so suddenly and flamboyantly. I’ve usually needed my jobs more than that. But I will absolutely cop to knowing I am out of step with most commenters here on the question of giving notice. I think it’s a kind thing to do, for your coworkers if nobody else, but I don’t find it such a bright line thing that most here do. Employers rarely tell employees in advance that they’re going to be shown the door, so the judgment against employees has always felt asymetric to me.

        1. SallytooShort*

          External clients commented on it. They said it’s fine to do as long as she doesn’t have interactions with them those days.

          That you subjectively seems to think this is not a reasonable request doesn’t change the fact that it is completely reasonable thing to ask for the vast majority of people.

        2. Prince of Snarkness*

          I’m in IT, and have been asked to change my attire when dealing with clients.

          So what?

        3. AvonLady Barksdale*

          It’s not nearly as simple as coffee and tea, because those don’t usually get noticed and no one else consumes them. But I’ll give you another example: I was once chastised (mildly and uncomfortably) for talking about topics my colleagues thought were “weird” in front of clients. I didn’t say anything offensive, I didn’t curse, I didn’t do anything deliberately wrong, I just talked about some hobbies or interests that were kind of “nerdy” and didn’t fit with the image the company was trying to project. So the account director said something to my boss, who said something to me and asked me to tone it down.

          I felt stung, like I was being heavily criticized for being myself. It sucked. But you know what? I listened and I did what my boss asked, because I wanted to put my best foot forward, and if people were getting a negative impression of me because of something “I felt was reasonable, personal, and nobody else’s business”, then I could do those things (or talk about them) on my own time. My boss and the rest of my team appreciated my “out there” life (which… isn’t exactly out there), but external perception is important in a corporate setting.

          Michelle and I differ on this, obviously. But I don’t think the OP’s company handled this poorly or disrespectfully.

        4. Kate 2*

          Don, you keep strawmanning what actually happened and using examples that are wildly inaccurate. This was not about someone drinking the wrong almost identical beverage. This was someone who drastically altered *every aspect* of her appearance *in the middle of the day* on days *meetings with external clients* are scheduled. Going from a long, green haired person in a red suit to a pixie cut brunette in a blue dress is very weird, very noticeable, not private.

          1. Tiny Soprano*

            Yeah, the hair changes aren’t so weird (though inappropriately timed if they’re in the middle of a client meeting) but a whole wardrobe change? I mean, I’ve done 30-second quick-changes (including wig) in the middle of work before… but that was because it was theatre. There’s a difference between the theatre and an office…

            I feel like Michelle’s really cut off her nose to spite her face. An office that’s happy with funky hair colours is a gem that should be cherished, not somewhere you rage-quit because they’d rather you not do it in the middle of client meetings.

        5. Not So NewReader*

          You have the right to feel which ever way you want to about various points, of course.

          However, if the boss indicates that an employee is causing confusion or disruption because of their actions then that employee needs to realize that this job may not be a good fit for them if they are not willing to modify what they are doing. She could have just chosen to dial back on her hobby/habit of Complete Makeovers. That might have remedied that situation.

          I do agree with your tea/coffee example that it is ridiculous. So in your example, the boss would be the one making it the hill to die on, rather than the employee. Unfortunately, the answer ends up similar with the employee quitting because of the boss’ expectation. This runs true for many jobs, we either follow through on expectations or we look for a better fit elsewhere.

    5. SallytooShort*

      If your behavior is impacting external clients it’s entirely reasonable to ask for slight modifications.

      They didn’t say she couldn’t change her appearance regularly. Just not so drastically in the middle of the day.

      And everything about her temper tantrum quit was unprofessional.

      And I guarantee you if a man took off his shirt to his superior to quit we’d all be quick to say how inappropriate and perhaps sexual harrassy that was.

      1. Gilmore67*

        Agreed on all points.

        And I do not think her behavior in general was cool nor had a WOW factor.

        I think that how this came to an end with how she quit proves her immaturity and unprofessionalism. If she had understood and complied so to speak with the simple request of “ just don’t do it during this time frame” her wanting to change her look often would not matter as much if at all.

        To me it just makes me wonder why she was doing this to start with. If she just was a little bizarre and wanted to be different, fine.

        But obviously there was more to her thinking or she wouldn’t have quit like she did. She just didn’t get her way and walked off. Immature and unprofessional.

    6. ThisIsNotWhoYouThinkItIs*

      Hm. I would say the primary obligations as a worker at a conference are to be polite/professional, helpful, and identifiable (by name tag or otherwise).

