my coworker keeps asking what my clothes cost in front of other colleagues

A reader writes:

I am relatively new at my job and have a great team who I like very much. I have a teammate we will call Ava. Ava is very young (I am late 30s, she is probably 22-25) and is brand new to the industry I work in and to office culture, I assume. She is very sweet and I like her very much. She is extremely passionate about fashion and, when I started the job, she immediately noticed that I am interested in it as well, though we work in a completely unrelated high skill manufacturing field and I mostly just dress casually at work. In previous workplaces, my fashion choices have gone completely unnoticed so I don’t think I am being flashy or anything. In many ways, I like that we share this connection as it made me feel like I belong in my new workplace.

Here is the issue. Ava excitedly comments on almost all of my outfits and asks not only where items are from, which would be no big deal to me, but also how much they cost, and she asks in front of other coworkers. It is extremely uncomfortable that she does this and I don’t really know how to address it. I am much more senior than her and likely make three to four times her salary, so her questions make me feel like I am flaunting it. Additionally, I don’t want to be judged at work for how I choose to spend my money. I find that women are often judged on our financial choices in ways that men are not, and it is already an insecurity of mine that it might hold me back at work.

To demonstrate the issue, Ava once asked me how much my handbag cost in front of three other coworkers and yesterday she asked me if my shoes were over $100 and then pulled up the brand’s website to see in front of another coworker. I should note that almost none of the items are anything super high-end designer, none have any overt branding or anything, but I do enjoy finding small companies that make cool stuff or finding stuff on the resale market, and I have enough disposable income to splurge when I want to.

I don’t know how to ask her to stop and to explain that the specifics about money are not something I want to talk about at work, especially in front of other colleagues. She is pretty sensitive and insecure about her place in our company, and I worry she will think I hate her if I ask privately in the direct manner I would with someone else. What do I do?

Ask privately in a direct manner :)

Yes, it’s the exact thing you didn’t feel you could do. And I hear you that she’s sensitive and insecure about her place at work, and that you’re worried she’ll think you hate her.

But she’s not going to think you hate her if you demonstrate that you, in fact, do not hate her … and that is easily done by continuing to be warm and friendly to her.

You could say it like this: “I like that you’re into fashion like I am, and I enjoy having that connection with you! I’m generally more comfortable downplaying it at work because I’ve found that women can be judged on our financial choices in a way that men aren’t. I don’t like talking about what I paid for stuff, and I try not to draw attention to my clothes or accessories in front of other people. I realized I’ve never said that to you, so I wanted to explain that while I’m up for a little fashion talk with you one-on-one, I’m pretty allergic to it in front of other people!”

(You could leave out “I’m up for a little fashion talk with you one-on-one” if you don’t actually want to do that, or if you worry that it’ll open the door to boundaries being pushed in ways you don’t want.)

Will she feel awkward? Maybe! She shouldn’t — this wording is very mild — but some people feel awkward about any hint that they’ve ever done something that landed in a less-than-ideal manner. That’s okay! Fleeting moments of awkwardness are part of life, they won’t kill anyone, and the relationship will go on.

Keep in mind, too, that you are feeling very awkward right now because of Ava’s comments, and you’ll continue to if you don’t speak up. One fleeting moment of awkwardness is better than you continuing to feel uncomfortable for months to come. It’s also kinder to Ava — if you were repeatedly doing something that made someone uncomfortable, wouldn’t you rather know so you could stop, even if it took a mildly awkward conversation to find out?

But you can also smooth over any awkwardness Ava might feel by making a point of continuing to be warm with her. In fact, right after this part of the conversation, switch the topic to something where you’ll be able to express genuine warmth in her direction … and then the next time you see her, send some more warmth her way, whether it’s just asking about a book she’s reading, or taking genuine interest in how her weekend was, or complimenting her on a project she did, or so forth.

She will be fine, and you are very likely to put an end to the clothing comments.

Read an update to this letter

{ 197 comments… read them below }

  1. Lorelai*

    Could you say in the moment that you don’t recall the price but would be happy to send her the link later? And then when you do, that could be opening to explain why you prefer not to speak about costs in front of folks.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Normally this might work, but it looks like Ava searches out the item herself, in front of others.

      1. Grits McGee*

        Agree- I think this approach would only work if OP doesn’t tell Ava the brand, and then follows up relatively quickly with feedback about not wanting to discuss prices.

        1. Nervous Nellie*

          Yes, I was wondering how Ava knew what brand the shoes were, unless they were those shoes with the red soles. I can never remember the brand names of my shoes and clothing, and I certainly can’t remember how much I paid for everything.

          1. Practical Shoe Aficionado*

            There are other female shoe brands that have cult followings – Tieks have distinctive teal sole and Rothy’s (my go to work shoe!) have a thin blue line along the heel. Both are over $100 but not considered designer :)

            1. Fran Fine*

              I have multiple pairs of Tieks, and when I started at my current company and went to an offsite meet up with my remote team, my then male grandboss who is very into fashion himself called out my shoes like, “Look! She’s wearing the shoes.” He had no idea what they were called, but he knew what they were from seeing the teal soles, lol.

          2. SeattleGal*

            LW here, she asked me the brand and then how much they are. It’s a small brand based in Los Angeles, nothing with a notable aspect or cult following. I don’t mind sharing the brand with her, especially as I want these small brand to have more success with folks who love their stuff, it’s specifically the cost part for me that I feel awkward about.

            1. Fran Fine*

              Yeah, she’s being very invasive on that front, but Alison gave you a good script to shut it down. And if you’re not comfortable having The Talk with Ava, start lying and telling her you got your items on consignment for a low cost you can’t remember, lol.

              1. SeattleGal*

                I seriously might have to! But I think I’m convinced from everyone’s input that I’ll just talk to her about it. She deserves to know.

                1. Fran Fine*

                  I’m glad you’re going to do it. I think we make things much bigger in our minds than they are in real life. Ava will probably totally take this redirection in the spirit it’s intended, especially if you keep talking clothes with her from time to time.

                2. PollyQ*

                  In fact, you will be doing her a favor by bringing this up, because many people would also find it rude & intrusive, so it’s to her benefit to break the habit.

                3. SixTigers*

                  I like dressing nicely at work, and I’d find it really offputting and creepy if someone kept at me, rabbit-rabbit-rabbit, about what brand something was and how much I paid for it. I don’t mind talking clothes and color and fabric and whatnot, but the price? No, that’s just a little too intrusive.

              2. Pennyworth*

                I’d expand Alison’s script to point out that because women are often judged on their appearance you prefer to limit discussions about clothes generally.

    2. MCMonkeyBean*

      I can’t tell from the letter if she has been answering these questions when they are asked, but I don’t see why OP couldn’t just say “oh, y’know I’m really not that comfortable talking so much about the cost of my wardrobe at the office” and then change the topic. If Ava is even remotely capable of taking social cues I’d think that would only need to be said a couple of times before she stops asking. And if not, then that’s when it’s time for the private conversation.

      1. SeattleGal*

        Yeah, the first time it happened I was a little stunned and just awkwardly answered and I may have inadvertently opened the door for more questions.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          Totally understandable! I really think you could just politely decline to discuss it in the future and then change the subject before attempting a more one-on-one discussion if necessary. From her point of view, I think it makes sense that she doesn’t realize the questions are unwelcome but just because you have answered in the past doesn’t mean you have to keep doing so!

