should the interviewer dress up, I can’t afford to go to an event recognizing my work, and more

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

1. Should the interviewer dress up?

I’m a fairly senior manager interviewing candidates over Zoom for professional positions (e.g., accountants, lawyers) at my tech company. Our company is fairly informal and I generally wear t-shirts and hoodies and have my hair in a ponytail. But I’m wondering if I should dress a little better, wear some makeup when I interview. Does it look unprofessional or disrespectful to dress so casually when candidates are so dressed up?

I think it’s in everyone’s interests if you show interviewees what things will be like if they work there, so by that standard it’s good to demonstrate what the culture is around dress. That said, it can also feel imbalanced to be interviewing someone who’s in a suit while you’re in a hoodie.

I’d advocate including a mention of your dress code in your interview invitations — like “our dress code is informal (t-shirts, jeans, etc.) and you’re welcome to dress casually for this meeting if you’d like to.” Just make sure anyone else interviewing your candidates knows you gave that guidance, so no one gets penalized for following it.

2. My boss patronizes us

How do I deal with a boss who uses heart-eye emojis and says she is proud of us? It’s infuriating, patronizing, and just feels off. Example, a message from her via Teams to the whole team: “Thank you guys for being flexible this weekend. You are super, I’m so proud of you! 😍”

Note: we work in health care (dealing with national crisis, short-staffed, and in the middle of a desperate war negotiating higher salaries), and we are mostly women in our 30-40’s. It’s difficult to imagine she would talk that way if we were men in a technical field, for example.

Is this an issue? If so, how should she communicate instead? I get that she is trying to show appreciation, but at least for me, this is definitely not working.

That does sound patronizing and irritating, and I agree it’s unlikely she’d say it to a group of men. The first part — “thank you for being flexible this weekend” — is good. It’s the “You are super, I’m so proud of you!” that feels like she’s talking to kindergarteners.

That said, it doesn’t rise to the level of you needing to do something about it. It’s just an annoying trait she has. If you’re ever asked to give feedback about her management style, it’s something you could mention … but otherwise I’d just roll your eyes and save your capital for other things (which it sounds like there’s no shortage of).

Read an update to this letter

3. I can’t afford to go to an event recognizing my work

My colleagues and I have been working really hard over the last year on a pretty big project and we’ve been invited to a national awards event as recognition. The event is far away enough to be expensive and awkward to get to, but not far enough away that my organization would pay for an overnight stay.

I would love to go! I’ve worked really hard on this project and it’s the first piece of real recognition I’ve had for my efforts. BUT, I just can’t afford it. I can’t afford the travel expenses (which may or may not be reimbursed as it’s an optional weekend evening event), and I absolutely can’t afford to buy a formal gown appropriate for a gala event. I’m torn between claiming a previous engagement and being honest with my manager about the reason I can’t go — that it’s too much expense for my limited budget to handle.

My manager is a good person who would be horrified this is the barrier for me to attend. At the same time, I would hate to be so vulnerable and then be met with “okay, no problem.” I want to go (the networking opportunities alone would be fantastic) but I also have to pay my bills. Any thoughts on how to navigate the realities of being poor in an industry not noted for its inclusivity?

You should be matter-of-fact about it! “I’d love to go, but the travel expenses and an appropriate dress are out of my budget.” There’s nothing shameful about that! And don’t be upset by the prospect of “okay, no problem” in response — while ideally they would cover your travel expenses (and who knows, by saying this you might find out that they will), it would be pretty unusual for an employer to cover the cost of something to wear, so “okay, no problem” would just mean “I understand, sorry to hear it” not “too bad for you, peasant!”

(But also, make sure you’re right that you’d need a formal gown! A lot of these events are business formal — meaning suits or business dresses — rather than social formal.)

Read an update to this letter

4. My colleagues are pushy about my travel logistics when I spend an extra night in a location

I’m a mid-career six-figure professional in a white-collar office job. My previous roles have sometimes had up to 80% travel (three weeks out of four back to back or similar) and I’ve almost always booked my own flights, either directly or through a third-party expense system. I consider various factors like what time the first event is on day 1 and the last event on the last day, the cost of flights during the week vs. weekend (this can sometimes be hundreds of dollars less), how expensive flights are at certain times (again, this can add up to hundreds of dollars in savings), non-stop or direct flights vs. multiple legs, and hotel check-out time, transportation to the job site, and how feasible it is to be lugging luggage around all day to check out of the hotel in the morning. I try to balance it all out and get the best possible deal for the company with the minimum amount of pain and inconvenience for myself.

However, recently I had a day where my final event on site ended at around noon. Multiple people asked me, “Oh, are you flying back today?” I was not — it so happened for reasons I detailed above, it made more sense to spend the night and fly back first thing in the morning. It left me rattled and annoyed though, like I was missing something. People were advising me to call the airline and switch and were just so pushy and obtuse about it.

Am I the baddie here? It seems so odd to me that these people (peers or one level above me) were so pushy and insistent on this and concerned with it, and the most important, pressing thing in the world was for me to be on a plane the second the meeting was over. What is the norm or expectation for when the flight is, post-event, if the event is less than a full office day?

Are you sure people weren’t pushing you to fly back that day out of concern for you, rather than the company’s finances? People often make this sort of remark when they’re trying to look out for you and your quality of life — the subtext is “don’t feel you need to stay away from home another night!” If it’s clear that’s not what they meant and they are in fact concerned that you are being profligate with the organization’s money, you can just say, “Nope, I’ve run the numbers; this is the most economical way to do it.” But it’s highly likely that they’re just feeling protective of you.

5. Can my employer dock my PTO even if I worked extra hours earlier in the week?

I live and work remotely in the state of Florida and I’m an exempt employee. I’m a manager of people. I Iog my billing and not billable hours daily.

Can my employer dock my time off when I work more than 40 hours in less than a week if I’m salaried and I ensure all deliverables are met? If I work 45 hours in four business days and decide to take half day off on a Friday (the hours are now 49) ensuring all deliverables are met, can my employer dock my PTO hours?

If I work 46 hours in five business days and I was responsibly unavailable for three hours in one day due to a medical appointment, can my employer legally dock my sick time?

Yes to all of those scenarios. Being exempt means that your employer can’t dock your pay when you work less than a full week (except in some narrowly defined circumstances), but they can dock your PTO even if you worked additional hours in the rest of the week. This is a bad practice (you get no credit a day where you work extra hours, but docked on a day when you work fewer — it’s unfair), but it’s also weirdly common.

Related: can my employer dock my time off when I work less than 40 hours if I’m salaried?
my manager is nickeling and diming me on vacation time while I’m working 27 days in a row

{ 436 comments… read them below }

  1. nnn*

    For #4, if they are in fact concerned about you personally, you could slip something into the script to address that. “It turns out staying another night and flying home tomorrow is more economical for the company AND I find it less stressful! Win-win!”

    (But, as ever, read the room – one side-effect of living in a society where a stated value is hard work is some people interpret “I am doing the thing that’s less stressful for me” as “I am cheating the system and/or being lazy”)

    1. JSPA*

      “Thanks, but this is what’s best for me.”

      “Thanks, but these plans meet my needs.”

      “Thanks, but this is what fits my own schedule best.”

      “Thanks, but no, I’m going to go put my feet up and relax for an hour now. Have a good flight!”

      “thanks, but these days, I prefer to travel well- rested.”

    2. Asenath*

      When I did a lot of work travelling, comments about my schedule were often out of concern for me. Many people wanted so badly to avoid spending another night away from home that they’d check out of their hotels and bring their luggage to the last session – often to the secon-last session, skipping the last one. I, on the other hand, would often find it better to stay over another night, especially since the relative locations meant that leaving the conference in the afternoon meant I arrived home on one of those appalling 3 AM flights, meaning I wasn’t rested enough the following morning to do anything anyway. So I simply said, if questioned, something like “No, my flight is in the morning. I can’t handle travelling in the wee hours!” or “I won’t be fit for anything tomorrow/I’ll lose tomorrow if I travel overnight; I’m getting a good rest and taking a morning flight.”

      1. Smithy*

        This – I will also say that the balance between the rush home vs preferring to stay the extra night very often has to do with people who have different home preferences/needs. There are the more obvious needs around caretaking family, but even those with only pets – having that extra night away can be both a financial and emotional separation they don’t relish extending.

        I think you can add people who do/don’t check luggage when traveling into this mix as well. For some having their bags with them/avoiding baggage claim is the peak travel experience. For others, having more stuff for different situations and options is more important. For the most part, I think people in either camp intellectually understand the other side….but in no way does it strongly change their preference.

      2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        It’s funny, because I greatly prefer to spend the extra night in the hotel and fly back the next day. It gives me a chance to relax and lessens the odds that I will need to search for my car in the airport parking garage at 2:00 a.m.!

        Granted, if that decision was going to cost my employer a lot more money, I would not do it, but it is pretty clear the OP is taking all of that into consideration.

    3. Daisy*

      I live a multiple-hour drive from the airport. I don’t want to fly into my “home airport” in the late afternoon/early evening and spend most of the night driving home – not an evening person, tired from traveling, plus dark is dangerous for me. My best options are to leave early morning or spend the night at a hotel near the airport, and I much prefer leaving the next morning after a good night’s sleep. Folks living closer to airports just can’t wrap their head around the end of the flight doesn’t mean I’m almost home.

      1. Weekender*

        This exactly!!!! I plan my flights home around this if I can. Not to mention flying into a big city and now I have to deal with rush hour and make the drive home even longer.

      2. Coffee Anonymous*

        Hear, hear. I’m just under 90 minutes from the nearest reasonable airport, which still isn’t large. I never check bags, but if I’m on a small regional jet where anything bigger than a backpack gets gate checked, I’m waiting 15 minutes for my bag. Landing at 11 means it’s 1 or 1:30 before I get home, and in the winter that can be a rough drive. Let’s not forget that flight delays tend to stack up throughout the day, so it’s more likely I’ll miss a connection and end up unexpectedly spending the night in DFW/ORD/MSP/ATL anyway. All in all, I’d much rather spend one more night at my destination and get the first flight out in the morning.

