my employee keeps changing her appearance during the work day

A reader writes:

I am hoping to get some advice on a situation I am having with one of my employees. Michelle has worked here for almost a year. This is her first job after college and her second job ever. There are no issues with the quality of her work.

But Michelle makes drastic changes to her appearance, and these changes always happen during the work day. Most employees on my team (including Michelle) are exempt and lunches are generally longer than an hour. Over her lunch, she will drastically change her hair, clothing, and makeup.

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

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

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

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 233 comments… read them below }

  1. Meep*

    My only explanation is wigs and/or a twin sister is involved.

    But why don’t you ask her, maybe? She could be a mess and keeps spilling on her clothes for all you know. Or maybe she is going to a gym and changing after?

      1. Eukomos*

        Typically one goes to the hair salon and comes back with different hair. A long-ish lunch break seems like a perfectly normal time to schedule a hair salon visit, or a trip to the mall come to that. Most people just have more stable styles than this woman so it’s not attention-grabbing.

      1. Tangentwoman*

        Oh my gosh, I remember that book from when it was reviewed on Reading Rainbow! I never would have been able to pull it, though, so well done and thank you for the lovely memory!

      2. Mayor of Llamatown*

        Oh my gosh I loved that book. The summer after my junior year of college, I worked at the library I visited as a child. One of the librarians took me down to the room where they deaccessioned books, and let me take a few. I came across an old, old copy of Miss Nelson Is Missing – one of my favorite books as a kid, and it was probably the exact copy that I had checked out from that library.

        I still have that copy, and the librarian kindly didn’t ask questions about why I wanted that one in particular – but she probably knew :)

        1. Violet*

          I was a teacher a long time ago and the kids loved this book! So thanks for sharing that love today! It was a tough day at work and you guys helped me smile as well. :-)

          And well, I love the idea that this woman might be an identical twin. Heck, her sister might have quit the job instead of her! Would make a great novel. :-)

    1. KitKat2000*

      It didn’t occur to me that this might be an Inc. post, and my first reaction to the headline was “there’s another one out there!!!”

    1. The Rural Juror*

      I remembered this one immediately, but forgot about the update! I had the same initial reaction this time, which was – HOW DOES SHE HAVE THE TIME TO DO ALL THIS? The update definitely helped clarify.

      1. Starbuck*

        What a shame! It seemed like OP and the rest of management were being really reasonable and limited in their request for changes, so weird that she chose to torpedo herself like that.

      2. Nervous Rex*

        When I first read the update I thought it said she’d come in with her shirt untucked, and I was surprised by the strong reactions. Sure, it’s not super professional, but…

        And then I realized what it actually said. WOW.

    2. Elm*

      I thought this sounded familiar! I didn’t know there was an update, though. If anyone finds it, definitely link!

    3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Yeah – really reasonable restrictions got put in place and then Michelle went way, way off the deep end. I always wondered what was going on in Michelle’s brain when she was doing this.

      1. Cait*

        I get the sense that Michelle is the kind of person who likes attention and will get it however she can. On the average day, that means changing her hair and clothing to make sure people notice her. When asked to scale it back just a little for the sake of external clients, it means throwing on a blue wig, unbuttoning her shirt, and quitting without notice. Unless Michelle is about to join the fashion industry, I think most workplaces would get tired of her attention-seeking antics pretty fast.

    4. nutella fitzgerald*

      I loved the update, mostly because Michelle sounded annoyingly attention-seeking to me in the first letter. Yes, I hate fun, why do you ask?

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Lol I was disappointed in the update as I was one of the ones trying to argue against people jumping to “attention-seeking” because I think that often gets thrown at women too quickly (and I also think there isn’t anything inherently wrong with liking a bit of attention!)

        But it sure is hard to defend unbuttoning your shirt at work and asking how professional that is as anything other than very negative attention-seeking haha

    5. Moonlight Elantra*

      Honestly, I still kind of think Michelle was a spy and doing covert stuff on her lunch break and you’ll never change my mind.

    1. twocents*

      Yes, it’s definitely “she’d be a character to know from an arms length distance but I would never want to work with her” sort of update.

      1. OhNo*

        Definitely someone I’d prefer to observe from a safe distance like a biologist with an endangered species. I’d probably even have an Attenbourgh voiceover track playing in my head.

    1. sacados*

      You should check the update to the original letter that commenter Amd linked below — it was such a crazy escalation!! Because you’re totally right, at the time the overall response was basically “yeah it’s harmless and you should let it go, though you could talk to her about not doing it during day-long conferences/when clients are coming because it would be distracting.”
      Which all seemed totally reasonable …. BUT THEN!! (lol)

      1. CBB*

        Despite the update, I’m still of the opinion that her midday hair and outfit changes were harmless fun.

        Her response to being told to stop it was indeed bananacrackers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean telling her to stop it was the right thing to do.

        1. TrackingCookieMonster*

          But she wasn’t even being told to stop. She was just being asked not to do it on days she was meeting with external clients. Which isn’t a wrong request at all.

          1. sacados*

            Exactly! Also iirc the person who spoke to her about it wasn’t even *her* manager per se, just *a* more senior manager and it was more presented as advice rather than an absolute directive, so Michelle could have just… ignored it and just kept doing what she was doing.
            Which makes the escalation even more mind-boggling!

            1. Charlotte Lucas*

              Yeah. It sounds like a more experienced person giving some kind professional advice. Then Michelle took it to a level no one foresaw.

              I bet she was planning to leave at that point anyway. I hope she does well in her art/drama/creative writing program. Or in the CIA. Or working as a magician.

        2. Anononon*

          But it wasn’t harmless – it was hurting the company’s relationships and reputation with external people. That’s a big deal.

          1. RagingADHD*

            No, it wasn’t. At one presentation, where she did not speak but had helped set up, some of the attendees thought she was a different person.

            There’s no indication that there were any negative repercussions to that for the company at all. The attendees just thought that junior support staff members had swapped places (a thing that happens all the time in full day meetings).

            1. Social Commentator*

              She was getting a reputation among clients as, “the one who changes.” That’s negative insofar as it is distracting from her role as representing the company.

            2. Social Commentator*

              Also – where did you get that she did not speak? In the original post, it says that she helped with the presentation, which may very well have involved presenting.

        3. twocents*

          It absolutely was the right thing to tell her to cut it out when meeting with external clients after she got known as the one whose appearance always changes.

        4. hbc*

          It’s not harmless, in that I would be really confused as a client onsite for a training and then suddenly someone same-but-different came in for the afternoon session. I would probably not even recognize her, and if I did catch on, I’d wonder if I was part of some weird psychological experiment or something.

          You really don’t want one of the feelings your clients leave with being “disoriented.”

