should I try to steal my old coworker’s job, are cotton clothes less professional, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Should I try to take my old coworker’s job?

I quit my job last February. A coworker was promoted to my position. She was totally unprepared and unqualified, and I have been secretly helping her ever since. She contacts me almost daily with questions and crises.

Now I desperately need a job, and wonder if I should try to get my old job back. The boss is happy with Shanna, but has no clue that I am still “training” her. I have all the emails to prove it, but that would sabotage Shanna’s career. What should I do?

Trying to take someone’s job from them would be a real dick move! Don’t do it.

You can certainly stop helping Shanna — explain to her that you no longer have the time to keep helping and at this point she should be able to do the job on her own — but you can’t secretly try to sabotage her.

At most, you could say something to your old boss like, “Shanna is still contacting me for help on a lot of things and I’m looking for work, which made me wonder if there might be space for a role for me to help with some of my old projects, or even something else.” You’d be proposing coming back, but not taking Shanna’s job to do it.

2. Are cotton clothes less professional?

I’m a mid-40s female professional in the biotech industry. Many years ago, I made the personal decision to avoid buying synthetic fabrics due to the large environmental impact and often ethically questionable workplace practices that synthetics and fast-fashion have. The prevents me from buying most items at popular fast-fashion places like Zara and H&M, and even more traditional places like Ann Taylor or White House Black Market, where the majority of the fabrics are synthetic. I inspect the tags on everything I buy and stick to a few retailers I know. I find myself buying a lot of items made from cotton since it’s a natural fiber. Since I’m also committed to buying from environmentally responsible and sweat-shop free businesses, they often come with a high price tag, but also with the bonus that they are well-made and are long-lasting.

One day I was talking with a European colleague about where we shop and she looked at me and said, “I have never worn a t-shirt in my life,” I think implying that my tops look like t-shirts because they are made of cotton. I noticed that she was wearing head-to-toe polyester, which made me think about the microplastics that pollute the ocean every time polyester is washed and the environmental sludge and throw-away culture that comes out of the manufacturing of fast-fashion. I feel like the clothing I choose usually looks cute and classic, not very trendy, but still flattering. Did my personal environment and ethical choices force me to wear clothing that looks too casual?

It’s true that some cotton tops can read as less professional and more t-shirt-ish. Not all of them — there are lots of professional-looking cotton tops (hello, cotton button-downs!). But our norms around profession dress do include a weird convention where the same top can look less professional in cotton than in synthetic fabrics. It depends on the top, and it depends on the specifics of the fabric — like whether it’s t-shirt fabric or something more structured or with a different drape. It also depends on the office — in many offices this would be a total non-issue, while in others it might matter more. (And as for why this is even a thing, it’s one of those inexplicable conventions that has its roots in something other than logic. My guess is it’s probably very old and rooted in the fact that cotton used to cost less.)

In any case, if your shirts aren’t cut like t-shirts and don’t drape like t-shirts, I think you’re fine.

3. Did I ruin an offer by asking for a three-month delay in my start date?

Last week, my dream company told me they would want to extend me an offer after two rounds of interviews which took place before the Covid-19 outbreak. The interviews took place in February and March, but the company had a hiring freeze in March, and told me they had to pause my application and hoped to pick it up as soon as they could. Last week, they emailed saying that the hiring has resumed and they wanted to give me an offer if I’m still interested. I emailed back saying of course I would be interested. However, I asked if I could start three months later than the start date proposed in the original job post because of Covid-19 reasons and a few things that got delayed in my current job. They said they would look into it.

A few days passed and yesterday I saw that they took down the original job post and posted a new one with slight changes (adding a term in the job title and proposed start date). Is it a sign that they already changed their mind about hiring me?

It’s likely a sign that they don’t want to wait three months for someone to start — especially since they’ve already been waiting since March. If you’d want the job even if you’d need to start it on their proposed start date, I’d contact them right now, say you’ve been able to move some things around and are available when they proposed, and ask if they’d still like to move forward. Otherwise, yeah, it looks likely that you might miss out on the job because of the extra time you’re asking for.

For what it’s worth, this isn’t how they should have handled it. If they couldn’t accommodate the extra three months, they should have told you that and given you a chance to decide if that worked for you or not. Just re-advertising while leaving you hanging isn’t great. (That said, asking for an extra three months might not have been great either, although it depends on the job. There are some jobs that would happily accommodate that — especially more senior and more skilled jobs — and others where just asking would come across strangely.)

4. Can I ask questions before coming back from a leave of absence?

When I had my annual review at the end of 2019, my boss (executive director of a small nonprofit) and I discussed the likelihood of, at the end of 2020, me receiving a title bump from, say, development specialist to director of development (a role that doesn’t currently exist at our organization). She told me to remind her mid-year so she could plan for this. She was also open about the fact that she was planning on retiring at the end of 2020, which I was looking forward to, since she’s been an okay-but-not-amazing boss.

Then 2020 happened. My boss postponed her retirement plans indefinitely to deal with seeing the organization through the pandemic. Around April-May, I was also diagnosed with a serious health problem requiring an extended period away from work for treatment. At the beginning of June, I started a six-month leave of absence to deal with my health stuff, and I didn’t ask my boss about whether my planned title bump was still a possibility before I left, which was probably an error on my part.

At this point, I’m not 100% sure I actually want to go back to this job, but I might be swayed depending on 1) whether my boss has any sort of new timeline for her retirement in mind and 2) whether my title bump is still in the pipeline for 2021. (I would totally understand if it’s not, given everything that’s happened, but I don’t want to assume that either!) How do I go about asking my boss either of these things in a reasonable way? Obviously I can’t say “I’m only coming back if you’re leaving in the near future,” but is there a less horrible-sounding way of getting that information? And if she tells me that she’s not leaving any time soon, or that my title bump isn’t in the cards after all, and then I decide not to return, won’t my reasons why be sort of obvious?

At some point later on in your leave of absence, ask to set up a phone call about your return. Then, on the call, discuss some of the logistics — and as part of that, you can say, “Obviously the pandemic and my leave of absence have both gotten in the way of moving me to the director of development position we’d discussed. Does that still look like something we can do at the end of this year, or is it more likely something we’d take up next year?” Additionally, as you’re talking, you can say in a chatty way, “I know you’d been planning to move on at the end of the year, and the pandemic disrupted that. Do you have a new timeline you’re planning on?” This is something you could easily be asking out of curiosity; it’s not going to be obvious that your return hinges on her answer (especially if your tone is just chatty/friendly).

The longer you wait to have this conversation, the more likely she’ll have an answer about her timeline, so I’d wait at least another month or so.

If you ultimately decide not to return, you can say it’s health-related or related to changes from the weirdness of this year or another opportunity dropped in your lap, etc. It shouldn’t look like a response to whatever answers you hear, assuming it doesn’t happen immediately afterwards.

5. Should I tell a new advisor about my family health situation?

I graduated from college in May and am about to start a PhD program across the country in a famously competitive STEM field. Due to a variety of circumstances, I only have a few living relatives: my parents, a sibling, a grandmother, and an uncle. My mother, grandmother, and uncle are all in poor health and unlikely to make it to the time I finish grad school.

However … I know many people are probably in a similar situation with the pandemic. And I had an experience as an undergrad where I lost a close friend in an accident, asked for that afternoon off when I found out, and my manager said since he wasn’t a blood relative or a student at my university, I couldn’t let it affect my work since “loss is just part of adult life.” Some people in academia have even said they assume students’ grandparents’ deaths are excuses! Should I let my advisor know about my family ahead of time so he knows I’m not fabricating? Or will it make it seem like I have one foot out the door or am not committed or “adult” enough? I won’t necessarily be asking for lots of time off if something happens, just the understanding that I may need a day or two, especially since travel is dangerous for the foreseeable future. What are the actual professional norms here?

What on earth — you’re only allowed to mourn blood relatives and other students?! (I’m hoping the “other students” was because they’d have independent verification of that, because otherwise that’s a bizarre addition.) No relatives by marriage? No close friends? No spouses? (I’m guessing it wasn’t an actual rule, but just him speaking off the cuff, but still — absurd.) That manager was an ass and not representative of what you should expect to find in any decent workplace.

That said, it wouldn’t hurt to inform your advisor of your situation early on — not because you won’t be believed otherwise, but because it’s something that could come up and it won’t hurt to have proactively explained things at the start.

{ 532 comments… read them below }

  1. nonee*

    OP 5, I just want to say that I’m so sorry – that’s such an awful situation, and obviously you can’t be ok, but I hope you’re as ok as possible in all this.

    1. PhDgrad*

      Agreed. This sounds like a really tough situation on top of all of the stress of graduate school. OP5, I lost a very close friend, who was like a sister but not a blood relative, during my PhD. My advisor was so so supportive — he told the students in my TA class not to bother him and ran interference with other deadlines. I also lost my grandfather two days before my defense, and he was again so compassionate and helpful. I think (hope) that your advisor will see you as a human and a colleague, and will be understanding. If your advisor makes horrible comments about you not being serious about your work or that loss is part of life, that seems like a good time to deploy Alison’s “what an odd thing to say” line. Wishing you and your family peace and strength.

    2. Nesprin*

      Op5- advisors vary a ton, same way people vary a ton. When i told my advisor about some health things that were going to alter or possibly derail my doctoral work, he was 1000% supportive and helped figure out bailouts and alternative strategies. Good advisors understand that people have emergencies and do what they can to lighten the load- I really hope your advisor is a good one, but if she isnt, that isn’t your fault.

    3. AsstProf*

      Yes. Also, as an academic, I would say that your experience is NOT indicative of professional norms. It is true that faculty are sometimes suspicious of undergrads missing work due to a series of family illnesses, but the conventions are completely different for a PhD student. It is assumed that PhD students are there because they want to be there, and they are treated like adults. You don’t even need to say anything in advance unless you have reason to think that you’ll need to take significant time off in the next couple of months. However, you might want to bring it up just to check whether your advisor is a monster (not as rare in academia as it should be, and good to know in advance). In that case, I would just say that there is a possibility you may have to travel for family health issues, and ask about what procedure your advisor would want you to follow in that case. If they are anything but supportive, you may want to start thinking about whether you can switch advisors!

      1. Butterfly Counter*

        I came here to say exactly this. It’s one thing when you’re hit with three, “I have to postpone my final exam/can’t turn in my paper because my grandmother/father just died,” from undergraduates on the same day*. It’s quite another when it’s a grad student you’ve been working closely with tells you about a death in the family.

        *I know that there is a high likelihood that none of the students were lying about the death of a grandparent. I do allow for postponing final exams/papers for everyone. It’s just that your BS meter goes up when they all seem to clump together right when major deadlines get so near.

        The above is very good advice.

        1. Quill*

          I am now curious of the statistical likelihood of people losing one or more of their grandparents specifically during the age range of 18-23. It depends, I suppose, on the average age at which previous generations had kids, the age those generations live to, and how many grandparents we’re counting (because with divorces and remarriages it may be more than four.)

          1. Blurgle*

            I suspect it’s fairly common. A lot of uni students will have been born in 1998-2002, which means their parents were likely born around 1962ish-1975, which means *their* parents were likely born in the 30s or 40s. That puts the grandparents in the 70s and 80s, prime decades for death.

            Of the three grandparents whose identities I know, one died before I was born, one died when I was sixteen, and one (whom I never met) died when I was around nineteen.

          2. Spheedle*

            I lost a step-grandmother and great grandmother during my 4 years at uni, and then two grandparents in the year after I graduated. I would think it’s pretty common just based on the typical ages.My grandpa’s partner passed away while I was studying too, but as I’d never met her I guess that doesn’t count. Point is you’re right, people’s families often aren’t as simple as just 4 grandparents and that’s it.

        2. LizM*

          To be fair, it probably feels like it only happens around finals because if someone’s grandparent dies in the middle of the semester, they may not need to tell you, especially if your class doesn’t take attendance or allows for absences without having to provide an excuse.

          1. Butterfly Counter*

            This is true. On one level I do know this, which is why I’m as flexible as I can be with my own end-of-semester deadlines to allow for make up work and late assignments. I’m also really weirded out when students come at me with obituaries, prayer cards, and (once) photos of them with a coffin.

            I get being suspicious and I bet I’ve been “fooled” by a student once or twice. But in the long run, I’d rather just be slightly inconvenienced by a few students a semester (some of whom may be lying to me) than be suspicious and hard-nosed at a time when students may be having a really hard time on many different fronts.

      2. Sparrow*

        I agree that grad school is a completely different ballgame, but I would NOT recommend saying anything right away unless OP already has a good feel for their advisor. Most faculty I’ve worked with in my grad school and professional experiences would be somewhere on the scale from “You’re an adult – just do what you need to do; I don’t need details” and actively supportive (and I had several who were very flexible when my cousin died not long before my comprehensive exams). However, I’ve also personally known a few, and have heard about plenty of others, who would be subtly judgmental or openly critical about it.

        Unless the health situation is already quite precarious, I would wait until later in the semester and get a better feel for the advisor before saying anything. And if OP is at all wary and there’s an older grad student OP can comfortably ask about their thoughts on approaching the advisor, I would do that. I just think a non-immediate family health situation is not the way to test whether your advisor is a monster or even just a crappy person, and I’d try to get that info before having to deal with anything personal. But I agree – if/when OP decides to say something, I’d probably frame it as a question of expectations or procedure.

        1. Sparrow*

          Clarification: Once OP feels pretty confident the advisor isn’t a terrible person, I definitely would go ahead and say something preemptively instead of waiting until a crisis moment. I just wouldn’t rush to tell them until I felt fairly sure about how they’d react.

        2. gurbles*

          I agree with this tactic based on my experience with my PhD advisor and other members of the same department. Reactions can be unpredictable and you do not want to divulge information that can be used against you later by someone with that kind of power over your future.

      3. Paulina*

        As a grad program advisor in a STEM field, I agree completely. A head’s up to the advisor and a request about what procedure to follow if it turns out you have a family emergency, that enables you to raise the issue while still keeping it low-key for the initial discussion. PhD work can often be more flexible than undergrad studies, though also sometimes not (due to either your supervisor in an ongoing way, or with respect to specific deadlines or events). Additionally, while you’re moving across the country for your program, many other STEM grad students come from abroad (when allowed in), and often require significantly more consideration when they have family emergencies. What you’re considering, as possible leeway you might need, sounds pretty minor to me. COVID-related problems in getting non-domestic students to be able to start may also make you less expendable, even if your supervisor is not reasonable.

        Also, first read your university’s regulations (general and grad studies) to see what exceptional circumstances are already due consideration.

        Congratulations on starting your PhD program, OP5.

    4. schnauzerfan*

      Yes. That’s so inhumane. Some orgs are great others really suck. We lost our long time custodian a few years back. He was a gem, always knew if you had and event coming up and made sure everything was set up. Extra chairs, did you need anything special. He was often the first person to great you in the morning when you came in. Just a good guy. He died rather suddenly and they would not let us close the office for a few hours so everyone could go to the funeral, couldn’t even close the reference desk and leave the evening students in charge. Still bitter about that, especially after the whole campus shut down when someone “important” died. Someone who many on the staff wouldn’t have recognized if they saw him in person…

    5. Abogado Avocado*

      OP5: Armistead Maupin has written that we all have a biological family and a logical family. A good advisor/supervisor/boss will understand your situation. A bad advisor/supervisor/boss won’t — and life is difficult enough without those who want to tell you who to care for and to mourn (as if, of course, this were a matter of choice. Hah!). Alison is right: tell your advisor about your situation. I once worked with a woman whose family was afflicted with a genetic disease that took most of her immediate family very young. (She did not have mutation that caused the disease.) As you might imagine, friends and more distant relatives took the roles that her immediate family, had they survived, would have. And our wonderful boss understood that, validated it, and made sure she could use her leave for her logical family.

    6. Phlox*

      OP 5 – ooof that is hard and I know that the unknown timeline of loved one’s health is hard. Anticipatory grief sucks. A lot of work has been done to expand the definition of family in work settings – one helpful case I found in changing things at my workplace was that the federal government’s definition of family for federal workers is fairly broad at specific family members and “Any individual related by blood or affinity whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship.”’ So changing your university’s definition of family (via grad student union negotiations or another path) might not be something you want to take on, but it is one option. I got my workplace to change our definition of family to expand funeral leave, the previous restrictive list didn’t include grandparents.

      1. Kristina*

        At unis in Sweden we’re entitled to ten days’ paid leave a year in connection with the death of a relative. Our HR department decided this needed to be organised (one day for sitting at the deathbed – your relatives better die quickly – one day for the funeral, etc). I was in this discussion as the union rep and I must say the lack of empathy on the subject was genuinely disturbing. However, it was possible to fight because there is already a right to paid leave, and because the managers in the actual line (HR is not the boss of us) were much more understanding. Professors are likely to be of an age when you lose parents, after all.

  2. Zona the Great*

    The iteration of, “this is not how adults behave” spoken to another adult would already have my hackles up with that manager in #5.

    1. Batty Twerp*

      Yes, if you’re going to learn about adult (read: professional) behaviour, that manager is a perfect example of how NOT to behave.

    2. Violet Rose*

      Related to this, I’ve found that a number of things I was told were to prepare me for “the real world” ended up being terrible life lessons, and did not at all prepare me for “the real world”!

      1. Observer*

        It’s incredible how often “preparation for real life” and “how adults behave” is little more than an excuse for terrible, terrible behavior.

        1. Persephone Underground*

          Yep- I got told things like “you won’t get extensions in the real world” etc. about extensions I received on assignments due to a learning disability. (Thanks to the law, they had to provide them anyway, but sometimes they used this line to make it clear they didn’t like it.) Well, guess what? In the real world I don’t need extensions on deadlines because real life is waaaay less regimented and rigid than school, so I have a million other ways I can work around my disability, and I’m being measured much more on quality than speed in my chosen profession.

      2. Kiki*

        Yes! I think what I ultimately took away from all these “lessons” is that when I am in positions of power, I want to make things better for people whenever I can instead of perpetuating nonsense just because I was forced to deal with it.

      3. Kiki*

        And like you said, a lot of things that I was told would “prepare me for the real world” ended up instilling really awful habits I am currently spending a lot of time in cognitive behavioral therapy trying to undo. One of the biggest ones was high school teachers telling students, “Don’t ask for help, try to do everything completely on your own; in college and later in life nobody will take time to help you!” It made me afraid to go to office hours in college because I thought it would make me seem weak. And it actively hurts my development as a software engineer– asking questions and knowing when to reach out for help is such a big part of the job!

      4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        There was an older guy in my group of 15-20 at my first job out of college, who did that to me once, or rather, tried to. We were a group of software developers, except for 2-3 people, including him, who had different job titles. One day he said he needed my help with something, and gave me a day’s worth of ridiculous manual work, like copying numbers onto a spreadsheet by hand? (not 100% sure, this was eons ago.) As I was copying, he decided to tell me: “Good, good, this will prepare you for the *real* work.” For about 20 seconds, I was horrified – so this is what I’ll be doing for the rest of my life as a software dev? and then the rest of my group dunked on that guy without mercy. He had 15-20 people all telling him that this was not true, that he knew it, and that he shouldn’t ever say this to a new employee again. I still miss working on that team *sniffle*

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      It really effing hurt to read too. One of my friends who died to Covid worked at a firm that refused to give the staff more than part of one afternoon to mourn their lost coworker. Again, ‘you’re not family’ and ‘only close family have the right to compassionate leave’.

      The management there, and the people who said to LW5 that death is just something adults deal with on their own time are wrong. Very wrong. There is no standard grief response, even the same person can react differently from loss to loss, and different responses require different help. To the best of my knowledge there’s no benefit from a ‘suck it up’ response.

      My support and internet hugs to LW5 and anyone who is facing loss.

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      That damn manager. I lost my closest childhood friend in a car accident in the early 00s. I miss her to this day; more than I do some of my relatives that I’d taken bereavement leave for. I was definitely out of it for a few weeks after I got the news about my friend. The manager needs to learn how to act like a human. OP, please be assured that most adults are not like this manager. Even in my field, that is famous for low social skills, people have way more empathy than that.

      1. Liz*

        People like that really piss me off. A few months ago, I lost a family member, by marriage, to suicide. We were VERY close. The next day, I logged on, emailed my bosses, told them what happened, and that I needed a day off as I was in no frame of mind to work, and they said take as much time as you need. I only needed that one day but it was nice to know they supported whatever i needed.

    5. Tangerina Warbleworth*

      Yes, loss is just a part of adult life — and other actual human adults recognize what a shock it is, have compassion and give a person time to absorb the shock. Good Lord, what a robot someone would have to be not to understand that.

      1. ampersand*

        Exactly–both can be true! Loss is a part of life, yes, AND we need time to process losses that we’re affected by.

        “Suck it up and work anyway because that’s life” is a terrible message to convey to someone who is just starting out and doesn’t know that that shouldn’t be/isn’t usually the norm.

  3. Courtney*

    LW#5, no advice, just commiseration. My father passed a few years back, right as my closest friend moved 700km away. She had started a new job and tried coming back for the funeral, because she considered my father like a second father to her. She had been in all our lives for 20something years. Her boss wouldn’t let her, saying it wasn’t a good enough reason to take time off. She lasted 5 months at that job before moving back home, because that was just the first of many things she hated about that workplace.

    1. Rexish*

      It sucks when bosses decide what is good enough reason. My grandmother died and my boyfriend was not allowed to move his hours so he could have made it to the funeral. He suggested working 7-3 instead of 9-5 that day or do an extra hour for a few days (an Office job where the hours really don’t matter) but aparently that was not appropriate.

      1. Courtney*

        I kind of understand my friend not being allowed to leave her new job to travel 700km for a funeral for 2 days. There’s no excuse for your boyfriend not being allowed to rearranged his start&finish for that, how awful for you both.

        1. The Grey Lady*

          Your friend’s management was definitely crappy. I understand not wanting to take off work right when you first start, but a funeral is a special circumstance.

      2. Not That Kind of Doctor*

        My boss has done variations of this repeatedly in our office. He knows exactly who he can and cannot push on issues like this. Most of us have learned that when it comes to things like this the better move is to just call out on the day rather than bang your head against the wall trying to justify yourself or have him act like he is doing you some grand favor and keeping score. Funerals aren’t the only thing he pushes back on, I told him I had to have a badly cracked, but otherwise asymptomatic tooth pulled and would need a couple of days off. I was literally asking how much advance notice he would like before I actually scheduled the appointment. He asked if it was an emergency and I explained that I was getting it pulled so it would not become an emergency. He balked at giving me the time for “an elective procedure” and I had to go to HR.

        1. Anon for this*

          “He balked at giving me the time for “an elective procedure” and I had to go to HR.” – Your boss is horrible. But you already know that. Is it wrong to wish raging sinus infections upon someone like him? Nothing fatal, just pure misery for a week or so.

      3. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I really hate all the baggage our society has about grief, and the way it’s soaked into professional culture. A boss shouldn’t get to decide who their employees care for enough to warrant bereavement leave.

        A close friend of my family passed away several years ago, and my boss at the time was willing to let me take the day off for the funeral as long as I could find coverage. The number of gross things my coworkers said to me when I was trying to find someone to trade shifts was really, really upsetting. (“I never trade shifts with people, it’s so inconvenient for me.” “Oh, thanks, coworker, I’m glad to know that you think being inconvenienced by trading shifts with me would be as bad or worse than the grief I’m feeling at the death of a loved one.”)

        LW5, you have all my good wishes. I hope your family members get to see you achieve this milestone, and I hope that the authority figures you work with will be compassionate with you when you need them to be.

        1. Pomona Sprout*

          This sort of thing is due to an “employees are all slackers who will do anything/tell any lie to avoid working” mindset that goes hand in hand with the “working from home is not really working” mindset described in the last post. It’s really disappointing to realize how many managers are still in that frame of mind in this day and age. :-(

    2. AnotherAlison*

      I think the OP should consider that moving across the country can mean that you don’t get to be as involved with the family back home, though. Should her advisors and managers allow time off for a funeral? It seems reasonable. Reality is you can’t always afford a plane ticket, and a day or two off for a funeral turns into a week if you need to drive, and if this coincides with other planned time off, you might not have the PTO to extend bereavement leave as needed. My husband is 45 and has lived 24 hrs+ (by car) away from his parents and extended family since he was 16, so I understand the situation well. He has not gone to a lot of extended family funerals and weddings over the years.