        1. JustMyImagination*

          I worked with someone who always traveled out the next day. They were a morning person anyways and a 15 minute delay in the morning for extra plane maintenance could easily turn into an hour+ delay by the night with how quickly those planes need to be turned around again.

          I always fly out ASAP and whenever I get hit with a delay on an evening flight, I think of him.

          1. KatEnigma*

            My husband got back from a business trip just this week. He books through a 3rd party site where it “flags” to his boss if he doesn’t take the cheapest flights- it lets him book it, but he has to justify it. Well, the 2nd to last flight of the night was $35 more than the last flight of the night. He had to be home that night because of morning carpool for our 5 yr old. So his justification was “the last flight of the night isn’t reliable” This is a known factor, and his boss didn’t even blink.

      3. londonedit*

        My dad travelled a lot for work before he retired (we’re talking once or twice a week from the UK to a European city) and his preference was to get up at stupid o’clock, drive two hours to Heathrow, get the first flight, do his meetings etc and then fly home in the late afternoon/evening, so he’d be back at maybe 9 or 10pm. He hated staying in hotels and preferred to just get back so that he could be back in the office the next day. But he was senior enough that meetings would be arranged to fit in with his schedule, so he’d do morning meetings – business lunch – maybe one short meeting in the afternoon, and then everyone knew he’d be off to the airport. Personally I’d be exhausted if I tried to do that, but to my dad it was the most sensible approach.

        1. KatEnigma*

          My husband wants to do that- his boss won’t approve it and says he has to stay for at least 2 days “to justify the trip”, even though it costs the company more money to pay for the hotel.

        2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          I once flew from Manchester to Glasgow, presented, then got a train from Glasgow to Edinburgh and presented to a second team, then flew back to Manchester, all in one day. Although each hop was under an hour, the full day was around 14 hours and I was exhausted for the rest of the week. Worthwhile for the career progression and TOIL but not something I was willing to repeat.

      4. Mockingjay*

        This. I usually have to drive 4 – 5 hours to my home office, depending on interstate construction (ugh). (Flying is too convoluted – regional airport to big hub to regional airport – it can be 10 – 14 hours total travel.)

        After a week of meetings, I am usually exhausted. The last thing I want to do is get on the interstate late in the day. Sure, I’d like to be home in my own bed, but I’d also like to not crash due to fatigue. I leave the next morning when I’m well rested and can have breakfast.

        1. KatEnigma*

          We used to live in BFE, where our choices were drive 10 minutes to the tiny regional airport where you could carry on a purse or small briefcase to MSP and had to run from one end of the airport to the other, drive an hour to the bigger regional airport where you could have carry ons on the plane and at least usually connected from the same terminal, or drive 4 1/2 hours to MSP.

          We tried all 3. If corporate was paying to check his bags, my husband would usually take the jump jet to MSP. But otherwise, it just made more sense to drive to MSP, even if it meant staying the night near the airport. It was the least bad of all our bad options.

          And it’s why we relocated to within 30 minutes of a major airport when his “permanent remote, may have to fly to the office once a year” turned into flying in every 3-4 weeks.

      5. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        That is a good point, and what I consider a very valid excuse to stay the extra night even if it costs more. There is no reason to take on that level of inconvenience and even safety risk to accommodate the employer.

    4. RIP Pillow Fort*

      I honestly have just accepted that people are weird about not having the same priorities when travelling.

      I mean case in point- I’m about to travel for work and I’m getting sooooo many comments about how I’m not flying but driving. I’m fine with it, but people can be weirdly insistent that I’m doing something “wrong.” It works for me and I understand getting back quicker is what’s important to them.

      1. bones*

        I came here to say this!!! It’s nearly as bad as people judging your parenting choices. It doesn’t affect them at all, and yet…they’re so concerned about how you handle travel. (FWIW, I, too, prefer driving when I can swing it!)

        I avoid traveling on the same flight/time schedule as my colleagues for this very reason. One time, I couldn’t avoid it and we were all booked on the same flight. I showed up at the airport and hid behind a pole in the gate area so I didn’t have to talk to them before we actually left. :D

      2. Choo Choo*

        I dislike flying and prefer traveling by train whenever possible. As long as the train tickets were cheaper than the airplane tickets my travel approvers were fine with it, but I quickly learned not to tell my coworkers that I’d be leaving the night before and taking an overnight train instead of flying out in the morning. (I sleep great on trains.) It made everyone deeply concerned for my health and quality of life if I talked about it.

        1. Hannah Lee*

          On a return trip once from a company meeting in London, I didn’t realize a dozen+ other people from different departments at our Boston HQ were booked on the same flight. I’d gotten to the airport earlier than the other folks going to Boston for some reason, and when I checked in, I saw the seat assignments and my seat was near the smoking section, so I changed it to a “better” seat away from smoking. I got checked in, boarded and had an easy, restful, decompressing flight back to Boston.

          Waiting for my luggage in Boston, all my co-workers on the same flight came up to me “THERE you are!! Where were you!!! We missed you on the upper deck” Whoever arranged travel had booked everyone on that flight on the upper deck as a perk, and they all had a grand ol time drinking and chatting and gossiping the whole way home. While yeah, I might have enjoyed the upper deck experience on a long flight, I was SO happy I’d made the change!

          After nearly a week of spending nearly every waking hour with squads of co-workers, another 5-6 hours of non-stop socializing was much less appealing to me than vegging out with a book, my headphones and some shuteye.

      3. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        Honestly, give me a train option and I will likely take it every time! Flying is a pain, and driving is better a lot of the time, depending on where I am going (not just distance, but whether it is a traffic situation I passionately wish to avoid).

      4. Rosalind Franklin*

        Our office is about 15 minutes from a small, regional airport, and it’s a 2 hour+ drive to a major airport. I always do the drive and fly a big plane direct, if I can manage it. For starters, I’m not a great flyer and enjoy the decreased bumps on a big plane. But somehow my colleagues have the worst luck, and I’m always gently teasing them for the 2 hour connection that somehow turned into a day+ journey, while I have half the risk of a significant delay (and if I do have a significant delay, I can always turn around and go home).

        “Yes Christine, I’m so glad you saved yourself the hour and a half extra drive – how was Atlanta??”

    5. BethDH*

      I wonder if OP is going into a little too much detail about the cost research when they talk to these colleagues.
      If the description in the letter is what they’re saying to colleagues, I admit I personally would be concerned that they’re really doing it for costs. I made these comments a LOT when I moved from an underfunded non-profit to a better-funded org. Obviously I’m not saying OP is doing that, just that I think they’re inadvertently saying the same thing as someone would when cost is their primary motivator.

      1. GrooveBat*

        Yeah, I would take these comments to be reflective of concern for the OP. Like, people are trying to reassure them that it’s OK to switch a flight, which otherwise OP might hesitate to do because of the change fees involved. At any rate, I really don’t see it has anything to get that bent out of shape about.

        1. KatEnigma*

          Just FYI, no change fees since Covid. None of the major airlines have (yet) reinstated them. You just have to pay the difference in the flight costs, if there is one.

      2. Daisy*

        Ohhh, good point. Unless you are in a skewed profession where “we work to do good in the world, not for a paycheck” it is generally accepted that work travel is for the good of the company and employees should be treated as humans. The days of folks turning themselves inside out for guaranteed advancement and to make the company’s balance sheet look a tiny bit better are coming to an end in most places. There is more expectation that workers provide good value for a fair wage. I suspect OPs peers are worried she is going through unneeded dificulties.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          I work for a nonprofit and even though there are grant-based restrictions (like I can’t pay even an extra $15 to select a seat closer to the front when flying on federal government grant funding–which is important to me as a disabled person who doesn’t fit well onto a plane), they still don’t nickel and dime to the point that I can’t fly out the next day and spend an “extra” night in a hotel. LW4 may be doing what’s best for them, which is fine, but I think they may be overvaluing saving the company comparative peanuts when it comes to their bottom line.

          1. Slow Gin Lizz*

            Yes, it’s possible that the colleagues are concerned that OP is disadvantaging themselves in order to save the company money. OP, there are so many reasons that commenters here have written as to why you might want to fly the next day rather than immediately after your work responsibilities are finished and if those are your reasons, then go ahead and stay another night. But if the only reason to stay is that you want to save the company money, you should feel free to fly home as soon as you are able if you feel like staying another night is a hardship. If you are flying because of work, you should be allowed to spend a little extra money to ensure that traveling doesn’t become more stressful than it already is. But I think you should do whatever makes you the most comfortable; spending extra money to leave early or spending an extra night so that you fly when you would prefer to fly are both valid options here.

        2. Corgis rock*

          This is where you can tell how experiences shape people’s perceptions. My initial thought wasn’t that they were concerned for OP but thought OP should fly back when the meeting was over so they could be in the office the next day.

          1. Lea*

            That too! If you save the company 100 bucks in money but lose them 8 hours in salary time the calculation would look much different

      3. Willis*

        Yes! A bunch of commenters have reasons they’d prefer to stay another night, which is fine. But the OP’s reasons sounded like they were mostly related to saving the company money vs “this is how I would choose to do it, even if everything cost the same.” And in a lot of cases, it’s ok / the norm to value your own convenience over saving some money when you’re traveling for business.

      4. Lea*

        Oh good point!

        My employer wants you to pick reasonable flights and all that, but they also don’t want people traveling on the weekend, especially for cost reasons. There are other factors involved

    6. WellRed*

      I prefer staying the extra night when it’s reasonable to do so. And I make the most of it. I’m headed soon to an event where unfortunately, it finishes early afternoon but the flight isn’t till early evening. Yep, I’m on the flight and will be exhausted the next day.

      1. Hakky Chan*

        As someone who is booking the travel, it truly is the balance between cost and employee wellness. Is it really worth saving a few dollars if your co-worker is exhausted? That has its own cost as well! Plus what OP4 mentioned about how much the flights can vary day to day. I don’t know if it was this ridiculous pre-Covid, as I’ve only added travel planning as a task in the past 6 months or so.