        2. Sparkles*

          By being warm and engaging with her just as you have been, you will be showing her that people can give feedback asking her to change something, and still be friendly; in other words, that rejecting one particular behavior doesn’t equal rejection of her as a person.

          You will be giving her the *experience* of that, which is very powerful, and may make her more secure eventually.

          Also, another way to address price is to put the focus on the concept of resale and how environmentally friendly that is, and take the focus off her flattering you through cost.

          “I’m not sure how much it cost originally, I got this on ThredUp – I love their mission, they keep clothes out of landfills, and I get to find things that are pretty awesome but hard to find anymore.”

        3. This is a name, I guess*

          I think it’s really common in everyday convos about fashion to be like, “thanks! It cost $5 on sale!” Or whatever. It’s small hop from that to, “How much did that cost?” logically and socially. If she’s young, she’s probably only ever discussed fashion with peers, too.

          I think you’re right to just see this as a youthful social faux pas and wanting to correct it as constructively and as kindly as possible.

    3. June*

      My standard line to all money questions is “oh, I never comment on finances”. It’s not rude. It sets a polite enough boundary and shuts it down forever.

  2. Precious Wentletrap*

    This is definitely a Teachable Moment. Another thing that will help is relating “oh yeah when I was first starting out, here’s an office faux pas I made…” as a cute story, because, as you said, this is all new to her as it is to everyone at some point.

    1. SeattleGal*

      I like that idea. I’ve made SO many over the years so I have a lot to choose from too haha!

    2. OhNoYouDidn't*

      Yes. I’d also definitely address that discussing cost of personal items isn’t really appropriate in the workplace. I think that this added in to coach her, in a gentle manner would be a kindness to her. She seems to be missing some basic office etiquette.

      1. Ali + Nino*

        Missing basic etiquette to the point that I wonder whether she is from another culture where discussing finances is not such a big deal? Huge no-no in american culture but decidedly less so in others. Regardless, to point this out would be a kindness, as others have said.

        1. This is a name, I guess*

          Or, she’s 22 and hasn’t ever worked in an intergenerational, more formal workplace. She’s probably only ever talked fashion with peers. It’s not that weird to talk money among peers. The younger generation is a lot more open about that stuff.

          1. SeattleGal*

            I believe this to be the situation for Ava, having a lot more details I can’t say because they would be out of line to put her story out there, even anonymously. These social norms are absolutely not taught to a lot of people. Having crossed an intergenerational class divide myself I did not grow up with any sort of office culture guidance the way that friends from wealth and high education families did. These are learned behaviors.

            1. allathian*

              Indeed, and you’d be doing Ava a kindness if you helped her learn that it’s usually inappropriate to discuss personal finances at work.

  3. KateM*

    If Ava is feeling sensitive and insecure about the company, and OP feels uncomfortable like she’d be flaunting her money, wouldn’t it be a nice thing to privately point out that talking about sensitive topic in front of all coworkers is not a good idea, rather than let her find out at some point that other coworkers think her to be a tacky weirdo?

    1. Just J.*

      I came here to say something similar and turning this into a teachable moment about reading the room and knowing which topics are good for group discussion and which aren’t. Discussing fashion over lunch is fine; in the middle of the office / lab / manufacturing floor in a mixed group? Probably not so much.

    2. Chris*

      Agree. If no one tells her, she will likely make the same mistake with others or worse. It also would be good for her to know that, for better or worse, people do get judged for how they spend their money. I am also really interested in fashion. It has gotten better, but I used to have to be somewhat careful about what I show off at work. I work in the non profit field, I don’t need my boss thinking I don’t need a raise. Yes, that boss would be a jerk, but it happens

    3. Snarkaeologist*

      Yes! When I was younger if I’d worked in a place where I heard these kinds of conversations regularly , I’d assume that people were wondering how much _my_ clothes cost. Or at least noticing their obvious cheapness.

      I know that’s not entirely fair, because some people just do like to talk about shopping! But if these conversations happen repeatedly it can seem like that’s part of the office culture, and can be one part of an an environment that makes people from different economic backgrounds feel like they don’t fit in your workplace.

  4. FG*

    Here’s the thing: Asking those sorts of questions is just plain *rude.* All of the other rationales apply, and calling out rudeness is, in itself, rude. But if you are that much more senior than her, you could explain in a mentoring capacity that asking people what their things cost is not polite.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, this: It would be good feedback for her to have in general, not just in a work setting.

    2. Huh*

      That’s not really true when it comes to two people enjoying a conversation about fashion. It would be totally different if they hadn’t already connected about fashion in the first place, but it’s really not out of line to say “oh, how much did that gorgeous bag set you back?”. It’s really a “know your audience” kind of thing, but not inherently rude.

      1. TiredMama*

        This is probably because I am not a fashion person, but is talking about price part of talking about fashion? I assumed talking about fashion meant talking about the designers and fabrics and seasonal lines and features rather than the price.

        1. Paris Geller*

          Talking about price definitely can be, especially if part of the hobby is finding a good deal (and since OP mentions finding stuff on the resale market, I’m guessing that’s at least a small part of interest for her). I’m not very interested in fashion, but I love makeup, and when I talk to friends who share the hobby talking about deals/prices/discounts is definitely part of that.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Oh yeah. It IS often about saving money – also more of a makeup person but deals/dupes/value is a huge topic. I can definitely hear “did you pay more than $100 for those shoes” as meaning “did you find a sale or reseller and get a good deal, teach me your shopping secrets” or even “ooh did you splurge/ugh those are fantastic I wish I could afford them”. Not super inappropriate in a casual fashion conversation, but the lines are different for a workplace.

            1. Smithy*

              I agree with this – and I also think that with “work friends” these boundaries can be harder to differentiate.

              My particular hobby within this space is vintage, and it’s really just such a huge part to talk about it in relation to price. Whether you’re buying from brick and mortar shops, online, places in big cities vs rural communities, etc etc etc. A conversation about your favorite decade of coat can inevitably turn to price in a way that’s educational as much as anything else. While t-shirts aren’t my particular area of vintage, I’m interested enough that I am aware how that market is making the $200-$400 vintage cotton t-shirt far more of a “thing”.

              As a result, talking about finding certain band t-shirts for under $100 (let along under $50) is a deeply exciting line of conversation for some. And it’s a conversation that for those into the subject would be more about “vintage t-shirts” as opposed to money. All that being said, I’m also not particularly interested for anyone at work to know that I’ve ever spent $75 on a vintage t-shirt – regardless of how interesting I may find the topic.

                1. Smithy*

                  While I did not articulate this in my reply – this is where I agree with AAM’s advice about a more thoughtful conversation about the boundaries in the workplace.

                  In the context of the vintage band t-shirt, Googling up a specific t-shirt to see how much it’s currently selling for online and what sizes are available and at what condition is again part of that larger conversation about vintage clothing and not just money.