      The people that go to those things will literally meet 15+ new faces that day–as a company you want to make sure they know who you are to get feedback quickly. I don’t think it’s out of line to ask her to stick to whatever appearance she came in–I’d say the same to a person that had a habit of slipping out at conference lunchtime and switched from slacks and a button-down to a white-and-green striped suit.

      That said, it’s Michelle’s choice, so she can choose not to do so if she doesn’t like it. Just means she might have to find another job.

    7. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

      Barring exceptional circumstances, quitting without notice is generally a forfeiture of a good reference, whether done in spectacular fashion or not.

    8. JeanB in NC*

      “Minor sartorial things”? She looked like a whole different person on some days! And there’s a reason people use the term “company culture”. Why do you think that was a “cruddy place”? Their company culture was more formal than some, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

        1. SignalLost*

          Hell no. Any place that’s fine with unnatural hair colours is not that formal. (I am not saying I would take that as license to show up in the clothes I work on my car in, but unnatural hair colors are still a marker of formality to me.)

    9. Murphy*

      It’s more than just her outfit. It’s also drastic hair changes. To the point where people don’t recognize her?

      Doing it on a random Thursday? A bit eccentric, but sure, no problem.

      Doing it during a big client meeting or a trade show? Not the most professional. It was pointed out to her that people are remembering her for this and that it’s already distracting from her work. I think asking her not to do it on those days is a reasonable request.

    10. Delphine*

      They were happy to accommodate her unique style, as long as she didn’t let it interfere with client relationships–that doesn’t sound like a cruddy workplace, that sounds like a really reasonable one.

    11. Student*

      I’m mostly with you, Don, but partially not.

      I think people having issues with Michelle’s mid-day appearance changes, provided they are all within local professional norms, are making their issue into her issue inappropriately. People who look down on her for getting a new outfit and hairdo on her lunch break are looking down on her for pretty sexist reasons; this is all wrapped up in assuming that a woman who cares about her appearance at all cares only about her appearance, or cares about it “too much”, or something.

      Any actual appearance-related confusion, with clients or with co-workers or with managers, should be EASY to mitigate. You do it exactly the same way you would if the appearance change happened literally any other way. You take ownership of it, acknowledge it quickly and simply, maybe with a tiny bit of levity. Say something simple like, “Hi Client! It’s still me, Michelle from Teapot Corp., but I got my hair done over lunch. Now, where were we on that sales contract?” If I dramatically changed my hair / lost an eye / made a major wardrobe change, it’s what I would do for any occasional business contacts no matter what time had elapsed so that they were clear on who I was, but did not feel invited to comment on my change. If Michelle wasn’t doing this, and clients were genuinely confused, then this is what her boss should’ve told her to start doing.

      If clients were upset or making snide comments rather than confused, that’s on them – not Michelle. They’re probably not upset enough about it for it to require anything other than ignoring or soothing or minor counters/rebukes. Deal with it exactly the same way you would if they criticized a male colleague for a major facial hair change, or a female colleague for getting pregnant. If the comment is mild, ignore it. If the comment is ugly and you can do so, counter it. If the comment is upset, sooth it briefly and redirect back on to business. Seriously, guys deal with this for facial hair from time to time and the world does not implode.

      The small part I’m not with Don on is this: it was delivered as a heads-up/warning/advice rather than a directive. There is unjust sexism in the world. People were thinking less of Michelle for her wardrobe changes. It’s better that Michelle have that factual, if unjust, information than for her to operate in the dark. It gives Michelle a chance to decide whether the honest-but-unjust social cost is worth continuing her current practice or not. That is valuable information, and realistically, loads of people decide that unjust social costs aren’t worth the price to fight all the time. As a woman, I want my bosses to feel comfortable telling me hard facts like this, so I can make an informed decision on whether something is worth my time or not – because, bluntly, not every fight against sexism is equally important to me. Plus, I can’t fight all those fronts at the same time.

      However, I think the manager could’ve done a better job delivering that message. Some acknowledgement that it was still Michelle’s decision to make, that she wasn’t really doing something wrong so much as unusual, and that the perception she’s not as professional over this is unjust, would’ve gone a long way to making it a more acceptable message. Plus, odds are pretty good that Michelle already knew this, had made her choice, and didn’t really need the heads-up on this type of sexism. Without that kind of acknowledgement, it can easily sound like the manager is buying into the sexist stereotyping that is happening to Michelle, but delivering it a soft code to indemnify her against any direct legal repercussions.

      I think about times when I have talked to minority students about their career future. I’m pretty blunt with pointing out which sectors of my job market are more minority-friendly than others. But I also acknowledge that the fact we’re talking about such things is unjust, and I emphasize that it shouldn’t stop them from pursuing a less-minority-friendly area if they decide the benefits outweigh the risks for them. The nuance is important.