        As well, when co-workers end up at cool locations, they take a couple of vacation days to enjoy it (they cover their expenses for those days, of course). Pushing the return flight out a couple of days ends up saving the company a few hundred dollars than the original return trip, the employee is happy to get a mini-vacation, so it’s win-win all around.

        1. KatEnigma*

          Yes, it was like this Pre-Covid. It’s basic supply and demand. It’s always going to be cheaper to fly on Tuesday and Saturday than on Monday and Friday when all of the business world is trying to get to and from locations for a weeks’ worth of meetings.

    7. NotRealAnonforThis*

      I’m going to be honest and say that what I hear when I hear the same commentary that OP4 is hearing, it really meant “you need to come into the office the next day and you flying the next day is giving you free time off and you’re gaming the system”. Because that’s what OldJob meant when they questioned if I needed to stay over an extra night.

      They couldn’t grasp that an 8 pm flight (CST) that landed at 9:30 CST meant I was getting home at 2 a.m. EST or later and I was NOT going in the next day anyways. (I don’t live in the CST zone, I live in the EST zone, I’m a solid hour from the airport, there’s laughable public transportation, and its not a tiny airport so I’m having to take a shuttle for long-term parking at dark o’clock.)

      1. NaoNao*

        LW 4 here: OH. That “no fair you get a “free day off”!” never occurred to me. Yeah, spending the day rushing for the plane, in the TSA lines and on the plane is so relaxing, I really treasure those precious hours. /s.

        But the weird part is most of us work in the airport lounge, on the plane, etc. I will say I am often surrounded by people who squeeze work out of every minute and work 12-14 hours, martyr themselves for work and feel angry and outraged that others do not-or appear to prioritize anything but work.

        1. Velociraptor Attack*

          This extra context definitely makes it seem like it’s this situation where people think you’re extending time off and taking a mini vacation and are big mad about it, especially if they’re all flying back right away and in the office the next day and that’s typical of the work you do.

          That said, I don’t necessarily think you’re doing anything wrong but it does seem like it’s standing out as an outlier in your industry.

        2. NotRealAnonforThis*

          Yeah, given that further context, it sounds like my some of my former management at OldJob. And there’s a reason its OldJob. Not the only reason, but boy did it play into my decision….

    8. to varying degrees*

      “No, I decided to go back home tomorrow.” You are taking ownership of the decision and their concerns are alleviated. Easy-peasy.

    9. velomont*

      For me one of the bonuses of staying the extra night is that I get a bit of time to myself, dinner, drink, and a book and maybe a chance to scope out something interesting in a different place.

      I have a huge need for those few hours of alone time.

    10. NaoNao*

      LW “Get ur nose outta my plane” here! I did get more than a whiff of “if you do the slightest thing to increase your comfort level, you are lazy and borderline stealing from the company” partly because one of the people who asked was at a higher level and I did try the brush off “Oh, it worked out better this way” and they pushed. I went into some detail “it was 6 of 1, half dozen of the other–a today-flight was more pricey but the extra night at the hotel is the same price so…” and they started verbally tallying up imaginary food + transpo for that extra day! I limply said I would check flights for later to get them off my back but I was fuming internally. Part of it was the implication that I didn’t know how to do math or that I wasn’t competent at balancing the various factors to save the company money.

      I admit I often miss what is “obvious” to others and can be absolutely oblivious to those type of social norms. It’s a little embarrassing to have to ask but it’s been weighing on my mind since then because THREE people asked on one day!

      But also it might matter: this was in Minnesota, where they have bumper stickers and fridge magnets talking about “Minnesota Nice” or “Midwestern Nice” that I infer to mean a slightly edgy well-meaning passive aggressiveness.

      1. bleh*

        Lived in North Dakota and I called it ND Lies rather than ND Nice. It’s basically a way to lie to outsiders faces using soft language and then stab them when they aren’t there.

    11. Girasol*

      Seems like the motivation behind peers advising OP #4 to return early might be either that they had been waiting to meet face to face with OP and didn’t want to wait any longer, or because they felt they had to rush their return from a trip and they’re jealous that the OP is so relaxed about it. I used to have to catch a flight on Sunday morning, cutting the weekend short, return midweek after midnight, exhausted, and show up promptly for work the next morning. It was a company culture thing that I never had the chutzpah to push back on. I hope I would not have been as meddlesome as OP’s peers but I would have been thinking, “Hey, how come OP gets to do that and I don’t?”

    12. Ama*

      It sounds like this is not the case for the OP, but I did once have a private chat with my direct report because they had chosen to travel out to an upcoming event a full day earlier than they needed to (event started on Tuesday at lunch and they were arriving on Sunday). But I did so because our colleague who manages our event planning is notoriously bad at work-life boundaries and she was going out Sunday so I was worried she’d pressured my report into traveling on a weekend. My report said it was actually easier to get herself to the airport on mid-day Sunday than early in the morning on Monday so I left it at that (although I did reiterate that it would never be a problem if she scheduled her work travel so she didn’t have to give up part of her weekend).

      So it could just be colleagues making sure that OP knows they don’t *have* to stay an extra day, but yes they should definitely back off once OP says they are fine with it. (I have definitely had those coworkers who just couldn’t accept that anyone would choose to make travel plans differently from their own preferences, though, so I get how annoying it is.)

    13. Lea*

      Their may also be standards and rules that op is not aware of? My org has rules about all sorts of travel things, including leave adjoining travel. You can do stuff but you have to get special approvals.

      In addition meetings scheduled to end at noon include an expectation that employees go home that day. Op might be missing something here.

    14. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

      I think a lot of people, especially executives, want to get home to family ASAP. Or, they want to pay the switch fee to get back to the office for a client meeting or something.
      But I’m like you and don’t mind spending another night at the hotel if that made economic sense.

  2. Waving not Drowning*

    OP3 – in terms of something nice, but affordable to wear to the event, look at your local Op-shops/second hand shops.

    A few years ago when we had a serious household budget black hole blowout, I accepted a paid position at a function, and discovered 3 days beforehand that I needed to wear a black dress, and heels. Neither were in my wardrobe, and neither were in my budget, but, I needed the money the event was paying. I hit up the local op-shops, found an inexpensive black dress that fit the dress requirements, and more importantly, in my size, and a pair of heels, all for under $15.

    1. GammaGirl1908*

      I didn’t want to assume that LW had not done her due diligence on clothes or does not know her budget, but a dress can be found reasonably. Borrow one from a similarly sized friend. I am not a thrifter, but I’ve given multiple lovely dresses to thrift shops. I’ve done great on the Ross clearance rack, including a dress I got for $19.99 that I wore to a formal wedding (again, I fully understand that $20 for one dress is too much for many people). Just rock the nicest thing in your closet (no one else knows it’s 15 years old) and dress it up with borrowed accessories and big hair and makeup, which go a LONG way.

      Not disagreeing with LW about her budget, but clothes can be hunted down cheap or free.

      1. Books and Cooks*

        I’ve never had much luck with second-hand shops, but OP should definitely try asking around to see if someone has something she could borrow.

        That said, if she can’t afford the travel expenses, it doesn’t matter. I wonder if anyone else from her work is going, and they could split some costs?

        1. Justme, The OG*

          I really haven’t either. I’ve found if you’re plus sized or tall, the pickings are very slim and usually worn out.

          1. Rosalind Franklin*

            The thing with second hand shops is they’re fantastic, if you have time to hunt. Depending on the area, you could be looking at big cat level success rates for your hunt (ie very low).

            Still working on teaching my kids that – no guys, we’re not buying half a barbie just to buy something, we’ll come back next week and see if we find treasure…

      2. Librarian of SHIELD*

        If OP is able to get her boss to pay the travel expenses, I agree that a place like Ross or Marshall’s might have a nice looking dress for a reasonable price. And even if you’ve never had luck in thrift shops before, I think it might be worth it to find one in the wealthier part of town and just have a look. Sometimes thrift shops in rich neighborhoods have really good stuff.

      3. Yorick*

        My friend has gotten formal dresses for events at Goodwill (or something similar), and she’s plus sized. That’s probably not easy to do, but it is possible.

    2. Cookies For Breakfast*

      Seconding this. I worked at a place that hosted industry awards at very prestigious venues in our large city. They were always a big production and the pressure for internal staff to look was very high: what everyone would wear was a talking point for weeks before each event, and the workforce skewed female/20s/Instagram-obsessed. My first few years, I attended wearing secondhand dresses, because they happened to be what I had in my closet from past thrift store purchases, and I didn’t want to buy new formal clothes I’d probably never wear again. They were in excellent condition, one was even new with tags when I bought it. When I happened to mention it to a few colleagues, I got compliments about my choices. Also, the shoes I reused for over 5 years of events cost less than £20 from a fast fashion chain store, and still have lots of life in them (probably because I only wore them that one time a year!). I suspect many attendees also planned their outfits similarly, and looking back at the photos of the events, it’s pretty much impossible to tell who went for budget outfits instead of expensive stuff.

    3. Cookies For Breakfast*

      Seconding this. I worked at a place that hosted industry awards at very prestigious venues in our large city. They were always a big production and the pressure for internal staff to look was very high: what everyone would wear was a talking point for weeks before each event, and the workforce skewed female/20s/Instagram-obsessed. My first few years, I attended wearing secondhand dresses, because they happened to be what I had in my closet from past thrift store purchases, and I didn’t want to buy new formal clothes I’d probably never wear again. They were in excellent condition, one was even new with tags when I bought it. When I happened to mention it to a few colleagues, I got compliments about my choices. Also, the shoes I reused for over 5 years of events cost less than £20 from a fast fashion chain store, and still have lots of life in them (probably because I only wore them that one time a year!). I suspect many attendees also planned their outfits similarly, and looking back at the photos of the events, it’s pretty much impossible to tell who went for budget outfits instead of expensive stuff.