                  If I ask my a neighbor at a block party how much they make with zero other context – that’s rude. However, if my neighbor and I are both in the same field and talking about employers – the subject of my neighbor’s salary may come up in a natural networking discussion. Now if the neighbor’s in-laws happened to also be at this block party, this may no longer be a discussion they’d want to have when it was a discussion they were thrilled to have at the last block party.

                  My point is largely that in many contexts of “fashion chat” what Ava is doing isn’t inappropriate, her time and place is.

            2. Snarkaeologist*

              Yeah my hobby is mineral collectors and ‘do you mind asking how much you paid for that?’ is basically a shortcut for ‘I think I want a specimen like that but don’t want to get ripped off do I need to track down your dealer.’

              But that’s in groups where everyone knows we all like to put our discretionary spending towards fancy rocks.

          2. jenny20*

            I think there’s a difference between talking to your friends and talking to people who are not your friends (whether in a work setting or otherwise)…
            It might not be weird to talk to your friends about price but it sure would be inappropriate in almost any other environment.

            1. Liz*

              This 100%. I am a shopper. my favorite thing is finding deals and steals. It’s only now that I can bring myself to pay (and have the disposable funds to do so) full price for some things. But not all the time, and i enjoy hunting down bargains. That being said, I only really discuss actual costs with a few friends who share my enthusiasm about the hunt. I may discuss vaguely with some friends at work, but more along the lines of if someone compliments say my bag or shoes, I’ll say thanks, got it on x site, and got a great deal.

              1. Fran Fine*

                See, and I’m also very into shopping and fashion, and I have no problem talking to non-work friends about what something I’m wearing costs, especially since 99% of my wardrobe is thrifted/consigned, so I’m always getting amazing deals. I’ve even hipped some of these people onto sites they didn’t know existed where they could shop for themselves or buy gifts from other fashion and beauty lovers in their lives. So I don’t think it’s an automatic no no to have these types of conversations in general, it just goes back to what someone said above where you have to learn to read the room to gauge whether others would be uncomfortable or not.

                1. Elizabeth Bennett*

                  I feel like this comment thread should include a pooling of thrifty fashion resources. :D
                  But I know it’s not meant for that.

          3. SeattleGal*

            LW here, for me the resale market is more about finding cool vintage stuff and environmental reasons than a good deal, but who doesn’t love a good deal! I definitely do! Price is still part of it for sure.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        But this isn’t in a fashion-industry or fashion-hobby setting. In most other settings, it’s rude. This is one of those other settings.

        1. Huh*

          But to Ava it most likely is a conversation with a fashion-friend, she just needs to understand when others are around it’s not appropriate. A blanket statement that it’s rude to talk about price is just silly, and sounds pretty out of touch.

        2. Broadway Duchess*

          I don’t think it’s inherently bad to talk price along with fashion because that’s part of it for a lot of people. I am a card-carrying member of the I Would Never! Club and it wouldn’t occur to me to find the price thing rude. The invasive way she’s pursuing it is what would get me.

          FWIW, I was standing in line at Costco a couple of weeks ago and a lady was sort of mean-mugging me and I was starting to get annoyed. She finally almost shouted at me to ask what kind of purse I had. It was low-end designer and old but very functional for errand running. I was taken aback at the brashness but we started having a conversation about it and she took a picture to see if she could find one like it. Turns out, she wasn’t giving me the stinkeye, she was trying to see if there were any identifying marks on the bag. Well, who do I see yesterday by the Rotisserie chickens with her brand new purse? She remembered me and thanked me for hipping her to that type of purse.

      3. Marny*

        In my experience, price is only ok to discuss if the person with the coveted item brings it up herself by saying, “I got an amazing deal on it by shopping on Poshmark” or whatever. I don’t think it’s ok to straight-up ask what someone paid for something.

        1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

          Yeah, you really need to know your audience to ask about price… I would ask my mom if she got a good deal on something or my best friend, but not a work acquaintance if she didn’t bring it up herself.

        2. pugsnbourbon*

          Yeah as a Midwesterner it’s my duty to respond to clothing compliments with a little story about how it was a bargain.

          1. Triumphant Fox*

            I relate to this so hard! Bargain shopping is a badge of honor.

            Also, I feel like I have to emphasize that I cannot normally afford the item, but got it at nordstrom rack, on consignment or at the thrift store. I work with a lot of people who make a lot less than me, so I’m pretty sensitive to coming off as flaunting anything (but most of what I wear is not fancy – no designer bags/shoes, pretty casual attire).

          2. ThatGirl*

            LOL yes the two replies are “thanks, it was on sale!” and “thanks, it has pockets!”

            1. Fran Fine*

              Ha! Same here.

              (And I totally just got a really cute navy blue Banana Republic jumpsuit from thredUp today that was deeply discounted and sooo cute! And it has pockets! Lol)

            1. londonedit*

              Yep, was just about to say that the correct British response would be ‘Oh, this is ancient/oh I got it in the sale, hardly cost me anything/would you believe it was only £10??’

          3. pancakes*

            I’ve met a number of New Yorkers like this over the years too. Everyone loves a bargain and some people are competitive about it! And with furniture in addition to clothes. If you find an Eames chair on the curb that’s a great score, not something to keep quiet about.

      4. Anat*

        I’m not a fashion person so correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that because fashion exists at such wildly different price points, part of the point of the price question is: “is this gorgeous thing something I could ever afford, or is it completely out of my range?” If the former, you can research stores, deals, etc; if the latter, there’s nothing to do but admire it on someone else.

        Still not a good work conversation, but may be totally appropriate one-on-one among enthusiasts.

        1. Meow*

          Generally you can deduce the price range of an item by the store/brand/designer, but it sounds like OP buys from little name shops, which is probably what’s prompting Anna to check/ask. The polite thing to do would be to look up the brand/store on her own time and keep all talks about money to herself.

      5. The OTHER Other*

        It definitely is a “know your audience” thing even one-on-one. I would never dream of asking what someone’s clothing or accessories cost, and would not think twice about saying “that’s a tacky question” the first time it came up.

        IMO Alison’s answer focuses too much on “I don’t want to talk about fashion in front of other people” (which I don’t think is what is bothering the LW) and not enough on “stop asking/wondering about/drawing attention to what things cost. It’s crass”.

        1. Fran Fine*

          Maybe she’s focusing on the former because the LW (and maybe even Alison) doesn’t think talking about the cost is crass in all cases. Part of the appeal of fashion is discussing all the great deals you get on things, especially on the resale market, which the OP states is one place she happens to shop. OP’s objection seemed to be focused around the fact that these questions were being asked in front of others, but the implication was that if no one else was present and it was a 1:1 chat with Ava, the LW wouldn’t mind telling her how much something cost. Ava’s just taking this part of fashion talk way too far with the whole looking up items on her own and loudly telling everyone the retail price (which OP probably doesn’t even pay), so it’s making the whole situation awkward in a way it wouldn’t be if it were just the two of them.

          1. SeattleGal*

            You are correct. I’d still shy away a bit from discussing with her because of our income differences but I would in general be fine discussing with her over a coffee in private.