          1. Anononon*

            Seriously! If I was in that scenario, I would be looking around for hidden cameras/preparing for a post-experiment debrief.

          2. Littorally*

            Yeah, same. Client impressions are important and you don’t want the focus to be on weird appearance shenanigans.

          3. Dramatic Intent To Flounce*

            Yeah, among other things, you don’t know how many people you’re meeting with might be either bad with faces or actively faceblind and thus actively unable to recognize you – and even people who aren’t are generally going to be confused and not expecting it when someone’s radically changed their hairstyle and outfit during a lunch break, so they might need a moment to recognize you as well.

            It’s a pretty harmless quirk, but it’s nonetheless a ‘save this for when you aren’t meeting people from outside the company who will be thrown by your appearance changing, not because there’s a problem with you doing it ever but because it’s unusual enough to get people sidetracked’ kind of quirk. And then her reaction to being asked that took it from ‘harmless quirk’ to ‘what the heck?’ and reference-wrecking territory.

            (As someone who is actively faceblind, if I knew what other people generally looked like I’d probably be able to adjust to ‘new person after lunch? Must be Michelle’ in a workplace after one or two of those, but while it is a harmless quirk it’s also a ‘the first few times a new employee meets you after a dramatic change, they’re probably going to be confused because they don’t know everyone else yet’ thing. Especially if they’re bad with faces. Given the update I would not trust Michelle to take ‘oh sorry, have we met?’ all that well.)

            1. After 33 years ...*

              As a mild- to moderate prosopagnostic, this would confuse me greatly – even if the person re-introduced themselves after lunch. It takes me a long time, typically daily observations over two-three weeks, to set someone’s face in my mind.

              1. Dramatic Intent To Flounce*

                Yeah, I’d be doing process of elimination if I were an employee there – IF I recognized everyone else, which is a big if. ‘Saw you, saw you, wrong hair to be you, must be Michelle.’ As a client? Total confusion.

              2. Squirrel Nutkin*

                Moderately prosopagnostic myself here, and yeah, I need context clues to figure out who people are sometimes. I was unable to recognize a co-worker I’ve known and worked closely with for YEARS when we were at a party that had both work and non-work folks at it, and all she did was put a blonde streak in her hair and wear contacts instead of glasses. Until she opened her mouth and I heard her voice, I had no clue. Not saying that people can’t change their appearances, but some of us face-blind folks are going to be a little thrown with every change.

                Fun fact I read somewhere — a lot of prosopagnostics have a great memory for visualizing text (true for me) as our superpower. If I remember right, it’s the same part of the brain that covers both types of memory, and your brain is either set to memorize faces, text, or (for the normies) a reasonable proportion of both.

        5. Gerry Keay*

          Eh, if my professional reputation was “the person who changes their appearance all the time” instead of “the person who does good work,” I’d want to know.

          1. myswtghst*

            This. It’s one thing to acknowledge that this probably shouldn’t be an issue, but it does Michele no favors to pretend it won’t overshadow her good work since it is so unusual.

          2. London*

            I’d rather do good work than be known for doing good work tbh so all this stuff about “but your reputation!!” never really made sense to me. But then I’ve always had very strong feelings about companies acting like they own their employees’ bodies even after they’ve clocked out. Telling your employee how they can and cannot style and groom themselves just drips vibes of ownership and entitlement that makes me uncomfortable.

        6. Mary Manplow*

          Michelle’s reaction does not feel entirely not out of turn tbh. It’s become very clear the past few years (and especially with COVID turn the volume way down on office culture) that “professionalism” is another cultural device use to maintain exclusivity and keep marginalized people out. We can’t ignore that. I’m sure she found a place that was a better fit, but I can’t vilify her for being judged on something that had no real affect on the quality of her work, only the PERCEPTION of it. I’d be ticked off too if I was doing good work and that was being ignored because someone else can’t get past their shallow ideas of what I should look like.

          1. twocents*

            Nobody gave af what she looked like. They just wanted her to quit making drastic midday changes while meeting with clients.

          2. New Jack Karyn*

            I’m a high school teacher. It’s fairly casual at my building–I wear jeans and a Hawaiian shirt every day. But if I started wearing crummy T-shirts and tore-up pants, my principal would have something to say about it.
            Same lesson plan, same rapport with students, same timeliness in paperwork. Appearances matter, at least to an extent.

          3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Honestly asking her only to refrain from big changes on days she’s meeting with external clients seems mild. They aren’t asking her to never change ever – just not on these limited specific days for a specific work related reason. That to me was what made Michelle’s ultimate reaction seem like such an over-reaction.

          4. Snuck*

            I get the impression this workplace was fairly liberal in it’s ‘professionalism’ though – blue pixie cut? Long fingernails? Half head one length, other another? Severe undercuts? These are not conservative hair cuts – and the issue wasn’t with the cut, it was with the ‘when’.

            I do not get the impression that this workplace was using “professionalism” to clip Michelle’s wings. It sounds like she was involved in many customer facing presentations, and her radical appearance changes was becoming a ‘meme’ or joke outside of the workplace. It’s one thing to dress in a wild, fun or alternative way, it’s another to be made a joke of for something you have control over. She simply could have made her appointments for weekends, for evenings, or on days that did not have a group presentation where her appearance change would be noticeable.

            I agree ‘professionalism’ is a lot of unspoken codes, specific to industries and workplaces, and moving between the different cultures that exist is hard, but this goes both ways – “up” and “down” – a person who is educated in a particular way, with a qualification in a specific field rarely gets an apprenticeship to learn a trade for example “they’ll get bored and leave” or “They won’t be able to fit in with the other plumbers” etc. It’s really hard for all people to ‘step out of their line’, but yes, harder for marginalised people because they are trying to step into something that they don’t have resources possibly to close the gap, where a highly educated person with financial resources behind them can afford to take some risks and self support along the way or work part time etc.


          5. Former Employee*

            When I think of marginalized people, twentysomething white women are not exactly at the top of the list.

        7. Gumby*

          They didn’t tell her to stop. They mentioned that doing it in the middle of day-long client meetings was distracting from her work so consider how it might affect her reputation. That is it. “You are becoming known as ‘the one who changes appearance drastically mid-meeting’ rather than ‘the one who is aces at her job’ and that might affect your career. Think on it.” That is all. It’s *so* mild.

          And is a legitimate thing to think about. I mean, if I showed up on a day when I was in a meeting with clients wearing jeans, my job wouldn’t fire me for it or anything, but someone would *say something* to me and that would be 100% legit. (We’re pretty casual and jeans are normal but everyone dresses up a bit more when clients are coming.)