      1. Jolie*

        Formalwear is probably the best/easiest kind of clothing to thrift – a lot of outfits that have only been worn once then sold to recup part of the money spent on it.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Or because it was bought for a particular occasion, but that occasion isn’t going to come again. Bridesmaid dresses are notorious for this. I’d rather pass it on to someone who actually likes it than keep it in my closet until judgement day.

      2. BethDH*

        And if OP is a size or shape that’s harder to find, you can go a long way with accessories from the thrift store too, worn over something black. I didn’t realize for a long time that many thrift stores have a case of jewelry locked up to a side somewhere. Because it’s locked I assumed the stuff in it was expensive but it wasn’t (got amazing stuff for $5) so I assume it’s just high theft.

      3. Fern*

        OP I’m chiming in to say renting formal wear is definitely the way to go. My friend works in development/major gifts, and she usually uses Rent the Runway for getting a dress for those events. I just tried it for a pretty fancy wedding and there are options that are under $100. As far as the travel expenses, I do hope they reimburse you as this sounds like a great opportunity for you!

      1. sb51*

        I was going to suggest a rental—and if the company does offer to try to help, a rental might be something easier to get approved for reimbursement.

      2. Snow Globe*

        I’ve used Rent the Runway, but there are cheaper options. The least expensive outfits there are still probably >$70 for a formal gown.

          1. Bee*

            The shipping costs do bring that up to about $45, but still – you MIGHT be able to find one or two dresses you like in your size for cheaper at a thrift shop, but this way gives you dozens of options in one place for not too much more. (I used RTR for a work-related black tie event recently and wound up with a sequined jumpsuit that I LOVED for about $70 – which it turned out my work was willing to cover!)

            They should definitely pay for the travel expenses, though.

      3. Tupac Coachella*

        A lot of formal shops, bridal stores, and prom shops also do rentals if OP has a little money available but not “buy a new dress I probably won’t use after this” money. I live in a fairly rural area, and was still able to rent my daughter a prom dress for less than $100 within a reasonable distance. She got to try it on, and they cleaned it and even put in a few stitches so it would fit her better. Just be sure to go well in advance of the event, we had to pick it up a few days after our original trip (which was fine, but I wasn’t expecting it).

    4. Artemesia*

      It is rare that events like this are ‘formal’ in the old HS prom notion of formal. A little black dress if you have one, or a cocktail blouse and dark skirt will probably be fine. And re-sale and goodwill type places can be your friend here. Usually this kind of event is men in suits and women in dressy cocktail blouses or modest cocktail dresses (not strapless or long or plunging). Take a look at photos on line from this event last year and see what the range is. I attended a lot of ‘formal’ events in my career and at 95% of one a ‘gown’ would have been out of place. for years I had a long black skirt for the most formal events worn with a silk or silky blouse and it worked well.

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes, I’ve not been to anything in my career that required a ballgown. I’ve had a couple of black tie dinners where one is usually told in advance on the invite that it’s black tie. I’ve got away with black evening trousers and a pretty blouse for that before but now have a proper cocktail dress. If you can accessorise with a nice scarf or a piece of dramatic costume jewellery then you can easily fit in.

        Most of the time though, dinners are business dress and I’d usually interpret that as either a smart suit or a day dress.

        It’s definitely worthwhile checking with the organiser and looking at pictures from previous years to see what is really being required here. It might be easier than you think to use your existing wardrobe or get something in a charity shop.

        1. londonedit*

          Same. Every time I’ve been to a ‘dressy’ event (like an awards ceremony or a book launch in a posh venue) there’s been a whole spectrum of outfits. Some people do go all-out with a glittery dress, but some people wear trousers and a nice top, or a much more casual dress. Basically as long as you’re not in jeans or trainers, you can get away with a lot!

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            This is an important point–if a photo from a past event shows a couple of people in full-on ballgowns, it can represent “Hallelujah, a chance to go all out and not be completely out of sync” rather than “All right-thinking female-presenting people will wear ballgowns.” The dark skirt and silk top mentioned, or a normal business dress, are probably fine.

            LW, I think you should go, wearing either a) something nice and business formal that you already own; b) thrift store black dress; c) rent the runway.

            1. Corgis rock*

              It’s hard to go wrong with a simple black sheath dress. Even a brand new one can be be inexpensive depending on where you shop and it has a pretty good chance of being worn again.
              Hopefully, OP’s employer will at least pay travel expenses because attendance at the event can be good for the entire company.

              1. amoeba*

                Yep – I might just get one at H&M or something – won’t be very glamorous but very probably possible to find something that wouldn’t look out of place!

          2. Butterfly Counter*

            Agreed. I went to a gala last month and, while most men wore your standard nice business suits/ties, the fashion for women ran almost the entire spectrum. I had on a nice cotton dress, what I would wear to work, and was only on the slightly underdressed side of things. There were women there in full prom-ish attire.

            I think I would have felt right in the middle if my dress had just been an LBD instead of a print. My dress was eShakti, which is an online store that is affordable, can tailor to your measurements with only a slight extra charge, and most of their dresses have pockets!

      2. JSPA*

        there is also increasing tolerance for a range of NB / “this is how I present” style, which can open up the options and drop the costs, if you’re comfortable in something less female-formal.

      3. Miette*

        I agree. The best you have, or can borrow, is going to be fine. No one is going to be looking at what you wear, they’re going to be talking about your work.

      4. BethDH*

        Also when looking at photos don’t necessarily focus on the people at the front center. Photographers often focus on the most glamorous people there. It’s like going to the opera — the vibe is fancy, but most people are just wearing one step up from normal business dress (and if you’re where I grew up, there will be lots of people who think that formal means wearing your black fleece).
        If you’re going by what colleagues are talking about wearing, also remember that the ones who are most excited about dressing up will be talking the most. They may skew to the fancy end of the appropriate spectrum for the event.

        1. UKDancer*

          Definitely. I enjoy dressing up for events so go to more effort now because I can afford it. I didn’t when I started. Some people will always dress up more, but that doesn’t mean you have to as long as it’s broadly within dress code.

          Also the photographers tend to photograph people in brightly coloured outfits. When I wore a fuchsia pink satin top with black trousers to a dinner, I was in a lot of pictures because a lot of the other women were wearing little black dresses and the photographer wanted something bright in the picture. The top cost about £15 in Primark but it looked good in the subdued lighting. I think some of the women in black dresses paid a lot more for their outfits than I did for mine.

        2. a tester, not a developer*

          “… formal means wearing your black fleece.”

          Hey, some of us also take the time and effort to wipe down our least scuffed hiking boots too. :)

        3. Smithy*


          I also think that the word “gala” these days is far more used in relationship to fundraiser/nonprofit events and perhaps due to association with events like the Met Gala, feel very formal – but across all guests are not. I used to work at a nonprofit that threw a NYC Midtown “gala” every year and sure if you looked at the photos of the few celebrities who went – they were dressed in clothing I certainly couldn’t afford.

          Every other woman was largely in a basic black dress with black tights/stockings and black shoes. I get that it would be nice to get a nice dress the OP wants to keep forever, but seriously – going to Target/Walmart/TJ Maxx/Ross or getting a nice black dress in their closet dry cleaned can work well. Pair with black tights/stockings and black heels and then any perceived gold/silver or other unified jewelry of their choice will be fine.

          While getting a Target wedding guest dress for $40, is maybe not this OP’s gala night dreams – if they can think of it more like being awarded at a conference, maybe that will help contextualize the clothing. And I can see their boss finding funds to support their travel to/from the event far easier than a clothing expense account.

        4. Selina Luna*

          I’m in New Mexico, where formal for men means wearing jeans without holes. If you want to get really fancy, jeans that are all one color are the way to go. My Dad’s formal jacket literally has leather patches on the elbows and came with a bolero tie–and he HATES looking cowboy.

      5. Aerin*

        And also formal does not equal designer! The last two events I attended that required actual gowns, I got one at a thrift store for $25 and one off the clearance rack at JC Penney for about $30.

        Every other time I’ve attended something where I would need to be “dressed up,” I’ve worn cocktail dresses or slacks and a nice blouse. Noticeable jewelry and some sparkly eyeshadow and you’re good to go.

      6. Swueakrad*

        I agree with this — any dress that isnt obviously summery or super casual will probably work! Especially if it’s black

    5. Just Another Starving Artist*

      Also, if the selection at local secondhand stores is slim, there’s also online thrifting. Poshmark, Depop, ThredUp etc. Just know your measurements before purchasing anything, of course.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Yeah, I would nope out of that. I literally can’t because of hemiplegia – my right leg doesn’t work well, my balance is horrible, and the first step I took I would either fall over or sprain/break my ankle. If I was told I had to wear it I would pitch a hissy, at the very least. How do they deal with enbies?

    6. LondonLady*

      #OP3 a long black skirt can be an inexpensive purchase (look for second hand / thrift options) and will be a useful investment, to wear with different fancy tops, for years to come. Hiring a dress can also be an option. But DO tell your boss that you can’t fund attending out of your personal budget and ask if this is a reasonable work expense claim. Honouring your work will reflect well on your employer and should provide good PR and networking opportunities, so it’s in their interests for you to be able to attend.

    7. Raw Flour*

      +1. Long story short, I am not C-suite but I was invited to a C-suite reception at a tech conference. I felt that my outfit was perfectly fitting/appropriate; it cost me $26 ($13 dress, $13 shoes) from Ross. I avoid fast fashion when I can do so economically but when you’re on a very limited budget, discount shops are the way to go.

    8. Just Another Zebra*

      This time of year is actually a great time to hit up some formal-wear shops for end of year sales. New bridal / bridesmaids gowns show up in February(ish), so they spend the slow season (now) clearing out their racks. OP may be able to get a sample in great condition for a really great price.

    9. goddessoftransitory*

      I was going to recommend an online rent-a-dress service. They’re similar to the idea of renting a tux. If that’s the only expense she can’t cover, it might be a feasible ideal.

    10. EJC*

      I recently borrowed a gown for a gala event from my local Buy Nothing group. OP could look into that too.