    12. Amy*

      Don, I wholeheartedly agree with you and am surprised that everyone seems to be jumping on the anti-Michelle bandwagon. This seems like such a trivial thing to bring up to an employee. Was her work otherwise great? Yes? Ok then that’s all you need. As for the people taking her less seriously because of her changing appearance, that says more to me about them than it does about her. If I had a coworker like Michelle I’d probably be more excited like “Oooh I wonder what kind of hairstyle she’s going to have today!”

      1. tigerlily*

        But your work being great often isn’t all you need. You need soft skills, you need to be able to be fairly pleasant and civil, you need to be able to make your clients feel comfortable with you, you need to work in such a way that the rest of the people working with you do not find it unbearable. If you’re doing something that’s constantly overshadowing your work and has the potential to make people see you as not as capable (whether that’s justified or not), it should be noted.

    13. Soon to be former fed*

      Abandoning your job for this kind of stuff is full on irresponsible. Folks can romanticize it all they want, this rebel without a cause stuff. Her employer and coworkers who had to pick up the slack didn’t deserve to be on the receiving end of this foolish selfishness. There are valid reasons to walk off a job, but this wasn’t one of them.

  28. No Parking or Waiting*

    I remember when this letter first appeared. I thought that Michele sounded flaky and immature. Then I read Allison’s response. “She sounds awesome.” And I rethought my position. I had to admit that I was jealous in some part, that 1) she was brave enough to change her appearance and 2) worked in a cool place where this was not an automatic no.
    So I left the post thinking this woman might be on her way to greatness and that would be cool. Victory favors the bold.
    Then, the first time she gets any push back, she throws a temper tantrum and storms out.
    Yeah, good luck replacing her.
    And to those stating she’s a lawsuit waiting to happen, yup, yup. YUP.

  29. amysee*

    In the movie version of this letter in my head, Michelle has a blog and/or book deal about subverting corporate culture. Like, Punk’d: Office Edition.

    And also a trust fund, and a secret wish for all her hair to break off at the root. That is a LOT of hair dye for one head to take.

  30. Marie*

    Being in my twenties and fond of hair dye myself I was originally on Michelle’s side and thought the OP was well meaning but overreacting and suspected this was a generational culture clash. However her response to being asked not to change in the middle of the day when she had external clients (a reasonable request) was incredibly childish as was the way she quit. She essentially threw a tantrum as she wasn’t allowed to do exactly what she wanted and the company didn’t even say she couldn’t keep changing her appearance, just not to do it in the middle of the day, it sounds like the company were trying to work with her when they could just have imposed a strict dress code, something many companies do. I do wonder if she regrets it though, the fact she was in contact with OP after she quit and (it sounds like) behaved professionally indicates to me maybe she regrets it and was trying not to cause more damage.

    1. Don*

      The original letter specifically says that every one of these clothing and hair changes were within the company dress code, so they already had one.

      1. BePositive*

        I like your counter argument but
        she quit with her shirt unbutton is unprofessional. If it was just the hair cut and she left good for her.

  31. Tina*

    I’m honestly not that surprised by this? I was shocked at the responses to the original post that were all about how Michelle sounded super cool because to me she sounded EXHAUSTING. I say this as somebody who has gone to work on a Friday with long blonde hair and come back on Monday with a dark brown pixie cut (and then told anybody who asked about the change that I had robbed a bank over the weekend). Changing in the middle of the day is such attention-seeking behavior (and “The mall is convenient and I don’t feel like carrying shopping bags” is kind of a bogus excuse) that it seems fitting that she would be overly-dramatic about it.

    1. Pudgy Patty*

      Totally with you. I don’t understand the commenters here sometimes.

      I would hate to work with someone like this, and I’d hate to be friends with them too. Narcissistic and attention-seeking, and just plain exhausting. Why is being reasonable and within some bound of constraint/rule so difficult for some people?

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I saw it as attention seeking behavior also, but I know that I have bias because of real life people who exhibited some strange traits. I saw parallels with other experiences. If I did not have this bias would I be more generous? I hope so.

  32. Erin*

    Wait, had her shirt unbuttoned so her bra was showing? Or that just a tank top or under shirt was showing?

    But yes either way, bizarre.

    1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      That’s what I’m wondering. Not sure if I want the answer, lol. But damn, this is wild.

  33. SallytooShort*

    Woah. That took a turn but also kind of doesn’t shock me.

    See, her behavior in the original letter bothered me and I couldn’t figure out why. I tend to be very liberal about clothes and hair style and tattoos and all that. Live and let live. So, the drastic changes don’t bother me per se.