            1. Fran Fine*

              Yeah, when I’m talking about deals I get with people below me or even my own boss, I keep it vague (no exact figures given). The reason is, I don’t want lower level employees feeling some kind of way about my salary (especially since I’ll now be in the six-figure range), and I don’t want my manager thinking I don’t need raises! Lol

            2. Hmmmmm*

              At this point, you don’t know much about her to say for sure if any of your conversation would remain private between the 2 of you. I’d find someone else to discuss fashion.

    3. oranges*

      It’s definitely not a topic for the middle of a work meeting, but kids these days use social media to have instant transparency with everything they see and desire. The cost and source of things isn’t a secret.

      Shopping isn’t a solo stroll at the mall before you cut off the tag and tuck it into your closet. It’s affiliate links from influencers to their millions of followers. Is it tens of dollars from Shein or thousands from Gucci? Click on the X app to find out and get your own!

      1. Important Moi*

        I think that “instant transparency” is changing the norms for what is appropriate to talk about it for the better.

        1. SixTigers*

          I think that “instant transparency” gives some people the feeling that they’re entitled to be as nosy as eff. It is nobody’s business but my own what I spend on things, and the more they keep asking, the more obnoxiously prying and nosy they reveal themselves to be. There are certain details that someone may CHOOSE to reveal about themselves and their belongings, but no one else is entitled to demand those details as if they deserved to know.

          1. oranges*

            That’s a valid stance, but my point was that this young coworker’s (initial) curiosity isn’t rude or nosey in the context of how her generation follows trends and shops. Her social media peers are often THRILLED to share where they got their clothes.

            If LW isn’t comfortable with it, that’s totally fine and she should tell her, but it’s overly cynical to accuse coworker of obnoxious prying and being effing entitled for what I see as more of a generational difference.

      2. Smithy*

        I agree that so much of fashion/clothing on social media does have that instant transparency connection that if someone likes the shoes of someone at work – they can now also take a photo and figure out how much they are new and on the resale market pretty quickly. So for those who do care and are interested, the information itself isn’t super secret.

        It doesn’t mean that someone’s discomfort or awkwardness with being asked the cost of their shoes in the breakroom at work is wrong. And that in multigenerational offices this is now standard and no big deal. I think it just helps to articulate why there may be a growing disconnect with asking about this as being rude vs information sharing. Also why someone’s answer might be that they’re very happy to continue talking about costs/prices one on one but not in a larger group.

    4. highbury house*

      “What are you, a cop/Fashion police?” said in an amused friendly way. And then a direct subject change.

      1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

        Yeesh, no, there is no amount of friendly tone that doesn’t make that sound snarky.

    5. Gnome*

      Yep! I see the comments replying that this can be part of talking about fashion, but there are other people there, so it is solidly a “social conversation at work with others” where it’s just not appropriate to ask that. Telling her this is a kindness because of the number of ways it can backfire on her, even if very well intentioned.

      I am NOT into fashion. I once bought a Very Nice outfit (for a grad student) and a staff member I was becoming friends with said “oh! That’s new! Where did you get it?” I replied “Talbots” (feeling very grown up) to which they said “ooo! ExPENsive!” (The way you might say ooo! Cookies!”). It made me feel really bad and weird and wrong and it killed the friendship. That was about 17 years ago and I still don’t know what to do with that comment.

      I also never felt comfortable wearing that outfit again. :(

      I share because the other people might also have feelings (e.g. being judged by how expensive their clothes are) and that’s part of the equation.

      1. Important Moi*

        Did they say it like “cookies are bad” or “cookies are good” ? I don’t know what to do with that comment either.

        1. Gnome*

          Apparently my description left something to be desired. :)

          It was mostly good, but also a little… Not. Probably part of what left me feeling very flat footed. She seemed excited but not excited FOR me… Almost… Gossipy?

          1. Everything Bagel*

            This all makes her sound weird, not you. Anyone within earshot probably would have cringed on your behalf. I’m sorry this has bothered you for so long!

      2. Lorelai*

        What they said says more about them than you, though. It denotes a lack of class to ask someone not in your inner circle what something costs. Wear that outfit with pride!

        Not for nothing, but earlier today I saw a meme that joked about when as a teen in the midwest they thought Chili’s was fine dining. It’s all relative. One person’s Talbots is another person’s Walmart and another person’s Nieman Marcus.

    6. Pescadero*

      “Here’s the thing: Asking those sorts of questions is just plain *rude.*”

      That is very culturally dependent.

      There is a strong string in Midwestern culture where it is expected that when soemeone tells you they bought something, you ask what they paid so they can brag about what a great deal they received and how frugal they are.

    7. NeutralJanet*

      Hard disagree! In a workplace, talking about prices can cause discomfort, particularly around other people not involved in the conversation, but in plenty of cultures (here meaning both nationality culture and regional culture), talking about money with friends or family is perfectly acceptable. If Ava’s family and friends regularly discuss this type of thing, and OP tells her that it’s rude in all contexts, that’s probably going to be bad for the relationship and arguably ineffective, because Ava might conclude that OP is weird about money in general rather than correctly discussing professional norms. Definitely feel free not to discuss money and how much you paid for something if you aren’t comfortable with it, but it’s not reasonable to make a sweeping generalization that doing so is rude in all contexts.

    8. Peasant*

      You’d be surprised how things vary by social group. Before now it never would have occurred to me this would be a problem. I’m 33, had like 2 office jobs and not talked much to the people there.

      Among my current (and most of my previous) acquaintances, the question of what an item cost would be an opening to rejoice in a good deal, commiserate about overpriced goods, or discuss how you just loved the thing so much or you just got a raise so what the hell why not. Most of us in restaurant or retail hell have spent a lot of time broke so trying to lord your money over people just makes you that jerk nobody talks to, but talking about money is normal because it’s always on our minds.

      So yeah. Class and employment background can make a big difference as well as youth.

  5. Bernice Clifton*

    Alison’s wording is good, because I think Ava might see the LW as a friend and not realize that her questions are too personal, if Ava and her friends talk about how much they paid for things without anyone thinking it’s weird. The LW would be doing her a favor by setting boundaries and leading by example in showing her that work friendships are not the same as other types of friendships.

    1. Grits McGee*

      I think there are also cultural* differences in norms of different social groups about asking the prices of things. When I was an RA I had a resident who was an absolute sweetheart, but the first couple interactions I had with her, she did the same thing as Ava. My resident quickly picked up though that she was making people uncomfortable, and it wasn’t an issue past the first week or 2. It would be a real kindness to Ava for OP to set a boundary about this.

      *Cultural in the broadest sense of the word, including regional/generational/etc

      1. H*

        Yeah, when I was studying abroad in Europe I remember asking a classmate how much a flat in the area cost to rent. I was just curious as I was in school-provided housing and had no idea what the cost of housing was like in the city. Not my most tactful moment, but he didn’t seem phased and the conversation moved on, but I noticed all the southerners in my study abroad crew visibly flinched and looked horrified… definitely can be a cultural thing.

        1. Despachito*

          I do not see absolutely anything inappropriate in asking how much a flat in a particular area costs.

          Unlike “how much does YOUR flat cost YOU”, which I consider personal and would probably cringe about as well, I understand the former as a generic question that does not demand to reveal any personal secret, and can be helpful to make an idea about life in a foreign country.