    11. TootsNYC*

      and once you’ve worn that dress from the consignment shop, you can take it back to them to sell again!

  3. GingerCookie*

    Once I stole a dress from macy’s to go to a conference. Idk may not be your style. I was young and stupid. But you should definitely mention the cost of the travel being prohibitive so that they maybe offer to pay.

    1. Emmers*

      I never stole a dress but I know lots of people (myself included) who have purchased head to toe interview outfits and returned them after the interview is over. When you are young and broke you gotta get creative. However I can’t recommend this method for the fancy work event because most fancy dresses have tags on the outside specifically to make it hard to wear them to a function and return.

      1. No formal dress needed*

        OP, do not do this! It’s theft as much as actually shoplifting a dress. It’s not necessary to spend a lot of money. I have attended a lot of gala events. When I was a few years younger, I wore a $50 dress I bought on Amazon to an event that industry execs paid $5,000 per ticket to attend.

        1. Nobby Nobbs*

          I watched too many kid-coms in my youth where someone tried this and the snazzy clothes got destroyed, leaving them on the hook, to try something like this even if I was okay with stealing!

          1. Riot Grrrl*

            Exactly. Also, if the hamster dies, you cannot replace it with an exact lookalike; they can always tell.

            1. Aggretsuko*

              A former coworker of mine ACTUALLY DID THAT WITH THE HAMSTERS. She had a revolving door of hamsters mysteriously dying and her 4-year-old was traumatized easily by animal death. She got away with it the first two times, but daughter discovered corpse #3 on her own.

              Last I heard before the coworker quit, they were going to get a dog.

        2. I should really pick a name*

          I’m not advocating for this approach, but I’m honestly curious why you consider it equivalent to shoplifting.

          1. Irish Teacher*

            I assume because in both cases, the shop does not get the money for the dress and in both cases, the person who does it is getting the use of the dress and not paying for it.

              1. londonedit*

                They can’t if it’s been worn. I knew a few people who tried this sort of thing when we were at uni – buying a dress to wear on Saturday night and (trying to) return it on the Monday morning. Shop staff are trained to look out for things that have been worn and they won’t accept them for return. So then you’re stuck with a £100 dress and no £100.

                1. I should really pick a name*

                  But if the shop doesn’t accept the return, the shop isn’t out any money.
                  That’s why I’m not understanding the “equivalent to shoplifting”.

                  Either the shop can resell it, so they’re not out any money, or they don’t believe they can resell it, so they don’t accept the return, and they’re still not out any money.

                2. Valancy Snaith*

                  Just because a store accepts the return doesn’t mean it’s sellable. Plenty of stores have policies to accept the return and then destroy the merchandise, usually in the name of customer satisfaction.

          2. Corgis rock*

            It’s called “Wardrobing” and while you might not get arrested for it the retail industry does consider it fraud. It does cause them to lose money because it’s not as simple as just putting it right back on the rack to be sold immediately. After accepting the return they may discover it’s actually damaged, if they have a “we take everything back” policy like LL Bean used to they could be accepting obviously destroyed merchandise back, returns sometimes have to go through a process that costs the companies money in terms of employee hours, sometimes by the time something is returned and ready to go back on the sales floor it’s out of season and may end up being significantly discounted it not sell at all.

            1. londonedit*

              I imagine it’s also terrible for cashflow if they’ve got a load of people who are ordering £300 worth of stock to take photos for Instagram or whatever and then returning the vast majority, if not all, of it.

      2. No formal dress needed*

        OP, do not do this! It’s theft as much as actually shoplifting a dress. It’s not necessary to spend a lot of money. I have attended a lot of gala events. When I was a few years younger, I wore a $50 dress I bought on Amazon to an event that industry execs paid $5,000 per ticket to attend.

      3. Mockingjay*

        I used to work in Customer Service and processed the returns of these tagged but used clothes. It cost the store a LOT of money.

        We knew, every single time, what you did. Food, perfume, and smoke odors. Deodorant stains. Wrinkles. Snags in the fabric. Makeup stains around the neckline. Sweat and other bodily stains. It’s OBVIOUS that you wore it.

        Those expensive clothes had to be discarded as ruined. We weren’t allowed to put them back on the floor (and wouldn’t, even if we could.)

        Please, on behalf of retail staff and retailers everywhere, just don’t. If you can’t afford it, don’t take it under the guise of “wear and return.” Do without.

  4. Alison S.*

    OP3, for the formal dress, depending on the size, I’ve had good luck at thrift stores for not super formal things. ThredUp is a decent option if you don’t have thrift stores with that kind of stock in your area. It’s usually more expensive than Goodwill, but you can sort by size, color, style, etc. For truly, they 100% mean it society formal, Rent the Runway is pricey but less than buying.

    I do hope you can make it to the conference! I know you’ve probably considered all these options and found them wanting, but I have my fingers crossed for you.

    1. Eff Walsingham*

      I thrifted for my wedding gown (silk skirt and train, still with original tags on!) for $50. Lots of people are unaware of what is achievable if they’re not habitual thrifters. If you live in a major city, for example, selection may vary considerably if you go out to the ‘burbs. Maybe the OP’s community has a Facebook group for folks who are into this sort of thing?

        1. BlueSwimmer*

          My local Buy Nothing group does a lot of lending outfits for formal events, including shoes and accessories. I’ve even loaned out dresses for funerals more than once.

      1. Featherk*

        I purchased an incredible vintage wedding gown for just $15. paid a few bucks to hem it and the seamstress told me the satin quality just wasnt available any more. you can absolutely find great formals and semi formals for next to nothing or a more basic piece and dress it up with a fancy jacket or shawl and jewelry. I hope OP can get her employer to cover most expenses and not let the clothing consideration keep her from attending this even

    2. to varying degrees*

      I’ve done Rent the Runway for formal events and it’s pretty good. Can still be pricey, like you said, depending on the brand you choose. I just looked, for formal gowns they have some starting at $30.

    1. Janet Pinkerton*

      Seconding this! And Rent the Runway goes up to a size 22 or 24. I found multiple good last minute black-tie-wedding options when I needed a size 20/22 dress. It was easy and did not require the time and effort that thrifting could. (And let’s be real, we know that it’s a lot easier to thrift for a size 4 than a size 20, so it helps with that aspect as well.)

    2. JSPA*

      I recommend a thrift shop (or friend’s closet, if social media might turn up someone who does event-y stuff?). Remembering that 90% of the people at galas are dressed far less dramatically than the 5% who get their pictures in the paper–it doesn’t have to look stunning or fit like a glove. And there are galas where anything goes (see if you can find a crowd shot from a past event?). Travel is something work might well cover.

  5. Jade Rabbit*

    LW #3

    I would hope your employer is a little bit embarrassed that they don’t pay you enough to go to a national awards ceremony.

    1. Waving not Drowning*

      I’m very well paid for my position (to leave my current employer I would take a significant pay drop) – but – I would struggle to find the funds to go to an overnight Awards dinner if I didn’t have 6 months notice. My household budget is worked out very tightly. I’ve got 4 children, two with additional needs requiring speech, occupational therapy etc, a mortgage, school fees, and a rising cost of living.

      Lack of travel funds may or may not be due to not being paid a high wage.

    2. Asenath*

      For me, it would not be because I couldn’t, with some ingenuity, squeeze the costs out of the money I had (thrift store dresses, etc), but because I wouldn’t want to spend my resources on something as trivial as a fancy outfit I’d only wear once. And although this event sounds like it is not that far from home (not far enough for travel expenses to be paid), hotel and airplane costs would very easily get over what I could afford to pay, even when I was paid the going rates for my job. That was especially true early in my working life. “Being paid enough for the work I do” and “Being paid enough for an expensive hotel/formal dinner and travel, especially when I hadn’t planned or budgeted for one” can both be true at the same time.

    3. L-squared*

      I don’t know that we can assume this. They may pay her very good for her field, but she has many kids and lots of bills to cover. Maybe she recently took a 2 week trip to South America which covered her savings for the year. who knows. Pay is worth the value you bring, and really shouldn’t be based on your external circumstances.

    4. Corgis rock*

      As others have said it may be OP’s situation and not their salary that is the issue. However, it could be embarrassing to the employer if they aren’t willing to cover transportation costs and one night in a hotel for something that could have a major positive impact on their business.

    5. Hamster Manager*

      It seems like OP hasn’t directly asked! “May or may not be reimbursed.”

      I think the script was a little too passive, if it were me I’d say something asking directly + express my interest like “Wow, I’m so excited to go to this, we’ve all worked so hard and it’s a real honor. Is the company reimbursing for travel? It would be such a win for the team if we could all go and celebrate.”

      OP’s manager might just be a bonehead who’s forgotten to find out or communicate about this, no need to preemptively assume you can’t go before you ask (since OP says the manager would be ‘horrified she can’t attend’ she’s probably go to bat for reimbursement)

      1. Education Mike*

        This doesn’t seem any more direct to me. If you really want to go just say what’s on your mind! “ I would really love to go to this after all the hard work we put in this year but it’s not in my budget. Is it possible to be reimbursed for travel expenses?”

        1. Hamster Manager*

          I mean more direct in the sense that Alison’s advice was basically “say you want to go but aren’t” which to me, totally ends the conversation. Like you, my script leads the manager into action instead of starting with a roadblock, y’know?

          She won’t need to bring up her budget at all if she directly asks about reimbursement and the answer is yes.

      2. Antilles*

        I was wondering about that too. I’m not clear why OP is assuming the company won’t pay for anything because it’s very standard for the company to pay for travel expenses and attendance at this sort of event – both as a “thanks for your hard work” and because it’s good marketing.
        It’s so standard that I think there’s a good chance the Boss just assumed that OP already knew it was covered.

    6. rawcat*

      thank you! I have to imagine that an award-winning project represents value added to the company… there is something gross about one of the people who did that work not being able to afford attending an ever praising them for that very work.