      1. Paulina*

        Potentially, but there’s also a problem with seeing the leave solely as to go to the funeral. Remote involvement with remaining family may be important, as well as time to grieve. And depending on what the OP would be doing at the time, in their research, taking a “you’re too far away to attend the funeral so keep your nose to the grindstone in the lab” approach could be extremely counterproductive.

    3. Temperance*

      That’s awful.

      I was pretty new at my current job when a dear friend and former boss at an internship died. Without missing a beat, my boss told me that if I wanted to, I was absolutely welcome to stop by her services. I didn’t even have to ask.

    4. workerbee*

      This is also so short-sighted, like you just lost someone dear to you, you might be physically present at the job, but frankly you probably won’t be at your best, no matter how hard you try. Better to have some time away and come back in a more “together” state than be there listlessly.

    5. Frustrated*

      I decided to quit a job, because there wasn’t coverage for me to go to my cousin’s funeral. I spent my lunch hour bawling my eyes out. One of my biggest regrets is not saying F-this and applying to my current career path a year earlier. Screw employers that don’t realize they hire humans.

    6. Jay*

      One of the reasons I love my current job is how they handled an issue that came up about six month after I started. My best friend’s husband and I work together and our job requires cross-coverage (health care). Her father died. She really wanted me to come to the funeral and of course he was already off. I called my boss and said “I realize this would be difficult…” and he said “Go to the funeral. We will figure it out.” He never hesitated and they didn’t make me take PTO, either. That’s a good boss.

  4. penny*

    My first year of college, my grandfather died. I wa any especially closer to him, but it was still a surprise. I accidentally forgot to write a paper for a class as a result, and when I went up to my professor, I told her that my uncle had been killed in a motorcycle accident – I was afraid she would say that a grandparent was too expected/not a good enough reason for not turning in the paper. She gave me an extension with no penalty, of course, but just goes to show that I was somehow aware of people like OP5s colleagues and was conscious of trying to craft a compelling enough “excuse”.

    1. Mystery Bookworm*

      When I was a teen, I lied about my parents getting divorced (it felt like such a banal thing to get upset about) and instead crafted a lie about feeling sick to my stomach.

      Knowing adults now, I’m reasonably sure the truth would have been much more sympathetic, but at the time I was like – well, Martin’s parents are divorced, and he does fine in school, so this isn’t a good enough excuse to be struggling.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        And this why people lie about their reasons for time off, we are seeing it here. It was let known to me that my time off to take care of my dying father was not a reason for missing work. I think this happens a lot more than we realize.

        OP, when in doubt use a reason that you know will work, such as “sudden personal emergency”. You can also go with upset stomach, migraine, etc. But if you go with something health related, try not to be seen out in public too much, because these “people” can also use that against an employee.

        In the end, I went to HR with my complaint and HR did take care of it. So if you do have a problem, don’t stay quiet. In my case I mentioned to the docs that I was having a tough time getting time out to go to the hospital. My company did not like how that looked in the community, so I think that also helped me.

    2. Esmeralda*

      Yeah, I’ve had words with faculty who scoff at “my grandma/pa died” as a made up excuse. “How many grandparents do these kids have anyway?” Well, possibly four, and given that the students are 18 – 22 and grandparents are fifty or more years older than them, it’s not surprising that some of them will die while the students are in college.

      Our uiversity has an absence verification officer…yep, because otherwise faculty members won’t believe the students.

      1. Paulina*

        I appreciate that my university has a centralized process for excusing absences, though we’re still expected to handle minor ones ourselves. Students in distress should not have to plead their cases to several different faculty members who have no counselling training and often very different perspectives on what types of absences should be excused. Grad supervisors would normally expect to hear from their students directly as well.

      2. Kristina*

        I have sometimes been suspicious of students having a lot of family deaths very close to exams. However, I will treat them all as genuine, because the occasional student getting an unearned extension is much less of a problem than a bereaved student being maltreated.

        1. Frustrated*

          Thank you! Professors like you are the reason I stayed in college through loosing my mom.

    3. BigTenProfessor*

      My dad died during my PhD program and when I told my advisor, she was in absolute shock that I had taken my final exams a few days earlier.

  5. Meg C*

    LW #3 – are you OK with wearing rayon/viscose/tencel/lyocell? They are technically natural fibers, although some people who avoid synthetics also avoid those, thinking that becauee of the manufacturing process the environmental impact is still too great (although at least they’re not releasing microplastics). I’m asking because those fabrics (which are all basically the same thing – tencel/lyocell is supposedly more sustainable I think?) have a nice drape to them, which would look more similar to the sort of polyester “work wear” garments that are so common! A rayon/etc blouse or dress can look more formal that the same style in cotton, because of the drape and the way the fabric moves.

    (source: I am a sewist who makes all my own clothes and am also pretty obsessive in general so I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this!)

    1. HM*

      Tencel/Lyocell is is great! Actually considerably less water-intensive than cotton due to how it’s grown, and how they recover the solvent used to process it. Rayon and viscose tend to be quite a bit more chemically intensive, though. But I’m not sure any of these things would pass muster with someone who doesn’t feel COTTON is suitably professional as a clothing material, which, just…

      I work in an industry where the only real clothing considerations are “Do you smell offensive?” and “Does it have a competitor’s logo on it, like a big one?” And sometimes I feel like I can never leave.

      1. Lady Heather*

        Your mention of smell reminds me why I only wear cotton. Synthetics + sweat = stink, cotton does better in that regard.

        (And synthetics often don’t feel good on my skin.)

        1. Kate, short for Bob*

          I find viscose behaves like a natural fibre on my skin. I also make most of my clothes and avoid plastics, and cotton, viscose, linen and wool are my go-tos. Tencel is lovely, but generally heavier weight so not next to the skin.

          As a side note I find temperature regulation is so much easier – and I’m wondering how many menopause symptoms are made much worse than they need to be by the ubiquity of polyester and acrylic.

          1. Web Crawler*

            You just reminded me of the time I had a hot flash* in the middle of graduation, while wearing a synthetic button down under a very plastic-y graduation robe surrounded by hundreds of people in a poorly ventilated room in the summer. It was hell.

            * I’m not menopause age, but you go through menopause as a trans man on your way from an estrogen-dominant body to testosterone-dominant.

          2. Morticia*

            My first thought for the OP was silk, but it occurred to me, since she didn’t mention either wool or silk, that she might be vegan.
            I love that bamboo is on the rise here. It’s very breathable.

            1. Do I need a hard hat for this?*

              I love the feel of bamboo clothing, but the price tag is a little tough to get over (at least the for the brands that I’ve liked). I’m pretty tough on my work clothing, and unfortunately have to retire items after a year or two because I’ll get a snag that turns into a hole…and I can’t be walking around at work with holes in my clothes. If I bought a $40 bamboo shirt and got a hole in it in less than a year I would not be happy. I only buy jeans off the sale rack because inevitably I’ll tear them.

              It’s unfortunate that the types of natural clothing that are more sustainable, like bamboo, are typically out of reach for most people on a budget. I usually stick with cotton because of that.

          3. AVP*

            I work in a more casual environment, but linen in the summer and flannel in the winter are my go-to’s! I will buy tencel if it’s in a blend.

            As a curvy person I do find that a small amount of spandex really makes clothes fit better, but I just aim for a tiny percentage of that!

            1. The Rural Juror*

              Yeah, also curvy, and I can’t really wear jeans without a teeny bit of spandex. I’ve noticed most of the ones I like have 2%. I do like linen-cotton blends and have a couple of pairs of pants I like for the summer that are dark-colored, drawstring linen. Luckily my office is VERY casual!

        2. allathian*

          Yeah, this. Also, a cotton/lycra mix can look more “professional” than pure cotton. That said, at my job nobody cares. In before times I wore jeans to the office most days. I avoid big logos and fandom t-shirts, but that’s it. It’s such a relief to not be forced to think about wearing professional clothes. That said, if I had to wear something other than cotton, I’d probably pick silk rather than viscose/acrylic. It would be too expensive to wear every day, but for that big presentation to the C-suite or when interviewing for a promotion or a new job…

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            Cotton/Lycra mixes won’t work for OP2 in that Lycra and all other elasticised fibres (elastane/spandex in US English) are made from the sludge leftover from oil refineries.

            1. chem worker*

              Not that it matters, but it doesn’t come from refinery sludge. It is manufactured with various gases and liquids tied to refineries (such as acetylene in an early step). Refineries recover oil from the sludge and treat the rest as waste. Source: I’ve been a chemical industry worker for 20 years.

              1. allathian*

                Fair points by you and Rebel. I guess I wasn’t really answering the OP’s question at this point. That said, I’m all for making use of what would otherwise only be waste products.

                1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                  Put like that elastane is great. But it pollutes the ocean once particles come off in the wash, like polyester and other synthetic fabrics.

              2. lost academic*

                This. Similar paper and wood products that are listed with “recycled” but not “post consumer” recycled materials. It’s often wood waste from a different process – it’s not waste, just like byproducts from midstream and downstream oil and gas production aren’t generating waste, but they are materials that aren’t otherwise useful in that industry segment, so they’re sold to those who do need them as raw material.

        3. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Linen for the win for me. Polyester & other synthetics trap moisture; linen wicks it because that’s what the fiber does in the the plant stem. It’s why its great when weather is hot–your body can cool itself.
          There was an article I wish I could find by a participant in a historic-reenactment TV show (BBC no doubt). She had such good results with Tudor England’s use of linen for hygiene that she experimented with it back in modern life–still kept her odorless except when wearing modern synthetics over the linen underlayer.
          linen underclothes that she experimented with it back in modern life. Still works to keep you smell-free in modern world unless you’re in modern synthetics.

          1. WS*

            Ruth Goodman is the historian in question!

            I’m in Australia and linen is a very common fabric for professional clothing here, along with cotton and silk. Bamboo-based rayon is on the rise but personally I haven’t found many clothes I like in bamboo yet.

            1. Carlie*

              My first thought was also linen. Even though a lot of linen clothes have a relaxed cut and style, it is uncommon and distinctive enough of a fabric (and expensive enough) to obviously be a carefully considered choice. One of the issues with cotton is the connotation that you rolled out of bed and grabbed the first easy clothes you could find, which is not true for linen.

              1. Leslie Nope*

                I wear a lot of linen-cotton blend button-down shirts. My only complaint is the wrinkles! Sometimes by the end of the day my shirt will look like I did just roll out of bed in it. I’ve had to be more conscientious about making sure the tail of my shirt does not get bunched when I’m sitting (because I tend to wear an over-sized style and leave it all untucked). That really seems to help…other wise it starts to look like an accordion back there! If I notice it looking a little too disheveled, I’ll tie the ends up at my waist to hide the wrinkles. Luckily my job is casual!

                1. Pomona Sprout*

                  Yeah, I don’t care for linen, because it looks like crap unless you iron the, well, crap (lol) out of it. And no matter now much I iron a linen garment, it looks like a crumpled wad of wrinkles a few minutes after I put it on. Combine all that with the fact that I. HATE. IRONING, and it’s a no-go for me.

                  I wear a LOT of cotton knit tops, but I’m retired and don’t have to worry about looking “professional.”

                2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                  Pomona Sprout, I have found knit linen fabric and garments. No need to iron knits. The top I got is every bit as comfy as knit cotton but somehow it’s really classy, I can’t quite explain why, but it’s definitely a first choice for when I need to look good.

            2. virago*

              Yes! She wrote an article about her experiences with linen for New Republic magazine — it’s called “Getting Clean the Tudor Way,” and it was published in 2016.

              For the purpose of not melting down in a non-air conditioned condo, I’ve searching linen clothing, towels and sheets this summer. I ran across Goodman’s excellent article in my travels.

          2. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

            How interesting!
            I sweat *a lot*, to the point where I get Botox injections in my armpits and hands. I always wear a cotton cami under whatever shirt I’m wearing but I have to look into linen ones! I found a few good alternatives on Etsy!

          3. SomebodyElse*

            I was going to suggest linen or silk. Silk is obviously going to be more expensive, but I’ve found that if you choose versatile colors/prints and classic cuts, it can be more economical in the long run.

          4. Xandra*

            Where do you buy your linen clothes? I would love to wear linen for work, but it seems to wrinkle really easily.

            1. virago*

              I suggest cotton and linen blends. They are as light as linen but they lack the wrinkle factor. As I write, I’m wearing a sleeveless midi dress that I bought on eBay (secondhand). Made of woven fabric, it has a scoop neck and would be totally appropriate for the office under a cardigan, but it’s cool enough to keep me from melting down while working from home in a humid city in the Atlantic Northeast w/o A/C.

            2. Do I need a hard hat for this?*

              I’ve got about 6 linen-cotton blend button-down shirts in various colors and patterns from The Gap. They run sales pretty much all the time, so I usually pay about $20 for them. They’ve become a wardrobe staple for me. I live in Texas and it’s hot here! The linen breathes pretty easily.

        4. Mel_05*

          Yes! I almost only wear cotton because synthetics are uncomfortable and sweaty.

          I’ve never understood why most shops have a sea of polyester tops when they’re so miserable to wear!

          1. Blarg*

            Yea I just cannot wear synthetic fabrics because they make me itchy and so, so, so sweaty. I wear cotton, linen, wool, and silk — and that’s pretty much it.

            I’ve done quite well finding silk tops at resale shops and online at ThredUp. And you can wash them in lingerie bags in the machine without it being the end of the world. Good luck! And don’t … sweat … the comment you heard.

            1. Kimmybear*

              This. I wear cotton mostly and some other random items because the texture doesn’t make my skin crawl. (I now realize this is a sensory issue for me.) As a little girl my grandmother would by lots of dresses with lace that were so uncomfortable I refused to wear them. My wedding dress didn’t even have lace.

              1. Yelling5Ever*

                And so many synthetics make that awful ‘shwsh’ noise when the fabric rubs against itself! Argh, sensory hell.

                (I do think it’s MUCH easier to find mens’ business attire made of natural fibers, which is pretty weird.)

          2. Diahann Carroll*

            I’ve never understood why most shops have a sea of polyester tops when they’re so miserable to wear!

            They’re cheap to produce.

          3. Artemesia*

            ‘travel clothes’ – those mix and match ensembles that are marketed to make for easy packing are hell on steroids. It is like wearing a plastic bag as they are generally poly knits. they look good but life is too short to be miserable in order to look good for strangers a continent away. I travel a lot and now only take cotton and linen — heavier, a little more hassle to wash and dry and linen always looks wrinkled but the comfort is worth it.

          4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            Like plastic, it’s a by-product of oil refineries, so polyester is really cheap, and it’s easy-care: it can (even has to) be washed at a low temperature, dries quickly and doesn’t need ironing. You can pre-crease the fabric to achieve pleating effects, you can achieve all sorts of designs and they can make it with a fairly natural feel.
            It’s like plastic in that you can achieve all sorts of textures and different drapes. Plus it blends very easily with elastane so it’s easy to make very fashionable body-hugging garments. The people who don’t mind that it smells just wear a clean top every day and never mind the fact that with every wash, particles come off and end up pouring into the ocean to make sludge that suffocates fish, also never mind the fact that you’re using up so many resources just running the washing machine every day.
            Since I’ve learned all that, I’ve stopped wearing any synthetic fabrics. I wear lots of cotton, ,and I have linen and silk for when I need to look smart, and I also have stuff made from hemp (a more casual fabric much like linen). It’s hard to avoid it entirely, but I’ve found a few good sources and just go to them when I need to stock up on clothing. Since the few good sources are top-quality, I don’t have to stock up very often.

        5. CatMom*

          Yes, this was my thought exactly! I avoid synthetics precisely because they make me smell terribly when I sweat! In the summer, I pretty much only wear cotton, linen, and sometimes silk (which, though natural, isn’t great for the environment, to my understanding).

          But I’ve certainly never heard of polyester being particularly professional either! I don’t think the OP should worry too much about it.

          1. Artemesia*

            Polyester not only holds sweat smells (I have a great synthetic base layer that my son in law gave me because it was too small for him; he had worn it only a few times. I have never entirely been able to get his sweat smell out of it) but it also gathers up other smells and holds them. If you wear it to a restaurant or while cooking at home it will grab those food odors and you will smell like fryer grease or Indian spices or hot dogs or whatever till it is washed.

            1. The Rural Juror*

              I grabbed lunch yesterday from a BBQ truck that had their smoker going…and I happened to be downwind. I smelled like that smoke for the rest of the day. The shirt I was wearing was a rayon blend, so now it makes sense that it held the smell for hours and hours afterward!

        6. LifeBeforeCorona*

          I agree with the stink especially with polyester. I also have a skin condition that can’t tolerate artificial fibres because they don’t breath like cotton. 100% cotton can look very professional. My cotton shirts are starched and ironed so they always look clean and crisp.

        7. Llama face!*

          Rayon and viscose both make me smell awful. I can’t wear them at all. I prefer cotton but can get away with some polyesters (they are sweaty but not stinky like r & v for some reason).

          OP #3- I don’t have the income or local availability to purchase only ethical cotton/natural fibre clothing but think that is a great choice to make if you are able to do so. As long as you aren’t wearing things that are really wrinkled or shaped like casual wear (t-shirt, denim style pants, etc) you should be fine. Your colleague is weirdly judgey.

      2. Diahann Carroll*

        But I’m not sure any of these things would pass muster with someone who doesn’t feel COTTON is suitably professional as a clothing material, which, just…

        Not necessarily. Many people don’t know fabrics just from looking at them – cotton is usually thicker than the other fabrics and that’s how a layperson can spot it. Most of my blouses are rayon/viscose/tencel/lyocell, but most people just assume they’re the polyester material of the fast fashion brands that have become popular work attire. (And for transparency’s sake, I do own some polyester blouses as well because I liked their color – I also bought them secondhand so they wouldn’t end up in a landfill somewhere.)

        1. JJ Bittenbinder*

          Many people don’t know fabrics just from looking at them

          Which is why it’s unlikely that the letter writer knows that her colleague’s clothing was “head to toe polyester.” Of course , leaving that out would have required her to think of another place to casually mention that her colleague’s outfit made me think about the microplastics that pollute the ocean every time polyester is washed and the environmental sludge and throw-away culture that comes out of the manufacturing of fast-fashion.

      3. Brownstag*

        Rayon while technically uses plant fibers as a raw material it is processed in a way that many of the breathability traits of cotton or other plant fibers are missing.
        What rayon/lyocell/viscose are known for is extreme absorbency, to the point the fibers are used in diapers and hygiene products.
        I shun synthetics because of the sweat factor, so I don’t love the feeling of damp fabric against my skin, which rayon tends to give me unless it’s a very loose cut.
        I work in sales so I have to dress up a lot (and I have a background in textile materials science). Cotton, linen, silk and wool are about all I will wear. Summer weight wools are actually great at moisture management.
        About the only synthetics that I wear are performance fabrics where the fiber cross section has been engineered for wicking.
        I wish online retailers had a filter to filter out synthetics!
        Thank you for attending my TED talk on fibers.

    2. Lalage*

      Weren’t polyester type fabrics invented to look like silk? Yeah not that practical choice for every day clothing, considering cost (and cleaning) no idea about environmental practices, but I hope nothing too bad, unless you are vegan obv. I own 1 silk shirt I bought at a second hand shop, it comes out for conferences. Also, is it me or polyester tops stink by the end of the day?

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        I own a few silk tops that I purchased through thredUP, and they only get worn in cool weather otherwise, I’d sweat through them.

      2. Arabella Flynn*

        Rayon, produced from cellulose fibers in the mid-late 19th c., was originally meant to mimic silk fashion fabrics. Nylon, based in petrochemicals, was invented during WWII to mimic parachute silk, which is a very different beast.

        Polyester came about post-war because science was super cool and fashionable, and the draw was specifically that it was artificial and needed virtually no special care, at least as compared to other available materials. “Permanent press” sounded like a miracle to people who had been ironing everything all their lives.

    3. Anonys*

      Tbh I don’t understand where the impression comes from that polyester is particularly work appropriate. It makes you so sweaty! My mom always hated it and taught be to look at labels so as to not buy anything that contains more than 50% polyester (except sport leggings). Not for environmental reasons, though I appreciate those now, but because the fabric is kind of weirdly shiny and sweaty.

      Tbh, looking at my colleagues at work, I am pretty sure moth of their blouses/shirts are cotton. Any blouse I have ever owned is 100% cotton but the material feels pretty different from a simple cotton t shirt. I think cotton is so versatile and it really depends on how it is woven.

      Defo don’t start wearing polyester to seem more professional! It’s terrible in so many ways.

        1. Lily Rowan*

          Yes, totally. Cotton knit pullover tops are often pretty close to t-shirts and may or may not be work-appropriate, depending on the office.

          On that note, Zoom living makes these questions slightly different, too. Like, I have a “good” white t-shirt that I would wear for work in the (semi-casual) office with a skirt and not think twice, but on camera, it really just looks like an undershirt, and of course you don’t see what I’m wearing on the bottom.

          1. Yelling5Ever*

            Not to mention that woven tops are generally much easier to tailor for a more polished fit, which tends to help with formality.

            (But man, I’m glad I’m a dude in IT, and I very rarely have to worry about this! T-shirts are fine for me, and I am happy to take advantage of that.)

      1. Traffic_Spiral*

        Yeah, something about this letter doesn’t add up. Synthetic material is traditionally considered trashy, and all proper professional material was cotton, wool, and silk. Ann Taylor’s clothes are pretty much all silk knit tops, wool suits/dresses, and cotton collar shirts. If you’re wearing a t-shirt at work, it’s not the cotton fabric that makes you look shlubby, it’s the fact that you’re wearing a t-shirt at work. Get a button-down.

        1. Artemesia*

          There are a lot of fitted knit cotton tops that are sort of t-shirts but don’t look like what we think of as T-shirts too. They may not work at your law firm where you need a cotton blouse instead, but under a jacket they will be fine in many settings.

          1. The Rural Juror*

            I think it depends on the cut of the clothes and how you style them, like you’re saying. I wear solid-colored cotton tshirts to work all the time with jeans, but I wear a fitted style, tuck the shirt in, and wear a belt and generally try to look more pulled-together. My job is pretty casual, but I still want to look like I made an effort. If I have a meeting where I need to look a little nicer, I swap out the tshirt for a cotton button-down instead.

            I know I couldn’t get away with most of my preferred clothes in a more “professional” setting, so obviously my style wouldn’t work for everyone. But I think you can get away with more cotton/linen/natural fibers than you think without having to resort to only wearing button-downs.

            1. fposte*

              I think Artemesia is talking about a hybrid, not actual button-downs as we usually mean the term; knit cotton shirts that button up the front. Think more “overexcited henley” than “buttondown.” I had a bunch for a while.

    4. NotJennifer*

      Thank you for your input! I had hopped into the comment section to also suggest looking into some different fibers, because while it avoids the micro plastics problem cotton is not an environmentally friendly fiber, and even if you use organic cotton there is still the problem of the immense amount of water needed to grow cotton.

      Someone below mentioned linen, and I was going to point in that direction, too. Or hemp, though at least in the US that is not as widely available. I don’t know what it’s like elsewhere, and I suspect that clothing made from hemp fabric might be aimed at a different audience than the linen, but who knows!

      I don’t know if this exists in fabric/garments, but I’m also a weaver (I know, we are really digging deep here with the post-apocalyptic skills on AAM today) and when I’m able I go for the cotton/linen blend yarns instead of just cotton. They tend to retain a lot of the characteristics of cotton that make it easier to work with (namely, they have some give to them) but allow me to basically replace half of the less sustainable fiber (water hungry cotton) with a more sustainable fiber.

      I am able to dress casually for work most days (and especially so now, as I prepare for a workday from home in my glorified pajamas), but would like to learn to sew my own clothes. Now I wish we had a crafty offshoot of AAM where the sewists could gather to share information. Because even in the best of times, I find shopping for non-casual clothes to be a real headache. I honestly think it will be less of a headache to pick up an entirely new craft and just make my own. (Which might not be the answer the OP was looking for, hah.)

      1. Haven’t picked out a username yet*

        I have an honest question for everyone suggesting linen. What about the wrinkles! I have never worn anything linen that didn’t look like I had slept in it after 5 minutes. Linen dress…huge lines across the middle from sitting in the car, etc. I tend to have a lot of trouble with wrinkles so it may just be me, but I am curious.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            +1000! I had a few linen outfits back in my 20s and all I remember is that they would wrinkle if you as much as looked at them wrong. Hopefully that’s not the case now?