    But it’s clear that doing it in the middle of the day like that was intentionally to draw attention to herself. And this update highlights that.

    I don’t think going to work with purple hair or nose piercing are unprofessional (as long as it doesn’t violate any rules, of course.) But trying to shock people and draw attention to yourself by changing mid-day on a *regular basis* is to me. That’s not what work is for.

  34. Lady Phoenix*

    Personally, I think Michelle came off a little whiny.

    I understand wanting to find a look you like and wanting change… but doing so with work a ton of times, especially when you have to deal with clients (or as teacher, children), can be hard. You get known for just your look and not you qork, people begin feeling that sue doesn’t use her time effectively, and it becomes hard to recognize the person which can affect communications.

    Not to mention if you are a teacher, especially a teacher that has autistic students, changing yourself constantly can really fuck them up. What people don’t get about autism is not just the fact we are socially awkward, but that we are also not good with change. For me, it is watching movies or listening to songs multiple times. But I have heard stories of kids reacting very negatively to a haircut.

    Honestly, Michelle did not handle this well at all and comes off as petulant. Her leaving is just the crown of her unprofessionalism.

  35. Sled dog mama*

    The only thing left to know is if Allison’s jaw hit the floor or just the desk when this arrived.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This year I kept seeing updates where people walked out and never came back. So when I got this one, I was like, “It’s another one — what is going on?”

      Then I re-read to enjoy the more colorful details.

      1. LBK*

        Maybe it’s a sign of increased economic security? That people aren’t so terrified by the job market that they feel trapped anymore?

        1. Lumen*

          I was just thinking the opposite – maybe we’re all starting to think we’re gonna die in a nuclear war any day now, so nothing matters.

          But I have been known to be a bit of a pessimist.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I can see this, a person can start to think about quality of life and what is of value to them and what is not.
            PLUS we are coming down off a bad economic period where people held on to their jobs even if the place was not much more than a dim, dirty dungeon. So there could be an expression of relief as in “I don’t have to put up with your crap any more, I am outta here.”

  36. PX*


    I so want to know what was going on in her head. Clearly she lives in a slightly alternative universe, but I’d like to know a bit about it I think.

    Was definitely hoping for an update on this one, but this is definitely not what I expected!

  37. BarkusOrlyus*

    I just cannot imagine that someone in her career position—fresh out of college, second job ever—is making enough money to justify the wild spending associated with this kind of constant makeover, even if she is getting a lot of her clothes from a thrift store. I’ve never spent less than $100 getting my hair colored, even for a root touch up.

    1. Annie Moose*

      Independently wealthy, maybe?? I can’t fathom how she could afford the hair styling, otherwise!

      1. JulieBulie*

        Probably has a friend who works at the salon. Said friend might be happy to do it for a discount or even free since Michelle is rather daring and will let friend do pretty much anything to her hair. For most beauticians that is a dream come true.

    2. Bea*

      Living off credit cards and wildly out if her means comes to mind. Perhaps living at home without bills. Perhaps a partner supporting the bulk of life costs. Etc.

      I know people who spend a lot ofmoney and these are just a few of the ways they do. Also she could have a side gig. I’ve heard stories of making money letting people pet your beard for 5 minutes. You can have a sugar daddy or mama…

    3. Yorick*

      And she bought extra clothes from the thrift store so she could throw them out when she did her costume change!!!!

  38. Rose*

    I once had a boss who would semi-frequently radically change her hair colour/style in the middle of the day, and on the one hand it was AMAZING, because my boss was the coolest person ever, but on the other hand I have face-blindness so I would always be incredibly confused. One my saving grace was that my boss was almost always the shortest person in the room, so I could be like “incredibly short person with great hair talking to me like she knows me? yep, probably Boss-Lady.”

    But I work in an industry where radical hair is 100% normal — I myself used to have very long purple hair, which then turned into short spiky purple hair, because why not?

    Anyway, I’m really sorry that this turned out this way. Gently telling an employee that their style (or anything else that’s easily fixable) is affecting how they’re being professionally perceived is a kind thing to do for someone starting out.

    1. Leslie*

      I don’t quite have face blindness, but I have really poor facial recognition skills, and I kept thinking how difficult she was making it for our small clan out here.

  39. Ladybugger*

    “Michelle returned from her lunch with a wavy, blue pixie cut. She went to the touchdown office the manager was using with her shirt completely unbuttoned and asked how professional she looked. Then she left the building and has not come back.”

    I…kind of like Michelle.