        8. Nodramalama*

          I don’t think it’s harmless when she’s doing it in the middle of meetings with externals. It confuses them, distracts them, and takes the attention off the topic at hand

    2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      My first thought was she is not right. Then Alison said pretty much what you said, “Michele is being herself and having some fun.” And I realized I was kinda jealous that I was not as daring as Michele. And I accepted that.
      Then I read the update, and discovered that daring can mean many things…

      1. Yorick*

        My first thought was she is not right, and I still thought that after reading Alison’s response. Then the update came and I saw I was correct.

        1. Snuck*

          Agree Yorick. My gut was “Hrm, Alison has missed the nuance on this one”…. And then the update confirmed it. Michelle was blithely ignoring the social norms and couldn’t read the room that doing this in the middle of a mass meeting – either she was oblivious and needed more training/support/coaching (like the informal conversation the other manager had with her), or she was aware and didn’t care/felt her need for radical image change was more important in that moment (and thus an informal conversation could begin a deeper observation about whether she was a good fit culturally – she might have been! But she might not…)

  2. Amd*

    The crazy update here:

    askamanager dot org/2017/12/update-my-employee-drastically-changes-her-appearance-in-the-middle-of-the-workday.html

    1. MsSolo (UK)*

      I loved the update to this one, because it’s so left field. It’s such a simple request to not make big changes on presentation days that clearly she was looking for something to quit over, but what? why? I really wonder what Michelle is doing now, and whether she’s still changing appearance in the middle of the day.

      1. Harry*

        I think this is where the means of the message may have not been the intended message. How as the tone? Was the condescending? Was it an understanding tone? Did the other manager have a prior relationship with her? How would it have been different had the OP delivered the message? I think things would have been different had they waited.

        1. Hannah Lee*

          But if I were Michelle and someone not my manager had given me advice like that, when my manager was out of the office, even if they were ham handed about it, my first response would not be to fire all torpedos and quit before even speaking to my actual boss.

    2. Meep*

      Well Michelle sounds like a badass and is better off, IMO. It sounds like they were policing how she spent her non-work hours forgetting sometimes you need a hair appointment in the middle of a workday due to availablity.

      1. Kimmy Schmidt*

        They weren’t even asking her to never change her appearance in the middle of a workday, just to avoid days where they were dealing with external clients. And in the update she changed her appearance mid-day multiple times in one week!

          1. Krista*

            Question… Does anybody know if she had a mental health issue? People that are bipolar do drastic things it’s not attention-seeking. I’m not going to judge but someone that’s doing something like that constantly it sounds like a mental health issue…. I’ve witness enough throughout my years in IT

        1. Elemele*

          Exactly!!! I see all the people in the comments so excited with the self-proclaimed colorful butterfly in the world of corpo-drones in grey suits; what I see is a try-hard who really wants to be different and noticed but has nothing else going on for her than her appearance. Somehow, the most interesting people I’ve ever met didn’t need to scream look at meeeeeeee! to be noticed.

      2. Gerry Keay*

        That’s… not really what happened though. They let her know how her behavior was affecting people’s perception of her, rightly or wrongly, and she went nuclear instead of, ya know, saying “Okay, well I don’t think this is going to work out” and quitting. Flashing a manager isn’t exactly an appropriately-sized response to the situation.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          Add that to the list of sentences I never expected to read on a work advice website…

      3. Susana*

        I dunno. I think Michelle also sounds like a bit of a flake. So many very dramatic changes – this isn’t someone with a healthy lust for fashion; this is someone who is deliberately trying to be provocative to get a reaction. She finally got one, and behaved horribly in response.

        There’s a line between dressing/grooming/behaving in a way that says, “you don’t define me,” and mixing up your appearance so much it gives the impression that you yourself have no idea who you are. And that’s besides the very practical implications of outside clients literally not sign able to recognize you mid-day.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          I say this as someone who will rock up in unconventional clothing and hair occasionally – she was a total flake. I strongly suspect there was something akin to the ‘staff member wants us to call her boyfriend ‘master’ post (another classic) in the ‘trying to scare the straights’ field.

      4. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Yeah – I really felt like they were trying to meet in the middle with Michelle and the office/industry standards. Big changes on a weekend are fine, but please no more crazy mid-day changes. That seems really reasonable, and they had a really valid reason behind it as well (not confusing the clients). Felt kinda like Michelle decided to act like a toddler responding to an adult telling them “no.”

        1. Van Wilder*

          Yeah and the nails and hair, ok, you could say “I’m not attention seeking, I just had an appointment at this time” but the needing to change suits midday has always been the most baffling part.

      5. Nodramalama*

        Informing someone of how they’re being perceived and asking them to not drastically change their appearance in the middle of a meeting with external clients isn’t policing anything.

      6. Snuck*

        Radical change of hair takes quite a few hours… according to the OP she was doing ‘shorter/darker’ in the lunchtimes (which is significantly quicker than ‘lighter/longer’), but it’s still a two hour appointment or so.

        And she was doing it every 3-4 weeks (according to the update). And often on weekends when extensions were needed.

        That’s not ‘sometimes you need a hair appointment in the middle of the day’. And she was getting appointments on weekends at times too.

        I don’t want to police how a person spends their time – and prefer wherever possible to give staff a lot of flexibility – kids have to be collected from boarding school, doctors don’t work anti social hours, accountants aren’t known for keeping 8pm time slots open. And some favourite hair dressers have middle of the day availability for hair changes (and save later afternoon appointments for blow drys and evening hair for events etc). But if it was radical change constantly in a customer facing role and causing confusion? I’d start asking for it to be on a weekend or non customer meeting day.

        I get the impression that this is a sales or training or other ‘day long presentation’ business that has a lot of people through for seated presentations…. I assume there’s a calendar for most of them, for Michelle to have done this literally three times in less than a year shows she’s not clued into the cultural norms of her workplace (not caring?) and not paying attention to the calendar.

    3. Persephone Mulberry*

      I remember the original letter (how could you forget it) but I do NOT remember this update at all. My flabber is gasted.

      1. allathian*

        Mine as well. This is so odd that I honestly don’t know what to make of it, or her. How much attention does one person need?

  3. jms*

    I can’t be the only one who thinks this is NOT awesome. It’s bizarre, attention-seeking, and distracting.

    1. WellRed*

      Exactly. And the update made clear there were some issues with Michelle. I’m a bit surprised Alison didn’t revise her response a bit more.

    2. John*

      I have to agree, though in the update linked above, LW clarified that it wasn’t as frequent as I originally inferred.

      In any workplace I’ve been, it would have been a big deal, with everyone being very focused on it … if only for entertainment value. That would reduce a good worker to the office kook, which is never a great idea in terms of building a career.

      People like this deserve to know that it will become the first thing everyone thinks about them. That should be their work.

      1. EPLawyer*

        “That would reduce a good worker to the office kook, which is never a great idea in terms of building a career.” That is what the higher level manager was trying to convey. Hey, you are known as the woman who changes her appearance, not the woman who single handedly saved the Smedley Account.