            1. The Rural Juror*

              I only wear linen-blends, which still wrinkle, but not quite as bad. Most of what I have is linen-cotton

        1. Mel_05*

          Wrinkles and… I just find linen terribly scratchy!

          I do have sensitive skin, which is part of why I avoid polyester, but it seems too uncomfortable to wear!

        2. WS*

          I think you need to pick your garments carefully so that the wrinkles look deliberate rather than ugly, and going for a long, loose silhouette helps with this. Standard business cuts need to be solidly reinforced on the inside (often with a heavy cotton or very heavy linen) so they sit on you rather than fold up and wrinkle.

          1. virago*

            Or cotton and linen — I’m wearing a cotton and linen midi dress that I bought secondhand on eBay, and it has saved me while WFH during the relentless heat and humidity (no A/C).

            Cotton/linen is light but lacks the wrinkle factor.

          2. AutolycusinExile*

            If you’re talking about the wool, you’re either probably dealing with a wool blend, mistreating your wool when you wash it, or you might actually be allergic. Wool genuinely isn’t supposed to be itchy! And linen has a break-in process at the beginning.
            Can’t speak to rayon, but +1 to the cotton/linen blend.

            1. DarnTheMan*

              +1 as someone who has an allergy to a lot of types of wool, even things that have a slight wool blend can be horrendously itchy to me.

            2. Emily*

              I think that’s highly dependent on both the individual and the particular wool you’re talking about. I have very sensitive skin and have encountered many wools I can’t tolerate at all and many that are fine. There’s a huge variation in the textures of wool out there. (And I’m speaking as an avid knitter, I know my wool.)

          3. Donkey Hotey*

            I vividly remember owning a hemp/linen collared dress shirt. Yes, hemp “wears like iron” but that means any wrinkles are set in stone for the life of the garment.

        3. babblemouth*

          There’s a lot of ironing involved for sure, but wrinkles also smooth themselves out during the day. It’s personal taste, but I also find these creases are charming, in a way that just don’t work with other fabrics.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            wrinkles also smooth themselves out during the day.

            Not on any linen item I own they don’t.

            1. A*

              Same. And in re: to the creases being charming – they don’t bother me personally, but I do think it gives off an unprofessional vibe. I have some linen shirts that are super comfy, and I’d love to wear them to work, but even though we are on the casual end of business casual I still won’t as the wrinkles make it look shluby in an office setting.

              1. The Grey Lady*

                True. Also, funny story, when I first started my job, I got a new wardrobe, and one of the things I purchased was a nice blouse from a secondhand shop. It was one of those allover ruched tops that’s stretchy and kind of looks like a flower? Well, I thought it was pretty so I wore it to work, but my boss almost had a heart attack when she saw it. Long story short, it wasn’t ruched–it was just wrinkly as all get out! MAJOR fail on my part.

                1. AnotherAlison*

                  I think that should be a thing–if I top gets that wrinkly it should just be intended to be worn that way. I have some cotton button downs that I have worn once because they come out of the dryer looking like I balled them up wet and let them air dry that way. My ironing game is not strong enough to make them look presentable. Maybe professional laundering and starch would save them, but geez, generally these are the $6 clearance shirts anyway.

            2. Thistle Whistle*

              I’ve tried to convince myself that linen wrinkles don’t bother me, but with no success. Every linen item I buy for work ends up languishing at the back of my wardrobe. If I can’t sit down in an outfit without spoiling the look then I just can’t wear it.

              I just can’t feel put together in something that gets so terribly crushed.

            3. SomebodyElse*

              All linen isn’t created equal… I have some perpetually wrinkled items, but others I don’t even have to iron. Wash, hang to dry after smoothing out, and done.

              1. The Rural Juror*

                I have a mini countertop steamer that’s a lifesaver. I hate ironing with a passion, but the steamer will usually hold enough water for 1-2 clothing items and heats up in about 30 seconds. It’s fast enough that I can quickly de-wrinkle the item I want to wear in the morning while I get ready. I have a small closet, and things get a little ruffled in there from having to cram stuff in, so the steamer has definitely saved my sanity. I wear a lot of linen and cotton…so a lot of wrinkles!

          2. Foxglove6*

            First comment!

            I’m a sewist (I love that term) and I mostly make historical clothing similar to Ruth Goodman mentioned above. I only work with natural fibres as that was all that was available prior to 1600.

            Linen tends to wrinkle because it has a memory when it dries. If you wash it and throw it in the dryer, it remembers being dried while it was crunched up. So even if you iron it out, it will want to go back to its crunched up state. For anyone having wrinkle issues, wash your linen and then hang it to dry. You can even steam iron it before hanging. This will allow the long wet fibres remember being long and flat when they dry. It will be slightly crunchy when you put it on, but body heat will soften it within minutes of wearing. The fabric will be less likely to wrinkle and stay longer and flatter for a longer period of time.

            Linen/rayon is a good blend that has a lot of the natural properties of 100% linen and is a fraction of the cost. The rayon also helps with the wrinkle issue if that is concerning.

            Wool was only mentioned briefly but it’s a great alternative for professional wear. Most slacks and suit jackets were originally made of wool anyway. Wool does not have to be scratchy or thick. It can be so light that you can see through it! Finding such modern wear might be more difficult. I can only recommend fabric sources rather than stores to buy finished items.

            Silk is also a really good option but difficult for hot weather months as others have mentioned. It comes in a variety of weaves and weights and is usually even more high fashion than its cheaper poly counterparts.

            1. Quickbeam*

              I’m a militant line dryer and I absolutely agree on line drying for linen. My clothes look ironed after a day on the line.

            2. SomebodyElse*

              Agree with everything here (I just made the same point about line drying linen… makes all the difference in the world). If it helps, Woolovers is a great source for wool, linen, cotton, and silk. (no affiliation, just order a lot from them).

              1. Eva Luna*

                I am now almost sorry that you turned me on to this site! I totally don’t need anything, but it looks awesome. If only they had petites…

              2. JustEm*

                Thank you for posting the website! Looks great. I love natural fibers and fun colors and they have both!!

            3. Anax*

              For what it’s worth, I also find that misting lightly wrinkled fabrics with water often helps remove any wrinkles from, say, being shoved into the closet after line-drying. If you set out your clothes the night before, it’s easy enough to give them a quick spritz as needed.

        4. NotJennifer*

          Oh yeah, that is definitely a downside. I think that some linen isn’t quite as wrinkly. I don’t know if it has to do with how the actual fiber was processed, or the tightness or specifics of the weave, or what. And blends can be better. It’s not a perfect solution, and honestly I avoid ironing as much as possible so don’t tend to go for much linen myself. But for someone who doesn’t mind the extra work, it could be a solution, and one that works better than cotton depending on their needs.

        5. Diahann Carroll*

          Yup – the wrinkles make linen completely impractical for me. I have a couple linen dresses that look like a sloppy mess 10 minutes after I put them on. And don’t let me sit down in them either. Ugh. They’re beautiful though.

        6. Violet Fox*

          Look for a tighter woven fabric. It will still wrinkle, but tighter weaves of linen wrinkle less then the looser weaves do. Some of it is also honestly laundry care, hanging things up fast, steaming in between ironings if needed and that sort of thing.

          That and expect it to behave like itself, not like how woven cotton behaves.

          As other folks have said linen blends are good as well, which is actually what I’m wearing today.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            This – a tighter weave makes linen more wrinkle-resistant, and there are also professional-looking sweaters and shells made of linen or linen/cotton blend. I love linen wear a linen t-shirt probably 3/5 days since we’ve been working from home. (I can also throw a blazer and necklace on over them for Zoom meetings where I need to appear as though I’ve actually gotten dressed for the day.)

        7. Clisby*

          Same here. I had better luck with silk. Not the silky-feeling silk, if that makes sense – raw silk, which has a nubby texture closer to linen, but didn’t wrinkle as easily. I’ve had jackets, skirts, and slacks made of raw silk, and they were all easier to keep looking nice than linen ones.

        8. Vermont Green*

          Cotton clothes items, even knits, look more put together when ironed. If you want to wear cotton *and* look professional, I suggest you keep your ironing board unfolded and ready. And, they hold their press better than linen does.

        9. nona*

          The more you wash linen, the softer it becomes and the less likely to wrinkle (or wrinkle badly). When sewing, the recommendation is to wash and dry it a couple times before cutting into it to reduce wrinkling over the life of the garment.

          Linen just isn’t meant to be crisp.

        10. Artemesia*

          I wear cotton slacks traveling in hot weather and yeah they always look a mess. I never wore them at work for that reason. Even a cotton jacket will look wrinkled quickly.

        11. Auroralight37*

          I’m in a business casual environment and wear linen all the time in summer, in fact my favorite summer work skirt is linen. It does wrinkle some, but I don’t mind. I have a linen dress I made out of shirting material and it’s smoother than silk and so soft, plus the princess cut keeps it loose enough to be very comfortable. I get compliments all the time on it. It might depend on your area and how formal you are expected to dress.

      2. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

        Linen is super expensive! Last year I had to buy sandals and peeked in one of the places I use to shop… Linen trousers were five times more expensive than polyester ones! It wasn’t worth spending that much money for something it would only last one summer (thighs and friction arent’ a good combination).

      3. Yelling5Ever*

        You might want to look into historybounding! It’s an offshoot of the historical costumery scene (SCA, etc.), focused on “how do you sew comfortable, nice-looking, and situation-appropriate clothes, borrowing ideas and techniques from the past.”

        (Lots of Youtube and Instagram resources, and a discord server here – – if anyone is inclined in that direction, because there’s a surprising number of sewing nerds here on AAM.)

    5. Kaiko*

      I also avoid synthetics for a variety of reasons, and I find that linen in the summer is great! There are a lot of small ethical suppliers working with linen, so the cuts can be quite modern or fashion without being trendy. A wool sweater in the winter can also elevate a cotton shirt. Good luck! It’s a great mission to be on.

    6. Hazy Days*

      I’ve recently bought a lovely set of summer tops in bamboo, designed and made in the UK.

      They look immensely smart because of the way the fabric drapes.

    7. Ranon*

      I second this suggestion- my go to professional blouse is a (machine washable!) silk/ viscose blend which drapes really nicely and breathes beautifully (I buy mine used off Poshmark which helps on the cost front). It’s the best summer fabric I own.

    8. yokozbornak*

      My first job was working at the first Tencel factory in the US over 20 years ago. The fiber was made from cellulose from sustainable tree farms and the slurry used in the production process was recycled so there was very little waste. It was actually a really cool process and very environmentally friendly. I still get a kick out of seeing Tencel clothing in stores. The fabric is very wearable.

      1. Jillian*

        My friends and family know I am OBSESSED with Tencel. I’m an ethical vegan with eczema so I’ve become a little hyper focused on fabric. I buy almost all tencel/lycocell fabrics from and find that it really keeps me cool and my skin much calmer. I love that it is low impact on the earth, and it truly only gets more comfortable and softer with washing while still looking good, which is the opposite of all my experiences with synthetics.

      2. Artemesia*

        I have a tencel skirt that looks kind of like denim and is long that I wore traveling for many years — if tencel has been around only 20ish years, it must have been one of the first. I loved it — so comfortable. As comfortable as denim in the heat but it was really soft and comfortable whereas denim is thicker and stiffer. Still have it although it is faded and worn.

        Skirts are cooler and even a poly skirt will not be as hot and miserable as slacks on a hot day. The few items in my wardrobe that are poly are skirts — although these days I rarely wear skirt as they require traveling with more types of shoes. I can get away with two pair if I stick to slacks.

    9. Dancing Otter*

      Also a sewist here, though I pay an expert to make my suits.

      Winter wardrobe: wool suits, lined in silk, with silk or linen blouses. M.a.y.b.e cotton blouses. By making the blouses myself, I can prewash the silk fabric, which means I can wash the finished blouses. Cotton and linen shirts are available commercially.

      Summer wardrobe: linen suit, also lined in silk, or just the jacket over a cotton or linen dress. (Linen trousers are wonderful! Honestly, more comfortable than blue jeans!) There is also wool available in lighter weight for summer, and with air conditioning…. I am not familiar with any cotton fabric I would consider appropriate for a suit.

      Also. my cotton shirts are always woven, not knit. Silk jersey can look professional, but cotton knits frequently read as too t-shirt-y. I had (worn out since) a cotton twin-set or two, though I promise I very rarely clutched any accompanying pearls. With well-cut trousers, they worked for all but the most formal meetings.

      1. 40 Years in the Hole*

        Not sure if it’s available in some areas, but perhaps something in a cotton seersucker would do? Lightweight and has an easy care/look to it. Very popular in summer, where I am – more in men’s suits – but I do see dresses, over jackets and other separates that look cool, comfortable and professional enough.
        Also second hemp clothing, but that can be hard to find in anything other than casual wear; I have a pair of shorts that I’ve had for years. Wears well, still comfortable and cool. Looks like linen but doesn’t have that super wrinkly effect.

    10. lemon*

      I came to the comments solely to recommend cotton poplin. It’s a tighter weave, so it has a smoother, more professional finish than looser cotton knits.

    11. Dr Rat*

      I see a lot of comments about cotton/silk/linen/bamboo, but don’t forget about hemp, too!

      And honestly, I think the whole “t shirt” comment was just snark. I’ve heard that comment before, and it’s always been made by snobs who weren’t born into the upper upper class but wish they were. Other dead give away comments that are code for “Shh, don’t tell anyone my family had to BUY their silver” are that they never eat leftovers (for some reason, food waste is supposed to make you look rich?), they would never live in an apartment, they have never been to a Taco Bell, etc.

      Meanwhile, the people I know who were actually born into the one percent eat what they want, wear what they want, and eat fast food if they feel like it. They might wear $1200 silk t shirts, they might wear some ratty college t shirt they’ve had since college – but they wear t shirts.

      1. redwinemom*

        I mostly wear cotton clothing, and find that I can purchase 100% cotton items online at LandsEnd. You can look up items by category such as casual or clothing for work.

  6. Erstewhile lurker*

    #4 I’m getting a strong lack of gratitude coming through here, boss sets up a bump in title and actually tells you to remind her about it in case she forgets, and you’re hoping she takes retirement because you think she is just an ‘okay’ boss?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The fact that the boss recognized the ED’s work with a promotion doesn’t preclude there being legitimate problems. And “okay but not great” can be pretty frustrating, depending on the details.

      1. Erstewhile lurker*

        Yes, but the perfect boss doesn’t exist, this one at least has given her promotion the time of day. It seemed a bit too much like an ‘ides of March’ move to me.

        1. andy*

          It is perfectly possible to be promoted by the boss that you prefer to not be there and it is completely valid to not change opinion after. Being promoted does not imply that negative judgement of the boss was incorrect nor that one should change the opinion on bosses qualities.

          Also, humans are emotional and being rewarded tend to make us more likely to like the one giving us rewards. That is inherent bias in us, that is not moral requirement.

    2. SS Express*

      A promotion is great but it isn’t a personal favour, it’s a business decision and a pretty standard part of a manager’s job. How much gratitute do you owe a manager who says she might promote you in the future if you remind her (because she’s not making it a priority to advocate for this so there’s a good chance she’ll forget)? This doesn’t sound better than just okay to me.

      Even a manager who does go out of her way to help staff get promoted could still be just okay if she also, for example, constantly changes her mind or yells in the office or dumps pee in the sink.

      1. Erstewhile lurker*

        There are quite a few assumptions being made here. All the letter writer gave us to go on was ‘OK but not great’. If you are going to write to a advise giving website and state that you hope your boss retires I’d say it would be better to provide a bit more supporting evidence as to why this is a reasonable point of view.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          No, please don’t do that; it’s very frustrating for LWs when commenters imply they haven’t sufficiently “proved” the facts of their letter simply because they didn’t share every detail. She knows her situation far better than anyone here does, and she wasn’t asking about whether she was justified in hoping for the resignation; she mentioned it only in the context of asking a question about something else. She’s not looking for anyone’s opinion on whether she’s right to want her boss to leave, and it’s not something she needed to explain to ask the question she posed.

        2. hbc*

          Why does the OP need our permission to not want her boss around? Does she also need to prove that the promotion is earned for her to use that as part of her decision as to whether returning is worthwhile?

          OP didn’t ask for advice on whether or not her conditions for returning were good. You might as well ask her if she really needed six months off for medical purposes–it’s exactly as relevant to her question.

          1. Lady Meyneth*


            My eyes actually bugged out reading that OP’s not showing proper gratitude for her boss, and I’m glad that’s getting som much pushback. The whole point of this thread is actually pretty gross.

        3. Workerbee*

          It would then still be far too easy for someone to claim that the reasons given weren’t enough, or justifiable, or that there is much worse elsewhere, and that one “shouldn’t” feel or react the way they are simply because the stranger reading about it doesn’t think they should.

        4. BRR*

          But the question isn’t, “I feel meh about my boss, am I being reasonable?” The question is, “how can I ask about A and B so I can decide if I want to return?” It doesn’t matter if the boss is fine or if the LW is purposely underselling how bad the boss. That’s not what they asked.

        5. Paulina*

          They’re asking for advice, not judgement. We don’t need to be convinced that they’re right in order to give advice, and really how could we be?

    3. Beth*

      Gratitude isn’t a part of business. A promotion isn’t a gift; it’s acknowledgement that the employer needs people with certain skills and a certain experience level, and that the person being promoted has those skills and that experience and can offer better value in this new role than in their previous one. That kind of acknowledgement can definitely generate goodwill and help to maintain relationships, but feeling appreciated by an employer isn’t at all the same thing as owing an individual person gratitude!

      1. The Grey Lady*

        This is so true. A promotion is a reasonable part of the business relationship when someone has performed their job well.

    4. Letter Writer #4*

      I’m not interested in going into details about my frustrations with my boss, but you’ll have to take my word for it that “okay but not great” was generous wording on my part, by which I meant “doesn’t really know how to lead or manage effectively and makes my day-to-day work life extremely frustrating but is not as blatantly toxic as many of the horrible managers described here.” The fact that we once discussed a title bump hardly means I’m now obligated to stay in this job.

      1. Coder von Frankenstein*

        While I love AAM, I do sometimes have to remind myself that the bar for bosses should exceed “Did not make my continued employment contingent on being willing to donate part of my liver.”

        1. Coder von Frankenstein*

          (Also, 100% agree. Bad managers sometimes promote good people. It doesn’t mean those people now owe a debt to the bad manager.)

      2. CmdrShepard4ever*

        Just as an FYI OP (you may know this already), I would check your company handbook, because some companies have clauses that if the company kept paying your health insurance and/or other benefits during your leave and you do not return from your leave of absence you are on the hook for paying the retroactive premiums that the company paid. It depends on the specific policies but an easy way to avoid having to pay $4 -6k in premiums is to go back to work for a month or so and then give your notice.

      3. PeteAndRepeat*

        Sorry you got this weird pushback, LW #4. FWIW, I had a boss that sounds very similar to yours (nice and mostly well-meaning, but incompetent, and therefore infuriating to report to) and I left the job primarily to get away from him. A boss doesn’t have to be abusive and toxic to be a not-good boss!

    5. Person from the Resume*

      In addition to what others said (that the promotion was not a personal favor but a business decision), I’d also consider that the change in the boss’s retirement plans is a disappointment to someone looking to see her leave. Perhaps it would not be a factor for the LW except that after hearing and imagining a not ideal boss leaving and imagining the positive changes for the LW that may take place, it’s a disappointment to hear that plans have changed.

      As with the LW’s own situation, there’s been many unexpected and disappointing changes in plans for many people.

    6. Coder von Frankenstein*

      Gratitude is for gifts and personal favors, not for things you have earned and deserve.

      A boss who treats a promotion as a personal favor, rather than something you earn by the quality of your work, is not a good boss.

    7. D3*

      The serfs don’t show the Lords enough gratitude! Off with their heads!

      ^^That’s what you sound like. And you would do well to get rid of the “employees need to have gratitude to their bosses for their jobs” attitude. It’s gross.

    8. Paulina*

      A boss can do nice things for you (whether in appreciation of you, or as a business decision as is being discussed) and still not be particularly good at running things. Gratitude for the former should not blind one to problems of the latter, and we’ve certainly had many stories of nice-but-incompetent bosses.

      Asking about the boss’s plans to leave may be tricky to get a straight answer to, in such a context, because the boss might be planning to leave and yet expect that the OP may want to hear that they’re staying.

    9. blaise zamboni*

      I honestly had the opposite knee-jerk reaction. Your boss dangled a promotion in your face but can’t even be bothered to keep track of it herself and needs reminding? For a change a year out? The only reason I can think to delay a title change that long is if your company has very bureaucratic processes for approving jobs, but in that case the request should’ve already been submitted and your boss should just be following up periodically to make sure it’s still progressing. Enticing an employee with a MAYBE better title + pay, if they keep doing the work that warrants it, at a lower title and pay grade, for a year… That’s not the kind of management that inspires loyalty or gratitude.

      1. PeteAndRepeat*

        Agreed. I’d be frustrated by this. Maybe a promotion in a year from now, remind me in 6 months when I have one foot out the door to retirement? That doesn’t scream supportive boss who is invested in your professional development and advancement.

  7. LD*

    I’m OP#3. Thank you Alison for the helpful answer. The job I applied for was a PhD-level research position at a major lab. The reason I asked for the delay was because I had covid in April and took a rather long time to recover, which pushed my current research progress back by a few months. I should probably have been more direct with them about this instead of vaguely mention the delay due to covid reasons. I emailed the lab back telling them I would love to talk to come up with a start date that would work for them, so I’m waiting to see if they would reply. Again, thanks for your help! Your advice has helped me a lot in the past.

    1. Mainly Lurking (UK)*

      I’m sorry you have had such a rough time with Covid and I hope you are sufficiently recovered now.

      I hope that you are able to have a Skype call, or at the very least a phone call with someone in HR. It really does raise a red flag that your “dream” employer would ghost you after two rounds of interviews AND an indication that you were the preferred candidate!

      They could have asked for a quick phone call to see if you were open to negotiation regarding the length of the start delay, or at the VERY least sent you an email saying they couldn’t proceed with you as they needed someone to start sooner.

    2. Darren*

      To be clear it might not be the delay itself that caused them to repost the job. Potentially they ruled you out based on your concerns about Covid (i.e. they aren’t a workplace taking it seriously, as a result your vague comment made them think you did and wanted to wait until it died down a little).

      If so they might not get back to you even if you have more flexibility in your start date.

      1. Paulina*

        “wait until it (Covid) dies down a little”, as an interpretation, would IME make them wary that this would turn into rolling delays. The OP’s situation sounds like a one-time thing, but they didn’t know that.

        They might not have given up on the OP (hopefully not and then the OP will hear back favourably), but are hedging their situation by trying to find other candidates, so they’re not delayed any more than they need to be. Rolling delays for a research hire are a major problem when the funds are available and deadlines are in place. I’ve seen projects have major setbacks because a key hire kept saying their issue would clear up in a few months, and when eventually forthcoming about what was going on, that hadn’t been a reasonable expectation; they just hadn’t wanted to lose the position so strung the supervisor along, or were too mired themselves in wishful thinking.

    3. Paulina*

      Covid-related restrictions on mobility are causing a lot of problems for research labs, so it’s likely that they interpreted the vague information as something along those lines, with you not being able to start until post-Covid, rather than research completion delays that would still have a predictable end in sight even during Covid. Being more specific about your situation could help.

    4. Geneticist*

      Ohhh yeah if you said that you had to push back graduation a few months due to having Covid and any Covid-related research delays, I, as a potential employer in a lab setting, would be much much more understanding. They probably assumed you were concerned about leaving the house / going to work during Covid, with unknown end date.

    5. Courageous cat*

      Yeah, I would think someone asking for a 3 month delay for “general covid reasons” was being flaky, so I think this would have been a good time for transparency.

  8. Kiitemso*

    #2, damn what a judgey European! This European has worn cotton t-shirts all her life. In fact I am currently in a band tee I bought 20 years ago as a passionate teenage music fan and apart from some wear-and-tear in the armpits, this shirt is still good as new. Cotton is amazing. I also have a lot of very beautiful, more work-appropriate cotton dresses and dress shirts.