      1. Amy*

        If her work was otherwise great and the unbuttoned shirt thing wasn’t a common daily occurrence (meaning crazy dramatic displays weren’t a regular thing), sure I’d be ok with her working for me. But I’m also not a manager who would have even thought this was or brought this up as an issue.

    1. Soon to be former fed*

      Why? Would you like her if you now had to do her job because she abandoned it? Or if ut was your company?

  40. Former Hoosier*

    I strongly agree that often feedback about professional appearance are based on sexist, racist or culturally insensitive beliefs. At the same time, that does not mean that it is never appropriate to give an employee feedback about that employee’s appearance. I agree that women should not be expected to wear heels. On the other hand in many situations tennis shoes are not appropriate (barring any ADA accomodations). Similarly, my workplace has a rule that jeans are not allowed. It is considered unprofessional in our industry/setting.

    I agree that it was a good idea for a female HR representative to give Michelle the feedback. And while I rarely think employers can/should place limits on employees’ private time, I don’t think it is unreasonable to ask that a professional employee not drastically change appearance during the work day when working with outside clients.
    That request doesn’t have anything to do with culture or racism or sexism. It is entirely reasonable.

  41. nanabucaros*

    I change my hair from black to pink after begin in my job for 4 months, and nobody even notice me :( lol

  42. Delphine*

    I still like Michelle, but less than I liked her before. What an unfortunate, unprofessional reaction to a very reasonable request.

    1. Ten*

      You know, a scenario of the real Michelle being sabotaged by her vengeful twin sister almost makes as much sense as what actually happened.

  43. WeevilWobble*

    Ha, this update is my favorite!

    I found it odd that in the first letter people tended to be on Michelle’s side. But were pretty unanimously for another LW telling a young girl to change her speaking voice.

    Michelle was deliberately doing attention seeking show boat behavior that distracts from work. The other girl just had a normal but annoying to some speech pattern.

    1. Gabriela*

      I’m not sure which letter your referring to regarding a girl’s speaking voice, but I think that most people who found the description of Michele’s behavior as odd, but amusing as opposed to attention-seeking and show-boating.

      1. tigerlily*

        I think Weevil is referring to the letter about the woman with the upspeak speech pattern – where you end sentences in a way that makes it sound like a question rather than a statement.

  44. Hiring Mgr*

    Obviously Michelle handled it horribly, but I still question why it matters if she changed hair/clothes. Do clients really care so much if someone comes back with a different look? Just do good work and be nice and professional–couldn’t care less what you’re wearing

    1. SallytooShort*

      It’s distracting. And the focus should be on the work not the clients wondering what the heck this girl did on her lunch break to come back a different person. Or even if this is the same girl they were speaking to.

      If it was just one time that’s fine. This was regular. Clients were noticing. And clients should only be noticing how great your work/product is. She was only asked to not do it when she was interacting with clients.

    2. MuseumChick*

      If I’m running a buisness, I want external clients talking about 1) The great work we do. 2) How professional and welcoming we are. I don’t want the distraction where one employee’s fashion choices over-shadow the work. Michelle’s changes seem to have been so drastic that external clients were distracted by it.

      If she didn’t have a client facing role I would give zero (bleeps) about it.

      1. Student*

        Are your clients some sort of small birds with 30-second attention spans?

        If not, this seems like something that they could be legitimately surprised by, but should be able to roll with easily. This is not a major thing.

        This is like ordering 2 cheese pizzas and 1 pepperoni pizza for the business lunch and accidentally getting 1 cheese pizza and 2 pepperoni pizzas instead. You might be a little surprised, confused, or say something about being disappointed. Maybe you even skip lunch over it. You don’t pull the business deal because of it! Not unless you are so mercurial that nobody sane would count on your business until the check clears, anyway.

        1. MuseumChick*

          It’s not a major thing *to you*. That’s very different from not being a major thing or even just a thing *to someone running a business*.

          In previous jobs I have clients complain about much less than this. It can sound romantic/heroic/fashionable/very modern to just say , “Those old stuck up so-and-so! Go be yourself no matter what!” But that is not how running a business works. And given the extreme reaction, she had to not even being told not to change her look so drastically but rather, being told that changing her look will effect how people see her (which is absolutely true) show how immature this girl is.

          1. Small business owner*

            But everyone who has run a business knows that there are some clients who are so hypersensitive that they are not worth having.