        To tie back to this morning — bringing your whole self to work is not a good idea sometimes. You want to be known for your work and professionalism, not something so quirky its all people think about when they think about you.

        1. Littorally*

          Who was it on here that said that your professional self should be You-Lite? I think about that a lot. Be yourself but not to a point that it is distracting, disruptive, or inappropriate.

        2. allathian*

          Exactly. I really wonder what that was all about. Michelle was in her early 20s, so I hope she’s gotten her act together in the 4 years since the original letter was posted.

      2. CBB*

        We occasionally hear from a letter writer who asks if it’s OK to behave in a way that’s unusual but doesn’t harm anyone. Recent examples include a LW who liked to write on their hand, and another who used a fidget toy. The consensus is usually something like, “It’s fine but understand that it may cost you some political capital.”

        I wonder, what would the answer be if the letter had come from the other party? “Dear AMM, I sometimes visit my hairdresser at lunchtime to have my extensions removed and hair dyed, and I also change my makeup and outfit to go with my new hairdo. Is this OK?”

        1. Heidi*

          If it were written exactly like this, I’m guessing most would say that it’s okay. However, it would also be easy to assume that these changes in appearance were not so extreme as to make them unrecognizable to a client who’d met them just that morning. One might also assume that it wasn’t happening frequently enough to become her defining characteristic at work. I think this is why it’s so great to have the OP respond to the comments – the advice can pivot hard based on the specifics.

        2. Midwestern Scientist*

          I think the general consensus is still that it might cost you some political capital in a particularly conservative office but overall not a big deal. It becomes a big deal when it is happening during meetings with external people.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Honestly I think the fact that she was doing this on days she was meeting with external is the dealbreaker. If she wasn’t client facing at all – well then go for it (as long as all the necessary bits are covered).

      3. myswtghst*

        One thing I really appreciate on AAM is the tendency to acknowledge not only the way the world “should be” but also how it actually is. Whether or not her monthly Ultimate Makeover: Lunch Break Edition is something that should overshadow the work she does, the reality of it is that it will in most workplaces.

        Regardless of her motivations, which could be anything from “my hairdresser is closer to work than home and has more openings at lunchtime” to trying to push boundaries/get attention, we live in a world where her behavior is unusual enough to attract attention, and as long as it’s done with tact, I’ll never consider it anything but a kindness when a manager lets them know that.

    3. Llama face!*

      If you read the update, it got weirder and she quit with a bizarre dramatic flounce. Honestly if she’d responded differently to being asked not to change her look in the middle of an external clients day I would have thought it was odd but honestly not that big a deal. But her response made it clear there were some deeper issues at play. I try to be careful in my judgements about “attention seeking” (because that term has been weaponized against women a lot when it comes to our self expression) but she definitely had legit issues and wasn’t just going a bit too far in creative expression.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        Agreed. I was into new wave in the 80s, & I could totally see some of my friends doing something like this. (If we could’ve afforded it.) And I knew kids whose “looks” changed A Lot. But the update goes beyond being interested in fashion & playing with expectations.

    4. Antennapedia*

      Having worked with a Michelle (who at least once a month came to work dressed as an anime character, complete with prop weapons sometimes) I have to say: it is definitely not always awesome and very often a distraction. And sometimes just straight-up inappropriate, like when she came in dressed as an anime character LATE to a meeting in which the president of our small company resigned.

      1. Sea Anemone*

        That’s not in the same ball park. LW says:

        she is always within the norm for the dress code/appearance within our office and industry.

      2. Littorally*

        Sounds like the kind of thing that is painfully secondhand-embarrassing in the moment but hilarious to read about at a distance.

      3. learnedthehardway*

        I had to laugh out loud at the idea of the president’s resignation being upstaged resigning, because all anyone can focus on is “OMG, she’s PIKACHU!!!” Or maybe the president just spontaneously resigned due to the cosplay that day, because they just couldn’t take it anymore, LOL.

        I was also thinking that it sounds like Michelle was into some kind of cosplay – mostly because I have a niece who is, and who makes DRAMATIC appearance changes at a moment’s notice. She goes from Goth with turquoise gradient hair, to Victorian with bonnet, to Cindy Lauper-esque. But she’s 15, and she can do that at high school. Hopefully, she’ll grow out of it before she gets to the working world.

    5. Sea Anemone*

      Why? You don’t have to agree that it’s awesome. It actually is a little bizarre in the sense that it is way out of the ordinary. By why the rush to negative judgement? Why assume that she is looking for attention? And maybe she is, but unless she is going up to people and soliciting attention, there is no actual impact.

      Managing distractions is really on the viewer (as it generally is in cases when women’s clothing is labelled as “distracting”). Presumably it is not distracting when people change their clothes or hairstyles overnight or over the weekend. It’s unexpected for someone to change mid-day, but it’s not unheard of. After a year, Michelle’s mid-day changes shouldn’t be unexpected anymore, and people who see her daily can frame her mid-day changes in the same they frame her daily and weekend changes.

      1. Anononon*

        It’s an intentional choice that Michelle was making to make these changes on days that she met with external people (and multiple times! not just once!). If she was just doing this on regular work days, there wouldn’t have been any issues. But the fact that she’s doing this in front of new, external people, on multiple occasions, highly lends to hypothesis that she is seeking attention to some degree.

        1. Sea Anemone*

          OK, perspective here:

          Per this letter, radical changes happened
          -once a month with her outfits.
          -very other month with the hair.
          -once during a presentation.
          -repeat: at the time of this letter, it happened *once* during a presentation.

          Statistically, if she makes big changes monthly/every few weeks, now and then it will overlap with a big presentation.

          Whatever degree of attention seeking she has, it is much, much lower than the degree of attention seeking you are ascribing. And as I said, unless she is going around asking for attention, she is not being disruptive. So, why the need to rush to judgement?

          1. Anononon*

            My responses are also based on the update to the letter – I’m not going to ignore that information.

            Because, when she did it again with external people, and her boss made the reasonable request that she refrain from doing so in that very specific scenario, instead of saying ok, she did exactly that AND thought it was appropriate to flash her boss in her literal, “well, what do you think of this, then?” moment.

            1. anon for this*

              frankly I thought at the time and still think that the update was made up or the truth stretched

          2. Hex Libris*

            Per the update, TWICE during external interactions, changes extreme enough to baffle and distract the clients. This behavior is well outside of most office norms, never mind a relatively conservative one, and has impacted the relationship of the company with its clients. And they didn’t even ask her to stop the mid-day changes, just not do them on presentation days! And she FLASHED A MANAGER IN RESPONSE. What on earth is your threshold for attention-seeking?