    I wish linen was more work-appropriate, I bought a very comfortable linen tunic during the heat of the summer and it’s been my staple on super hot days ever since. But it crumples and wrinkles so easily, it really comes off as casual “devil may care” loungewear.

    Is silk considered environmentally okay, if ethically sourced? It costs a ton but silk shirts are so beautiful and will definitely dress up any look. Something for OP to look into, perhaps.

    1. Artemesia*

      I luckily worked in an environment in which a fitted cotton top was fine — I had a dozen fitted black tees and wore them most of the time except in winter when I wore a cotton turtle under the jacket. If a more formal look is required, silk is the obvious choice for a shell or as someone noted rayon or tencel both of which have a more formal look.

    2. Archaeopteryx*

      Yes, how snooty do you have to be to think that never wearing a t-shirt is bragworthy?

      1. Forrest*

        Weird enough that I’d be surprised if it was a brag, as opposed to just someone saying, “that’s not my look”. There are definitively clothes/styles that are distinctively American and worn much less in Europe, but tshirts are definitely not one of them.

        1. Violet Fox*

          Having lived on both sides of the pond so to speak, and granted it’s been a while since I’ve been to the US, but chinos and chino type pants were the things I saw a lot of in the US and not a lot of in my little corner of Europe, but fashions can also be pretty county and region specific. Truthfully a lot of it isn’t any better or worse in either place, they’re just different.

          At least around here, it’s much like most anywhere else I’ve lived. How people dress for work depends as much on where they work, what industry do they work in, is it physical, retail, an office job, hospitality, etc.

          1. Forrest*

            Polo shirts, shorts, white trainers, baseball caps, and those kind of baggy jackets are all things that look “American” to me. We have all of them, of course, but they don’t tend to get picked up and worn as “ordinary, not-really-thinking-about-it clothes” here–they’re way more likely to be part of a uniform, or a specific subculture or trend. If you see a middle-aged white guy wearing chinos, a polo shirt and white trainers, or a white woman wearing loose-ish mid-length shorts and trainers as ordinary casualwear, it’s *very* surprising if they don’t have an American or Canadian accent!

            1. Violet Fox*

              Yes! yes to all of it, but even more so on the short thing. Women wearing longer baggy shorts here is just not a thing, and it isn’t that common for women to wear shorts. Most that do are usually younger wearing shorter shorts, in the gym, or people who work outdoors in the summer, and those are more like work-shorts with loads of pockets for tools and the like.

              It’s also pretty easy for me to find summer pants in lighter weight materials though, including linen and linen blends.

              1. Captain Raymond Holt*

                Yes! I’m from the midwestern US and I wear shorts down to about 60F/15C. When I went to London in early October two years ago it was so warm (75F/24C) and I really wanted to wear shorts, but also didn’t want to stick out like a tourist!

              2. AnotherAlison*

                In high school in the early-mid 90s, I was part of our Spanish exchange, and we had kids from Madrid come for 3 weeks in late August. Our Midwestern US city August temps are comparable to theirs (hot, humid, upper 80s+). The girls all wore skinny jeans, which were not the denim style here then. (This was more grunge era relaxed fit here.) Shorts weren’t fashionable for them, I guess, but it is unbearably hot to wear jeans in this type of weather. They even wore jeans on a day trip to a theme park where you’re just soaked with sweat 30 minutes into it. I don’t care how unsophisticated I look, I’m wearing shorts! Teenagers weren’t going to be wearing linen slacks in lieu of jeans. I guess I find it funny that Americans look like dorks if we wear shorts in Europe in the summer, but Europeans are still cooler (in their opinions) than us sweating like a fountain wearing jeans here in the summer when shorts are socially acceptable.

            2. Parenthetically*

              Yeah, when I was in London visiting some dear friends (I’m from the US; they’re Aussie but were living there at the time) we used to play “Euro dad/American dad/suburban British dad” based on outfits and were right 9 times out of 10.

          2. Artemesia*

            I always laugh at the mothers on Trip Advisor who are insisting their 12 year old sons wear khakis rather than jeans in Europe ‘where they dress more formally’. Nothing says American tourist more than khakis and the kid will discover that every 12 year old or 15 year old etc they encounter is in jeans. And in fact these days most of the people you encounter on the street unless they are heading for a very formal workplace will be in jeans. What you will not see is khakis as ‘good casual’ dress. Khakis and polo is a very American style. Dark jeans are the European equivalent. You don’t see a lot of Europeans in the ubiquitous toddler outfits worn by American men either — cargo shorts, T-shirt and baseball cap.

        2. I can only speak Japanese*

          Maybe it is because I am from Berlin, but some parts of Europe are VERY casual. (Or maybe I feel like that because Tokyo is decidedly non-casual…) I know that the US have a reputation for being all about sweats, but surely there is a huge regional variety and a lot of cities (DC probably, maybe New York?) skew fairly non-casual?

          1. Forrest*

            I’m British but have also lived in Berlin (fifteen years ago, when there was a LOT less money around though!), and I totally agree, although I think there’s a big difference in what we count as casual! Like, a middle-aged white guy in white trainers, chinos and a polo shirt just immediately looks North American. It’s not that a similarly-aged German would necessarily be better dressed, he’d just be more likely to be wearing jeans, a tshirt, and dark-coloured trainers. And there’s a kind of cotton, mid-length shorts that’s unexceptional casualwear for women in the US and incredibly unusual here–womenswear shorts here are nearly always cut-off jeans, actual sportswear, or more femme/sexy/fashiony. My style in Berlin was cotton summer dresses, halterneck and vest tops with denim miniskirts, full kneelength cotton skirts. All of it was either sewn by me or mega-cheap stuff off the salerack at H&M. (I had one beloved broderie Anglaise dress that was literally a euro, off the floor of the H&M just off Unter den Linden, that I dyed), and it was super scruffy!

            There’s also another element which is the way that American style can be more conservative/modest than Europeans’. A lot of my ordinary summer clothing looked really tarty to my Midwestern American ex, who was a lot more covered-up and conservative. She would wear high-necked, fairly loose tshirts, which I almost never would: mine are all fitted and scoop/v-neck.

            Sorry, this is a very jumbled comment, but it’s something I just find fascinating. On the one hand you’ve got the stereotype of Americans being more casual, and then you’ve got the actual fashion history is that US started introducing “sportswear” and other more relaxed clothing against a more formal European style in the early 20th century, and we’ve inherited these ideas so casual European styles signal “smart” in a way that American ones don’t. And even high-end American design still uses elements of casual/sports/industrial dress and more relaxed fits.

            ANYWAY, to get back to the topic at hand, if the “European” mentioned in the OP’s letter was meaning to imply that she never wore tshirts because they aren’t sufficiently smart or stylish, she was Rude.

            1. Carlie*

              I, an American woman of a certain age, am suddenly self-conscious realizing that almost my entire summer wardrobe consists of cotton mid-length shorts and high necked conservative loose shirts…

              1. Laure001*

                Hee hee Carlie, when my American friends come visit me in Paris, I always have three pieces of advice for them:
                – Do not visit the Eiffel Tower (you can go look at it, but waiting SEVEN HOURS for a very disappointing view is not a good investment of your time.)
                – Do not go to the Louvre (it is a very bad designed museum, walking around is exhausting, go to the Musée d’Orsay where all the gorgeous impressionists are).
                – Do NOT wear shorts. Only American tourists do. Pickpockets and all sorts of bad guys just see them coming a mile away. If it’s very hot, wear cropped trousers, flowing skirts, or summer dresses. No shorts! :) :) :) :)

                1. RabbitRabbit*

                  Argh, the choice in the last point is awful. I’m not a skirts/dresses person, and cropped trousers make your legs look stubby/shorter. I’d have to go with the latter, though. (I hate shorts as well but you only have so many choices if you have to be outside when it’s hot.)

                  And I personally developed my hatred of scoop or V-neck tops partially because of how much extra skin exposure there is for sunscreen application (my dermatologist’s recommendation for me is approximately zero sun exposure), and partially from trying to find good tops for weightlifting and discovering that almost all women’s exercise tops involve something that will let someone look all the way down your top when you are bending over to work out. So I probably gravitate to only the smallest of scoops/Vs or less as a result.

                2. Forrest*

                  I think the European answer to this dilemma is much longer shorts–like, mens-style just-below-the-knee-length board shorts rather than mid-thigh/above-the-knee. But it’s quite deliberately a butch look rather than a neutral one!

                3. andy*

                  I wore shorts in Paris and had only good experiences. I am not American and often wear shorts. I tend to hate any remote need to care about fashion in general.

                4. Artemesia*

                  The Eiffel Tower is accessed with reservations and it took us half an hour to get to the top when we visited for the second time (in 35 years of visiting Paris) a couple of years ago. With the new security, it probably takes more like an hour with reservations. There is pretty much nothing I would line up for 7 hours to do. YMMV but I don’t think you go up the ET for the view but for the experience.

                  Versailles is also usually accessible by timed reservation (varies a bit by time of year). We waited zero minutes on our last visit (again second time in 35 years) with friends two years ago. If you just show up you have a long wait.

                  The Louvre is one of the greatest museums in the world. We have been maybe 30 times and it was easy to avoid lines for entry by knowing that there are many entrances. Now it is by timed reservation so easier. And yeah the layout is difficult (as is that of the Hermitage in Petersburg because old palaces are complicated; it can be really frustrating if you want a quick exit) but what does that have to do with the art? You go to the Louvre for the art at the Louvre which you won’t find at the Orsay. If you just want to punch the ‘I went to a museum in Paris’ ticket then the Orsay might be a good choice.

                  You are absolutely right about shorts in the street unless you are a teenager. Although I have seen young women in tights and short shorts in winter even — but it is mostly tourists dressed that way and they invite ‘tourist treatment’.

            2. Belgian*

              I always feel like (especially when reading this blog) there is a bigger distinction between work/non-work clothes in the US and Europe. I wear mostly the same things all the time, which is (skinny) jeans/t-shirt/sweater.

          2. Rexish*

            Me and my bf are from different European countries. We work in the same industry in similar roles. He is Still very confused on how casual we can show up to the Office. We have t-shirts and jeans, in the hot weather men can even wear shorts, he has to wear shirt and tie.

            Funnily enough, my impression is that US are very conservative and “formal” when it comes to work place clothing and schools as a general rule. The concept of written dress code is completely foreign to me.

            1. Violet Fox*

              I agree on the written dress code thing. I actually asked at one point when I started where I work now just in case and people looked at me with some of the most confused looks I had ever seen. The then told me that preferably you should actually be dressed.

              Granted this is also academica and I realise that academica can be a strange country all of it’s own, but the only people I know of that have dress codes are places with uniforms or places where it is a health and safety issue.

              1. allathian*

                Yeah, the dress code here is that clothes are mandatory and should be reasonably clean and not have any holes. That’s pretty much it in most offices. Obviously there are some variations, the financial sector tends to skew more conservative even here.

                1. Carlie*

                  We think that, but my spouse says that we do have a style type and he can spot an academic a mile away. We were at a restaurant once and he poked me and said “that whole table over there is professors.” I said there was no way he could know that. We ended up seated next to them, and then overheard their conversation about their prep work for fall classes.

            2. Temperance*

              I think it’s because, without one, some Americans (lots of Americans) will wear sweatpants and ripped/stained shirts. There’s a weird cultural push here against anything nice/formal in some circles, and “nice” to them means “clothes you wouldn’t fix your car in”.

          3. Katefish*

            New York has a specific sub-culture of high end athletic-wear (especially polished sneakers) that is always intriguing to me as an transplant. And yes, we do tend to dress up more than most of the rest of the country. (I’m from the American West, which is 100% casual, with regional variations for weather.)

          4. Schuyler Seestra*

            I’m a DC resident that worked for a Berlin based startup last year. The Berlin team was definitely more casual than the DC team. They were also younger. DC in general does have a reputation of being more formal but it’s changing depending on industry. Federal/Hill/Lobbyist/Military jobs are still pretty formal, though suit and ties aren’t mandatory anymore. My last two jobs were at a creative staffing agency and startup so we had much more leeway in terms of dress code. My typical outfit was a dress or long top, leggings, heels/boots. Throw in a sweater or scarf depending on the weather. If I wore jeans it would be with a nice top and jacket.

      2. Amethystmoon*

        Right, I have to wonder what that European wore as a child and also what they wear on the weekends.

    3. Thistle Whistle*

      As a European, I think it comes down to neckline. Several times I’ve bought a cute top in thick cotton top only to realise the stretchy ribbed neck makes it look like a t-shirt when a jacket goes over the top. Putting a jacket over it really focuses they eye on the neckline and can downgrade the level of a top quickly.

      I love cotton but I find it mutch harder to find pieces that don’t look like t-shirts. I finally found a Spanish company that does cute cotton with nicer necklines so I often stock up on holiday (especially as they wear out quicker than polyesters).

      1. Putting Out Fires, Esq.*

        Yeah, there’s a commercial on in the states right now selling a t-shirt with a no-wrinkle collar and it shows this guy on a first date wearing a grey shirt with a horribly stretched out collar, implying that he looks schlubby. True t-shirt collars are uniformly casual, even if they don’t have writing on them.

      2. Mel_05*

        Yup. I buy shirts that are technically t-shirt fabric, but they don’t have a t-shirt neckline and they look less casual because of it.

        I don’t work at a very dressy office though.

        1. Amethystmoon*

          I buy “knit tops” which inevitably look like dressy t-shirts. But I work in an office where jeans are the norm, and the people in the adjacent warehouse can wear shorts.

        2. Thistle Whistle*

          Yep, the neckline is key. I prefer boat necks or sometimes v-necks (ones without neck binding) under jackets as they sit nicely and work well with silk scarves. But to me any cotton jersey with a round neck (high or scoop) automatically looks too t-shirty for work (unless on casual friday).

      3. IndustriousLabRat*

        Agreed! I have a soft spot for, and collection of, long sleeve, thin cotton tees that have either a high V-neck or boat-neck. Under a blazer, they don’t scream tshirt at all! Stealth mode activated!

        Another thing to consider: If LW2 is avoiding synthetics primarily for environmental/ethical reasons, it it okay to cut onesself a bit of slack when considering items that have been thrifted/upcycled? Alison and many others love ThredUp, and I’m a hardcore thrifter. Part of my thought process is, “This item has already been manufactured. The resources/labor are already part of it. I would not support the initial manufacture by purchasing it new; however, I feel the ethical thing to do is continue to use it for its full life, resist the Fast Fashion shops, and take the money saved on purchase and use it for alterations at a local shop where the tailor is making a living wage.”
        I admire the desire to keep microplastics out of the environment. And I like to think that every upcycled clothing item that finds a new life is keeping a fast-fashion one from being made!
        That all being said… There’s still nothing comfier than a soft cotton ‘stealth tshirt’ under that thrifted-n-tailored business suit lol

    4. A.N. O'Nyme*

      Same here. I wear mostly natural fabrics because I sweat like an otter so wearing what is basically a fancy garbage bag is…not ideal.
      It think OP2 is fine depending on the cut of the clothing and the industry in which they’re employed.
      As for silk: while it is a natural fiber there are people who object to the way most of it is produced, as the silkworms are basically boiled alive (assuming they were going to come out of their cocoon anyway – a large number of them never do even without human intervention and I don’t know if we know why). There are silk manufacturers who wait for them to hatch (is that the right word?) but obviously that silk is even more expensive due to how labour intensive it is.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Ahimsa silk is made according to a process that preserves the silkworms’ lives and it’s eco-friendly too.

      2. Jane*

        Ashamed to say that as someone looking to get back into making my own clothes, I did not know this. I’ve been looking to buy some silk for tops – back to viscose it is! So glad I found this out before stocking up on fabric and not after.

        1. A.N. O'Nyme*

          To be honest I only recently learned about this myself. RebelwithMouseyHair mentioned that the variety I was thinking of is ahimsa silk, which as far as I can find is about twice as expensive as standard silk, which may or may not be worth it to you.

    5. Hello, I'd like to report my boss*

      If you want to be environmentally ethical consider buying second hand (eBay, Goodwill, etc) – almost all my work clothes are second hand I look fabulous.* It takes longer to shop, but can be great fun and saves a huge amount of resources even from only buying one skirt or blouse secondhand.

      *right now I’m WFH and in a heatwave, and in leggings and a tshirt, but in normal life I look fabulous!

      1. allathian*

        I don’t buy second hand, but that’s only because I hate shopping for clothes, so when I find something I really like, I buy multiples. I basically shop for clothes about twice a year in normal times, this year I’ve only bought a top and a jacket that I could just grab off the shelf. I hate shopping for pants and bras because I need to try them on.

        That said, I will wear my clothes until they drop off me or no longer fit. I won’t wear worn and tatty stuff to the office, but I have several cotton tops that I bought more than ten years ago that still look good enough to use. I won’t buy cheap and wasteful stuff that has to be thrown out after five washings.

        1. Anonym*

          You might like the eBay option, then! When I find something I really like and want multiples of, I set an eBay search for the exact item. Then I just grab them as they come up, usually for much less than the original or even sale cost. The day I found my perfect work slacks… no more pants shopping is a beautiful thing. Now if only I can find the perfect bra, shopping hell will be over forever (or at least until I change sizes).

        2. Artemesia*

          If you stick with basics and know your brand you never have to shop again — just buy the replacements on line. I love not having to go to a store and try on pants. Last time I shopped in person for clothes was to buy something for my son’s wedding.

      2. General von Klinkerhoffen*


        One of the benefits of preloved is that it also weeds out garments which don’t wash well, or which stretch out of shape.

        There’s already enough clothing in the world for all of us for at least six years. Let’s make a dent in that mountain.

      3. Timothy (TRiG)*

        Almost all my clothes are second hand, but I’m a guy in IT with no sense of style whatsoever, so it’s easy for me. The main danger with second hand shops, in my experience, is that they also sell books. I once went into a place looking for a pair of shorts. I came out with a pair of shorts and two carrier bags of paperback 1970s pulp sci-fi.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Female in IT (what do you mean medieval gowns aren’t proper server room attire? – me to one boss) and with you on the book thing. The last time I saw a local charity shop had some size 20+ clothing in I went to try to get some work clothes and ended up with a huge bag full of Blake 7 novels.



        2. IndustriousLabRat*

          Haha this is awesome! For me, the biggest danger if I don’t keep my blinders on while thrifting is midcentury Scandinavian cookware. It’s become an issue lol. Me to checkout clerk: “yeah it’s cool, just wrap the enamel stuff in the clothes…”

          But here again, once you get in the habit of upcycling, it feels pretty normal to expand that habit to other items that were well-made to begin with and reduce dependence on newly-manufactured consumer goods, not just clothing! And that feels great.

    6. londonedit*

      I’m not technically European anymore :( but what a bizarre comment. I hope people don’t think that’s what all Europeans are like! Plenty of people wear t-shirts where I work – a well-cut t-shirt and a pair of smart jeans is absolutely office-appropriate. In the summer I mainly wear cotton jersey dresses, or lightweight viscose – synthetic fabrics plus tube travel are a recipe for sweaty vileness!

      1. allathian*

        Aww. The UK is still a part of Europe even if you’re no longer in the EU. And yeah, I wear well-cut T-shirts and smart jeans to work all the time, and so do most of my coworkers. Many women here do wear dresses and skirts, at least in the summer, but that’s probably less common than in the UK, mainly because of the weather. We also don’t have school uniforms in the Nordics, so most girls tend to associate dresses and skirts as something you wear to a party rather than every day. (After a year in a British comprehensive as a teenager I swore off dresses and skirts until my high school prom. Now I’ll wear a loose skirt in a heatwave, but only if it reaches at least mid-calf.)

        1. londonedit*

          Yes, loads of women in London wear dresses and skirts for work – there’s been a huge trend over the last couple of years for floaty midi/maxi dresses (like ‘The’ Zara dress of last year!) and smart white trainers, or Salt-Water sandals. Thankfully my school was decidedly un-posh and our school uniform was a white polo shirt, a black or grey school sweatshirt, and black trousers (for boys and girls) so I still love a dress!

          1. UKDancer*

            Definitely, especially in the summer. In this current heatwave I’m living in light polyester-cotton blend dresses because they feel a lot more comfortable.

            In winter I tend to wear trousers to keep my legs warm while commuting and a blouse or jumper depending on how cold I feel.

            I don’t wear jeans and a t-shirt to work but that’s because I struggle to find a pair of jeans that I think looks good on me. Plenty of people at work do wear jeans and a t-shirt but I prefer not to because I find other fabrics suit my shape better.

            I also went to a not-posh school so our uniform was a cream shirt and brown trousers with a hideous school jumper. Unfortunately it was not a very flattering shade on anyone. We were violently jealous of the church school up the road who had blue and white.

          2. Keymaster of Gozer*

            When I worked in London I regularly wore one of my floor length, drop sleeves, cotton viscose dresses with a cloak over the top. So good at keeping cool, but the length of the sleeves and skirt meant they weren’t so good at not getting caught in the Underground doors/steps/seats/other passengers/dogs….etc

            I often wondered if that was why I saw so few people in long skirts or dresses while I was there. Or they’ve figured out how to keep clothing from being dragged around the Hammersmith and City!

          3. allathian*

            Your school dress code sounds a lot more liberal than mine did, my experience from a UK school is from the mid-1980s. It was a suburban comprehensive, so not posh, but they did have a uniform. As a girl, my only option was a gray skirt, white knee socks, a white polyester shirt that was horribly sweaty and the class full of 12 and 13-year-olds stank because all of us weren’t using deodorant yet, a maroon blazer with a matching tie, although sadly I can’t tie one to save my life anymore, and pumps for the girls and lace-up leather shoes for the boys, as well as a gray cardigan when it was cold.

            The skirt had to be above the knee but no more than two inches above the knee, and they checked. I had to get new skirts in the middle of the school year because I hit a growth spurt, but because I was a foreigner I got a note from the teacher to my parents to get me a new skirt for next week, rather than detention…

            Never in my professional career have I been subject to such a strict dress code as at that school. Unless you count the times I worked retail, when I had a uniform provided by the employer.

            1. Artemesia*

              that isn’t a dress code — it is a school uniform. Most public schools in the US don’t have uniforms although there are cities that do since they discovered it has some advantages particularly for poor kids in downplaying wealth distinctions. It is usually like, navy pants or skirt and one of 3 colors of polos and they are available at inexpensive stores like Target. It is fairly easy to make sure kids from families without the means to purchase them can be outfitted by the school.

              Private schools like British ‘public schools’ often have uniforms.

              1. UKDancer*

                An awful lot of non private schools in the UK have uniforms as well.

                When I grew up all of the schools in town had uniforms of varying sorts. I went to a fairly indifferent comprehensive and we had a uniform so did the church school up the road and the RC school across town.

                Looking at the children going to the comprehensive near the station I catch my train from, they seem to have one as well although it’s a lot less ugly than mine.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I grew up in Eastern Europe and everyone was obsessed with cotton in my childhood/youth. Then when we came to the US, there was a brief period of “Americans will wear anything, even synthetics, but we know that cotton is where the real quality is”, and people putting in a great deal of effort to find clothes that were 100% cotton. (I gave up on that pretty early on.) So I was really surprised by OP’s coworker’s comment!

    7. Batgirl*

      I know what kind of person is proud that they’ve avoided a fashion staple their entire life? And I don’t get how wearing synthetic fabric head to toe is so praiseworthy! They can look ok when done well but they’re only used because it’s easier and cheaper. They’re often the sweatier uption too. Give me cotton, linen, jersey and silk over polyester any day.
      If someone is proud that they’ve avoided casual wear in all contexts then I’d really doubt they have any discernment and judgement for contexts. Particularly since they aren’t accounting for regional differences.

    8. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I’m wearing a knit linen top today. I found them a few years ago at Target and have hunted for them online ever since. They’re getting easier to find, I even spotted a couple on my last pre-covid clothes shopping run.
      But…they’re buttonless. I wonder if OP’s coworker would denigrate them as t-shirts.

      1. Eva Luna*

        Basically my entire summer work shirt wardrobe is linen knit or cotton. I have a bunch of linen knit shirts that I got on end of season clearance at J. Jill, and a couple from Boden. No problems with wrinkling. In an air-conditioned office, I usually wear them under a cardigan, which I can take off for (in the before times) public transit commuting. They are awesome.

        I also have a friend who swears by lightweight merino wool in the summer, but I don’t know how much luck you’d have finding office-appropriate styles.