            1. MuseumChick*

              Yes, but in this case *multiple* clients had commented on it, it was out of sync with the office culture and Michelle, not even being told that she couldn’t change her look so drastically so often, just that doing so would affect how people saw her and distract from the quality of her work (all true) reacted extremely immaturely.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          I dunno. I can kind of see this happening this way:

          Client #1: Okay so Bob had the green tie and sat at the head of the table.
          Client #2 Right. And Sally had the long brown hair and purple shirt.
          Client #1 Okay so what happened to Michelle, she was the one in the red dress, right?
          Client #2 I don’t know I did not see her when we came back from lunch. Who was that different woman and how come no one introduced her? Dang. I really wanted to talk to Michelle about X. I guess I will have to figure out how to track her down later.

      2. Gilmore67*


        I would ask of people if they owned a company or was a manager and had Michelle as an employee. And YOU saw the looks of your client’s faces when Michelle changed hair and all that wondering what was going on?

        Would you actually just sit there and think… cool… Michelle changed her look in the middle of a major meeting and my clients looked confused….. Rock on Michelle !!

        This may be all cute and fine looking at this as a bystander but as a manager or owner or client?
        I am not thinking so much.

    3. Prince of Snarkness*

      If someone came back from lunch looking like someone else entirely, do you think the conversation and memories of that afternoon would be about anything but that?

      1. Snark*

        This. It would just completely overshadow any other impression, and it would be weirdly distracting and offputting.

    4. Lissa*

      It’s not about *what* you’re wearing, but the drastic change This is why I think that in this case the sexism stuff is being misapplied. It’s true that women are more likely to be easily able to drastically change their appearance in most cases, because there are more options to do so. But I really think a man doing this would be looked on as just as odd, and honestly, possibly MORE odd if there was hair dying involved.

      I keep seeing (and especially on the original thread) people saying it’s about “caring” what the other person is wearing, or putting effort into caring about it, but it really isn’t. Noticing and reacting to people’s outfits is often unconscious to begin with, which is why just saying “ignore those sexist jerks” when telling women what to wear to an interview isn’t always helpful (though god I wish it were). And when it’s a super drastic change like this there’s a lot more of a WHOA reaction that’s going to happen, whether we want it to or not.

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        I get it, and obviously if clients were distracted then you need to say something… Still, personally to me it seems like a “so what”. Maybe I’m just self-centered or something but I really feel like I wouldn’t care if this happened in my workplace or if I was the client. Of course I would notice, but I can’t imagine it would dominate my thoughts

        1. MuseumChick*

          Alison talked about something slightly similar on another post (which for the life of me I cannot find) but I think its very applicable here. It was about how advocacy groups of legalizing marijuana wanted people who look, for a lack of a better word here, normal. Not people while wild hair colors/styles, lots of piercings, etc. Because they wanted people on the outside focusing on their work and having, again for lack of a better word here, people who looked very out of the norm was a distraction to their message. Its easy for stuff old-men in the government to dismiss someone with, say, a blue Mohawk, but less easy to dismiss someone with a conventional look wearing suit.

  45. Snickerdoodle*

    Is it possible that the manager’s discussion with Michelle was long-winded or preachy and only minimally gave any positive feedback? That might explain Michelle’s actions a bit more. I doubt that’s the case, and Michelle’s reaction would still be inappropriate, but it might explain . . . Never mind. Nothing can explain that.

  46. spek*

    I think I dig this woman. Heck, it’s her first job out of college. Might be generally a bad move, but I admire her for just lighting a match and burning it all down. She probably had another job the next week.

  47. Thespian Blogger*

    Maybe this isn’t the industry for her. I left corporate and jumped into theatre. We have a lot of quick changes there if that’s more her style.

  48. Mallory*

    Yeah, I personally thought Alison’s response to this was really light-hearted and kind of..strange. She’s not a super hero….she’s an office employee. It’s such an incredibly odd thing to do- and to make that dramatic exit just underscores the lack of professionalism she was clearly demonstrating months ago when this letter was sent in.

  49. Steph*

    I’ve been a year for 17 years, hence my experience of the wider professional world is somewhat limited, so I need to ask some questions here.
    Suggestion that a woman (or anyone, really) will not be taken seriously or that her professional judgement is questioned due to any aspect of her appearance, is that not supposed to be a bad thing? Like, I totally get why Michelle’s behaviour was strange and confusing, but to actually say to her that she wouldn’t be taken seriously due to her apperance, surely, is that not starting to wander into sexual discrimination zone?

    1. Amber Rose*

      Discriminating against people based on appearance is bad. Acknowledging that it happens is necessary. Particularly for younger members of the workforce, who frequently need coaching on professionalism and proper workplace behavior.

      You’re not going to get in trouble for verbally recognizing that a problem exists. That’s just ridiculous. Imagine if a building was on fire and nobody pulled the alarm because they didn’t want to be accused of arson.

      1. Steph*

        I’m not sure that you example is analogous to the situation.