  6. Turanga Leela*

    OP3, definitely check on the dress code. I can’t speak to your event, obviously, but I went to an awards dinner last week where the dress code was “business attire,” and in practice people wore everything from suits to cocktail dresses to (as far as I could tell) whatever they wore to work that day. I’ve been to a lot of evening work events, including galas and receptions, and I’ve never needed a gown. Personally, for an evening event, I wear a knee-length dress (the kind I’d normally wear under a blazer) with heels and slightly bigger/sparklier jewelry and makeup than I wear during the day.

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      I would look at photos from previous years of the event to see what people wore. I worked a lot of gala events too, never wore a gown myself and it was rare to see people wearing full-on evening gear.

      OP #3 – if this was a conference and not solely an awards dinner, I’d suggest contacting the organisers to see if :
      1. Travel bursaries are available and
      2. If they knew about any budget-friendly accommodation options.

      I hope your employer will cover your costs, but if they don’t, it never hurts to ask the organisers about this stuff, because you’re definitely not the only potential attendee in this situation. Also, if they make you feel bad for asking, they are bad event organisers.

      1. Miette*

        Yes, this. Depending on your industry, there may be a sponsor or two who offer grants for attendees’ travel and expenses.

    2. I'm Done*

      I don’t know. She stated that she’s poor. When people just have a lot of financial obligations they don’t necessarily use the word poor. But it struck me as odd that she’s working in a position where she would represent the company at a formal event and she earns so little. It makes me think that she’s seriously underpaid.

      1. Marny*

        I know plenty of people who get paid well but still don’t have extra money for things like this. Student loans can be “the great equalizer” when it comes to wealth.

        1. Koalafied*

          Yep, when I graduated my first job paid $35k a year, which was just enough in the DC area for me to live with 3 roommates, tread water on my (actually very modest, $25k) student debt, and save nothing.

          After one year I got a new job at $45k, which was just enough for me to live alone and tread water on my debt, so after a year I picked up a part-time second job to be able to actually make some progress paying my debt down, but still save nothing.

          After two years there I got a new job at $55k, which was enough that I could quit the second job and still pay down my debt, but save nothing.

          It took another year and a raise to $60k to finish paying off the debt and finally be in a position to start building some savings, and another couple of years and another raise to $65k before I felt like I really had “disposable income” for the first time in the 6-7 years since I’d graduated.

          If I hadn’t had the debt, or if I’d not placed such a high priority on being able to live without roommates, that $55k salary would have had been more than enough for me to save some and have some fun money leftover. It was a very competitive salary for the role and for someone with 3 years of work experience, but it still took another 3 years for me to crawl out of the financial hole I was in when I started.

      2. Smithy*

        It could also just mean that she’s newer to the work world, and I do think some of the anxiety but also genuine reality around “nothing to wear” can come from that.

        At one point early in my career, I had just started a job that I got after being a grad student in a program outside the US. I was living in a country that didn’t have amazing options for my size, I was also going from student to professional at a nonprofit and had a job where I often had to go to formal embassy events. Initially, the amount of uncertainty I had around what to wear was enormous.

        As with anything, the more I did anything, the more confidence I had around what to wear and how to plan my budget for that kind of clothing without needing specific outfits direct from Banana Republic ads or “gala” looks. But it took time. And wasn’t without some oopsies that are only funny now.

    3. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

      Yes, nowadays professional formal events are usually a LBD, heels, and maybe some jewelry rather than a formal “Oscar-worthy” dress gown.

      But who knows? Maybe their industry is that dressy or it’s some charity gala or something.

  7. Problem solving*

    Second hand, as recommended, would work, but so would borrowing from a friend or family member. I, personally, would be delighted if my formalwear got used by a loved one.

    1. BubbleTea*

      It isn’t hard to imagine that everyone in someone’s family and circle of friends might not have a ballgown. If I hadn’t gone to the type of university where ballgowns were sometimes needed, I wouldn’t have anything more formal than a sundress, and I can’t think of a single person in my life now who might have one to lend me.

        1. Lily Rowan*

          Yeah, I am sure I don’t know anyone who is the same size as me AND has a formal gown on hand AND is local to me, and I am very upper-middle-class.

      1. JustSomeone*


        “Just borrow a formal-formal gala-level gown from friends or family” feels like *staggeringly* out-of-touch advice to me, along the lines of “if you don’t have your own polo pony, just borrow one from someone in your circle.” I know precisely two people in my social sphere who might own a formal gown: my mom, who went on some very formal cruises in the 1970s and a friend whose grandmother worked as a seamstress and would sometimes obtain and fix designer fashions long ago. Neither of these people are/were anywhere near my size, and even if they were I would undoubtedly look absurd in a gown many decades out of date. I really can’t imagine a large portion of modern Americans have access to borrowed ultra-formal attire

        As others have said, I highly recommend finding out how formal you would really, truly need to dress. A gala for a professional award typically isn’t the kind of gala where everyone is in true formalwear; it’s very, very common for something to be called a gala but really whatever you wear to the office is probably ok (or ideally dress up a bit, but nothing worth stressing over.) Although counterpoint to my own point…I started to phrase a sentence about this not being the Oscar’s—but actually, the Oscar’s are a professional recognition ceremony where formal dress is required. So maybe it is!

        1. GammaGirl1908*

          I do think many of us are combining that advice. Knowing that this is a work event and not the $10,000-a-plate celebrity benefit for the Save the Spotted Owl Society means that LW probably can wear something closer to cocktail attire or something just a step up from nice business wear, just as you are saying. That greatly increases the likelihood that someone nearby has a simple dress or nice pants and top in their closet to lend. I don’t think we are expecting LW’s family and friends to have Valentino and Chanel ball gowns lying around, but somebody might have a basic black dress that would work, or a nice top that could be worn with black pants. That’s what we mean.

          The size piece notwithstanding, many of us could ask around to find ONE person with a halfway decent dress to borrow. It is very possible that someone in your sphere has been a bridesmaid and has a dress hanging around, or needed something for a wedding or party five years ago that has just been in the closet ever since.

          I even do live a life where I do sometimes wear cocktail dresses and even formal dresses to events … but that means that if I exist, so might someone else in your life. I would be delighted to lend (or give!) someone a dress in my closet, especially one that’s now a little too small for me or that just wasn’t my favorite. It’s worth it to ask around.

          1. Artemesia*

            Odds are VERY high that showing up in a ballgown would be embarrassing. Definitely look at society pictures of last year’s event. Maybe they are all in ball gowns, but I would be surprised. I remember early in my career doing to a fancy organization event and worrying that I would look like a goober without having a formal dress. Noone was in a gown. Older women were in dressy evening pant suits; younger women were in little black dresses or skirts and dressy blouses or even just dresses with big costume jewelry. If I had shown up in a ball gown I would have looked ridiculous. Even the events where a handful of people were in gowns, most were not.

            If the event is labeled black tie, it means guys should wear tuxes if they have them and women are in short usually or if long, not floofy cocktail dresses. It is not big ball gowns until you get to white tie and that is a very unusual event these days. And if the event is cocktail attire then many skirts and blouses do fine. definitely something you might be able to borrow or get a second hand blouse that can pair with a black skirt you have.

            And the organization should pay your travel. Definitely tell the boss about the award and you need funds for travel in order to attend. (if you think you can manage the clothing challenge)

            1. londonedit*

              Yep, I said much the same above. Last time I went to an awards ceremony (which was billed as ‘black tie’) most of the men were in fact in suits and ties rather than black tie, and the women wore a whole range of outfits. I wore a dress on the smarter end of the smart/casual dresses I usually wear to work, but with smart flat shoes instead of trainers, and with some statement jewellery and more make-up. I’d say I was bang in the middle in terms of formality. Some of the people who were up for awards or presenting awards were wearing more formal outfits, like a long glittery dress, but absolutely no one wore a ballgown or anything seriously formal. It was mainly little black dresses or less-formal dresses with a couple of sparkly accessories. If someone had turned up in a proper formal gown they would have looked quite out of place.

            2. UKDancer*

              Yes. I got away for many years in my early career with a cheap pair of black evening trousers and a sparkly blouse for the few black tie events in my work calendar before I was able to afford a cocktail dress. Most events that aren’t white tie are pretty ok with that.

              Organisers know that most people don’t have a wide range of ballgowns nowadays so tend to expect less formality than one might expect. Unless you’re in a field like fashion or couture it might not be as hard to do this as you’d think.

              I’d definitely see if work will pay your travel on the basis that you’re representing them at something recognising your achievement working for them.

              1. UKgreen*

                I have a black, knee-length wrap dress that was £34.99 from Next about 10 years ago, and it’s done me for pretty much anything ‘formal’ in all that time, with the addition of some jewellery, a smart blazer or a sparkly cardi, patterned tights and pretty flats (I can’t wear heels) or whatever.

                Plus a Santa hat at Xmas, obvs.

                1. londonedit*

                  I like to buy a nice dress to wear at Christmas every year (never anything expensive, always under about £50) and my little collection of those now does me for any and all semi-formal/formal events! Probably the most formal of them is a navy velvet midi dress, but most just involve a little bit of festive sparkle or they’re dark red or green or in a slightly more luxurious fabric than I’d usually wear.

          2. Hankering For A Hunk of Cheese*

            Another option, if you have a local “Buy Nothing” group (usually online on Facebook) that you belong to, you can always ask to borrow a dress from someone in your area and just let them know you’ll have it dry-cleaned and returned to them as soon as possible after the event. My local BN group even has a fancy formal closet just for situations like this, where there are bags, shoes, accessories, dresses…just people have to bring them back dry-cleaned. (Not immediately but soon after the event).

          3. Smithy*

            I know the reference to the $10,000 a plate Save the Spotted Owl Society reference was mentioned as a joke – but the reality is that the majority of those events are attended heavily by the nonprofit staff of the Save the Spotted Owl Society. And while UNCIEF’s Snowball and the Met Gala do certainly get a higher number of women in gowns, the vast majority of other $10,000 a plate events really do have a mix.