        2. Ally McBeal*

          I lived in NYC where “how much is your rent?” is the most casual of cocktail hour conversation starters, with friends/coworkers/total strangers. Now that I live in the Midwest, the only time anyone ever talks about cost of housing, it’s… to ask me how much I paid when I lived in NYC. And they always respond, “wow, that’s more than my mortgage!” but never ever volunteer the size of their monthly mortgage payments.

          That said, I think we’d all be in a better place if we shared how much we’re paid and how much we pay in rent and other living costs. There’s a comedian on TikTok whose housing application was accepted, then rescinded after he asked for a “landlord reference” (just like landlords ask renters for references from previous landlords) … not once, but twice, and now a legislator in his province is trying to pass a bill demanding transparency from landlords.

          1. Fran Fine*

            That said, I think we’d all be in a better place if we shared how much we’re paid and how much we pay in rent and other living costs.

            + 1

  6. Washi*

    More likely than Ava thinking you hate her is that she’ll be pretty embarrassed. And that’s ok! Feeling embarrassed about stuff like this is how we learn and remember not to make these kinds of faux pas. You’re doing her a favor to point it out kindly and privately so she’s just embarrassed and can correct the behavior, rather than leaving it to chance of having it be a bigger humiliation later if someone calls her out for being rude.

  7. Scriveaaa*

    It’s funny but I often have the opposite problem because I thrift a ton and get asked where I get my clothes. Most of the time I don’t know myself what brand it is. But I also work in a field where people tend to be more wealthy or high-income, and saying it’s from my local Goodwill can ALSO have a negative connotation for some. Go figure.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        This. If a work friend compliments my shoes, I am very likely to say “Thanks, I got them at TJ Maxx and can you believe they were only $20???”

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I am grinning. I love a bargain. I picked up a rain coat. I estimated it to be around $180. But it could be more. I paid $1 for it at a tag sale. It’s in mint condition.

      My friend knows I watch my pennies. When she saw the coat her eyebrows went right up. “NICE coat.” At some point I will tell her the tag sale story. I could see that she was really puzzled but she didn’t say a word. Bravo for her.

      Most of my stuff is fairly cheap. I get tired of saying, “it was a tag sale/consignment shop thing”, like I have to explain how I am watching my pennies. I have defaulted to, “oh thanks” and nothing further.

      OP, a default you could use, is “I am not good at remembering prices. I don’t remember.” There are some people I use this with, simply because they are prying as opposed to the question being a part of a larger or on-going conversation. They want to gossip or back stab later, that is the sole reason they are asking. I don’t think the employee is going this far, but I also don’t think she understands there is a time and a place for this type of question.

      I grew up in a home where it was drilled into me- do not talk about money in any form with others. As an adult, I found that people are super helpful in giving advice how to keep costs down and in finding reputable stores and contractors. I’m not shocked if someone asks in the course of a conversation about a particular thing. I do watch for people who will use that information against me, for example gossiping/backstabbing. They usually blurt it out when there is no surrounding context to make sense of why they are asking. Again, I don’t think the employee understands this stuff.

      1. SeattleGal*

        Thank you! I relate to this very much. I grew up in a financially insecure family where my parents fought about money all the time, and discussing it openly with other women (my friends usually, but sometimes even in private with coworkers about things like salary and what the going rate for our work is) has been a life saver and has literally made me money and helped my self confidence. While I don’t really want to talk to Ava about the price of my clothing, I will fight tooth and nail for her to make that money!

      2. DrunkAtAWedding*

        I think, if OP said that, Ava would just look up the price like she has been doing.

  8. TiredMama*

    I would say, hey, I’ll tell you later and then tell her later and explain why you didn’t want to share the details in front of everyone.

    1. BubbleTea*

      This would strike me as weird, if I were one of the other people overhearing. It would definitely be more noticeable than just answering normally. If LW wants to avoid calling attention to how much she spends on clothes, this isn’t the way.

    2. DrunkAtAWedding*

      I do remember a manager saying that to be once, but in a very different scenario. I was starting a new job and, in a group meeting, we were getting uniforms sorted out. The manager asked my size, I told him, he said “oh, I should have guessed!”, and I said, “I’d rather you didn’t actually.” Then he said, “oh no, I’ll explain later.” The explanation turned out to be “it’s a gay man’s job to know women’s sizes.”

      I’m not sure why that exchange is still in my head some fifteen years later, and I don’t know how anyone else in the meeting perceived it. I’m not even 100% sure it’s relevant, but, just in case it is, my feelings around it are predominantly humour/relief.

  9. GreenDoor*

    There’s also the option of answering the question….by answering in a way that focuses on what they didn’t ask.
    Q. How much did that cost you!
    A. Oh, I wasn’t attracted to it for the price! It was the color that caught my eye…isn’t this blue fabulous?!

    Q. Where did you get it?
    A. Oh, I can’t keep track. I buy my stuff everywhere – from thrift shops to the designer boutiques. Speaking of which – did you hear that the bar on Main Street is going to reopen as a hat shop?

    Q. Where did you get it?
    A. Online – just google “blue dolman sleeved blouses” and I’m sure you’ll find places selling something similar.

    The vague answer that’s not really an answer often keeps the conversation moving and maintains the upbeat tone without getting into details you’d rather not reveal.

    1. Jora Malli*

      These are all fine as far as dodges go, but I still think it would be kinder and more effective for the OP to just go ahead and have the uncomfortable two minute conversation. “I love talking fashion with you, but it makes me uncomfortable to talk about prices and spending in front of all our other coworkers” isn’t likely to ruin the friendship, and it’s a kindness to both OP and Ava.

      1. Hlao-roo*

        I agree. GreenDoor’s scripts are good for the OP to have on hand for AFTER the direct conversation, as a way of smoothing over awkwardness/demonstrating warmth if Ava forgets and asks a fashion question in front of other coworkers.

    2. Failing Up*

      This is so passive aggressive it’s crazy-making!

      I cannot stand when I ask a question and some politicks the answer (answering a question you *wished* they asked). Please answer the question that *is* asked, or be kind and direct about not answering. Because I am going to assume that my question wasn’t clear and keep asking. Then you’re going to complain that I’m “not getting the hint” when at the same time I am asking myself if I am speaking Klingon because you are talking about the color blue when I asked about the price.

      1. Broadway Duchess*

        This is so true. One of the really fantastic things about Alison’s blog is that it can give insight into the why of things from other people’s perspectives. Younger me would DEFINITELY have been the person who dodged the question and was then annoyed that you didnt get it. I thought directness was tactless and didn’t know that you could be direct kindly or how to do it. Being clear just has better outcomes most of the time.

        1. DrunkAtAWedding*

          I was the opposite. As a teenager, I pictured communicating as a line with “honest but rude” at one end and “polite but untrue” at the other. As I grew up, I came to picture it as a grid with a true/untrue axis and a polite/rude axis. I’ve met people with the same line idea, and they are very obnoxious – as I was – but, sometimes, quite refreshing. I like how easy to understand they are, even if I want them to go away.

      2. FoodForThought*

        I wouldn’t call this passive aggressive at all – there’s nothing aggressive about those statements at all. Passive aggressive is trying to indirect convey annoyance or anger, these responses just answer the question and quickly move it along. If you recognize that people are frequently “politicking” your questions, have you considered that maybe your questions might not be appropriate?