    9. Mongrel*

      “I wish linen was more work-appropriate, I bought a very comfortable linen tunic during the heat of the summer and it’s been my staple on super hot days ever since. But it crumples and wrinkles so easily, it really comes off as casual “devil may care” loungewear.”

      Have a look around for bamboo stuff. It’s light, breathes and from my, limited, experience is resistant to wrinkling

      1. Forrest*

        Bamboo is rayon/viscose rebranded–it’s one of the most audacious rebrands in the history of everything, and I’m so impressed.

        (this isn’t a criticism, I adore viscose–I just find it hilarious that plain old viscose fabrics are now BAMBOO and marketed as an eco-fibre!)

        1. WellRed*

          Yeah, I thought bamboo was an endangered species (not the right word, but the correct one escapes me).

          1. ThatGirl*

            No, bamboo isn’t endangered – it’s actually a rapidly renewable resource because it grows very quickly.

          2. Ali G*

            It’s an invasive species. It’s branded as “sustainable” when in fact it uses a ton of water, out competes all other native vegetation and is typically grown in previously forested areas in the tropics that were converted to monoculture.
            I avoid almost all bamboo products because they are in fact not good for the environment.

          3. Artemesia*

            Bamboo is like ivy — one of the most hardy invasive species. Never plant it unless you want to annoy the neighbors and live with it forever.

    10. WS*

      Linen is definitely work appropriate if you’re in a hot climate! I’m in Australia, so we probably have more variety in hot climate businesswear than most of Europe, but it’s entirely appropriate for both men and women here.

    11. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      IMO the OP sounds arrogant and I wouldn’t be surprised if the European wasn’t at all judgmental but that’s how it’s coming across in the letter. To me OP sounds like she thinks she’s superior because of her clothing choices, and looks down on those who wear synthetics.

      If her choices are right for her that’s great, but she sounds like the judgmental one to me. “I noticed that she was wearing head-to-toe polyester, which made me think about the microplastics that pollute the ocean every time polyester is washed and the environmental sludge and throw-away culture that comes out of the manufacturing of fast-fashion. “

      1. Lyka*

        Why should the OP be generous to someone who insulted her? The colleague was snarky about cotton, the OP was snarky about polyester. Everyone has their own tastes and ethical lines. Don’t look for reasons to get offended by people who are trying.

        1. Mystery Bookworm*

          I mean, simply stating that you’ve never worn an item of clothing isn’t an insult in and of itself, so OP doesn’t actually say that the colleague insulted her (although I agree the letter implies it).

          But the advice you’re giving here: “don’t look for reasons to get offended” could easily be applied to the event described in the letter as well.

          1. The Grey Lady*

            I agree with “don’t look for reasons to get offended.” It’s very possible that the European woman wasn’t judging OP at all, but was simply stating her own clothing preference and OP took it like a personal attack. It’s possible that her tone was very condescending, but that’s something we can’t know.

        2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          I’m not at all offended by what OP is doing, but IME people who make choices like hers are super judgmental of those who do not follow the same guidelines. Her statement that I quoted sounds very judgmental. And I see nothing insulting about what the colleague said to OP based solely on the letter.

      2. Traffic_Spiral*

        Yeah, it sounds incredibly judgy – especially that bit about all plastic in the ocean. Plus “Did my personal environment and ethical choices force me to wear clothing that looks too casual?” Girl, please! Pretty much all professional business-wear is made from natural fabrics (wool suits and cotton collar shirts) so don’t go blaming your casual look on ethics.

      3. juliebulie*

        I thought the same thing, FWIW, because of the statement that you quoted. I think it’s great that OP is living by her ethics; it isn’t always easy, but she is sticking to it (and I don’t think she should stop). But “microplastics that pollute the ocean every time polyester is washed and the environmental sludge and throw-away culture that comes out of the manufacturing of fast-fashion” is a lot to think of every time you see a person wearing polyester. People have their own reasons for wearing what they wear, and it doesn’t have to be a personal crusade in order to be valid.

        I’ll also echo others’ suggestions to consider synthetics that are second-hand. Those are the very opposite of “throw-away culture.”

      4. Courageous cat*

        Oh my god yeah. I’m surprised no one else is mentioning this. This… is much more of the snooty attitude in the letter imo. Very much the same concept of vegans talking about how wrong murdering animals is in front of their friends peacefully trying to eat a turkey sandwich.

    12. virago*

      “I wish linen was more work-appropriate.”

      Look for cotton-linen blends. I’m wearing a sleeveless woven cotton-linen midi dress in a work from home setting that would be just fine in the office under a light cardigan. I found it on eBay secondhand. It’s as light as linen, but without the wrinkle factor, and it’s saving me from melting down during this hot and humid summer in a condo w/o air conditioning.

    13. Butterfly Counter*

      No kidding about being judgey! “I have never worn a tee shirt in my life.” Wow. I live in my cotton tee shirts 98% of my life, and I don’t think that’s an exaggeration! I sleep in them, I work out in them, they’re what I change into after work, they’re largely what I wear to work (though, fitted; also cotton dresses are *thumbs up*). My closet is dominated by my tee shirt collection. I used to have those tee shirt material bedsheets!

      Not wearing a tee shirt is a concept completely alien to my sensibilities. And not something I’d ever conceive of bragging about?

  9. Artemesia*

    If a grad student came to me with a speech about having many old relative who might die at some point, I would find it extremely weird. I think when and if (let’s hope it doesn’t happen) one person dies, THEN perhaps say that you have several relatives who are elderly and in poor health. I really don’t think professors are going to think a grad student is lying around such issues — undergrads do all the time — but the first response to a grad student will be sympathy.

    1. Marika*

      Oh, I so wish this was true!

      Two months into my graduate program, my grandfather died. He actually died Monday night, but my folks didn’t tell me until Wednesday evening, because I had a grant proposal due Wednesday morning. The funeral was Friday – I had to go home Thursday night by Greyhound so I could go to the funeral Friday. I had nothing on Friday except a weekly check-in with my supervisor… No classes, no TA responsibilities, nothing. I did have classes to TA on Thursday night.

      I went to my supervisor on Thursday and asked to reschedule our weekly meeting, since I would be back the following week. Her exact words: “If you want to succeed in academia, you need to set aside the petty, inconsequential details of your personal life and focus on what’s really important”.

      I can honestly say the fact I do not have a Ph.D is probably directly related to my response.

      Nevertheless, that attitude is still stupidly common in ALL levels of academia … And I’ve worked in it steadily for the last 20 years.

      1. Felis alwayshungryis*

        Wow, that’s cold. I mean, my dad (retired professor) has spoken of the uncanny way that the grannies of the university’s students are decimated near a big test or assignment due date, but I know with certainty that neither he nor any of his colleagues would have treated a student (especially a grad student) like that. That’s horrifying.

        1. AcademiaNut*

          Yeah, if you come in the day before an exam or major assignment deadline with a story about how your grandmother just died and you need an extension, you had better have documentation of the relationship and the death.

          As a competitive STEM program graduate myself, I know you do get the occasional glassbowl professor who thinks that having a personal life or feelings is a betrayal of your career. But in my experience, most supervisors and professors will be sympathetic and willing to work around stuff like this.

          And I agree with others – if your professor is the former type, you’re going to run into problems well before there’s a death in the family.

          1. BonnieVoyage*

            Even though I 100% understand why in those circumstances you need to provide proof, honestly it still sucks. When my grandmother died her funeral was the day before an essay deadline, and I remember thinking about trying to make my distraught mother, who was alone until the family could travel out to her, find a print shop to scan in my granny’s death certificate and funeral programme and send them to me (which is what my uni required in that situation) versus just taking the grade deduction for handing in the essay a day late. I just never mentioned it, went to the funeral and took the hit to my grade.

            1. WS*

              This was definitely the case for me, right back in the 90s. My grandmother had been in poor health for a few years but suddenly died from the flu a week before my second-year undergrad exams and the funeral was on the day of one of my exams. I had to provide the death certificate and the newspaper death notice with my name in it (grandmother of A, B, C, D, and me). When my other two grandparents died while I was in graduate school, it was no problem.

              1. allathian*

                Even that doesn’t prove much. I don’t know how reliable the statistics are but there are some who claim that up to 10 percent of people were sired by someone other than the man they think is their father. Besides which, lots of people were raised by someone who isn’t their blood relative…

                All that said, better to err on the side of humanity and give the time off to the grieving person, no matter what the relationship was.

            2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              Sadly it took a PHONE CALL from the HOSPITAL where my grandfather died to my University in the early 00’s to get a professor my freshman year to let me turn in a semester-long project four days early.
              Some college professors just don’t want to admit that their students have lives outside of school. They are the molds that create the bosses that don’t want to admit that their employees have lives outside of the office.

              (Oh, I wasn’t a STEM major, and yes am still annoyed almost 20 years later that it happened. It shouldn’t take a call from the hospital/morgue on top of an obit in the newspaper to verify that my grandfather actually did die.)

              1. anonymous 5*

                and to turn something in EARLY (!!!), no less. Solidarity with the decades-later annoyance, because that is nuts. :(

                1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                  Sadly, the obit in the paper even had a recent pic of my brother and I with my grandpa (from my high school graduation – I was his only granddaughter). There was no doubt he was my grandfather.

        2. Academia Anon for this*

          At my uni, we did have a student that created an obituary and a funeral announcement by digitally manipulating a real one. The kicker was that once the student had given permission for their family to know what the honor system charge was (FERPA, you knows), the grandmother that they said had died was the one to get the call.

          She was not pleased.

      2. Job Carousel*

        I experienced similar things in my PhD (which I finished in spite of, not because of, my horrible advisor).

        OP#5, you know that you’re going into a competitive STEM program where attitudes like this will be present, but I’d encourage you to seek out and join a lab with an advisor who promotes healthy work/life balance, who’s more likely than not going to be reasonable if and when you need to take time off for family matters. Look for signs like:

        – graduate students and postdocs in the lab seem generally upbeat and speak well of their advisor
        – people aren’t working crazy hours (at least not all the time/not by force)
        – people actually take vacations. Particularly, look at whether any international trainees in the group are able to go back to their native countries for more than a few days. Ask how folks spent the holidays last year — were they able to unplug and take time off, or did they frantically work through them?
        – the advisor has been reasonably accommodating during the current pandemic — i.e., allowing for deviations from the normal work hours/conditions and allowing flex time to work from home if possible

        And try to find a different research group if you instead see things like:

        – many disgruntled, disenchanted graduate students abound (try to hang out with potential labmates outside of lab before making your decision – i.e., going out for coffee, or virtual coffee – to encourage them to talk candidly)
        – graduate students who have been in the lab for more than ~6 years with no/fewer than expected publications and no defined timeline to graduate (this could also be signs of an demotivated grad student, an ineffective advisor, an abusive advisor, or all of the above)
        – people who are clearly suffering from mental illness, still at work, toiling away

        (unfortunately the last three were very common in my graduate program. trigger warning, but there was a graduate student on my floor who quite regularly threw up in the restroom and left it there for the next person to find. It seemed like a cry for help, and I still feel guilty not doing anything about it. I was in a pretty bad place too.)

        I’d say, do your best to find a reasonable advisor who treats their lab with kindness, don’t worry about giving a disclaimer upfront — just prove yourself through consistently good work, and trust that if you need to take time off for a family member, they’ll understand and not judge you irrationally.

          1. Kowl*

            SAME. As a (fairly recent) PhD from a top tier STEM program, I want to piggyback on Job Carousel and GiGi’s answers.

            Please please please for the love of everything, pick an advisor based on the information you’ve seen on this site and the things Job Carousel said. You have the truly rare opportunity to select your manager. Please evaluate them as a manager (read: talk to grad students and postdocs) and not based on the “sexiness” of their research. There are a lot of “top tier” profs out there who have never worked outside of academia and have literally no concept of what managing looks like. And so they are Very Bad At It.

            Trying to convince first years to consider the personality and management skills of their PI, and not just the visibility of their research, was hauntingly frustrating.

            (And, full disclosure but not bragging, I did pick a good PI. My remaining 3 grandparents died in the space of a year during my time there, in addition to several other pretty traumatic events that aren’t worth going into here. Everything work-wise was fine. I know I can still call my PI day or night for advice or help. I then did the really stupid thing of joining a totally effed startup and I’m still having panic attacks 18 months later from the toxicity of that place. *Please* find an advisor who will be supportive and fine, not someone who will inflict permanent damage)

        1. Tau*

          Joining all the other voices here. I did a lot of diligence when picking my supervisor, and I ended up with one who was absolutely amazing the whole way through my PhD. I was not the easiest student due to massive disability flare-ups and there were times where if he’d even hinted at the words “I don’t think you’re cut out for this” I’d have quit. He never once did. I cannot underline strongly enough how I would not have gotten my PhD without his support.

          Honestly, this is THE most important thing you can do for your PhD. A bad or unreasonable supervisor will hurt you in so many more ways than just what happens if you have a family emergency of any sort. A supervisor has a huge amount of power over their students and ending up with a bad one can absolutely wreck your career before it even starts, potentially taking your mental health with it. And although people will pretend that the whole field is just like that and it’s not possible to find someone who won’t expect impossible hours and claim you’re lying when you have a death in the family, it is not true and you do not have to put up with that sort of treatment.

      3. MayLou*

        Yes, I think this sounds perfectly reasonable. Set aside the petty, inconsequential details like the spectacularly unreasonable expectations of your PhD supervisor, and focus on what’s really important, like family and being there for major life events. Oh, that wasn’t what you meant, cold-hearted supervisor? Shame. Enjoy your lonely life with your academic career and nothing else.

        Ugh. Makes my blood boil that anyone would be so insensitive.

      4. blackcat*

        Woah, that’s cold and toxic.

        Over the 6 years it took me to get a PhD, I took off time for two grandparent deaths, my MIL’s death, my uncle’s death, and my mom having cancer. I also took some leave but mostly required tons of flexibility around when I had a baby. It was… an intense 6 years.

        On the flip side, my advisor took time off when his mother died, and when his (young adult) daughter got cancer.

        We helped each other through these things! Like normal humans! My advisor finished revising a paper for an R&R for me when my mom was sick. I took over significant grant administrative tasks when his daughter was sick, and I did a bunch of invited talks for him (I’m sure some people were upset that Dr. Senior BigWig was replaced by Ms. Up and Coming Grad Student, but mostly people understood).

        Marika, I’m sorry you had that experience, but graduate school doesn’t have to be that way! There are good, understanding, and kind people within academia.

        1. blackcat*

          I will also add–for one of my grandfathers, I took off for two funerals. We had a family service shortly after his passing, then the military service at Arlington was some months later (this is common for services at Arlington).
          No one batted an eye at that, even! The service at Arlington was like 11am on a Wednesday, so I had to get someone to cover my teaching duties and miss several classes because of the timing. It was 100% fine!

      5. KRM*

        Yeah, I told my PhD advisor that I was going up to see my brand new niece on MLK weekend. She literally told me that “I won’t tell you that you can’t see your family, but you’re going to have to start making a choice about working on weekends vs seeing them.” So I went to see my niece, dropped out the next day, got a good job in industry, and didn’t look back. It was obviously the last straw at that point, but it did turn out to be a great decision!

      6. Artemesia*

        Wow. I know there are azzholes in higher ed — have worked with a few, but that is a particularly pungent example of one. What a jerk and I am sorry you encountered that. I have never seen professors treat grad students like this over a personal issue (even ones much less serious than the death of a grandparent) but I don’t doubt there are some. Sorry you encountered this one. What a douchebag.

    2. PollyQ*

      I agree that it would come off as very odd, and I doubt it would help any with the kind of ridiculous, unsympathetic supervisor that Marika had.

      1. Anononon*

        Yes, it’s a comment that’s either unnecessary or won’t help. I don’t see a positive in saying anything.

    3. Allonge*

      I was thinking this exactly – for normal people it’s weird, and if the professor is as bad as these horror stories, it still will not help. It’s not exactly news that a lot of grad students will have some kind of family, including people on the elderly side!

      1. WellRed*

        I agree this is a weirdly, uh, presumptive thing to bring up. I wouldn’t bring it up at work either. When it becomes necessary, OK. That said, I’m sorry academia can be so draconian around a normal part of life and act like students are on some higher cerebral plane with no feelings, unlike the uneducated masses.

    4. peasblossom*

      Yes! Also an academic (not STEM, but highly competitive field), and I’d echo this advice. Grad school is very different from undergrad, and in an advisor/phd student relationship there should be a level of trust.

      I’ll also add that if you do want to tell your advisor wait until you get to know them. Especially in competitive fields, grad programs can be a minefield for power struggles. Get the lay of the land first, see if your advisor will be reasonable, and then flag your family situation.

    5. Another worker bee*

      Yeah, that’s my read…most people in their 20s probably have grandparents or great aunt/uncles who are nearing the end of their life, so it’s a little bizarre to flag it up front, unless a relative truly has weeks to live at the very start of the program. Like…a PhD is so long that anything could happen – I’d have to look it up but it’s probably the same length or longer than the average job tenure these days.

      During my PhD, a great-aunt moved to the same city as me, I became close to them after really not knowing them well at all, and ended up caring for her after she had a heart attack. That was in the first two years. I also met and married my spouse while I was in school, and in the last year, he had to have major surgery and I had to care for him for a week or so after that. The point being – I ended up needing modest amounts of leave due to caretaking responsibilities for two people I didn’t even know at the beginning of school.

      My advisor was a misogynist credit hog with absolutely no teaching skills whatsoever, and he did not believe in vacations – but even he didn’t begrudge time off for family emergencies.

  10. Nippergryph2*

    OP#5 My father, grandfather, and uncle died within a 1.5 year period while I was in grad school for a STEM degree. I let my advisor know when things were taking a turn for the worse, or in my uncle’s case how long he was expected to live, and my advisor was always understanding. I have never heard of any professors doubting grad students about deaths in the family, so I would not worry about that. If you are able I would recommend talking to a therapist, grad school is incredibly stressful and dealing with family illnesses and deaths on top of that makes it even harder.

    1. blackcat*

      “I let my advisor know when things were taking a turn for the worse”

      Yep. This is helpful, and I communicated these things around the family deaths I experienced in grad school. The slightly awkward thing was that my grandfather was… slow in dying. At least three times I warned my advisor that my grandfather appeared to be taking a turn for the worst… only to have him bounce back. Dude hung on until the age of 95. So it was still a surprise to my advisor when I finally said “My grandfather died.”

      I also appreciated it when my advisor warned me that his mother wasn’t doing well. He took about four weeks off when she was very sick and then died, and having about a two week lead time meant he was able put together a good “keep the ship upright” critical things I needed to do in his absence (like end of year grant reports).

      1. WellRed*

        “The slightly awkward thing was that my grandfather was… slow in dying. At least three times I warned my advisor that my grandfather appeared to be taking a turn for the worst… only to have him bounce back. Dude hung on until the age of 95.”

        having experienced similar with similarly long lived grandparents, this is exaclty why I am not a fan of telling people various relatives may die at some point.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          Yep. My dad’s mom is now 94. They took her out of her assisted living a year ago. She moved in with my uncle because they thought the end was near. I had a couple “come out here and say goodbye” calls. My uncle put her back in a nursing facility last winter, pre-COVID, when it became clear she was going to be around a little longer and she was driving him crazy. (She often wanted to speak to the management about the poor care she was getting. Seriously. My uncle was a VA hospital administrator and his wife is a VA RN. Grandma would say tell my uncle that the nurse wasn’t giving her her meals and she paid her rent and wanted those meals.) My mom’s dad lived to be 90 and had Alzheimer’s for >10 years, and no one expected him to be around the last 5 years.

        2. blackcat*

          To be fair, I was judging things on doctors saying “It’ll be any moment now.” So it seemed reasonably plausible to give him the heads up that I might take off by the end of the week. There’s a difference between “terminally ill” and “moved to hospice, removing care” and “on death’s door.” My grandfather was in and out of hospice over 4 years, but when my MIL and my advisor’s mom went into hospice, it was ~2 weeks.

          It generally seems reasonable to me to tell people when it’s at the hospice stage, but it depends on your working relationship.

  11. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

    OP #2, I suspect another reason behind synthetic work clothing is upkeep. Cotton and linen wrinkle easily and need to be ironed well; wool needs to be washed and dried extremely carefully to keep it nice. Polyester and other synthetic fabrics can be rolled into a ball and gone out almost entirely unblemished, so they keep looking neat throughout the day with little effort.

    I’m someone who wears a lot of cotton largely for sensory and practical reasons, but I know my polyester work suit will survive a cross country business trip, though my shirts will not.

    1. Haven’t picked out a username yet*

      Thank you for your post. I cannot wear linen due to wrinkles, and sometimes feel like I am missing something when people call it effortless, or show it in catalogs as a professional pant etc. I look like a disaster after 5 minutes. Great for the beach and summers at home for me, but never for work.

      1. UKDancer*

        I also can’t manage linen. It creases and looks awful.

        Most of my clothes are cotton or poly-cotton blend and silk for summer or wool for winter with some cashmere sweaters for extra cold days.

        1. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

          My problem with silk is the expense and the utter unwashable-ness of it. I know in theory you can hand wash or gentle wash silk, but in my experience, silk gets ruined if you don’t dry clean it.

          1. Reba*

            I hand wash it all, and it works but is truly a PITA.

            But, I’m somewhat like the OP in this question in that I try to favor natural fibers due to the microplastic pollution thing. I’m not rigid about it, but I try! (I don’t think it’s easy to say one fiber is more sustainable than another as far as production, as cotton is extremely water hungry, and with few exceptions, farmers and garment workers are not adequately compensated around the world.)

            I like to do second hand (most sustainable!) but have not had a lot of success buying online, except when I’m buying the exact same garment I already own.

    2. RabbitRabbit*

      All linen I’ve had experience with is the opposite of effortless. It creases almost immediately after putting it on, and those creases generally remain all day or simply move to another location if you’re sitting differently. It’s hilarious that it’s always presented as so breezy and flowing, and the only way I could see the wrinkles leaving is if you’re hot enough to be self-steaming them out. Which may be the case at times, but not in most office settings.

    3. Roy G. Biv*

      Get a clothing steamer. I have not ironed in years (except for things that need a sharp crease) but my cotton wardrobe is always neat and wrinkle-free because of my $30 clothes steamer from Bed, Bath & Beyond. I even steam casual weekend t-shirts, so the only wrinkles they show are the ones that develop from slouching on the couch, binge watching whatever is my latest obsession.

    4. DarnTheMan*

      Last year I had to staff a booth at a conference for my work for 5 days and the thing that was the biggest pain to pack and care for, to ensure I was looking tidy while at the booth was my three (sustainable, organic cotton) branded t-shirts – whereas my (probably) polyester dress pants and blazer traveled just fine. Thankfully my AirBnB had an iron or else I don’t know what I would have done.

    5. fposte*

      While I agree with you on the low upkeep on polyester, you can wash cotton, especially knit, without needing to iron it.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, as long as you don’t use a tumble dryer. A stand-up dryer works, although I’ve only seen one of those at my son’s daycare, or air drying them. For a wrinkle-free result, a coathanger is the best bet.

        I hate ironing with a passion, and I pretty much only iron the silk blouse I keep for special occasions and the linen tablecloth we use for more formal parties, such as our Christmas dinner. Minor wrinkles don’t bother me.

        1. fposte*

          Yup, or tumble dry for a few minutes and then hang dry/flat dry. Works with wool and cashmere, too.

        2. Artemesia*

          my dislike for ironing is such that in any given year, I might not be able to locate the iron and we haven’t had an ironing board for years now. Either it comes out of the dryer and gets put on a hanger or carefully rolled and put away or it goes to the dry cleaner. We managed professional lives without having to iron — my husband’s shirts went out to be laundered and pressed.

    6. Artemesia*

      good point. I got a really nice and stylish but poly jacket for a wedding; because it is loose fitting jacket it is not unbearably hot under normal conditions and it jazzes up basic black slacks and top underneath. I could backpack across Europe with it wadded up in the bottom of the pack and it would look fine once a shook it out and wore it over the basic layer. I have a suit that magically looked good on me that looked expensive (it was mid range Jones of New York) and looked like silk and that I wore to give presentations in — it was poly and was totally impervious to wrinkles. I still have it in case of a formal occasion where a black suit is needed.