            The Save the Spotted Owl Society staff who are women will largely be in black business formal or cocktail dresses, black pants suits or black suits. And while a few donor guests may take this as an excuse to dress up more extravagantly (and men will be in suits), most will be there in cocktail attire. Now. The cost of those cocktail dresses may not be the same as the Spotted Owl Society staff…but no one there is walking around who shopped at Marshalls and who shopped at Saks.

      2. JSPA*

        Uh, ballgown? Take it down just a notch? Even the oscars don’t “require” a ball gown (they specify, “not casual.”)

        Plenty of people have something at least semi-formal (from being in a wedding, say) especially if you define “friend group” to include “older relatives of friends.”

        I’ve been to a (nominal) gala in dark stretch jeans and a thrifted fancy vest (and as I wouldn’t wear a gown in any case, this was probably taken as a style choice, not a faux pas).

        If you’re being honored, they want you there! And the dress-up is more for the socialite attendees anyway, for whom the honorees are the excuse for dress-up and a party.

        1. Ugh..these comments*

          Stretch jeans?! Why don’t we take the author at their word that they know the dress code is formal.
          And no-it’s pretty reasonable to not have anyone in your friend/family/older relative circle that doesn’t have a semi-formal/formal dress in your size.

          1. JSPA*

            OP didn’t say the dress code specified formal. Unless Alison edited–possible–OP is simply equating “gala” and “formal dress code,” then equating “formal dress code” and “gown.”

            OP doesn’t say they have any experience with galas. I do–limited, but non-zero–and I’m passing it along.

            Finally, what’s up with retroactively shaming me for the clothing that (literally) was acceptable to the organizers, at the actual event???

            They didn’t treat it as a big deal, I didn’t feel out of place, I wasn’t the least fancy person there (though the others trended older and male), they were happy to have the turnout…and in any case, you were not there to be personally offended by my shocking sartorial choices.

            So… what gives?

            1. londonedit*

              I mean, I didn’t mention it in my other comments because I didn’t think it was particularly helpful info for the OP, but at the formal awards events etc that I’ve been to, the spectrum really has gone from a few people in long glittery evening dresses to other people wearing things I personally probably wouldn’t put in the category of formalwear – at the last one I saw someone in a flowing cotton kaftan and leggings with big chunky wooden beads, and someone else in a blazer and trousers with a plain top. I think half the time, unless an invitation specifies white tie and tails/ballgowns, any sort of smart dress is acceptable, and if someone interprets that as smart black jeans and a formal top, why not. There are plenty of people who don’t want to wear a ballgown or evening dress, let alone whether people own or can afford them. Things in general are far less formal these days and people tend to make their own decisions when it comes to how they dress for events.

          2. Bob-White of the Glen*

            Stretch jeans was an anecdote not a suggestion. Comment and posting name unnecessary.

    2. Asenath*

      I don’t think any member of my family has formal wear lying around. Some of my friends might have kept their wedding gown in storage, but my family (including me) never went in for formal wear. I did have a long dress for my high school graduation, but by the time I might have used one for work (fortunately I never needed to) it had long since disappeared, and I wouldn’t have fit into it in any case.

  8. Rich*

    OP4, I agree with Alison. I used to travel 50%+ for work, and when our teams had an opportunity to get people home sooner than usual or originally expected, we generally took it. The pushiness you’re hearing is almost certainly to get past their assumption that you’ve chosen inconvenient travel based on norms that aren’t enforced at your company. Frequent travelers — particularly business travelers — know last minute changes can cost extra money. Nobody is telling you to make last minute flight changes because they assume you’re over-spending. They’re suggesting that it’s OK to spend more to prioritize your personal convenience over the minimal financial impact to the company.

    It’s also perfectly OK to ignore their suggestions if you prefer to travel as you have been. You get to make those decisions. But ultimately, it sounds like that’s all they’re trying to tell you: That you get to make those decisions, and they assume “home earlier” is naturally preferable.

    1. I Would Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      I want to second this. I used to be in role that involved some travel management for employees with significant travel (upwards of 70%) and they generally pushed to get home sooner even if it cost the company extra $$ for those arrangements. There were a few who didn’t have this preference but they were the exception, not the rule.

      My guess is you’re hearing some judgement where people are really just projecting what their own concerns would be.

      1. Dinwar*

        In my field (80%+ travel some years, way more than 75% travel your first five years), it’s usually the opposite. Unless you have a pressing reason to go home, folks generally want to stay overnight, get a good night’s sleep, maybe wrap up some work so they don’t have anything hanging over their heads when they get home.

        There’s no one right way to travel. When you’re on the road this much, everyone finds their own methods for dealing with the stress.

    2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Yep. They think you thought you had to stay an extra night and are trying to help you find an “out”. Just say, “Nah, this worked best for my/my family’s/my cat’s/my wombat’s schedule.” I personally like to add, “This extra afternoon is gold for me because I can just catch up on e-mails before getting back. I love it when the travel works this way” because that extra night in a hotel is a glorious, quiet time

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        This. My spouse and I vend at SF&F conventions. If it’s not super local, we stay at the hotel, and stay over an extra night. That way we don’t have to check out of the hotel early on the last day, spent the day vending then breaking down, loading all of our stuff into the van and driving home (sometimes many hours) while exhausted. We’d be going to these conventions anyway even if we didn’t vend, so anything we make covers the extra day in the hotel. It’s nice to take a long soaking bath at the end of that final day, get a good night’s sleep, then leisurely pack out of the room.

    3. AthenaC*

      I’ve had a similar experience. When I book travel home after a conference, it seems most people book a super early flight and then spend that last day rushed and stressed out to get to the airport. I would prefer to book a later flight, take my time, and spend any additional time relaxing with a book at the airport. When I explained my preferences to my coworkers you’d think that I had grown a third arm.

      Some company cultures are just weird about travel and I don’t take it personally anymore.

    4. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      This is an excellent point. If they are suggesting OP3 look to see about changing a flight and bumping it up to an earlier flight on the day of, then they are not suggesting OP3 should be more concerned about saving money. That almost always costs a lot more money!

  9. Omelette*

    I showed up for an interview once in a skirt and blouse, to be interviewed by a hiring manager wearing a full basketball uniform. Jersey, shorts, socks, shoes, he looked completely ready to play for the Warriors. I felt incredibly silly, but I did get the job.

    1. Mrs. Pommeroy*

      Did you ever get any kind of explanation for that? By him? By the company culture? By the company mission? By a colleague? Anything??
      I find it such an odd choice of attire for a job interview(er), it boggles my mind…

        1. UKgreen*

          Our CIO in OldJob once did the first half of his workday – including an interview with a candidate who later came to work for us and was a rockstar – in cycling shorts and a tshirt because he’d forgotten his work clothes at home.

          Turns out the candidate was super-nervous, but a complete cycling nerd, so they totally bonded over his wardrobe forgetfulness and got on like a house on fire.

        2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          That was me once. I came back from doing tailgate safety and worker’s rights trainings for migrant ag workers. As I was unloading the truck I got pulled into an interview because the person who was supposed to be there had an emergency in the morning. I felt bad because I had definitely gotten organic fertilizer on myself, sweated all the way through everything, and STUNK

    2. Poffertjies!*

      I had a Halloween interview and the person interviewing me was in an elephant costume. That turned into a bad job so my motto is never accept a job from someone in an elephant costume.

      1. Weekender*

        HAHAHA!!! This is the best.
        It sounds like it could be the title of a book.

        And I love poffertjies :) Are you from the Netherlands?

      2. Westsidestory*

        This happened to me – I was interviewed by someone wearing a lobster costume! This was a small company with a reputation for being quirky and fun. The job was fine, I left for unrelated reasons, and I still have the photo of the “HR” person who was also planning a company party for later that day.

      3. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I interviewed on Halloween once too. It was a lunchtime interview and I wasn’t going to have time to change, and my workplace was having a big Halloween event that I needed to be in costume for, so for the interview I slipped on a printed cardigan over my Katniss Everdeen costume and hoped for the best. When I was walked into the room, my interviewers were Hermione Granger and Where’s Waldo, so I hadn’t needed to worry about it at all. :)

      4. Nightengale*

        I interviewed someone once on Halloween and I was wearing a Glinda the Good Witch costume. . . I should probably mention we are both pediatricians.

    3. Corgis rock*

      I was interviewed by a supervisor wearing shorts and a t-shirt because that’s what they wore to do their job. Candidates were usually dressed nicely there but the people doing the interviews weren’t going to inconvenience themselves for the sake of interviewing someone and sometimes they were tagged to do the interview at basically the last minute.

    4. learnedthehardway*

      I had an interview where the president and 2 other people were all wearing shorts and flip flops. I was in a suit. They did say they weren’t sure I’d be a fit, because I was wearing a suit. I pointed out that I was taking the interview seriously, but would vastly prefer to wear shorts and flip flops to work. I did get the job, which was lots of fun (but in the end I went back to a more professional environment as there just wasn’t the career growth I wanted).

  10. Anomie*

    I practice medicine at a large hospital. I’d be insulted if someone interviewed me wearing a tee shirt, hoodie, looking sloppy. You’re interviewing professionals. Better to dress professionally. I’m not snobbish but you are reflecting poorly for your company. Would you wear that to an interview applying for another job? Doubtful.

    1. allathian*

      It really depends on the field, though. If they normally work in a t-shirt or hoodie, interviewing in one should be fine. Although when I go to interviews, I always dress at least one level more formally than I would ordinarily wear to work, because being put together like that gives me the confidence I need to perform well at the interview. But when I’m actually working, I prefer comfort and won’t apply for jobs requiring anything more formal than business casual. Even that would feel weird after 2.5 years WFH and a casual dress code at work (sneakers, jeans, and hoodies/t-shirts are perfectly acceptable at my office).

      1. Hlao-roo*

        Yes, I’m in engineering and workplaces range from the more formal end of business casual to full-on casual, depending on company and field on engineering. I got the same advice to dress at least one level more formally, so I would wear a suit to interview at a company where people wore slacks and collared shirts, and I would wear khakis and a polo to interview at a company where people wore jeans and t-shirts/hoodies.