        1. GreenDoor*

          FoodforThought captured my intent here. I have worked with someone that made a regular habit of asking intrusive questions. It is not practical to keep pulling them aside every stinking time….but it’s also not polite to chastise them in the moment in front of others. This answer-non-answer allows you to avoid having to provide personal info while allowing for the practicality of moving things along – – until you have a more appropriate time to address it more firmly in private.

        2. Failing Up*

          Perhaps. I’m not so sure what’s inappropriate about “Hey I like your shirt, where did you get it? Oh really? How much?” to warrant that. But if you believe that question is inappropriate, say that directly and kindly then. It’s quite passive, and it’s aggressive when you then start to treat them differently for not picking up your “hints”.

  10. Goldenrod*

    I like Alison’s advice here! As long as OP is warm and friendly towards Ava, she should be able to make this request and have it be just fine. And like Alison said, a little awkwardness never killed anyone, it’s just part of life.

    Side note: This letter totally reminded me of that Seinfeld episode where Elaine had a female acquaintance who loudly commented on how expensive Elaine’s shoes were in front of others. It was a BIG drama and Elaine was mad!! For days! (OP, you should check out this episode, I bet you would relate to it.) :D

    1. Mf*

      Agree that if OP is kind, this shouldn’t be too terrible of a conversation. She should be able to position this as “I don’t want to talk about money stuff in front other coworkers. If you have fashion questions like that, can you ask me in private?”

  11. Suzie SW*

    I laughed at the idea of “fleeting awkwardness” because I am exactly the type of person that hangs onto those moments no matter how hard I try to forget them.

    Just this morning, I was reminded of a moment of embarrassment *18 YEARS AGO* when a friend pointed out that I mistakenly confused two countries with similar names and very different cultures and ended up showing my ignorance of the world outside my own bubble. It was so benign, he likely forgot 5 minutes later…but my brain so kindly ensures that I remember this moment while letting me forget 90% of everything else that has occurred in my life.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      Honestly my memory is sharpest for moments where I was embaressed. But a private conversation is not the worst embaressment that could happen.

    2. Critical Rolls*

      Yes, but… *so* much worse to realize you were making a faux pas over and over! I say rip that bandage off.

    3. SeattleGal*

      LW here, when I said I worried she’d think I’d hate her I think I more worry that the reaction will be like this. My brain works like that too and it’s so tough!

    4. Miel*

      Yep, same here! At the same time, I am grateful for those people in my life who’ve spoken up about things I do that bother them.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      Seems to me I remember a president doing that…..

      I do admit, if I had not had a stamp collection as a kid I might have made similar mistakes. Stamps had me looking at atlases so I could see the country and the countries around it.

  12. Person from the Resume*

    Can I just say I love Alison’s answer?
    LW: I worry she will think I hate her if I ask privately in the direct manner I would with someone else. What do I do?
    AAM: Ask privately in a direct manner.

    Because you know what you should do, LW. You don’t want to because of possible awkwardness; although, I’m not quite sure how kindly delivered feedback could be twisted into “she hates me.” I’d expect embaressment and while I don’t like to deliver news to someone that may embaress them, and she may be embaressed in the moment, you are saving her many future moments where she doesn’t come off great even if she doesn’t know it.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Unfortunately, this is a part of a leadership job. Sometimes we have to have that awkward conversation. It’s best to start to find your path through this type of thing. One thing I have found helpful is to think of young, naïve me and think about what type of explanation would be the most helpful and the least embarrassing to me at that time. I don’t think you can do this without some embarrassment. For me, I try to tie in a story where I did something similar or painful and talk about how I fixed it. People like stories for the most part, and a story of my own missteps can help level the playing field, as in, “I have been where you are also with my own version.”

      If you want inspiration on how to do this conversation, take a look at the first question today and the readers’ responses. So many folks are talking about what happened to them.

      1. SeattleGal*

        Just to clarify, I am not her manager. My position is a high level leadership one but it’s a program manager individual contributor position not a people leader.

        1. Hippeas*

          It may be even more helpful for this feedback to come from you, then, since your view of her doesn’t impact her performance appraisal.

  13. The Lexus Lawyer*

    As someone who loves fashion (part of the reason I became a lawyer was the clothes) and enjoys their disposable income, I feel this so much.

    I like Alison’s advice about being ok to talk one on one but not in front of others. Also, you shouldn’t feel weird about it. Even if you weren’t senior to her, this kind of topic is not appropriate in the workplace.

  14. Blarg*

    With a person new to their career who is interested in fashion, this may also be aspirational. “When I’m at OP’s level, I’ll be able to afford x.” I see this as similar to talking about travel, back when we used to do such things, that the conversation would frequently shift to the cost of airfare or hotels. All of that feels really normal. I get shutting it down if it isn’t a convo you want to have, and the script provided is great, but I don’t think it is inherently rude or a problem. Fashion is FUN and talking about money shouldn’t be taboo — the more open we are about how much we make and the less we hide how we spend it, the better. I know I’ve introduced many people to ThredUp and my favorite local consignment shops, as well as the joys of points and miles for travel because these conversations came up at work. Maybe I’m a weirdo though.

    1. SeattleGal*

      LW Here. This is actually how I see it as well, and it’s why I don’t find Ava’s questions rude, just awkward in front of others.

      1. Not A Manager*

        If you don’t find her questions rude, and you actually don’t mind answering them in private, then I think you can make the conversation even MORE warm if you want to. Conveying “you and I have a shared interest that transcends office conversation” is lovely and personalized. Coupling it with “and therefore we shouldn’t get too into the weeds in the actual office” won’t dilute that overall message.

        “Guess what? In addition, this is really the kind of thing people don’t discuss in the office” really becomes optional at that point, although it’s still a kindness to give her that information.

    2. Gnome*

      Sorry, but you lost me at “fashion is FUN” as shopping for clothes is like my own personal Hell inside a DMV during a layover full of screaming babies.

      I wear all my clothes until they die.

      1. Sauron*

        I wish I was you. I would save so much money. There are some articles of clothing I feel this way about (looking at you, jeans) but I am a chronic shopper for the stuff I love…I have so much athleisure!

      2. Does Axl Have a Jack?*

        I was going to say I wish I could relate for the sake of my bank account, but then I realized, I feel the same way about purse shopping! I am incredibly picky and my criteria are apparently hard to come by, so when I find one I like I use it every day until it dies a floppy, scuffed death.

      3. DrunkAtAWedding*

        I felt this way until I started sewing, and realised the problem was I actually have very specific tastes and care about how clothes fitting, and finding off the rack stuff that’s even halfway to what I want is exhausting, so I just give up immediately.

        Also, it turns out I have weirdly narrow shoulders, at least compared to the measurements of the models used to base clothing sizes on.

        1. Marion Ravenwood*

          I also make a lot of my own clothes and feel similarly. Although for me it’s more that recent fashion trends are just not my style, so I’d rather sew stuff myself and know I’m getting what I want rather than exhaust myself traipsing round shops or endlessly scrolling online.