  12. Cedrus Libani*

    For #2: in biotech specifically, you’ll have an easier time, because lab workers don’t like synthetics. They’re highly flammable, and in some cases are also dissolved by common solvents. Biotech also has the techie reverse snobbery about dressing up (except in the parts that are so close to clinical that the MD norms prevail). This has some weird consequences – in particular, the line between “secretary” and “female junior manager” dress is nearly nonexistent. One of the best ways to read as the latter is indeed to avoid synthetics, because you’re a practical person who might have to go into the lab at some point.

    That said, I’m a believer in picking your fights. If this one is important to you, by all means, go ahead. Dressing in a way that reads more casual may cost you some credibility with some people. That’s not the end of the world. You almost certainly can’t afford to pick every fight available, but you can pick a few, and maybe this one is yours.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      the line between “secretary” and “female junior manager” dress
      Must be tough for your male administration assistants.

      1. Not Australian*

        Beat me to it, SSC; I had a boss who bluntly said “I like my secretaries to wear skirts”, and my gay male colleague fluttered his eyelashes and said “I can wear a skirt if you like.” It was the end of that conversation!

    2. WellRed*

      If “female junior manager” is a job title that’s the real problem, (I jest, of course, but wouldn’t be surprised if it’s at least partially accurate).

    3. mgguy*

      Guy here in chemistry, but even in “professional” contexts I have no shame about showing up in an old T-shirt and worn out jeans if I’m going to be spending a lot of time in the lab. I keep a pair of khakis and a dress shirt, along with an old pair of jeans and a T-shirt, in my office if I need a mid-day wardrobe change.

      1. JustaTech*

        When I went to my first bio conference (HIV specifically) my lab manager and I observed that the shabbiest and least-kempt looking people were always the heads of the biggest labs with the biggest grants (shabby meaning worn-out khakis, poly-fleece vests and sandals with white socks), where the people who looked comfortable in their suits were either from a granting organization or sales people, and the people who looked like they’d raided their parent’s wardrobe for “professional” clothes were the regular lab workers.

        Now that I work in biotech it’s a bit more dressed up than academia, but you can still tell the lab folk from the non-lab folk because the lab folk always have an air of “am I going to have to crawl around on the floor in this? Am I going to get bleach on it?”

        1. mgguy*

          Oh yeah, definitely. In my(now former) department, a lot of our most successful faculty were jeans and polo or button-up shirt every day for the guys, and often jeans and a nice blouse for the ladies. Usually their “dress up days” were meeting with upper admin or on the first week of classes, and even then rarely did you see a full suit.

          And yeah, in many cases no matter how much I’d “plan” a day, I had no idea what I might get pulled in to. There were certain days where I knew whatever I was wearing head to toe was going to get nasty(even with a labcoat and apron over that) so I’d been known to show up in my greasy, nasty working in the garage clothes(see my user name-MGs shed a lot of oil and other fluids :) ). If I knew it was prep 40L of .2M Iron Nitrate day, which left me with head-to-toe rust spots that resisted any efforts to remove, you’d better believe nothing I wore was nice that day.

          Even on a normal day, though, I never knew when I’d be diving into an undisturbed storage room, crawling on the floor running gas lines, or spilling half a 4 liter bottle of acetone/chloroform/whatever other solvent I was using on me(never mind the day that my “helper” who was steadying a 20L carboy while I filled it with acetone from a drum and knocked it over, spilling probably 10L on the floor. Since my shoes soles were blocks of goo in about 5 minutes, I spent the rest of the day in my “just in case” loafers in the corner of my office). Back in grad school, sulfuric acid “splatter” on parts of my pants my labcoat didn’t cover were a couple of times a week event, and that leaves you with nice little “pin pricks” the next time you wash them. I’d once leaned against the a hood that someone failed to tell me they’d spilled surfuric acid on and I didn’t realize it at the time, but an hour or two later I bent down to get something out of a cabinet and ripped the seat of my pants wide open.

          Long story short, if you work in labs(and I mean actually work, not supervise), don’t wear nice clothes.

          Also, to bring this back around, cotton is USUALLY preferred for items like lab coats since it’s solvent-friendly(unlike a lot of synthetics) and also reasonably fire resistant. Still, though, if you’re working with concentrated acids(nitric specifically) cotton can potentially be bad news since you can end up turning your clothes into nitrocellulose-i.e. gunpowder. You’d have to do things just right for that to happen(usually nitration of anything takes nitric+sulfuric) but it’s something to be mindful of. I’ve also seen sulfuric acid “burn” cotton and other natural fibers since it can dehydrate the cellulose(never use paper towels or cotton rags to clean up a sulfuric spill). I’m not a stranger to disposable Tyvek labcoats or even coveralls for real nasties.

          I know this is all situation specific and not everyone works in labs, but match your wardrobe to what you’re doing.

    4. Indy Dem*

      Lab workers at a biotech make up a small percentage of the employee base, FYI. Unless it’s a brand spanking new startup.

  13. Caitlin Turner*

    I have always run hot, and so have only ever been able to abide natural, breathable fabrics like cotton. IMO it’s more tasteful than synthetics which always make my skin crawl. I’m not taking any particular side, but I do not think synthetic fabrics are ‘more tasteful’ or ‘more professional’.

    1. Not Australian*

      100% agree. I buy very few wholly synthetic items – in fact I can’t think of anything I own at the moment (in the clothing line) that doesn’t at least have 50% wool or cotton in the mix. Sometimes this is a shame, because I often find that the patterns I’d love to wear are only available on fully synthetic fabrics, but just touching those things in a shop is enough to produce such a powerful sense of revulsion that I could never contemplate wearing them. If anyone had ever tried to tell me such things were unprofessional they’d have got a dusty answer from me!

      1. Nea*

        I was just coming to say something similar – I cannot bear the feeling of synthetic fabric, even if it weren’t ridiculous to wear a plastic bag in the summer heat where I am.

        OP, there is as nothing wrong about cotton/cotton blends. If you really worry about looking like you’re wearing a t-shirt, then avoid crew necks in favor of v or scoop necks.

      2. Mel_05*

        Same. I have sometimes bought a polyster top just because it looks SO cute or I was desperate. But those tops went unworn for years before I finally donated them to goodwill.

    2. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      Thirding. I have a bad case of smelly armpits, and after runing my first professional shirt many summers ago, I wear as much cotton as possible.

    3. Chinook*

      I agree, but it is also useful to remember that cotton isn’t the onky ntural fabric. Wool, linen and silk are also natural (though linen and silk may not be considered vegan friendly as they are an animal byproduct that do not harm the animal by its removal).

      There is atleast one company that makes professional, natural fabric clothing in a montitored work environment – the often mentioned here eshakti dot com. You can search by fabric and they now even evn the opportunity to buy matching face msks.

      1. Dahlia*

        Linen is made of flax, so it is vegan. Wool is sheep. Silkworms are… definitely harmed by making silk.

    4. MollyStrongMama*

      Yep, I would recommend silk (but I just get sweaty!). I wear a lot of wool tops (there are some made by Icebreaker that, paired with nice pants or skirt, are beautiful, naturally antimicrobial, cooling, and look very professional. Throw on some tasteful jewelry and no one is the wiser!

  14. Parfait*

    #2, I bet your shirts are just fine and your colleague has strange ideas. But if you do want to step up your work wardrobe, maybe look into silk blouses. just by having a little sheen, they can elevate your whole outfit.

  15. Violet Fox*

    #2 Speaking as someone who generally prefers natural fibers, a lot of it is about the cut, the drape, and the fit of what you’re wearing. A knit cotton top is going to come off t-shirt-like, in a way that a polished cotton woven shirt will not. I actually wear a lot of men’s dress shirts because I can find them in a lot of colors, can find them in 100% cotton and they are more polished looking, as long as I remember to do things like iron them.

    Also pairing your cottons with things like wools will help the overall look as well. A cotton button-down, a wool blazer, and cotton or wool woven pants has a very different look then something t-shirty and something jeans-like.

    Depending on where you live, your budget, etc, I would actually recommend looking into wearing more wool, or incorporating wool pieces in with your wardrobe. They’re natural fibers, can look very good for work-wear and last pretty much forever. There are also some great sources online for work friendly natural fiber clothing including cottons, wools, and linen. If you’re feeling really adventures and like you have a lot of free time, you could learn to sew, but if you are interested in clothes in general I would recommend at least learning about sewing to see how cut, material, drape, etc effects how things look.

    1. WellRed*

      So agree. Pay attention to cut and fit of anything you wear. Look in the mirror before you leave the house, etc.

    2. fposte*

      Agreed. And if you absolutely can’t cope with a weave, you can often find knits that have more shape and structure; there are definitely knit buttondown shirts, for instance.

  16. Manateepalooza*

    #5: STEM faculty at R1 institution here. Loss IS a part of adult life, which is why my PhD students—and all the others in our program to my knowledge—take bereavement leave as needed (I have never heard of a closeness criterion for leave.) I agree with the AAM advice that you could give your advisor a heads up about your family health situation if you feel comfortable doing so. You might also consider actively building up a support system once you arrive on campus for your new program. It is easy to quickly focus on your work/academics, but modest incremental investments of time making connections with other people, groups, or campus resources that support you can really pay dividends when you experience inevitable challenges in the future.

    1. Batty Twerp*

      (I have never heard of a closeness criterion for leave.)
      Not academia, not STEM, but my company and many others I’ve worked at have criteria surrounding duration of leave – e.g. a half-day to attend the funeral of a close friend, full day for a grandparent, up to three days for a parent or sibling, etc.
      This is primarily for practical reasons. Registering a death and arranging a funeral and wake takes time, and the closer you are to the deceased the more likely you are needed to be involved in the minutiae of admin. We also have separate bereavement leave – sometimes the above admin fills your head so there’s no time immediately after the funeral for grief, so a day or two later can also be taken.

      1. TechWorker*

        You can quite easily have to arrange the funeral of a grandparent or friend if you are the closest living (or closest healthy) person… I hope there’s flexibility for that rather than a blanket rule.

        1. Green great dragon*

          We have quite clear rules around *paid* bereavement leave (you wouldn’t get paid leave for a friend’s death) but everywhere I’ve worked you’d be given the time you need anyway, and it might come out of vacation time or be unpaid.

        2. Batty Twerp*

          Oh yes – a brief conversation with your manager would ensure you got the appropriate leave. I was trying to give blanket average leave times – i.e you do *not* get 3 days for a close friend if you are only attending the funeral.
          (and had a formatting fail apparently!)

      2. Carlie*

        I’ve seen companies with that policy as well.
        The people who get really screwed are the ones living far away from family. If I go to a family funeral, it’s 3 days minimum regardless of degree of relatedness just to be at the ceremony, because it’s a full day of travel each way.

        And there’s the ancillary impacts – I might not have been close to my second cousin, but my mom was best friends with them and I need to be there to help her get through it, etc.

      3. Liz*

        My uni during my postgraduate had strict criteria. One of my fellow students lost a grandparent early in the course and requested extenuating circumstances. He was refused as university policy stipulated that grandparents were not close enough to count as significant bereavement. This guy came from a multigenerational household, and his grandparents practically raised him while his parents worked. It was like losing a parent for him. He dropped out the following day.

      4. Another worker bee*

        Aside from the points that other have made about family structures being different, i.e. different people might need to arrange the funeral, this also seems to assume that every friend and family member all live in the same town – which is pretty out of touch. My grandparents, the late set and the living set, as well as my parents, ALL live 3-4 hours drive from different major airports that are a cross-country flight for me. So I’d get the actual funeral day paid but the travel unpaid?

    2. historian o' science*

      I strongly agree with this advice, and I’m genuinely surprised to see some other comments from academic faculty saying they’d think it was odd to have a grad student tell them this information! If I were your advisor, I’d want to know that several members of your family were declining in health, as that will inevitably affect your path in grad school. Not necessarily in a negative way, but it will shape how you can move through things, and I think it’s best to be prepared and to plan accordingly. Also, if their health is very poor and declining rapidly, it’s important information just from a work standpoint, assuming you’re TAing – someone will need to cover your classes or they’ll need to be cancelled and even if you don’t have a date, as the prof I’d want to know that ASAP so I could start thinking about how we’ll manage when you take a leave (because of course you’ll get a leave because who the he** doesn’t let their grad students go to funerals? Seriously, gross).

      Also, re:grandparents dying as an excuse, I’ve taken to just trusting my students. If they say someone has died, then someone died. Not only is this a more humane and kind approach, it’s just way easier. I don’t have the time to suss out whether you’re lying or not, and I don’t want to put the time and energy into wondering and/or trying to figure it out. Why are you requiring students to bring proof of a death? Look, if they’re asking for an extension the day before their final projects are due, even if you give them a 2 day extension the product will still be bologna, so who cares? They’ll still do poorly! It’s better for everyone to assume honesty and go from there.

      All that said, everyone is different and every program is different. The evidence of this is very apparent in the diversity of comments, so maybe it’s best to wait a little bit to get a sense of your advisor before you say anything? I’m still of the mind that being up front is best…but I’m *very much* an “asker” and not a “guesser” so…take that for what it is.

      Also, OP, I’m sorry you’re experiencing this scale of loss (but congrats on graduating and congrats on getting into a competitive grad program!).

  17. Archaeopteryx*

    OP1, you shouldn’t have been answering questions so long after working there. It’s keeping you emotionally tied to your former workplace and you need to move on. You quit! You need to look forward.

  18. Everdene*

    OP5, I’m really sad to say that some people do have that attitude, but thankfully it is not too common. When my grandmother died my manager at the time said I could not have any time off for the funeral as it was not an immediate relative. Flabbergasted, I protest and she asked if my grandmother had brought me up. When I said no, she confirmed that she wasn’t an immediate relative and no time off would be granted. I replied that I would be taking two days off to attend the funeral (it was several hundred miles away) and I didn’t care if she called it ‘bereavement’ ‘holiday’ or ‘sick’ leave but I would not be at work. I had resigned wthin a fortnight, that was perhaps the penultimate straw.

    Conversely, there are wonderfully compassionate managers out there. That same year (it was a tough few months) Oaks school friend died suddenly over a weekend. Oak called in on the Monday and his manager said to take a couple of days. On the Wednesday Oak went to work as normal but his manager could tell instantly he was not ok and sent him home for the rest of the week with lots of reassurances. He was also given 2 days off for the funeral in the town we live in when he asked for 1. Oak still works there.

    The point of this rambling comment is that people react differently and with a vast spectrum of compassion or otherwise. Adults do deal with loss, and part of that is taking time to grieve and say goodbye to people you are close to – blood relative or not. Good luck in your studies and I wish your family well.

    1. London Calling*

      I had the same from my manager when my grandfather died – not an immediate relative (nope, just the man who stepped in as father when my father died). He was overruled, but I was out of there within six months.

      1. allathian*

        I’m so sorry for your loss (if it was me, just writing this would remind me of my grief, but YMMV). Did you have an exit interview? If so, did you tell them that this decision contributed to your looking elsewhere?

    2. KaciHall*

      My manager told me that step grandparents weren’t covered in our bereavement leave when I told her my stepgrandpa was sick and I’d be taking leave for his funeral soon. He ended up doing right before my scheduled vacation, so we drove to Indiana for the funeral before heading to Florida. I didn’t bother telling her he died. Two months later, my grandfather died. (And my great-aunt, in the same week… It was a bad autumn.) My boss did not believe me when I told her my grandfather died, YES my mother’s biological father, not the step grandpa I told you about before. I almost had to have my mother call and tear her a new one, but after producing BOTH obituaries she approved my time off.

      1. allathian*

        I’m so sorry for your losses. I’m sorry you had to jump through hoops to get the time off.

      2. Happy Lurker*

        Kaci I have such a similar story. My step grandfather passed away and my boss was on maternity leave. I asked HR about leave and they said steps and in laws don’t get any time off. Only blood relatives.
        Lesson learned. Never give more information than you need to. I did NOT need to say he was my step grandfather. They wouldn’t have known, since my gradfathers had been dead for 20 years. Situations like this reinforce people to lie. Poor management breeds poor output.
        For LW#5 I would suggest they get to know the advisor before proactively mentioning sick family members.

    3. Batgirl*

      Do some people think that because they arent close to their grandparents, or don’t love their friends like family they can just tell people who do to …walk it off? Mm, great plan, you’ll get loads of work out of the person sobbing in the corner. Don’t managers realise the sooner people do some grieving, the sooner they will be back at full speed? And possibly they’ll stay instead of looking for a job that allows bereavement?

    4. M*

      Some people are really awful about treating humans as humans. When my grandfather died, my mother (his daughter) called to tell her boss that she wasn’t coming in because her father died, and they asked her to run financial reports that day, when she had the chance. They literally had her sitting there on her laptop while we were discussing funeral arrangements. It was awful.

      I’m sorry to see in the comments that this isn’t completely unheard of, but do have some hope for humanity because it seems to be on the rarer side. OP5, MOST people will be better at understanding grief. Don’t worry too much about it, but let your advisor know if things start looking like a family member isn’t doing well. That will also help you give yourself some grace. Even when a person hasn’t died, illness can also cause intense emotions. Good luck to you, and I am sending best wishes to your family.

  19. Forrest*

    >> as for why this is even a thing, it’s one of those inexplicable conventions that has its roots in something other than logic. My guess is it’s probably very old and rooted in the fact that cotton used to cost less.

    I think it’s the opposite—polyester, elastane and other synthetics hold their shape better through wear and washing, allowing you to make much more structured, well-fitting and formal-looking garments with simpler cutting and which are still easy to care for. You need much more complex design and cutting to get the same effect with natural fibres, and they are more labour intensive to wash.

    I mostly wear natural fibres (plus viscose/rayon), including lots of expansive but secondhand wool skirts in winter, and I knit a lot. Wool keeps its shape much better than cotton if you make sure to hang it between wears, and it doesn’t need washing every wear. (I get my wool skirts dry cleaned every 6-8 weeks or so.). I love silk blouses too and used to wear them a lot before I had kids, but they are very incompatible with small child breakfast.

    If you’re somewhere too warm for wool and silk, however, then I think the bigger problem with cotton is not that it’s “not smart” per se, but if you’re buying decent stuff and wearing it for its full lifespan, it *will* start to look faded and softened long before its anywhere close to worn out. The fact that perfectly decent garments which are slightly faded or worn don’t count as sufficiently “professional” is infuriating. But if it’s important to you to wear garments for their full lifespan and you don’t mind being the slightly hippy looking person in the office, go for it!

  20. Beth*

    LW2: There are such a wide variety of weaves and knits out there–not to mention cuts and styles of garments–that I really don’t think the fiber content is what will trigger someone to think “casual t-shirt” vs “professional wear”! I know it’s harder to find all-natural fibers in retail stores, but in fabric stores (I sew) I can find cotton satins, cotton crepes, cotton voile…there are definitely high-end cottons out there, is what I’m saying. Not to mention all the non-cotton natural fibers…I dare anyone to say a silk shirt is low-end!

    If you’re really concerned that your wardrobe is too casual, I’d say to look for some of these kinds of higher end fabrics. You might even consider commissioning one or two fancy tops from a local tailor, if you want a really nice option for formal events and aren’t finding what you want at retailers. Alternatively, look for shirts with a more formal cut (a draped neckline or button-down will look more formal than something with a ribbed band around the neck no matter what they’re made of). But if you think your wardrobe looks professional, and this is the only weird comment you’ve gotten about it, I’d assume it’s just this one person and feel free to ignore them. One person with one weird comment does not a real problem make.

    1. UKDancer*

      I definitely can’t tell from looking at it whether something is cotton or a polyester cotton blend. I think it’s definitely more about the overall look, the way the fabric is cut and the way the outfit hangs together that people tend to notice for whether something looks professional.

  21. nom de plume*

    #5, as a former academic, I actually disagree with Alison’s advice here. A PhD is a long haul, and advisors are well-aware that people’s lives will change in that time frame – marriage, childbirth, divorce, even death of loved ones… it’s not uncommon at all.

    That said, unless there’s an imminent or current health crisis happening occurring with one of your relatives (which I’m sympathetic to – I’m dealing with the same with my own mother), it would come across strangely to preemptively announce a likely demise, especially when you’re just forging a new relationship. The PhD / advisor relationship is key, and you’d want to at least get to know one another and establish your bona fides before you lay something like that on the table.

    That’s not to say that there’s no place for loss in grad school — there is, and I know plenty of advisors who are compassionate and understanding and have seen their advisees through crises. But maybe give it a little bit of time before you lay it out there, so that your advisor better knows how to support you (extended time for papers? leave of absence? incomplete for a course) – unless, as I say, it’s something that’s likely to happen very soon and merits immediate consideration.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      We’re in a pandemic that has ravaged some senior living facilities. It’s a conext that could let OP mention their close older relatives without specifically saying “I might have a lot of funerals to attend while we work together.”

  22. Roeslein*

    OP #3, how about silk and linen? They do require ironing but they often read as professional. I avoid polyester too, but cotton has been the default for button-downs and many blouses everywhere I’ve lived (outside of fast fashion obviously, but it doesn’t sound like that is your thing anyway) so I’m not sure I understand the issue. Just avoid jersey-type cotton fabrics and stick to woven ones. I have to dress somewhat conservatively for work and am one of those snobbish Europeans and to be honest I would not consider a t-shirt workwear regardless of composition. Polyester usually just reads as poor quality to me.

    1. doreen*

      I think whether a T-shirt is workwear depends on what defines a t-shirt to you, the fabric or the cut. Sure, a cotton knit T shirt won’t be appropriate for work in a lot of cases – but there are garments that are cut like a T shirt but made of linen or silk that can be appropriate.

      OP #3, I think it’s difficult or impossible to find a cotton knit shirt that doesn’t either look like a T shirt or like a sweater. You might have to switch either fabric or style to avoid the T shirt look.

    2. Leslie*

      I lived in Europe for many years; my husband and children are all Europeans. Many Europeans like to express how appalled they are by what passes for business casual in the USA. The level of formality there is just higher. I doubt this person realizes this is a conscious choice on your part due to sincere ethical reasons. How formal is your work place?

      1. allathian*

        Depends on which part of Europe. Germany, France and Spain, not to mention Italy, are a lot more conservative than most of the Nordics, for example. Sweden is more conservative than the other Nordics. I’m in Finland, and we’re notorious for wearing practical rather than showy clothes.

      2. Hare under the moon with a silver spoon*

        Im curious about because as a Brit I wouldn’t say the levels of formality in business dress is higher. There are variations all over Europe as it’s a continent not a country and having lived in Portugal and Iceland and very different norms in terms of business dress apply

  23. Beth*

    OP5: Speaking as a PhD student here (in humanities, not stem, but still), please don’t worry about this going into your program! I would probably tell my advisor if I had a loved one on death’s door, both because it might impact my work imminently–within the next couple months or weeks–and just because he’s my mentor, we have a good relationship, and major life things are things that get mentioned in that. But you absolutely don’t need to give a blanket heads up that you may have several relatives die in the next several years!!

    And when it does become a more immediate issue–it’s absolutely not unprofessional or ‘lacking commitment’ to need a little time when a loved one dies. Your former manager was way out of line. Loss is indeed a part of adult life, but acting 100% unaffected by it is neither a standard for professionalism nor a reasonable expectation. It’s totally normal to need a day in the face of unexpected bad news, to take a couple days to travel to a family funeral, etc.

    Grad school is also, in my experience at least, a lot less strict about things like attendance and deadlines than undergrad. You’ll get to know the culture of your specific program once you’re there, but in every department I’ve been in or had friends in, people could take leave or adjust deadlines when they needed it. If you’re generally known as someone who does their work and shows up to things, I’m really betting this won’t matter at all. Let your professors know what’s up if you’ll be missing their class or handing something in to them late, get coverage if you’ll be missing an obligation (e.g. ask a fellow TA to fill in for a discussion section you’re supposed to be running), it’ll work out.

  24. babblemouth*

    LW2: I share a similar mindset and have also been slowly transitioning to natural fibers only. I’ve found that linen looks quite professional and is a very environmentally-friendly fabric (flax uses less water and pesticides than cotton to produce). They also make great summer clothes.

    That being said, woven cotton, rather than knit, will produce the same effects as synthetic fibers.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      I came to say just this, Babblemouth. Linen is what the French call a “noble” fabric. It’s really natural, naturally pesticide-free because the flax plant its fibres come from cannot withstand any spraying, and can have a beautiful drape.