      2. EPLawyer*

        She actually did go up to the boss and solicit attention. If you read the update, she did another major change over lunch, walked into boss’ office with her shirt unbuttoned and said something along the lines of what do you think now? then flounced out never to be seen again.

        1. Sea Anemone*

          Yes, she did. But that isn’t part of this letter bc it hadn’t happened at the time that the boss wrote in. So again, why do you read a letter like this and need to rush to judgement?

          1. Anononon*

            Why do you think that people commenting on this post must ignore the update. This is a pretty infamous letter in the AAM world, and it’s odd that you think that people should ignore additional information when commenting.

          2. Gerry Keay*

            I mean this isn’t exactly a court of law, I don’t think we can render evidence inadmissible because it wasn’t available upon the initial publication.

      3. James*

        Were it not for the follow-up I’d frankly assume there was a reason for the changes. I’ve been that person, changing mid-day. I even keep cloths in my office in case this happens. It’s the nature of the job; sometimes an outfit that’s appropriate for one area simply isn’t appropriate for another. To be clear, I’m not talking “I dress as an anime character before lunch, business-casual after”; I’m talking dressing in jeans and a t-shirt for a site inspection in the morning, slacks and a polo shirt for a meeting in the afternoon. I have also seen people change mid-day because the clients had different expectations for how one would dress–one group is casual, another very formal, and wearing cloths that would work for one would be considered inappropriate for the other. No one batted an eye in those cases.

        I’ve also known mothers of young children do this. They went to feed the baby, and….well, babies are disgusting. Sometimes you need a new shirt. Fathers do this as well, but not as often.

        I also agree that it’s on the viewer to manage the distractions. Someone changing outfits mid-day doesn’t count as distracting in my world–no one’s on fire, there are no unscheduled explosions, and no one’s had to run for their lives. People place too much emphasis on clothing. If she’s doing good work, and isn’t causing problems past coworkers being easily distracted, let her have her fun.

        1. Anononon*

          Did you miss the part where she’s also drastically changing her hair, including length and color? That’s not standard at all, especially for it to happen monthly.

          1. James*

            I didn’t miss it, I simply don’t care. Can you give me any reason to care that doesn’t amount to “Everyone else is easily distracted and judgmental”? It’s her hair, after all, and sometimes stylists have packed schedules, so it’s not surprising that she’d have an appointment mid-day occasionally. (The hair salon is still a cultural cornerstone for women in some areas, after all.) There’s only once where I cared that a woman changed her hair color mid-day–she got exposed to permanganate (a chemical we inject to deal with chlorinated solvents), and it was a safety concern. Any other time I may ask about it if it’s dramatic, but purely in an “office small talk” capacity.

            Secondly, once a month is nothing. My wife changes her hair color and length every day. Due to medical issues she’s lost a fair amount of hair and is EXTREMELY self-conscious about it, so wears wigs to feel more empowered. She’s a teacher in the South, hardly a bastion of self-expression and liberal thought, and the honest truth is no one cares. Well, that’s not entirely true. She uses it as a way to connect with her students, which means they’re more willing to work with her and do their homework. She’s leveraged this into something positive for her job. Yeah, it may cost her points in some promotional considerations, but it’s worth it to her.

            She’s not the only one I’ve seen do this. When my aunts underwent chemo for breast cancer they also changed hair styles regularly, including wearing wigs–it was a way to make themselves feel good abou themselves during a very traumatic experience. I’ve seen other women with cancer do the same thing. Enough other crap is going in on their life that they need something to feel good about, and I for one will not ruin it for them merely because I’m not mature enough to focus on my work when a woman does something slightly out of the ordinary.

            Again, I’ll grant that the follow-up makes this behavior pattern odd. But without that this just seems like a manager that’s too caught up in appearances. Are we seriously, as a culture, so caught up in women’s appearances that a woman can’t go to a stylist once a month? I’d like to think we’re more mature than that.

            1. Anononon*

              First, from the letter itself, the OP’s biggest concern was Michelle during this with external people in the middle of presentations, and how disorienting it was for the attendees. That’s a valid concern.

              Second, it’s clear that the manager ISN’T too caught up in appearances – in fact, he’s specifically asking if this is something he should be concerned about. There’s nothing wrong with him seeking Alison’s advice as to whether or not this is actionable.

              Finally, people are generally commenting on this thread already knowing about and having read the update. There’s no reason why we have to ignore it here, that Michelle wasn’t just having fun with her appearance but in fact thought that, in response to a reasonable request, thought it was okay to directly antagonize AND FLASH her boss. It’s extremely disingenuous to act like commenters are reacting to situations to the ones you described – they’re entirely different scenarios.

              1. Sea Anemone*

                We’re ignoring the update bc the LW did not write in to ask how to handle the employee who flashed a manager while rage quitting. The LW asked how to handle an employee who changes her appearance mid-day. To you, we (including Alison, I guess) are ignoring the update. To me, we (including Alison) are answering the question that was asked.

                1. Ot*

                  I think the update is relevant because it happened pretty quickly after the letter. The OP was giving Michelle the most generous take on what she was doing, but he probably had a sense that some volatility was under the surface, and then she proved it. It wasn’t just a monthly hair change and new outfit. There was something more to it then, but OP didn’t know it quite yet.

                2. nutella fitzgerald*

                  @Madeline Ashton: I think it’s pretty clear that we’re ignoring the update because there’s no rationalizing Michelle’s behavior if we acknowledge the update ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

              2. James*

                “First, from the letter itself, the OP’s biggest concern was Michelle during this with external people in the middle of presentations, and how disorienting it was for the attendees. That’s a valid concern.”

                True. There are, however, several ways to deal with it. For example, the manager could ask why the employee did this. If the answer is “I have a standing hair/nail appointment” or something similar the manager could respond by asking if the appointment could be moved on times when there are client meetings where it would be distracting. If the answer is no, it’s pretty easy to deal with–if the client asks just say “She’s got a standing appointment. She sometimes changes outfits to better match her hair/nails.” If they object, point out that it’s a matter of self-care.

                There are ways to do this that are respectful. “This is totally bizarre” is not one of them. The starting point should be that the woman has some understandable reason for what she’s doing. There are plenty, after all, as I demonstrated. I don’t see many people taking that route.

                “… in fact, he’s specifically asking if this is something he should be concerned about.”

                This is what I call the “I’m not touching you” game. Oh heavens no, I would NEVER judge someone on their appearances!!! I’m just asking. Hypothetically. For a friend. Yeah, that’s it.

                Sorry, but I don’t play that game. The manager has obviously invested a lot of brain power on this “problem” and is clearly asking for his beliefs to be re-enforced. He is, in fact, too caught up in appearances.

                “… in response to a reasonable request, thought it was okay to directly antagonize AND FLASH her boss.”

                First, see Sea Anemone’s response.