      4. allathian*

        Ha, me too. Or until I grow too fat to wear them anymore. That said, I absolutely have to try clothes on before buying, just to feel the material, etc. So as much as I hate shopping for anything and particularly for clothes, I still do that in person, because returning clothes I don’t want to keep seems like too much work. I hate shopping in general, so when I go, I have to be reasonably sure that I’ll find something I like. This is a reason why I never go to thrift shops, because I never know if there’s going to be anything there that I’ll like or that’ll fit me. I guess I’m happy that I can afford to shop in boutiques that specialize in big sizes. I don’t mind paying $100 for a pair of jeans when I know that I’ll wear them until they drop off me, so about 5 years. I couldn’t care less if they’re out of style, though.

  15. SeattleGal*

    I am the LW today. I wanted to say thank you to Alison and to everyone who has commented. You all have given me the courage to speak with her about it. I came from a background where office norms were not taught to me and learned many lessons through the kindness of colleagues. ‘Ava’ deserves the same.

    1. Jora Malli*

      I’m so glad you’re going to talk to her! It may be awkward in the moment, but if you make sure to mention how much you enjoy talking to her and go on to treat her exactly the same way you always have, I think you’ll be totally fine!

    2. ThatGirl*

      Yes! Think of it as doing her a favor — you’re being kind by helping her learn these things now.

    3. BA*

      LW, the one thing I’d suggest that you could add to Alison’s script, both to help ensure the message is understood as warm and friendly, and to sort of reinforce the point that you’re finding deals on things is to finish up by saying, “…and let me show you one of my favorite sites where I’ve found some great stuff at fantastic prices….” You are giving her some insider information that you’d give a friend and then tipping her off that the shoes she’s speculating about might not be coming at retail prices.

  16. Emi*

    Hi, I am one of the people who feels awkward about any hint I’ve ever done anything that landed in a less-than-ideal manner, and I totally agree with this advice. I still want to know if I’m overstepping, and I would much, much rather hear about it clearly and soon than realize I’ve been missing hints for a while. This kind of “be direct and then move on with warmth” is a huge kindness.

    1. Rolly*

      It’s unfortunate that people here who are clearly uncomfortable speaking frankly to coworkers give advice on how to avoid speaking frankly to a coworker when the solution to the problem is speaking frankly to a coworker.

      OP – tell her. Tell her privately if you like, but tell her. This is a kindness to her. Either way, tell her.

    2. PeanutButter*

      Yep. My brain likes to replay awkward moments where people had to correct my behavior 10+ years ago while I’m falling asleep. A private word about not talking about prices in our shared hobby would be one of them….BUT those old feelings of embarrassment are (somewhat) replaced with warm memories when I remind myself of how those people took the time to help me improve, because they believed in me and wanted to see me succeed.

      1. DrunkAtAWedding*

        I’d rather have that one memory than several memories of awkward conversations that only make sense in hindsight.

    3. DrunkAtAWedding*

      I know I’m definitely very sensitive to criticism, and I agree. There might not be a good way to tell me, but once directly is better than letting me getting wrong dozens of times while hinting subtlely.

    4. Esmae*

      Same! The only thing worse than finding out I’ve done something wrong is finding out I’ve been doing something wrong for months and nobody told me. It’s so much better to find out clearly and soon.

  17. Dark Macadamia*

    This doesn’t really feel like a “private conversation” thing to me, but I guess it depends on how LW has been answering. It should be enough to just say “I’d rather not talk about my spending” or “could you please stop asking how much my things cost?” or, when she starts googling prices, “um, it makes me really uncomfortable when you do that.”

    1. Broadway Duchess*

      Those are pretty aggressive responses. I think they are fine if you just don’t care how it lands, but it seems like OP wants to preserve the relationship. A private conversation would aid that goal.

  18. Rolly*

    OP wrote: “I don’t know how to ask her to stop and to explain that the specifics about money are not something I want to talk about at work, especially in front of other colleagues.”

    OP can say: “Hi Ava, please don’t ask me how much my clothes cost. The specifics about money are not something I want to talk about at work, especially in front of other colleagues.”

    1. BubbleTea*

      Well, the wording isn’t the difficulty. The problem is trying to communicate the message in a way that isn’t damaging to the work and social relationship, and won’t be interpreted more seriously/negatively than is intended. It’s easy to say “stop doing the thing”. It’s hard to say “stop doing the thing but that doesn’t mean you’re a bad person for having done it before”.

      1. Rolly*

        “The problem is trying to communicate the message in a way that isn’t damaging to the work and social relationship, and won’t be interpreted more seriously/negatively than is intended. ”

        I don’t understand how you can function if you worry about stuff at this extremely low level of importance. I don’t have time or energy for that. Well done if you can.

        I mean, if asking someone what i wrote is potentially damaging to work/social relationships (to any realistic degree), it seems to me there are deep deep problems somewhere. But I don’t know…..

  19. learnedthehardway*

    Another vote for a private conversation with Ava – make it a “mentoring a junior female employee” talk, and be direct about it. Tell her that while you share her interest in fashion to some extent, that you keep it fairly private at work, and don’t discuss what you have paid for things – for 2 reasons. The first is the general “Women have historically been judged in the work world about their clothing choices, focus on fashion, and clothing budgets, and while our company doesn’t seem to do that, you just never know”, but also, “As a manager, I have to be conscious that many of our employees don’t have the same budget for clothing, and it’s best to avoid talking about clothing costs – or really, any kind of discretionary spending costs that don’t relate to the business. It’s something to be aware of. You haven’t done anything wrong, but as you progress your career, you will find it important to consider how people who don’t have the same resources will feel about your discussion of wardrobe, vacations, etc. etc.”

    1. Does Axl Have a Jack?*

      Another +1, and framing it this way can avoid ‘you did something wrong’ and focus more on ‘let’s both agree to do this to protect ourselves from judgment and be sensitive to others’.

  20. nnn*

    If this should come up before you have a chance for a private direct conversation, another option is to be boring and uninformative.

    For example, when she asks where you got something, look at it baffled for a moment and say “Huh, I have no clue. It’s been in my closet for ages.”

  21. PotsPansTeapots*

    One of the biggest learning curves I had in my first office job was how to navigate relationships with co-workers and learning that comments that would be completely acceptable in a social gathering weren’t acceptable for work. Please, take Ava aside and have a semi-awkward talk with her. If you are as thoughtful in talking to her as you were in your letter, it won’t come off as mean and she will thank you in the future.

  22. Sauron*

    All I can say is – I sympathize with Ava! When I was a new hire I had a coworker, at the same level as me, who dressed in a way that I deeply envied and we had conversations like this all the time. I think at Ava’s age, I might have done this very same thing as well, not necessarily realizing that the context was different and therefore the same conversation wasn’t necessarily appropriate. And I would still have appreciated being told, as awkward as I might have felt about it. Tell her, and if you want, I’m sure she’d appreciate continuing the conversations in other ways!

  23. ecnaseener*

    Since it sounds like LW enjoys the fashion talk and it’s just the price questions specifically that she wants to stop, I might simplify that script to make it feel less like A Big Deal and more like the simple friendly boundary that it is: “By the way, I’ve been meaning to ask if you could stop asking me about prices in front of other people – I don’t like to talk about money at work. Thanks for understanding!”