      Woven natural fabrics (cotton and silk as well as linen) are always classy, but require ironing. I don’t mind ironing my clothes (I actually love seeing a scrunched up bit of fabric turn into a classy garment) and the environmental cost of ironing linen is still far less than the harm polyester and other synthetics cause. My source: I had to translate a text about the life-cycle of a linen shirt, its environmental impact was far less than cotton or any synthetic fabric.
      I have found some linen/silk and linen/wool mixes which are truly sublime, not to mention a woven wool/cashmere mix I used to make the smartest coat I’ve ever had. -Yes I mostly make my own clothes nowadays because natural fabrics are easier to find than ready-made clothes, not to mention the price of clothes made from natural fabrics.

      I have also recently come across some fine linen knits, which somehow have a classy look to them even if the fabric is stretchy like the fine cotton knits used for T-shirts.

      I’d also like to confirm what another commenter said above about the effects of synthetic fabrics on (pre-)menopause symptoms: things settled down quite a bit for me once I threw out all the polyester in my wardrobe.

      Good luck OP2!

  25. Thornus*

    The horror stories or disbelief and suck it up among some academics make me appreciate, in retrospect, my law school professors’ handling of my grandfather’s death. He died on December 23 during Christmas break. We had his memorial service a few days later. However, he had no true connection to the town he was living in, he had partially wanted to be buried in Tampa but his wife didn’t want him there, so they had agreed to make arrangements when the time came for him to be buried in Arlington. Well, that takes time.

    So, death and memorial service over Christmas. We get notified that arrangements have been made for him to be buried in Arlington in February on like a Tuesday. I had a paper due for Legal Research and Writing due over the two or three days I’d have to be gone as well as a mid-term exam for one class. I went to my professors and requested just a couple of days’ extension on it. Funny enough, for the writing class, I remember I said my grandfather was being buried in about a week right at the deadline, the professor was very sympathetic and asked if I was okay and needed more time (since I asked for I think just two or three days), I said “oh, yeah, he died in December so I’m fine.” And she just looked at me and said “that’s a long time to wait to be buried.” And I laughed, apologized for my scattered brain, and said “oh, sorry, he’s being buried in Arlington with full honors, so that took time to arrange.” And she understood. So did the other profs. I think my advanced notice also helped as did my requests for only two or three day extensions to be handled the day after I got back from DC.

    It was nice for them to recognize the humanity of the situation, unlike a boss a few years later who docked pay because I had to miss two days for an uncle’s funeral (and kept pestering me about when it was when I gave her a heads up he had died but the kids were younger than me and were a black sheep situation about handling arrangements so it may take a couple of weeks) then got mad that I didn’t respond to non-urgent texts she had the support staff send me during the funeral.

  26. Koala dreams*

    #2 That’s odd, I’ve heard plenty of people being snobbish about clothes in the opposite way. Fast, cheap fashion from chain stores like Zara, and especially polyester clothes and similar fabrics, are often looked down on. Of course, the type of shirt will matter. A blouse or dress shirt will look more professional than a regular shirt. And I only wear linen as casual clothes because I can’t bother to iron them, so my linen clothes are wrinkly. On more meticulous people, linen can look very professional.

    1. Batgirl*

      That’s the only type of snobbery I’ve ever heard of too. I wonder if the European colleague was feeling defensive?

      1. Forrest*

        yeah, I wonder how obvious OP was with her “I only wear natural fibres from environmentally-conscious and sustainable manufacturers *actually*” mentality? It certainly sounds like there was quite a lot of judgment going on on both sides!

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Yeah, I definitely caught the ESH vibe from that letter.

            Brb, got to pollute the ocean, uhh, I mean run a load of laundry.

    2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      I think Europeans can be kind of snobby about how North Americans dress, but this woman is taking it too far! Never worn a T-shirt in her life? I find it hard to believe actually. Never worn a T-shirt to work maybe.

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes I mean my grandmother could have been the model for Hyacinth Bucket and the worst snob I ever met. You can believe she wore t-shirts on occasion. Not for formal events or working as a teacher but when she was doing the garden or on holiday in the caravan she wore them with a long skirt or slacks.

        I can’t imagine a lot of European people who have never worn a t-shirt. I mean I’m sure there must be some but I’d have thought not a whole lot.

        1. Forrest*

          so, there is definitely a cultural difference here because that is exactly what my dad would wear at home, and I’ve never seen him a tshirt. (He’s 75 and English.) His casual is a long- or short-sleeved cotton shirt, cords or canvas trousers (but dark, never khaki), and a v- or round-necked knitted jumper. He wore jeans when I was much younger, but I don’t think I’ve seen him wear them since he was about 45? 50? I’ve also not seen him in tracksuit bottoms, a sweatshirt or a poloshirt since the 1980s, and then only if he was going to play squash.

          My father-in-law is also 75 and English and wears a shirt, tie and jacket at home (admittedly he dresses like a man from a previous generation–my grandad, similarly, would only take his tie off for gardening where it might be an actual hazard!)

          Tshirts definitely aren’t a weird alien concept to Europeans, but there are plenty of people of the older generation who wouldn’t wear them. There’s also a language thing where some people will class any short-sleeved, jersey top as a “tshirt”, and some people will reserve “tshirt” for the kind of shortsleeved, roundnecked tshirt that could be worn by a man or a woman and call anything else a top. By the latter definition, I haven’t owned any tshirts for about 15 years. So whilst it’d be fairly unusual for someone under, say, 55-60 to say they’ve *never* worn a tshirt, it’s really not THAT weird if she doesn’t own any now.

          1. No Tribble At All*

            Fascinating, thank you! Now the real question — does he have a handlebar mustache, carry a pipe for smoking, and call everyone “old chap”? (I jest)

            With my French and Italian colleagues, most of them have a higher standard for business casual than the average American, but the average engineer dresses like an engineer. I agree sometimes it’s hard to differentiate “casual blouse” from “tshirt” especially for men.

            1. Forrest*

              Clean-shaven, never smoked, too shy to call people “old chap” but does have the preserved-in-aspic Oxford accent that make it work!

          2. UKDancer*

            I am thinking it may be also a gendered thing.

            Neither of my grandfathers wore t-shirts come to think of it. They also wore a shirt (usually short sleeved) and trousers. They would be 102 and 92 if they were alive now.

            My grandmother is the same generation and she definitely did wear t-shirts but she would call it a top. They were mainly short-sleeved and jersey in shades of pink. She was the sort of woman who always wore a full face of make up but I can see her in my mind in the door of their caravan in a t-shirt and a long loose skirt and sandals with her toenails painted to match the pink tops she liked. She sometimes wore jeans but preferred a skirt on the whole.

            My father is now 70 and he definitely wears t-shirts most of the time when it’s warm enough. He doesn’t wear jeans because they press on his operation scar and scratch it so he likes a softer fabric on his stomach as it is more comfortable.

            1. londonedit*

              My grandfathers were also of the same generation as yours, and they would never have worn a t-shirt. Both wore shirts and trousers every day – with a tie and jacket if they were going out of the house. My grandmothers both wore those particular sort of ‘grandma’ dresses, with pleated skirts and round collars, or a skirt with a twinset.

              My dad is 71 and his winter wardrobe is a shirt with a knitted tank top (US sweater vest??) over the top, with smart jeans or corduroy trousers, but his summer wardrobe is a plain t-shirt or polo shirt and tailored chino shorts. My mum is the same age and she mostly wears jeans, shorts, patterned t-shirts and smarter tops/jumpers.

          3. mgguy*

            My grandfather was a good farm-raised Kentucky boy born in 1920 and cutting tobacco when he was 10 years but someone who also worked in labs and spent the last ~30 years of his career as a salesman at Sears. I never saw him wear anything short of a button-down shirt and what I’d call dress pants whether he was mowing the yard or doing whatever else. In his retirement home, he’d put on at least a tie, and usually a suit, for dinner and of course wouldn’t dream of going to church in anything short of a suit. Yes, his outside clothes were a lot more “hard wearing” things, but I never saw him in anything resembling jeans or a tshirt. He may have worn jeans when he was young working on the farm, but I’d guess he was just as likely to wear clothes his mother(my great grandmother) made.

            On the other hand, I can remember my grandmother(of a similar age and background) working in the yard wearing a T-shirt she’d been bought when my cousin took her-of all places-Hooters.

            1. mgguy*

              Also, replying to my own comment-often times my every day wear is a polo shirt, and my dad calls them “T-Shirts.” My moms grandmother-who I never knew-apparently would dress every day in heals, a dress, and a hat just to walk down to the corner drug store for lunch. Definitely a generational gap, and there again I’m from a long line of Kentuckians on both sides of the family.

          4. Thistle Whistle*

            It took years after he retired for my father to atop putting on shirts and ties every day. Finally we got him into what he called tshirt which was a fine woven pull on cotton shirt with a stiffened collar (a step up from polo shirts which weren’t dressy enough).

            Joke was his brother in law once gave him a really nice heavyweight t-shirt from an exclusive resort, and challenged him to wear it. He picked me up from school wearing it over the top of his short sleeved (formal) shirt and tie. He was wearing it as a short sleeved sweater.

          5. Artemesia*

            The 90+ guy in the condo across the hall from us at our last place wore a suit every day. He would be getting on the elevator to take a walk somewhere and was wearing a suit, a smart trench coat and hat most days. Lots of older people from formal backgrounds ‘chill’ in much more formal clothing than the average casual young person.

        2. DarnTheMan*

          My grandmother definitely did; but then she was also from an age when dressing down was something one only did if you were doing intensive housework or gardening, so even well into her retirement she got dressed to the nines every day, even if the only time she left the house was to go get a coffee.

        3. EventPlannerGal*

          My dad does! He will wear t-shirts to sleep in when his proper pyjama sets are in the wash and I believe he owns a couple of sweatshirts that are official club gear for his old shooting club, but otherwise he will get up and change from full matching pyjamas and dressing gown into a button-up shirt, chinos and jumper. In the summer it’s a short-sleeve button-up shirt and lighter chinos, or sometimes a polo shirt. I think this is something to do with his particular generation of posh old British men rather than being some kind of standard European way of dressing, though.

        4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Or when you do any physical work around your house? Quick, let me change into my painting-the-walls dress before I start painting my walls! Cannot do that in a T-shirt, what will people say?

      2. Violet Fox*

        Also “Europeans” is a broad label encompassing a huge range of cultures and cultural attitudes towards clothes.

      3. Koala dreams*

        Maybe she doesn’t like t-shirts, just as some people don’t like a certain colour or find certain materials scratchy. *Shrugs*

  27. Batgirl*

    Op2, The only reason I can think of to take someone so snooty seriously is to consider whether it may be a brand issue. Lots of sustainable labels target college age and non conformist jobs, so are low on formality, though they can be dressed up. If If you were wearing something sustainable by a dressy label like Boden, then she’s cracked and hooked on poor fabrics; thats a whole other level of great fabrics plus style. However if everything the label makes is unstructured and untailored and the photos are all barefoot on a beach, then she might have a point (she sounds like a very unreliable witness though so use all the salt when you consider her words).

  28. Green great dragon*

    #1 – obviously you can stop helping Shanna and I guess if she can’t cope the job will open up in due course, but I don’t think emailing the manager would get you the job anyway. You’re clearly giving Shanna a lot more than a normal level of help, but from Shanna’s manager’s point of view I’m not seeing anything that would cause me to sack her. Issues come up, she asks for help, then deals with it. In fact it could make you look pretty bad if Shanna says you haven’t left documentation so she has to ask you. (Not saying this would be a fair comment, but I could easily see the discussion going that way.)

    1. Anonymouse*

      and can you imagine the fallout if she did try to steal her job? If it ever came out OP could end up in SO much trouble, both from the woman she ousted and the company

      1. Bored Fed*

        I certainly agree that trying to take someone’s job is obnoxious, indeed, contemptible. What I don’t see is why it is necessary or appropriate to use the gendered term “dick move” to describe it.

  29. KateM*

    H&M doesn’t sell cotton clothing, really?? Half of my children’s clothes are from H&M, and none of them is synthetics. So are some of my t-shirts. But I admit I haven’t bought professional clothing from H&M, so I don’t know about that.

    1. Roeslein*

      H&M has children’s and some maternity clothes in cotton. (And they are pretty much the only company that also sells maternity clothes for smaller women, so go them.) The vast majority of their women’s range is polyester etc. though. I think they have a separate “sustainable” range but it doesn’t tend to read professional.

    2. Lkr209*

      H&M is considered fast fashion, because the clothes are very poor quality, not well-made at all and therefore don’t last that long and end up in the bin after a few months. They do have cotton items, just not well-made cotton items.

    3. Koala dreams*

      They sold plenty of cotton t-shirts last I went! Their selection of professional clothing isn’t great in the first place, and I imagine it’s mostly synthetic materials. That is especially common for women’s blouses and shirts, it’s easier to find reasonably priced men’s dress shirts in cotton.

      1. DarnTheMan*

        Three of my favorite button-downs are from H&M and 100% cotton (from the juniors line)! I will add the caveat that it’s a much softer cotton so can look sloppy; I just combat that by either wearing them layered under a sweater so just the cuffs and collar show or tucked into high-waisted pants where a little soft, blousiness doesn’t look so off.

  30. cncx*

    Piggybacking on number 2, i have some other clothing concerns re synthetics and also just clothing in general (i’m not willing to dress up higher than business casual for Reasons), and i’ve accepted that it selects me out of certain fields like banking or larger law firms and job search accordingly.

  31. Laure001*

    Lw3, this is interesting, because as a European I would say natural fibres are “classy” and polyester is cheap. Elegant people around me wear organic cotton, linen and silk.
    Obviously that depends so much on the area, the culture, the professional culture… But individual opinions vary so much that I would not listen to that woman… It might just be a fluke. See, my individual opinion is exactly the opposite… Which might be a fluke too. So do what you want and continue wearing beautiful, well cut, natural clothes. Maybe a silk shirt or two for VIP meetings?

    1. babblemouth*

      What’s emerging from the comments here is just how much of this comes down to personal taste. One person’s elegant dress is someone else’s frumpy. I could rant about how we should just stop judging each other by looks, but that’s unfortunately the world we live in. However, just one person’s opinion should be ignored in the grand scheme of things.

  32. Frances*

    OP#2 – I think cotton can be really nice at first but over time seems to get a bit fuzzy and not as sharp. I still use it though in the office. Also take a look at merino wool. It feels great, looks great, and doesn’t get stinky. Isn’t that hard to care for (just don’t use fabric softener or throw it in the dryer). It’s a bit expensive though. Tons of great brands out (Icebreaker, SmartWool, Ibex I think is back in the mix) there that will have mostly sporty stuff but also some more professional looking tops as well.

  33. Mighty Mouse*

    LW5: How you handle it depends on your grad school. The woman in the dean’s office responsible for our leaves of absence was Not Good about these things. My remaining three grandparents, great uncle and professional mentor from when I was a child all died while I was in school. I didn’t need extra time for the uncle, didn’t even ask about the mentor and only attended the wakes of my grandparents. Two were buried out of state (about 100 miles away) which would have required two days out of class so I didn’t even ask. When I mentioned I needed a day to attend my third grandparent’s wake/memorial service she literally told me she didn’t believe I had this many family members die. I very coldly told her this was the last grandparent I had so she didn’t need to worry and I could get an obit if it was really that necessary. She reeled herself back in and said it wasn’t, but I’m pretty sure she never believed me really.
    I wouldn’t proactively tell anyone I had old or ill relatives since it might look like a setup for asking for time off later.

    1. bluephone*

      Between January and June 2019, I had the following relatives die (after their health quickly failed between November and December 2018)
      1. uncle (married to mom’s sister)
      2. mom’s sister, aka wife of uncle mentioned in no. 1 (6 weeks to the day after her husband died)
      3. mom’s oldest brother who’d suffered a stroke about a year before

      This was on the heels of other family medical stuff that had been going on all through 2018. Between summer 2019 and winter 2020 (just before the pandemic), there was more family medical traumas including an infant death.

      Oh and since 2016ish, we’ve been actively dealing with alzheimer’s in two relatives.

      Anyway, that lady in your dean’s office was awful, I can’t even imagine how she would have dealt with my endless parade of sad news (I took PTO for my first uncle and aunt’s death but not for the 2nd uncle. Had to take last minute PTO for the baby’s health emergency but his actual funeral was on a weekend).

      1. Frustrated*

        In 2004-05, when I was 18-19, I lost my great grandmother who I used to live with before she went to a home, a friend to suicide, my great uncle, and my mom. In 2016 when I turned 30, I lost both my grandmothers, an aunt and a cousin.

  34. Elenia25*

    OP5 only asked for an afternoon off too! God people are so cruel. I’m so sorry that happened to you.

  35. Jennifer*

    #1 If you just stop helping her, the problem will take care of itself. But don’t sabotage her, that’s just wrong. I get being annoyed by the fact that you’re doing a job for free and she’s being paid but you kind of put yourself in that position.

    I hope you find something soon.

  36. Jennifer*

    #2 I don’t think there is anything wrong with wearing cotton to work, depending on how it hangs. I must say, your tone toward your coworkers sounds a bit judgmental. I think we need to stop holding consumers responsible for the failings of huge corporations and governments. I think a lot of people would like to buy all natural clothing but it’s simply out of their budget.

    1. Lyka*

      OP never implied she was holding “consumers responsible for the failings of huge corporations and governments.” To me, it read as nothing more than reflexive self-defensiveness and a sincere inquiry about whether her specific stance could be interfering with her perceived professionalism. She was just judgy toward a particular individual who she felt was judgy toward her, not remarking on the culpability of ordinary people trying to get by in an economy obviously skewed toward environmental destruction.

      1. Jennifer*

        “I noticed that she was wearing head-to-toe polyester, which made me think about the microplastics that pollute the ocean every time polyester is washed and the environmental sludge and throw-away culture that comes out of the manufacturing of fast-fashion.”

        This statement is judgey as hell. Not just of her coworker but everyone that can’t afford to buy an entire wardrobe of all natural fibers, which is most people. She went all the way there just because someone said they had never worn a t-shirt? A bit much.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          It’s not judgemental at all. She’s thinking about the facts of pollution. It maybe touches a raw nerve for you because you’re wearing polyester, but that’s on you.
          People buy cheap fast fashion because they love spending money on clothes not because they need the stuff. You can get plenty of clothes at jumble sales and secondhand shops if you don’t have money for brand-new natural clothing. The fast-fashion shops sell because we buy. It’s not all their fault, we have to own the problem at some point.
          And then we can do something about it instead of complaining about being made to feel guilty;

    2. DarnTheMan*

      +100 – I love how linen looks but at the end of the day, the criteria of ‘natural fibres’ + ‘well-constructed’ + ‘no fast fashion brands’ adds up to either a lot of time spent looking at vintage stores (that is if you can find sizes to fit) or more money spent for a single item.

      1. Jennifer*

        Exactly and most people don’t have the time, energy and money to do all that. It doesn’t mean they don’t care about the environment and may try to help in other ways.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Thing is, fish are suffocating in the sea, and you buying recycled non-bleached toilet paper isn’t going to help them.

    3. Diahann Carroll*

      This. Fast fashion, like it or not, is cheap. Until companies start paying people more, this is what most folks can afford.

      1. Data Analyst*

        Yep. Vilifying fast fashion as a concept can easily veer into classist territory. Also, I would love to shell out more money for some ethical cotton garments, but I’m fat. The selection is very minimal for people my size.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        At the same time, most people have far more clothes than they need. I only buy a few items now and then, but I spend far more than in H&M and the clothes last a lot longer.

        Not to mention that cheap clothing is invariably made by people that are paid less than a decent living wage in sweatshops that can literally collapse at any time – and already have in Bangladesh remember?
        No, fast fashion for a lot of people is more about convenience and “retail therapy” than about what you can afford. You see young girls coming out of Zara laden with huge bags of stuff, no way they need all that.

  37. Jennifer*

    #5 Sorry that manager was a jerk. Loss may be an unfortunate part of life but that doesn’t mean it isn’t extremely painful. I guess I’m not an adult either at age 40 since I took time off after my grandma died.

  38. Kate 2*

    I find it hilarious that the coworker thinks cotton is unprofessional. Until the 50s/60s almost all we had for clothing was cotton, wool, linen, silk, and fur. Cotton was used by Coco Chanel and Dior, worn by presidents, kings, and CEOs. I’m sure they looked professional. Who does this woman think she is?

    1. fposte*

      The OP doesn’t report that the woman said cotton is unprofessional, though. The woman thought t-shirts looked unprofessional, and the OP is figuring that it’s because her shirts are cotton that they look like t-shirts. As commenters are pointing out, it may be the OP’s choice of cotton knit shirts, not the source, that’s leading to any t-shirty effect. And of course that’s assuming that the OP wants to think that much about this woman’s comment.

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        I’m not even sure if this woman genuinely thinks t-shirts are always unprofessional; she could just personally dislike t-shirts. I have never worn a skirt suit in my life and have no intention of doing so because I despise them, but I don’t think they’re unprofessional. Maybe this is just OP being very aware of their fabric choices and reading a lot into someone’s offhand dislike of t-shirts.

        1. fposte*

          Good point. I do think that the OP is doing a lot of extrapolating when maybe she just needs to think “Weird hill to die on, lady” and move on.

        2. Jennifer*

          My thoughts exactly. I viewed as an off-hand remark, not a judgment on the OP’s entire wardrobe, which is how the OP seemed to take it. To me, it’s similar to someone saying, “I never wear black,” or “I never wear jeans,” etc. Okay, good for you. About those TPS reports…

    2. Traffic_Spiral*

      I think the co-worker thinks that t-shirts are unprofessional, and OP doesn’t understand that natural fabrics are used in clothes other than t-shirts.

  39. Spicy Tuna*

    Poster #1 – that is a very bad look! Years ago, I worked at a branch office for a very large multi-national company. To save costs, they were consolidating some positions to several central locations around the country. My position was not impacted. Several people whose job were impacted asked me directly if they could “switch” jobs with me (there was zero overlap between skills / duties) and when I said no, a few of them went to my boss to say that I should have to move since I was single with no kids. Needless to say, that approach didn’t work!

    Poster #5 – people can be terribly impacted by loss. At my last job, the CFO let her assistant have the day off when she had to put her cat down. And at that same job, I once received terrible news about the sudden death of a friend’s wife. I told my boss that I was finding out about her memorial arrangements and may need to leave early and he said I could leave right then if I was upset. Good managers trust their reports and care about their mental health

  40. mgguy*

    Re: #3
    I’ve been caught in that cycle before of delaying start dates and suspect I’ve lost out on offers because of it.

    In every case, I’ve had a very important reason-I am academic staff who also works as a part time lecturer most semesters. My work schedule, even with my “regular” job is highly semester dependent. If I’m teaching, I’d consider it highly unprofessional to leave mid-semester. This has caught me too because I’ve applied for a jobs in June, given the end of the month as my possible start date, but they didn’t get around to interviewing until September or October and told me that they couldn’t wait until December for me to start. I was questioned more than once why I “lied’ about my start date, and non-academic employers don’t seem to understand.

    At least academia, or at least in student-facing positions, most positions will start either in the summer or in December/January for that reason. For the job I’m starting next week, I gave notice in April(something my former employer appreciated for the long lead time so that they could reassign my class for this fall) even though the position wasn’t starting in August.

    1. Esmeralda*

      I used to think this, too. It’s not good thinking. If you need to leave in the middle of the semester, then you do. Give a good notice period (they’re unlikely to make you leave early, so you can give three or four weeks), make sure your course materials are set for the rest of the semester so that someone can pick up your class reasonably easily. Don’t screw yourself out of a job — for sure if you are teaching part-time your department will have no trouble telling you “sorry, we don’t need you next semester” and they may not tell you till close to the end of this semester.

      If you got sick and had to go on leave in the middle of the semester, they would cope. They can cope if you leave for a job — unlike getting suddenly sick, you’re giving them notice.

      1. Artemesia*

        This. You should not leave mid semester as a part time teacher if you can avoid it. BUT you should not sacrifice a good job opportunity for a part time job where if they don’t need you they will have no hesitation not hiring you for the next semester. And yeah leaving at a difficult time — mid semester for staff or tax season for an accountant — should be discouraged — but not if it means a major sacrifice in career development on your part.

        Businesses and schools will drop you in a heartbeat if it suits their interests; don’t be more loyal to them than they are to you.