                Second, I’ve been thinking about this. I agree her reaction was over the top. However, I have a strong suspicion that if we heard it from her side it would appear to be far more reasonable a flounce. If the woman had written in complaining of the boss reacting bizarrely and with hostility to a once-a-week hair and nail appointment, the near-universal response would be that the boss was the one behaving oddly and was more concerned with power than with his employees’ well-being. Obviously few would say “Flash him on your way out the door” (though given some commenters here I’m sure there’d be some who would suggest similar things), but most people would agree that a boss over-reacting to self-care is a sign that it’s time to update one’s resume.

                I’m also not sure it’s a reasonable request. I can see the employee being fed up with people commenting on her appearance as if it’s the only thing that matters. In this blog we constantly hear how exhausting and humiliating such views of women are. Look at how many people object to telling women to smile more, or asking if they’re okay when they go without makeup. Same issue applies here–she updates her look on a fairly normal basis (seriously, once a month is not extreme) and gets attacked for it. Okay, she over-reacted, but the issue is degree, not kind. Most here would advocate some sort of reaction, and while the cooler heads would advocate a professional reaction there are those who would advocate far more extreme measures. That’s not hypothetical–that’s pretty normal for this site.

                In other words, I don’t think I’m being disingenuous. I think that we should be looking at both sides of the issue, and if we did, while some may still object to the employee’s changing appearances (no one has yet given a reason that doesn’t amount to “People are overly focused on appearances and easily distracted”, by the way), the manager would pretty clearly not be the hero in this melodrama. At best, both are wrong and behaved badly.

            2. Sea Anemone*

              tbh, “Everyone else is easily distracted and judgmental” is the most important lesson I have learned in reading this blog.

      4. Daffy Duck*

        She changes appearance at midday WHEN MEETING WITH CLIENTS so dramatically the clients aren’t able to recognize her. This does have an impact on how the company is perceived by clients, in creative areas it likely doesn’t matter much, but in more conservative businesses it could definitely be a problem. This will be an issue if she wants to continue or move up with client-facing roles in conservative companies and pointing it out in a gentle manner is something a good supervisor will do.

        1. Daffy Duck*

          As I can’t edit: this isn’t just changing clothing to be safety/work appropriate. It is a dramatic change of hair color, cut, nails, and a complete change of clothing during lunch when meeting with clients.
          There are some places it wouldn’t matter, some that may actually encourage it (fashion, entertainment, or special effects companies come to mind), and some that it would be a problem (not sure I’d want to invest half a million with a traditional investment company whose “face” does this).

    6. nutella fitzgerald*

      You are not!!! The original letter made me do Liz Lemon-style “oh, brother” eye rolls, but this comment and the replies have my eyes turning to hearts instead.

    7. Yorick*

      You’re not. I thought it was bizarre and thought it was even more bizarre that people were fan-fictioning in the comments to try to make it seem totally normal and appropriate.

      1. James*

        I don’t think it’s “fan-fictioning” to explore possible reasons for the behavior. It’s a basic application of the maxim “Assume good intent”. And there are plausible reasons, a sufficient number that it’s worth asking her why she does this. Or ignoring it, because that’s ultimately what I’d have done.

        I also don’t think changing one’s appearance mid-day is normal. That said, I don’t think it’s a problem either. I mean, ultimately what’s the harm? The only harm is that which stems from the reactions of other people–meaning it’s all how other people treat her. And a little bit of abnormality isn’t the end of the world. Remember, polo shirts, working from home, even having women in the office were once considered abnormal, and I think most would agree that including them in our definition of “normal” is a good thing. The idea that we must all conform to a very narrow range of behaviors or be shunned if not attacked is why we can’t have nice things in our culture. Changing appearance doesn’t hurt anyone; it’s odd, but firmly in the realm of “personal quirk, easily ignored” so long as the attire meets the dress code.

        Is it appropriate? Well, let me ask you this: If she was working from home changing cloths mid-day would it affect her job at all? The only potential issue (aside from the fact that other people can’t mind their own business) is that clients may think it’s odd. That’s hardly the end of the world, though, especially if the manager has the employee’s back. Changing cloths and wigs is, let’s be honest, a fairly minor issue. I’d frankly love to work in a job where that’ the biggest thing I have to worry about in a month!

        1. Spearmint*

          You keep ignoring the fact that the main issue washer dramatically changing her appearance midday while having all-day meetings with external clients. Reasonable, non-judgmental people could find that distracting and disorienting.

          Day to day, I agree it’s a quirk but nothing worth judging her over. But almost no one is saying it’s bad that she does this in a normal work day.

        2. Yorick*

          I mean, people were really stretching. “Maybe she wants to donate the clothes. Obviously the only/best way to do that is to wear the outfit to work, buy a new outfit at the mall during the lunch break, and then donate the old ones.” Come on!

          When someone’s behavior is this weird/attention seeking/whatever, it’s often a sign that this person isn’t quite right. I bet that there were other signs that were more problematic. Maybe OP could recognize them in hindsight, or maybe OP didn’t ever see them. But I can’t think of a time I’ve ever known anyone with this big of a quirk who didn’t also show some issues that would affect work.

          And it is a huge quirk! No, changing clothes while teleworking wouldn’t be the same, since it wouldn’t disrupt/confuse anyone (no one would know). I bet Michelle isn’t doing this if she works at home now – unless she has back to back meetings with some of the same people.

        3. allathian*

          I’d have no problem with this, if she’d do it on days when she wasn’t meeting external clients and confusing them with her changes of appearance.

      2. D'Arcy*

        After re-reading the original letter and the update, I feel like the OP really set up their description to make Michelle’s behavior *sound* much more bizarre than it actually was. The original letter heavily implied that Michelle was doing this *all the time*, whereas the update admitted that she changed looks “about once every three weeks” and at work “about once a month”.

    8. Van Wilder*

      I also don’t find it awesome. Everything taken together, it seems like she’s deliberately trying to confuse the external people that are there. I don’t see why Alison’s typical advice “you want to be known as the great sales rep, not the woman who changes her appearance” is not the principal piece of advice.

      Honestly, I made questionable fashion/shoe choices in my early professional days and I now see that I was trying to sabotage myself. I don’t know what was going on with her but based on the update, I don’t think it’s a leap to suggest that Michelle may have had some of that going on.

  4. Daffodilly*

    I was hoping this was another update on what Michelle is up to today. The whole thing is just so bizarre.

  5. quill*

    Did we ever get it resolved just how many wigs this woman owns? I know this is from before instagram but I can’t help but think she was doing photoshoots for something similar on the side.

      1. Amaranth*

        I have never had a hair appointment I could do over a standard lunch hour, with travel, AND color. So, I’m incredibly impressed with Michelle’s stylist. Or the length of her lunch hours.