        I think the point I want to make is we all got stroppy at the recruiters that wanted women to wear skirts/heels/make up to increase their chances of being hired because they looked more professional. Yet, no one has a problem with Michelle’s manager asking her to alter her appearance to, essentially “look more professional”. The difference between the scenarios is that Michelle’s was somewhat less conventional than simply putting on heels and make up for and interview. I think we are judging the scenario on it’s unconventionally-ness more than anything.
        Although I disagree with Michelle’s final actions I can understand her being angered by the situation. Either we don’t like women having their professionalism judged based on their appearance or we do.

        1. Jade*

          She wasn’t saying Michelle looked unprofessional; she said the changing mid-day during client conferences was distracting to the clients. And some may view that as unprofessional.

        2. tigerlily*

          I think there’s a difference in asking someone to change their appearance and asking something to not be distracting. Michelle’s boss was not asking her to look different. All she asked was that she not drastically change her appearance in the middle of client meeting, something that was commented on by clients and coworkers as distracting. I had a boss tell me one time that the way I usually sat at the front desk, the way the (mostly male) clients stood at the front desk, and the clothing I usually wore all combined to make it easy for our clients to see down my shirt. If we were both standing and you were looking at me face on, I was completely professionally and appropriately dressed, but the sitting and leaning and the me being particularly busty combined into a lot more cleavage showing than I was aware of. My (male) boss had every right to say to me, “hey this is something I’ve noticed our clients mentioning to each other, sometimes not in particularly nice ways in reference to you. You might want to think about other clothing options if possible.” I was very grateful to get that message, because I seriously didn’t realize I was “putting myself out there” in such a way.

          I also used to work at a church and when we had funerals held at the church, we were expected to dress more professionally and conservatively. We absolutely sent home a woman who came to work in jeans and sneakers on one of those days. She didn’t need to wear heels, didn’t need to wear makeup, but she did need to look professional in a manner fitting our work context. That’s all they’re asking of Michelle. Nothing inherently sexist about it.

      2. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Discriminating against people based on appearance is bad. Acknowledging that it happens is necessary.


        Also, this wasn’t discriminating against her appearance, it was appropriate feedback on her behavior and actions that were outside of the professional norm.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      If a woman is held to a different standard then men, then yes that would be a bad thing.

      It’s not her appearance that is causing the side conversations, it’s the constant and drastic changes in her appearance that sparks commentary. It sounds like any given look she creates was fine and met company dress code. It’s the radical changes in the middle of the day that made her unrecognizable to others that was a concern.

      I can’t wrap my mind around why anyone would not want to be recognizable to others.

  50. Jimulacrum*

    It sounds like she did great work and otherwise behaved very professionally. But it only takes one borderline insane outburst to create awkwardness and potentially lose clients. Her response was completely immature and unpredictable, and if that’s how she responds to polite and honest feedback, then good riddance.

    Maybe she would be an interesting and exciting person to bring to a party, but it’s fortunate for this company that she walked off the job before she could cause a real problem.

    1. Prince of Snarkness*

      Yeah, but when she smashes all of your car windows and slashes your tires when you didn’t answer her texts quickly enough….

    2. JulieBulie*

      Well, the first half would be amazing. Then she’d go into the restroom and you wouldn’t recognize her when she came out, so you’d be on your own after that.

  51. Jael*

    I have a lot of sympathy for Michelle as I have both changed my hair during the workday and walked out of a job. Neither was a catastrophe nor do I regret it.

    Re the hair, I lived about 25 miles from my work and my hairdresser. Lunch was the best time to have my hair done. I would go with curls and come back with straight hair. I would go with long hair and come back with super short hair. Sometimes I would get it colored.

    I walked out of the job over a salary dispute and never looked back.

    1. MuseumChick*

      It doesn’t sound like that changes you made were 1) Making you looking that a completely different person 2) An distractions to outside clients 3) Happening as often as Michelle was changing her look.

      I walked into work one day having gone from brown hair to cartoon/superhero neon red (loved it, will do it again). But I didn’t look like a *completely different person* and if I had been pulled aside and told that my hair was a distraction I would be annoyed, bummed out, and probably start looking for a new job. But I would not unbutton my shirt and rage quite.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      You were probably wearing the same clothes, nails, shoes and make up, though.

      I walked out of a job once but I did not need to open my shirt to do it.

  52. Non-profiteer*

    So this remains one of AAM’s greatest mysteries. I am now putting my money on some form of spy, secret agent or super hero. Or – time jumper. You think she’s only gone at lunch. She thinks she’s been gone for months.