  41. Environmental Compliance*

    #2 – I wear primarily cotton, and I wear a lot of blouses & dress shirts for work. Perhaps check out linen for another option that may read “crisper”? Or switch to woven cotton, rather than a knit cotton? Knits often look less ‘formal’ than a woven fabric, depending on cut & thickness. To be fair, I do work in the environmental field, so it’s generally more acceptable to be 1) less formal on a day to day basis and 2) tending towards sustainable clothing choices. No one would blink an eye if I said I try to wear more environmentally-friendly clothing (which I do, the vast majority of my clothes are thrifted, and I avoid fast-fashion), just like no one blinks an eye at my need for reusable water bottles, and fighting to get bottle filling stations rather than hand out plastic water bottles. I’m generally the person that gets called for just those kinds of projects.

    #5 – I’m so sorry for how that loss was handled. That was cruel and incredibly thoughtless of them. Loss is indeed a part of life, but so is mourning, and grief, which we all will handle in different ways. Empathy and compassion should also be a part of life, but somehow some people miss that memo.

  42. AvonLady Barksdale*

    #1: Besides the whole desire to throw Shanna under the bus… why did you quit in the first place? It sounds like you left without something lined up, and in most circumstances, barring health reasons, people do that because they’re absolutely miserable. If you quit because you hated your job, then think really hard about why you want to go back.

    I guess I’m just curious as to why helping Shanna with her job and getting the job back are your focus at the moment. I’m sure you’re job searching and not having much success (and I am in that boat at the moment!), but why do you want to go back when you were previously eager to leave?

    1. Reba*

      Oh, I look on it as she quit right before Covid hit… whether or not she had another job lined up in February, circumstances changed quickly!

      I do agree that looking at the old job as the only job possibility is probably a function of the OP’s desperation.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        I read this as OP quit last year. Now I need to go back and re-read because I’m confused, lol.

      2. AvonLady Barksdale*

        Either way, quitting without something lined up, even if you’re really employable and in a field that always hires… gotta wonder what the motivation might be to go back. Just desperation? Regret?

          1. AvonLady Barksdale*

            She did. But I think it’s worth examining (by her, not by us) why she wants to go back to this place if she wanted to leave badly enough that she quit without another job (that’s my assumption, anyway).

            1. valentine*

              it’s worth examining (by her, not by us) why she wants to go back to this place if she wanted to leave badly enough that she quit without another job
              Yes, especially when she never made a break and, instead, keeps Shanna as a tether.

  43. Sled Dog Mama*

    I’m now in the professional world but a lot of my colleagues have PhD’s (I’m an outlier for having a terminal MS, where many have a “related” PhD then make a lateral move into the field) and I think a lot of attitudes carry over from academia.
    When I started my most recent position I let my boss know about 2 weeks in that my last living grandparent was in failing health (failing ever more rapidly at that point) and I anticipated his passing soon (in the cosmic sense) but that he’d been hanging on in failing health for about 4 years at that point so how soon I couldn’t say. I also made it clear that I was telling him because of how my absence would affect him (he covers for me if I’m out), and because I wanted to be clear on what the policy on bereavement leave was. I also knew that boss had some International travel coming up so I needed to know who to call if my grandfather passed during boss’s travel.
    (My grandfather did eventually pass on Valentine’s day, all the family found this highly appropriate as he’d been pining away after his wife of 61 years since her death 9 years ago.)
    OP#5 One of the really great themes in Alison’s advice is “How does this affect X?” How would it affect your advisor with you being out due to a family member’s death? Will you have TA responsibilities? If you aren’t there are you expected to find someone to cover your class(es)? Is this the same as if you’re out sick? Get clear on the policies on (and your advisor’s attitude towards) absences in general and you will have the information you need should a death occur and you won’t have to bring up how many relatives you have in the twilight of their lives.

    1. Artemesia*

      Good point. I had a grad student TA who told me her daughter was in remission from leukemia and while they hoped it was permanent, it was always possible that she would be unable to complete the semester . This was a situation where it was helpful to know that someone we counted on might be pulled away for a lengthy period. Alas, she did relapse and eventually die — about 50% of kids with her illness survive and about half don’t. It was awful, but it was helpful for us to have known that this was a possibility so we had a plan B in mind.

  44. employment lawyah*

    2. Are cotton clothes less professional?

    The issue isn’t cotton. The issue is that the, er, sorta-hippie-avoid-all-synthetics movement tends to have a style of clothes which look a bit less professional. It isn’t the underlying fiber which makes the fabric that is the issue, it’s the weaving, design, and execution. This doesn’t make much sense, since you can make perfectly nice high fashion w/ natural fabrics. But be that as it may, a lot of the natural stores are also heavily into a loose-flowing style, which is less trimmed out.

    FWIW, guys have no issue here. Every suit I own is natural wool; every shirt I own is 100% cotton; and all my ties are made of silk. If you work in in industry where you can wear the female equivalent of suits, you can just do that, the fabrics are the same.

    If you want “fancy clothes” you can look into fine linen, higher end cotton, etc. Or you can just source nice fabric and have it made; most competent tailors can easily copy modern fashion.

    1. mf*

      Yes, this: “But be that as it may, a lot of the natural stores are also heavily into a loose-flowing style, which is less trimmed out.” Structured clothes tend to read as professional, which is why a wool suit looks more professional than a linen suit.

      1. employment lawyah*

        Yes, but! A lot of that is also layering. Jackets in particular add formality and do not need that much cost or structure to do so.

        For example, I own a couple of entirely unlined and relatively unstructured jackets. They are, of course, much less formal than a fully-tailored wool suit or blazer (on which they are based.) But they are still formal-ish because the mere aspect of “wearing a jacket” signifies formality which is a step up from “no jacket,” even if it’s super comfortable and relatively cheap.

        And of course, if your only limitation is natural fabrics you can easily find those things in high end wool, though you might need to order custom if you truly want things like non-nylon thread or silk (instead of polyester) jacket lining.

        Women can also do the jacket thing, or fancy cashmere sweaters have the same effect. And of course silk is natural, yet fancy.

        Finally, accessories matter quite a bit. Men have silk ties to play with; women have silk scarves. You’re in biotech, you don’t shop cheap; you can perhaps do well to get a couple of nice scarves.

        1. DarnTheMan*

          +1 – will never forget the first time I got complimented for ‘looking professional’ at the office, all because I was wearing a blazer. Granted a blazer with skinny jeans and a sweater but somehow the blazer magically upped the whole outfit a notch.

    2. EventPlannerGal*

      Yes, this has always been my issue with trying to dress more sustainably – I want to dress sustainably but I just can’t deal with that particular style that was the norm in sustainable/ethical clothing for so long, and it’s not the kind of thing that would really be considered professional at my workplace. I’ve had some luck with smaller brands that make, well, cooler clothing, but most of it isn’t what I would call workwear. If OPs style overall tends towards that kind of hippy-ish vibe then that’s probably where the unprofessional feel is coming from.

      1. virago*

        The blogs EcoWarrior Princess and Ecocult often review designers and clothing brands that use natural fibers in a sustainable and ethical way but don’t leave you looking like a customer at a food co-op circa 1975.

        No shade meant! My mom and dad helped start a local food co-op in the ’70s, and Mom has the poncho and clogs to prove it. But there’s a reason why, as EventPlannerGal points out, ethical and sustainable clothing is not associated with a look that is streamlined and professional.

        1. EventPlannerGal*

          I really like Ecocult’s reviews!

          Also this is more about ethical manufacturing than environmental sustainability, but I have recently come across the brand Esthe and I’m a huge fan – I would not wear most of my Esthe pieces to work but they make some really cool clothing that does not have that crunchy-granola look at ALL. I believe they do work on reducing environmental impact and fabric waste, but they are also very big on transparency in manufacturing. Very cool brand, would recommend!

  45. NotAnotherManager!*

    OP #1 should not reach out to her current boss to inquire about coming back. If she’s willing to consider poaching Shanna’s job behind her back when she doesn’t work there, what’s she going to do if she’s in the building and can drop hints in the boss’s ear about it daily? Not a good look at all.

    Obviously, she should not be providing such substantial support to Shanna for this extended a period of time. There’s being helpful to a friend and a former employer, but the line on that is pretty far from where they are now. Shanna needs to sink or swim on her own, and OP#1 needs to move on from this company/position.

  46. Quill*

    OP5: your boss who said “loss is part of adult life” is so out of line that they’re on another plane of existence.

    My mom’s boss didn’t want to let her have more than one day to plan her own mother’s funeral (“you already took a day off for this” when my mom was simply lucky to have a day’s warning before grandma died and went to be with her) and it’s a big reason why my mom decided she was leaving that job as soon as humanly possible.

    1. Paulina*

      Loss is indeed part of adult life, and needs to be accepted as such, including by employers.

      I will never understand the discontinuity between “it’s part of life” and “I want you to ignore it and not let it affect you.”

  47. Sans Serif*

    #2 – Honestly, your colleague sounds like a rude snob. I couldn’t imagine making a comment like that to someone. I bet you look fine and she’s just a jerk. There’s nothing wrong with cotton as long as it fits well and isn’t wrinkled. I can’t stand synthetics because they make me sweat. I’d rather be comfortable in cotton.

    1. Jennifer*

      She’s a rude snob because she said she’s never worn a t-shirt during a conversation about fashion? The OP and some commenters are reading a lot into a what seems to be a pretty benign statement.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, I think it could go either way on what the woman meant, but it’s good that some people are pointing out the OP may have overread the comment.

  48. Sacrificial Pharmacy Tech*

    Wow I feel completely heartless. I lost three close friends to suicide within the same week, then lost my favorite pharmacist to covid a week later, and I just continued working weeks upon weeks without a break. Sure, it absolutely gutted me, but my patients don’t give a damn what’s going on in my personal life and my coworkers need me there to triage all our pharmacy tasks so we don’t end up in utter chaos.

    1. Amber Rose*

      It’s only heartless if you expect the same from others.

      But I’d really examine your attitude here, because you seem to be sort of unhealthy in how you feel about work. Your patients don’t have to care for YOU to care and to take care of yourself, and if you ended up incapacitated tomorrow your coworkers would have to deal. There’s really no need to be that self sacrificing, and if you feel you must, that might be a sign of something you should deal with.

      1. Jennifer*

        I second this. My coworkers may not care what’s going on in my personal life either but I care. That shouldn’t be a factor in whether or not you take time off after a loss.

    2. D3*

      I promise the world would still go on if you took time to grieve.
      But if you want to bury yourself in work as a coping tool, that’s okay, too.
      You’re not heartless for coping in your own way.
      But if a coworker, friend of family member needs to take time off for their grief, please don’t tell them this story and imply that anything else is weak. THAT would be heartless.
      And that was the question here. Someone who was not understanding of another person’s need to grieve in their own way.
      And finally, please know that if the grief does catch up with you later, it’s okay to take time then, too. When my brother died, I was all business handling things my parents couldn’t and went back to work the day after the funeral and worked weekends for a few weeks to make up the time. Not because my boss made me, but out of some bizarre personal thing about carrying my fair share. In retrospect, probably also because I wanted to keep busy and not think about it.
      The grief walloped me like a tsunami about 3 months later. I cried for days. I talked out loud as if he was there. I furiously journaled. And I cried more. And I felt much, much lighter afterwards. There have still been many more waves of grief in the 10 years since then, but I’ve learned to surf them as they come and not put them off, and they don’t wipe me out quite so much.
      Grief is so individual. I really think we need to respect and make space for those around us to grieve however they see fit.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        yes I second that! I think dealing with funeral arrangements does take your mind off of grieving. When we lost a dear friend in a horrific accident, his mother called on one particular friend to help out with this and that. He could hardly refuse, the mother was in such distress. But then after the funeral, once we had the kids come back and people started easing up and laughing with the kids, he suddenly fell apart and cried uncontrollably for just ages.
        I also only really started processing my mother’s death after a few months, before then I was wholly focussed on getting my father through it. He hadn’t ever imagined he would outlive her and was completely lost.

  49. peachie*

    OP2: I think the type of fabric can make a difference here, too. A woven fabric — such as seersucker, broadcloth, chambray, Oxford cloth, or even a nice flannel — is usually going to look more ‘polished’ than the same garment in a knit.

    (Though, yes, it really shouldn’t matter and your coworker sounds exhausting.)

    1. peachie*

      (Also, yes, obviously it does depend on industry! I know seersucker and chambray would be considered informal in very conservative offices, but in the business-casual-but-not-too-casual offices I’ve worked in, a nicely-fit seersucker blazer or tailored chambray shirt are absolutely appropriate [and often even lean to the ‘more formal’ end of the spectrum, at least in my workplace].)

  50. MissDisplaced*

    1. Should I try to take my old coworker’s job?
    NO don’t do that! I sense some resentment that you’ve secretly been helping Shanna. If so, stop helping her! But don’t sabotage her outright.

    2. Are cotton clothes less professional?
    IDK? Maybe? But only in the case of if you need to do something that requires the utmost formal professional look, such as: court hearings, a big business deal/meeting with C-suite executives, appearing on television or speaking engagements, and maybe formal evening wear. For everyday work wear, it’s fine.

    I’ve seen sharply cut tailored linen suits and formal silk t-shirts. It’s just that unfortunately, cotton, linen, silk and natural fabrics do read as “softer” and may tend to get more rumpled and wrinkled sometimes, which can look less polished if that happens. Loose & flowy shapeless cotton/linen blends can have sort of a “vacation” or “I’ve given up on fashion” vibe associated with it (hello, Eileen Fisher) . But it sounds like you really take care to choose items that do look put together and professional. So, I’m in the camp of Where What You Want as long as it fits you well. I think maybe this person was being a bit of a fashion snob, honestly.

  51. Amber Rose*

    This is a little off topic, but “I have never worn a t-shirt in my life” is the weirdest flex. Like, OK? Good for you for being a snob about a very common item of clothing?

    People are so friggin weird sometimes.

    1. virago*

      Not to mention that busty women often find that a plain T-shirt is the only vaguely office-appropriate thing in the store that fits them, unless they have the time to shop mail order (and not everyone does).

    2. boop the first*

      It’s a terrible reaction, but then, she’s also reacting to someone who smugly expresses that her choices have destroyed the planet, so… it’s probably knee jerk.

  52. LaDeeDa*

    It does depend on the industry, but where I tend to work flowy linen fabrics and wrinkled things would not be acceptable.
    LW could shop for business clothes at second hand stores. This way she isn’t contributing to the market and she is preventing clothes from ending up in the landfill. I own one coat that was made in the last decade, most of my coats, cocktail dresses, gowns, and business suits are from high end designer vintage and second hand stores and are from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. With a bit of tailoring they fit beautifully, they are made so much better than fast fashion, and most are timeless. I also send any of my unwanted clothes to charity shops or to consignment stores.

    1. Jane Plough*

      I was going to say this. Buying second hand where possible is a lot more environmentally sustainable than buying new cotton garments (most cotton is terrible for the environment). As well as second hand stores, eBay can be really good for quality second hand clothes after a bit of research to get a sense for the brands and styles that work for you.

  53. nm*

    How strange! Even if you only wear cotton, there are so many different weaves and constructions I can’t imagine that you would look like you’re “just” wearing a t-shirt all the time. This colleague of yours is the weird one, not you.

  54. Former prof*

    LW#5: I’m an academic, so here’s a few thoughts about your relationship with your thesis advisor. That person not only holds the keys to your future career, they will determine the quality of your life until you finish your PhD. Remember that your advisor needs productive students to enhance their own career. Some advisors are wonderful people who treat students well and others are not. Some STEM faculty believe that commitment to family is a distraction from your commitment to the field (note – I hate this point of view but it’s not uncommon).

    So my suggestion is to feel out that relationship before bringing up your family. You might decide that your advisor would take your commitment to family as a reason to not put you on grants or give you good projects to work on. Or you might decide that talking about your family commitments is a good way to figure out if this advisor is a good match for you. Better to find out early that you don’t want to work with an advisor, so you can find a different one or a new program. The relationship with your advisor is way more intense than a relationship with a boss with potentially much greater consequences. So be thoughtful and understand the relationship first.

    1. Analyst Editor*

      It is absolutely not limited to STEM; from experiences of friends, friends in STEM have had better experiences in their PhDs than in the social sciences…

  55. boop the first*

    2. The conflict in your question isn’t so much about cotton as it is about how humans are reacting to your questions, and since you couldn’t pose this same question here without turning it into a story about how you’re more ethical than everyone else and that everyone else’s choices are evil, even though this insight isn’t even remotely necessary, surely this topic must have come up at some point between colleagues that speak daily. Is it really surprising that your coworker reacted badly? This unpleasant feeling of defense and reactionary smugness that you’re feeling after your conversation is something that your coworkers can experience, too.

    1. Traffic_Spiral*

      I’m inclined to agree with you here – especially because (as previously stated) pretty much all high-end business wear is made from natural fabric.

      1. Khatul Madame*

        If only. A pair of St. John synthetic trousers costs more than I paid for my Brooks Brothers wool suit and alterations. There are plenty other high-end brands that have tons of polyester or polyester blends.

        1. Traffic_Spiral*

          Ok, so now we’re getting super OT, but I always saw St. John as worn by wealthy older women who don’t work (though they might be on a charity board or something) as opposed to something like Brooks Brothers, which is firmly Business Wear.

  56. Khatul Madame*

    LW2, the distinction between casual and professional clothes is often knit vs. woven fabrics, with the natural vs. synthetic being a secondary factor. A knit dress top under a blazer reads less professional than a woven button-down. Even if most workplaces do not require people to suit up on a daily basis, old views die hard.
    So from a distance your European colleague would look more “professional” in a suit and a collared shirt, even if both are 100% cheap polyester, than you in organic cotton Eileen Fisher-style clothes head to toe.

    I do feel that your ethical choices, while commendable in and of themselves, lead to overt judgment of those who do not prioritize this aspect of their lives. Maybe the colleague can’t afford quality clothes in natural fibers that provide a “professional” look. Maybe she volunteers for social causes in her basic polyester suit and just doesn’t care about superior hygienic qualities and ecological impacts of cotton and linen. This does not make you better then her.

  57. whistle*

    As someone who sews her own clothes and loves to work with cotton, I am baffled by the coworker in #2. There is also a big difference between a cotton knit and a cotton weave. The latter is unlikely to be mistaken for a “T-Shirt”. (Not that there’s anything wrong with a cotton knit fabric, either!)

    I remember this scene from Family Ties that always makes laugh – Mallory is feeling fabric swaths while blindfolded and saying what the fiber is. She picks up one and immediately throws it back down going “Ew, polyester!”. (I have no idea why that scene has stuck with me, but I think I took as a personal challenge to be able to determine fiber content by feel.)

  58. Sara without an H*

    OP#2, your European friend was being rude and snooty. Dismiss her comments from you mind and wear your nice cotton clothes in pride and comfort.

    Full disclosure: I work in higher education. Without cotton knits, many of our faculty would be nude.

    1. DarnTheMan*

      Or she’s feeling judged by OP and OP is reading way too much into what could be an otherwise offhand comment about her co-worker’s personal preferences.

  59. Phony Genius*

    Regarding #5, some of the above comments have led me to believe that there are parts of academia that are no different than a cult, where the outside world is nonexistent for all practical purposes. I have known some professors whose family life is nothing more than an extension of their academic life. And I have known “permanent” grad students and postdocs who do nothing but learn, learn, learn, never applying what they learned to the real world to actually accomplish anything other than acquiring more knowledge that they will eventually take to the grave. It’s one reason why I did not pursue a master’s degree.

    But I also see from the above that there are many other graduate programs that function in the real world. So you need to research a program’s culture before you decide if it’s for you.

  60. Monty*

    Re: number 5, I’m in a similar boat. My dad got really sick during my first semester of grad school and I was worried that people would take me less seriously because I was taking a lot of time to care for him. There is definitely a poisonous “if you’re not willing to abandon a sick parent, you aren’t serious about your work” strain in the academy, but it’s on its way out (much too slowly, imo). My number one advice if you run into that kind of nonsense is to know your rights under your university’s leave/bereavement/family illness plan and not to hesitate to file a grievance– crappy profs count on you being too intimidated/gaslit to complain. If you have a union, they can be helpful in this as well– check your collective agreement. Idealistic student/TA/RA union reps often negotiate ironclad agreements.

    You will find that most profs are people who have their own families, health concerns, life situations, etc. They tend to understand that life does happen while you’re in grad school. You should have seen the horror on my prof’s face when I told him I had done all of my marking in my dad’s hospital room! People have been so kind to me about extensions, reducing workloads, and re-arranging my degree plans. Ask for what you need and be honest about what’s going on; most people love to help.

  61. King Baby*

    LW #2, where do you buy your ethical/sustainable clothes? It’s pretty easy to find 100% cotton but harder to find non-sweatshop in my experience.

  62. Daisy*

    OP #2 European here (Italy) and I’m happy to say you do not have to worry at all. All really high-price tag brands use natural material: silk, cashmere, alpaca, ramie, bamboo, leather … In fact, the highest priced items are very likely to be 100% natural (for the ethical part, that is left to you).
    If anything, is the other way around: if is cheap, is likely to be synthetic. I’d double down on what Alison said that you need to take style into account, way more than material. I believe your colleague comment was either about some style concerns, something worded poorly, or plain rude.

  63. Death before dishonor*

    I utterly melt in most polyester, even blends. I wear a lot of linen or linen blends, which, admittedly, is hell on my dry cleaning bill, but I’d rather eat means canned soup and eat tuna melts here and there than wear poly blouses. It’s worth the cost and effort to be comfortable. If I’m comfortable, I’m functional.

  64. Ex-worker looking for old job*

    Re: Should I try to steal my old coworker’s job. Yes, I know I shouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t normally consider doing something like that if the wolf wasn’t at my door. Unfortunately there wouldn’t be enough work for my boss to consider adding another employee. And I don’t mind when Shanna asks questions because I also get to hear the gossip about the clients, vendors and coworkers that I knew. Thanks for reminding me to be a good human.

    1. employment lawyah*

      Eh. I disagree here. Neither you or Shanna “own” the job. There is no stealing involved.

      This is merely sales. Part of sales is showing how good you are. A more aggressive stance in sales is also showing how you are better than other people/companies/products.

      So what’s the issue w/ that? Your company probably does it; every sales person does it; you can do it too. Badmouthing them looks bad, but making gentle comparisons is usually OK. The people who are concerned are usually the ones who are not better than the competition, so they want to avoid the comparison. You don’t need to make that your problem.

      There are risks of course!

      1) You may not get the job, but you may make Shanna lose her job.
      2) You may get the job but may be viewed badly (bad outcome), perhaps if Shanna poisons the well.
      3) Shanna may end up hating you even if she keeps her job.

      In either case, you can clearly APPLY FOR A POSITION (which is perfectly ethical) and your boss can, absolutely, decide that he would rather have you back than keep Shanna on. There’s nothing wrong with that! This happens all the time when new people express interest. If they can get a much better employee than their current ones, many companies will upgrade.

      So what’s making people uncomfortable here is, I think, that you would actively make Shana look bad rather than making yourself look good. If you don’t do that, I think it’s OK. And if Shanna looks bad because she’s an incompetent idiot then she should probably get fired anyway, so that also isn’t your issue.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, no. If you reach out to someone and say “I’ve been secretly helping your employee do her job and here are all the emails proving it so you should give me the job instead” that would absolutely qualify as “stealing” it and would be super shitty.

  65. GradBoss*

    OP 5- I wouldn’t proactively bring it up any family issues before there is a reason to. It may unnecessarily influence people’s perception of you. My own personal experience: my grandmother died unexpectedly two or three weeks into my PhD program and I emailed my program director to let him know I would be going back home for a week. He responded that a week was a long time to miss in a program as competitive as mine. Literally that was the whole response. I didn’t bother to respond because it was just too ridiculous and I went home for the funeral and came back and made sure I got caught up upon my return. It wasn’t even that big of a deal but it definitely made the priorities of the program clear and I graduated and moved on as quickly as possible.

    1. Paulina*

      Stupid priorities, really. Do they want the brightest students or simply the most sacrificial ones? There will be times in science and in academia where the deadline has to take priority, if at all possible. But there are a lot of other times where it can be extremely flexible, and this flexibility can preserve your ability to get the inflexible things done when they arise. So many of these instances of inflexibility, in the tales I’ve read here today, are completely artificial and unnecessary.

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