    1. Xenia*

      …how? I’m befuddled. I have long hair and on the rare occasions I bother going to a professional it takes nearly half an hour to just do a wash, cut, and wave, let along a full on dye job with extensions.

      1. NotRealAnonForThis*

        Noted in the update that the lunchtime changes were always darker/shorter. Lighter/longer (extensions) happened over weekends.

        Honestly, in re-reading the update? She was really only doing these changes once every three weeks? That’s not all that much. And I have no idea how much advanced notice she’d get about “external client contact”. I didn’t have any scheduled today when I walked in my office either, but have an off site in a bit so.

        I am not giving her a pass on the unbuttoned shirt though. That was just…

        1. Ben*

          Also noted in the update that it apparently happened twice in five days when a trade show was on.

          And the changes happened in the middle of the day, after she knew the external clients were there – because she’d met them.

        2. gmg22*

          It might not seem like all that much if it were little tweaks here and there; I have a friend who gets mini-highlights, basically little strands of pink or purple woven through her brown hair, on about that schedule. But the examples cited all involve massive changes to her hair color and style. In my experience, going from dark hair to light, in particular, usually has to happen in stages (ie, it can’t be completed in a weekend) — unless neither colorist nor customer cares how damaged the latter’s hair gets in the process.

    1. banoffee pie*

      I would love to know why Michelle did it. Wouldn’t it be great if we could hear from the subject of letters, not just the concerned/scared onlookers? Michelle might have a great explanation (in her mind anyway!) The subjects should write in and explain themselves. It could be called ‘explain yourself week’. I guess most don’t want to, but it sometimes happens in the comments anyway, when people show up to defend their odd behaviour!

  6. FD*

    Ah this is such a classic. The update was WILD because it was such a strange response to a generally very mild request–“Please don’t do this in the middle of the day if you’re meeting with external clients.”

    I wonder whether she’s learned some chill in the years since.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I think it would’ve been fine if Michelle at least stuck with ONE look per day.
      Otherwise, they seemed not too concerned by it, and the daily change probably would’ve been considered a quirk.

    2. Ben*

      I wondered at the time if Michelle was waiting for this exact thing so she could storm out dramatically.

  7. CouldntPickAUsername*

    I’m a bit face blind sometimes and bad with names. this would have messed me up so bad.

      1. Sea Anemone*

        Me too. But, it would only take 2-3 times for me to learn that if one woman of a certain age/race/build/mannerisms left at lunch time and a different woman of the same age/race/build/mannerisms showed up after lunch, that they were probably the same woman, especially if the same changes happened over weekends or over night. It would become a game in my head: “New Person or Michelle” and I would start to look forward to the changes.

        1. wittyrepartee*

          “look at the posture! it’s deffo Michelle”
          I can recognize all my friends masked from a distance, because turns out I mostly pick them out by the way they walk and their hair.

    1. Ray Garraty*

      All I could think of was with my MILD prosopagnosia, (where I rely almost exclusively on clothing and hair to tell people apart) is that I would be totally questioning my own sanity.
      Like “wayment….who is this?”

  8. Malika*

    This sounds like an absurdist novel and the even more infinitely entertaining update descends into a Luis Bunuel film. Love it! Just a pity we will never know the underlying reasons but wisdom is realizing the extent of what you will never know.

  9. Gnome*

    First, like kittymommy I thought she had gone to a new place.

    Second, I think of this every time I worry about wearing my new wig at work. I had a medium brown, straight, shoulder length one, and during the pandemic, got a dark brown, long wavy one. It legitimately could be that I’d gotten low-lights (or grew out highlights), grew my hair, and used a curling iron on it… assuming you didn’t know I’m useless with girly things. Compared to Michelle, my change is super tame!

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Honestly from the way the update was worded, they wouldn’t have minded mild changes or hair appointments that were far closer to the normal cut with color change in the same family on external client meeting days. It was the change everything so much the client thinks they are meeting with a new person in the afternoon. They didn’t even ask her to stop the very dramatic changes at all – just to avoid them in this one circumstance. And off the deep end we go in response.

  10. Kella*

    I apparently missed this letter (and the update) the first time around and reading it now made me LAUGH but probably not for the reason most folks here were reacting to it.

    I have Dissociative Identity Disorder. Basically, that means that all the things that make up my identity– Name, gender, sexuality, fashion, hobbies, motivations, overall personality– are split up into a bunch of parts, and we all operate and develop separately from one another. As a result, there are a BUNCH of different clothing styles I resonate with, depending on who is fronting. Many systems (the term for a collection of identities in DID) make a rule that everyone has to vote before getting a hair color change or a hair cut or a piercing, so that you don’t have people every other day going “But I don’t LIKE blonde hair! I’m gonna go change it.” The physical appearance aspect of this disorder is really just a small part of it but systems joke about dreaming of infinite closets that can hold all of their different wardrobes, so that everyone has a variety of clothing items to pick from. In short, in the DID world, Michelle was living the dream.

    (Not saying Michelle has DID. Likely not. But man, it would feel good to have absolutely no shame in showing up to work looking completely different once every few weeks, although not practical.)

    1. Sea Anemone*

      Rock on with showing up every few weeks with a new hair style/manicure/wardrobe! Just try to avoid these major changes in the middle of the day when meeting with external people. :)

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Yeah – that was all they were asking Michelle to avoid – the confusing midday total change if external clients were in that day. It really seemed like they were trying to meet her in the middle between what she wanted to do and what they wanted from a “don’t confuse clients” business standpoint. I thought the manager and boss were being more than reasonable here.

    2. Banana Pancakes*

      I had similar thoughts for the same reason! I’ve never had my hair done midday, but I’ve definitely left between classes or on a lunch break to change my clothes because the part that’s out is uncomfortable with how we’re dressed. Further complicated by disability and varying levels of sensory discomfort.

      1. Kella*

        Yes, body limitations are a big thing. We are pretty bad at regulating our body temperature so we dress for weather primarily and sometimes that makes certain styles less possible. The other constraint is closet space! XD

    3. jasper*

      Aw this made me happy– I used to be close with a girl who was part of a system, and also trans, and it was a really rough time when an alter who really rarely fronted or even interacted much within the system suddenly found his voice to let everyone else know he was *not* on board with this whole ‘estrogen’ thing. It was hard to work out and I felt really bad for everyone involved, and since that was my primary point of reference for ‘not everyone in a system agrees on a body change issue’, the thought of having a roundtable for a haircut just struck me as really sweet. Like a nice community discussion. I suppose it’s not quite as ‘cute’ or pleasant in practice, but it was a nice mental image.

  11. Czhorat*

    Per the update Michelle escalated from zero to a million for no real reason, but this whole saga made me sad; there’s too much of a tendency in the corporate world to file away all the rough edges and pound down the nails that stick up.