  53. Serafina*

    Ooh, I like all of these possibilities…much more than what I suspect is the real answer, that Michelle was a spoiled, too-wealthy attention junkie who is very unaccustomed to her behavior ever being even mildly questioned, and threw a tantrum over someone suggesting she’s not the fashion maven and object of adoration and awe that she imagines herself to be.

  54. Nick*

    If a senior manager approached an employee I managed and raised an issue of office behaviour/dress without me present or at least speaking to me first, I would hit the roof. I manage that person. I know their history, their character, and how such conversations with them would be best handled. The other manager does not and in my view was completely out of order speaking directly to Michelle.
    It’s a way unexpected reaction from her, but the way she dresses and changes how she dresses is clearly very important to her and that was just not taken into account.


    1. Not So NewReader*

      This is the problem with paychecks. The person who signs the check calls the shots. Most of us find ourselves conforming in ways that we were prefer not to have to conform.

      1. Nick*

        Sure, and the correct way to call the shots in this instance is to talk to Michelle’s hiring manager (the letter writer) and say ‘this happened at the sales conference, can you speak to Michelle about it please?’

  55. SebbyGrrl*

    Michelle is some kind of fashionista/lif estyle blogger (trying to become a Stylist a la Kim K, Rachel Zoe…Lauren Conrad – but way newer, younger -I’m not THAT hip).

    She needs to post at least daily and it must have drama, flair, be a significant change to matter to her followers.

    This job was TOTALLY her day job, only for…the money or so some Olds in her life would leave her alone enough to let her pursue her … passion?

    She was all “Bye Felicia! I don’t want or need this job or the ‘professional recognition you mundanes keep yammering about’, I’m the next Lady Boss, but so WAY BETTER!”

    She blogged all those changes and the ridiculous, small, un-visioned reactions from the sheeple at her stupid stupid corporate sweat shop.

    1. Mallory*

      sorry that some of us have real jobs and actually care about how we present to clients/public stakeholders with different backgrounds, cultures, and sensibilities. how incredibly reductive and naive to insinuate that such sensitivity makes you a sheep.

      also the term “lady boss”…super lame. it’s just boss. thx.

  56. Leah*

    You said she changes her hair once a month ! So not every day or every week, but her outfit changes are only when on conferences, huh ? Ask a Manager please clarify, also OP what exactly did the manager doing the talk say, that she’s unproffesional to do this, wow, huh? I’d be insulted but if it’s DAILY clothing changes are different, I think this post spun out, and the OP wasn’t even there to hear what the other manager told the younger women, honestly it was probably insulting as heck, social norms aside. and you can only confirm dates, really is this a public government job or what, I say that bc you mention conferences?

    Still though was it hair changes on the conference days or just clothing changes bc when you go back to your room sometimes you just feel like a change, but if it’s totally altered appearance for the afternoon ugh she probably had a bizarre/ strange upbringing, it’s not just immaturity.

    1. Mallory*

      sorry that some of us have real jobs and actually care about how we present to clients/public stakeholders with different backgrounds, cultures, and sensibilities. how incredibly reductive and naive to insinuate that such sensitivity makes you a sheep.

  57. binkle*

    I say rock on Michelle. She will one day rule the universe. Even if it is the universe within her own two ears (which I guess she already does rule). Wish I had them balls in my early working life also. Would gladly trade all my years of snivelling and kow-towing for one beautiful FU moment.

  58. LadyCop*

    Did not see a hissy fit coming! And then she has the balls (ignorance?) to ask for a reference…uhhh…wth

  59. Candi*

    I’m trying to figure out why so many here see acknowledging sexism exists as the same thing as being sexist. It’s a minority saying it, but still.

    The manager’s discussion sounds like she was telling Michelle that, in most situations, women start out twenty feet behind the starting line where things like credibility are concerned. It also sounds like she said that Michelle’s frequent and thorough changes particularly were the equivalent of being stopped every thirty feet on the track and having to wait for 15-30 seconds. It adds up and slows you down, affecting perception and belief in your working abilities.

    And then, Michelle wasn’t even banned from ever doing her changes! She was asked not to do the full makeovers under X, Y, and Z conditions. It was a compromise between something she obviously liked doing and the company’s needs.

    In any case, there was no need for that crash and burn approach to leaving the job.

    A sidenote: Modern company and government dress codes are NOT the equivalent of the ridiculously strict precise and uniform appearances expected of Victorian servants (and the British Army of the time). WTH did that argument even come from!?! The closest you get is things like the Rockettes, where the very specific appearance is a vital part of the job, and that is incredibly rare. Even uniformed retail workers don’t have codes as strict as times of yore.

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