  24. Failing Up*

    Another vote for direct kindness. Some of these commenters are so strangely non-confrontational (ie: passive aggressive) and think that constantly lying and saying “huh, I don’t know.” each time is going to get a point across. And then those same people will write in the AAM with a question about why that BEC can’t read your mind.

  25. Starfox*

    Any chance this is actually a cultural mismatch? I’m from the Midwest & my immediate reaction to someone complimenting something of mine is to tell them where I got it & how much it cost (especially if I got a good deal!) because that’s just what we do where I’m from. My LA friend thinks it’s very funny that I’m drawn to clearance racks when we go shopping. If she comes from a very different place than the people she’s interacting with she may just not have picked up those norms yet.

    1. Ali + Nino*

      Woah! I commented above that I wondered whether Ava came from another culture where asking about $ is no big deal but I’ve never heard of this point re: volunteering info about how much something cost. Very interesting!

    2. SeattleGal*

      Could be but doubtful! We are both white women in the Pacific Northwest (her born and raised, me since I was in college). But even families differ quite a lot on discussions of money.

  26. Kim*

    At one time earlier in my career I wore very expensive clothes and would occassionally be asked “where do you buy your clothes?”, but nothing as overt as this (in front of a group) . Internet was only in infancy then so no worries there. I usually just said I bought at a consignment shop (sometimes true) or from a deep discounter/close outs . ( I had better luck finding those than most people ). I don’t recall them asking price but they may have. I would recommend having the talk Allison suggests, in combination with downplaying the price.
    Just as an aside, it seems that the “team”has a lot of time on their hands and maybe if they were busier this type of thing would die out on its own. Also, another aside, a salary 4 times higher than a direct report? No wonder there’s no more loyalty in corporate America , but that’s another topic. Perhaps the employee will move on soon for a better paying opportunity.

    1. TechWorker*

      LW doesn’t say they’re a direct report, just that they’re a ‘teammate’. In my company we pay the grads a decent salary (~$52k) and senior technical roles with 10+ years experience absolutely could earn 3-4 times that – most don’t of course, but particularly good ones might and it doesn’t necessarily mean the junior person is underpaid ;)

      1. SeattleGal*

        You are correct. Ava also has no college degree and is brand new to the industry while I have a technical engineering degree related to the type of work we do. There is a large gap in years in the workforce in addition to type of work/education requirements between us. In general it’s a high paying field.

    2. SeattleGal*

      It’s a pretty laughable assumption to make that my teammate and I have too little to do because we make time for a few minutes of chit chat every day but you sound like a real peach.

  27. chiaroscuro*

    I think this might be a generational thing too; people of my cohort (20s, early to late) tend to be much more comfortable discussing prices, money, etc. I don’t think that really matters to the substance of conversation, but could be helpful to keep in mind (both regarding your discomfort and Ava’s extreme comfort). That’s to say, she’s not asking because she’s judging how you spend your money but rather because she just wants to know where you got stuff and if she could afford it too because she likes it so much!

    1. SeattleGal*

      Hi thank you for your perspective! I agree completely, but I wanted to clarify that it’s not that I think Ava is judging me, it’s that the standards for women in the workplace in general are that it’s frivolous to spend money on ourselves and I worry about being punished as such.

  28. June*

    Why do people do this? How much was it? How much weight did you lose? How old are you? These are just polite common place reasonable obvious boundaries.

    1. Ali + Nino*

      Some of it is cultural. I heard of an incident where someone from a much more “open” culture asked an American woman, “Why is your husband so fat?”

    2. BubbleTea*

      I have no issue at all with someone asking me how old I am, what I hate is when assumptions are made and I’m treated accordingly – because I look younger than I am (might be less true these days I guess). I’m also happy to talk about money – I’ll tell you how much I earn (about £30,000 gross at the moment), how much my mortgage is (another £110,000 to go!). This is very cultural, but also very individual. But at work, definitely being more cautious is the right choice.

      1. allathian*

        Ugh, yes. I’m finally old enough to be happy that I look at least slightly younger than my age. This wasn’t so much the case when I was still being carded in bars when I was 26, in an area where the legal drinking age is 18… Things have changed now, though, they’re expected to card everyone they think looks younger than 30.

  29. SAdams*

    I think the direct route is a good one, but maybe offer to steer her towards your second-hand resources, if some of your items come from the resale market. It sounds like she’s just excited to find someone with similar tastes, like being the fan of an obscure band. She probably looks up to you if you are senior to her at work, so there may be a bit of that going on, too.

  30. Essess*

    I always shut down questions like these with a comment like “I am not comfortable discussing money or finances publicly.”

  31. Fikly*

    I ask this question seriously, because it’s something that women are socialized to do without thinking: why do her feelings matter more than yours? All of your concerns and responses are shaped around protecting her feelings at the cost of yours, and even at the cost of your reputation at your company, which you are aware can harm you in many ways.

    1. SeattleGal*

      I hear what you are saying and really appreciate and agree with the sentiment of how women are socialized but I have to disagree as it relates to this situation. I care about her feelings because I genuinely like her and know her and her background well enough to know that her intentions are good but she likely does not understand that her comments are inappropriate, and I want give a little grace because that’s how I would want to be treated if the roles were reversed. But I also care about my own feelings enough to have written in to ask a manager about it and get help to choose how to proceed before any damage has been done. I’m new-ish to this job still so I’ve not let it go on and on at the expense of my career, I simply acknowledged that it could if I let the behavior continue. There have been a lot of times I’ve prioritized others feelings and comfort over my own because of social pressures but I don’t think this is one of them.

  32. DrunkAtAWedding*

    If she’s insecure and sensitive, not telling her she’s doing a thing that makes conversations between you awkward and which you believe will make one or both of you look bad at work is more about being friendly than being a friend. :( I agree it’s better to rip the plaster off than let it drag on.

  33. anonymous73*

    Alison’s wording is great, but you also need to remember that it’s not your job to manage other people’s feelings. Her asking you how much you paid for something – even in private – is rude. If you asking her to stop upsets her, that’s on her, because it’s a perfectly legitimate response to her rude question. As long as you’re not mean or rude yourself in the way you speak to her, you’re fine. I get that people in general want to have good relationships with those they work with, but you can’t always do that with unreasonable and irrational people.

  34. TootsNYC*

    maybe it’s because I’m a mom, and because she’s very young, but I think I’d also point out that just in general, it’s best not to put people on the spot, and also that expenditures and money can create a lot of awkwardnesses, especially in a diverse group like that you get at a workplace.

    The young among us need coaching. It’s important to give is respectfully and from a position of caring about them, but they deserve to know the “why” of the request, and to be told about societal norms they seem unaware of.

  35. River*

    If anyone asks you what the cost of an item is and you feel awkward about sharing that information, just say it was a gift. Obviously there are scenarios where that wouldn’t work such as “How much was your car? House?” etc. What everyday person gifts a car or a house? Gift has been my go-to excuse when I have decided not to share money.

  36. Fae Kamen*

    I kind of think Alison’s script puts too much focus on fashion altogether. The issue is asking about money, and that’s what I’d focus on, leaving fashion almost completely aside or even using it as the next topic to move onto (demonstrating talking about it without talking about money.)

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