    She had a weird quirk, that made the office a touch less predictable. There’s really little need anyone needed to say or do anything about it.

    1. banoffee pie*

      If I’d worked there I would have been interested to see what she’d do next! It would’ve livened things up a bit. But I know bosses have to think about reputation etc.

    2. CBB*

      Rage quitting is never a good idea, but I can understand wanting to rage quit a job where appearances and reputation are so important.

      It’s unfortunate for everyone that Michelle found herself in such a job to begin with. It was obviously a bad fit.

      1. Sea Anemone*

        I really wonder whether Michelle never really understood the vast space between “we think you should modify your behavior bc perceptions are negatively impacting you” and “you are only allowed to wear these neutral tones and only solid metal wedding rings” (which was the subject of another letter). Or maybe she did and gave no figs one way or another bc she knew she could get another job. Idk.

    3. CM*

      I would agree with this if they hadn’t handled it so gently — both the OP and the manager who spoke to Michelle said they were fine with her appearance, just concerned about confusion and distraction caused by mid-day drastic changes during an ongoing meeting or client event. Also, they weren’t threatening to fire her or anything, just making a very limited request in a polite way. I think Michelle filed herself.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I agree that it really felt like they were trying to be supportive and work with her. Dramatic changes – go for it except in this one specific circumstance. It felt almost like a tantrum from a toddler the way she reacted to the grand boss’s request.

    4. Guin*

      A “weird quirk” is maybe wearing black lipstick when it’s a full moon. or only eating dry oatmeal with broccoli for breakfast. Michelle was full-on bananacrackers (stealing this from a different poster as it’s now my favorite adjective.”

  12. Jennifer*

    I remember when this originally ran and before I realized it was an old letter I was hoping this lady had continued her mysterious glam routine at a new workplace.

  13. QAPeon (formerly HelpDeskPeon)*

    If I were an external customer/client/whatever, I would be so so confused by her. I mostly recognize new people by hair and clothes and would totally assume she was a different person who kinda looked familiar.

    1. Caboose*

      As a cosplayer, I use all of my skills every day for work so I can dress up as a mild-mannered adult– I barely mention my costuming hobby to coworkers, aside from if costumes have come up!

      1. Former Young Lady*

        This is my favorite comment of the day! I welcome any tips you have for looking like a mild-mannered adult, btw.

  14. Message in a Bottle*

    I think Alison was right. Michelle, even post update, is kind of awesome. She asked for her reference and left. It wasn’t the place for her so why pretend?

    I’ve barely even colored my hair!

    She may be attention-seeking but so is Rupaul who is awesome. Some people just are and maybe that office wasn’t the place for her. I’m not sure where but I don’t tell stars where to shine!

    1. Gerry Keay*

      I mean RuPaul uses his property for fracking and is pretty dang transphobic, so I don’t really think he OR Michelle are awesome. They’re certainly both messy, chaotic, and entertaining from afar.

    2. MHA*

      “Awesome” would have been Michelle taking the feedback and coming back to the manager with her two weeks’ notice because the company was a bad culture fit for her, which would have been totally legitimate if being able to change her look regardless of work duties was honestly that important to her! There is nothing awesome about being unable to respond maturely to reasonable feedback and flashing your boss in the midst of your work-flounce.

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      No, she flashed her boss and left. Then asked for a reference later.

      I was on board until that…

  15. Half April Ludgate, Half Leslie Knope*

    I love this story and the bonkers update from back in the day. It reminds me of when I got blunt bangs cut over my lunch break one day and literally no one noticed. Guess I should’ve pulled a Michelle and also dyed my hair blue or something…

  16. dianna*

    This is the first time I read one and went WAIT, THERE’S ANOTHER? oh no it’s a repost.

    Loved this story!

  17. Happy*

    The update shows the cost to telling someone who’s a great employee with a quirk that their quirk isn’t always welcome in the workplace — sometimes they’ll decide to walk out.

    1. Former Young Lady*

      …with their shirt hanging wide open, in protest.

      Here’s the thing with “quirks”: some of them are incompatible with client-facing roles (drastically changing one’s appearance mid-meeting); others are incompatible with almost any job (throwing a temper tantrum when your boss gives you gentle feedback).

      However great this employee was in her second job ever, I can’t imagine she was so uniquely irreplaceable. We can’t all be the Bunny-Ears Lawyer from Ally McBeal.

    2. Nivea*


      I get the distinct impression that there was so much more going on here than the letters revealed, and likely a lot of the important background context was not known to the LW.

      TBH, I think this was a storm in a teacup. Most external clients don’t care and wouldn’t care, especially if they liked and appreciated Michelle’s work. I hope Michelle has gone on to amazing things, and is appreciated by those around her.

  18. MissDisplaced*

    I mean, I guess cool for Michelle? Who are we to say people must always look the same? Except when people think you’re actually someone else. LOL!

  19. Ben*

    What do you bet that whenever Michelle tells this story it’s the tale of how she took a courageous moral stand against the image police and stuck to her guns even when they fired her.

  20. Matt*

    I wouldn’t care about it if it wasn’t for my prosopagnosia – I simply wouldn’t recognize her (which would be the same if she just looked different every work day) …

  21. Alexa*

    I think it’s highly likely that this woman is engaging in some other, financially lucrative activities during her lunch hour, then drastically changing her appearance in case she happens to see any “clients” in her traditional workplace afterward. That would make the most sense to me.

      1. Alexa*

        I work in policing, if you find this to be imaginative, you would be knocked off your chair by what seemingly ‘normal’ people are capable of.

  22. CommanderBanana*

    I don’t understand how she can do all this over her lunch break, unless she’s bringing in a bag with hair pieces and clothes. A regular manicure alone takes nearly an hour.

  23. Boof*

    At first I hoped there was more than one, but ah, an archived letter!
    As someone who mostly recognizes people by their hair / not great with faces, I would probably be really confused by Michelle and could see asking to tone it down a tad, maybe at least just not do the change mid-day when there’s a big day-long presentation she’s visibly participating in.
    It’s funny because the first time I was vaguely under the impression this was somehow happening a lot more than it was, like more than once a week, and I really wondered how she had the money/energy for it. Ah, reruns, now I see it was only happening about monthly. But the blow up over just saying “hey this is distracting from your work when you’re at tradeshows” seals the deal that Michelle really is just over the top. Sorry Michelle, I hope you found a place you could rock on with your bad self without befuddling clients!

  24. Diane Von Furstenberg*

    Are you guys in an office or remote? I feel like with remote jobs, many people (myself included) shower in the middle of the day between meetings and show up on zoom with dry hair and a grey shirt at noon and then with damp hair and a green shirt at 1. But changes that drastic? Well, maybe she just knows a good hairstylist and clothing store in the area?

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