    2. PollyQ*

      What if someone interviewed you wearing scrubs and clogs? I bet you’d be OK with that, although scrubs are less structured than some pajamas. There’s never been one and only one “professional” standard for attire, and that’s especially true in 2022. Yes, LW#1 is representing her workplace, but all the more reason she should dress to let the interviewee know what kind of workplace it actually is.

      1. to varying degrees*

        But Anomie is in the medical field. Scrubs would make sense in medicine. If someone interviewed me for a job in government and they were wearing scrubs it’d be weird.

        1. Justme, The OG*

          Which is exactly the point. Interview in what is normal workwear for the job you’re hiring for.

        2. Antilles*

          That’s exactly the point though: The appropriate clothes for an interviewer to wear depends ENTIRELY on the field in question and what the ‘normal’ expectations are.
          In Anomie’s hospital, it would be weird for an interviewer to wear t-shirts and a hoodie. However, if an interviewer wearing scrubs or a doctor’s lab coat would likely be perfectly acceptable.
          Meanwhile, in a field like IT, it’d be totally normal for an interviewer to wear jeans and a t-shirt but scrubs would feel really strange.

    3. Stitch*

      I will say I work a job that allows casual dress (jeans) but interviewees show up in suits. I don’t wear a suit ever day for interviews because interviews go on for weeks and I actually currently only own one suit that fits. I don’t wear jeans or t shirts, but they definitely dress up more than we do. But it isn’t to wear my one suit for weeks on end, but doesn’t make sense to buy extra suits for something I do for three weeks once a year.

      1. hamsterpants*

        My FormerJob had a similar dressing culture. If you saw someone wearing a suit, you would wish them good luck on their interview.

        1. Kit*

          Mine too – if you weren’t c-suite and showed up more formally dressed than business casual (khakis and a polo or equivalent were ubiquitous) you either had an interview or a funeral to attend.

          Which, of course, led to a fair amount of embarrassment when some of my coworkers asked if I had an interview one day, only to hear me explain that no, it was my grandmother’s funeral. She’d been in serious decline in hospice for weeks at the time, her passing came as a relief, so my relatively cheerful demeanor apparently threw them for a loop.

      2. bones*

        My husband showed up to an interview wearing a suit when everyone else was in jeans and t-shirts. It was a full day interview and the guys who worked there kept poking fun at him – “Whose the Jehovah’s witness?” (He did get the job, though)

          1. CharlieBrown*

            This is not poking fun at him based on religion. It would only be if the husband were an actual Jehovah’s Witness.

            If you live in an where JW’s do their do0r-to-door proselytizing, you seem them dressed quite nicely. If everything else is casual, and someone showed up to your door quite nicely dressed, it’s a natural place for your mind to jump. Now, as to whether your mouth should follow is another matter.

            1. JustaTech*

              My mom happened to be visiting me in college when a friend was showing off his new suit for grad school interviews. It was a plain black suit (very sensible) and he was wearing it with a T-shirt.
              He asked my mom what she thought (both as a mom and as someone who worked in higher ed) and she said “you look like a missionary”.
              I wanted the ground to swallow me up, but he thought it was hilarious and thanked her.
              (At the time she was living and working in a place where most men wore suits as a matter of course, and so a guy in a brand-new inexpensive black suit would read more “missionary” than “professor” or “banker”.)

    4. Tau*

      While I’d be concerned if my interviewers were wearing suits – the norm in my field is casual wear, I like that fact and do not miss my one job in business casual, and seeing my interviewers dressed up too far would raise concerning questions about company culture.

      It depends!

      1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        I work as a software developer, but not in the tech industry. Because of that, it’s not obvious from what the actual company dress code is. (Casual, in our case.) I would always dress down on days I was on an interview panel (think jeans and t-shirt) to give the candidate a more accurate feel for the company. (I normally dress up a bit more than my coworkers when I’m in the office, but that’s a personal style choice rather than a requirement and I don’t want to give candidates the wrong impression.)

        These days when I’m on the panel of a Zoom interview I go with a solid color t-shirt, simply because I don’t have to worry if a design will read oddly over the camera.

    5. BubbleTea*

      Handily, this would be an excellent and simple indicator that it wasn’t the right work environment for you.

    6. I Would Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      Honestly, that’s all the more reason for Alison’s suggested practice. It will help you to self-select out of a culture that sounds like it would be a bad fit.

    7. amoeba*

      I’m actually a little surprised that people are dressing up in suits for zoom interviews – have never experienced that and, as a candidate, I’ll wear a suit in person while the interviewers generally wear whatever they wear to work usually (which is mostly shirts/polos and jeans for the men, but I’ve also seen t-shirts, Jack Wolfskin-type outdoor stuff, etc… we don’t tend to be very fashionable, I guess.)

      But for zoom, even as a candidate I’l wear something like a slightly nicer top/blouse or a pullover, but definitely not full formal interview attire.

      Apart from the suggestions (which I like), how about just wearing something from the slightly less sporty side of your closet? I feel that, especially on zoom, a plain black t-shirt or a pullover etc. will read much less obviously informal that a hoodie or a printed t-shirt, but more just like… neutral? Especially as most of you is cut off anyway, so basically what people see is just some black/blue/green shoulders.

      1. I am Emily's failing memory*

        One of my final interviews for my current job, years and years ago, was more of a meet and greet with someone who I’d be working closely with as a peer. She was wearing a t-shirt with – if I remember correctly – Tweetie Bird on the front that said “CHECK YO SELF before you WRECK YO SELF.”

        I was honestly stoked to see how casual the dress code was, as my then-current job had been business casual with jeans on Fridays, in a small office where 95 out of 100 days my boss and the only other 2 employees at the company were the only other people in the office. I couldn’t wait to be part of this Tweetie Bird culture.

      2. No Longer Looking*

        Just for something to consider: I do not own a “slightly less sporty” side of my closet anymore, other than some sweaters. Haven’t had a need for it in about 7 years, and I’ve gained too much weight so they’ve all gone to donations, I’m all t-shirts and sweatshirts and jeans, plus a pair of three-piece suits.

        1. amoeba*

          Yeah, but I was actually referring to something like a plain black (or white, or blue, whatever) t-shirt, as opposed to, say, something with a Nike logo on it. Also, somehow the hood on a hoodie makes it (to me) much more informal than a plain sweatshirt without a hood. So for the interview, if I were worried, I’d probably go with the unicolor plain t-shirt or non-hooded sweatshirt, which I guess most people have as part of their wardrobe? I mean, I don’t see a big problem with the hoodie either, but if you’re trying to look slightly more formal, than that seems like an easy way.

    8. AnonMom*

      I think it is important for the interviewer to accurately represent the expected attire for the role they are hoping to fill. It is one thing if they dress casually because they have the standing to do so without hurting their career but the expectations for others just entering the company are different. It is another thing if the company culture overall is more casual.

    9. L-squared*

      You are also in the medical field, whose norms may be very different. I’m in tech sales. That is pretty much par for the course in my field.

      Even if it wasn’t, I can’t imagine being insulted because someone didn’t dress up.

      1. bamcheeks*

        I’m actually surprised because I’d see medicine as one of the less formal professions. I have worked with doctors a lot, and in most specialties they were never more formal than business casual for basic hygiene reasons. Absolutely no ties; shirt-sleeves you can roll up to wash your hands and arms properly; trousers, dresses and skirts you can chuck in the washing machine. Good wool dresses and suits are only for conferences or meetings where you know you’re definitely not going to be interacting with patients!

        1. bamcheeks*

          (watching [male] baby doctors adopt rolled-up sleeves as their uniform is actually very cute. It’s like watching kids starting secondary school in too-big school uniform: you can see the point six weeks in where they’ve gone from carefully rolling up the sleeves of their shirts to doing it so automatically they’ve forgotten there’s another way of wearing shirts!)

          1. Erie*

            haha, I like this description.

            business casual does not seem to me to be one of the less formal options these days – I think of informal as what op describes (hoodie, Tshirt, ponytail) and bizcas as decently formal for everyday work.

        2. UKDancer*

          All the doctors I’ve met at work have been “bare to the elbow” for hygiene reasons as I think that’s common across the NHS. As you say, suits are for conferences.

          1. Hannah Lee*

            That’s also true of many people in technical fields or hands on sales engineers, technicians.

            Sticking shirt sleeves into equipment to adjust settings, reroute cabling etc is not great for safety or laundry reasons. (see also neckties, scarves or any flowing fabrics.)

      1. Delta Delta*

        Didn’t Finance Guys completely co-opt fleece vests as the new uniform of Wall Street a couple years ago?

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I think that’s the crux of it – I am looking at my interviewers to see how they dress for a normal day at work. I don’t assume my interview is as big a part of their day as it is mine, so they’re probably dressed appropriately for what their job is the rest of the day.

    10. Colette*

      As the person being interviewed, an interview is an occasion to dress up for. But for the interviewer, it’s just another work day, and you should dress as you would for the job. That doesn’t reflect poorly on the company, it reflects how people at that company dress.

      You can be insulted by that if you want, but you’d be selecting jobs with more formal dress codes.

    11. Lucy P*

      I think it’s all going to depend on the person being interviewed, the job and the setting. Personally, I might be put-off by someone wearing a graphic tee or something with stains or ripped jeans.

      There are other things that I might rank more important than the personal dress code of the interviewer. I had a meeting at a office a few months ago where people were wearing everything from button-downs with slacks, to jeans with simple t-shirts with the company logo. It didn’t phase me. What I noticed more was the wall paneling (think 70s style), the peeling wall paper, the lack of good lighting, and the overall look of a tired office building.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Most small companies/start-ups have crummy, cheap office buildings. Converted warehouses, former lawyers offices, other spaces where they don’t have to do build-out can be a cost saving thing. That’s where the trend for open plan offices came from – start-ups being cheap on office build-out and then everyone else cargo-culting on the successful ones who never changed. One particularly famous company is know for still having the original “door desks”* in their headquarters offices as an ongoing symbol of frugality.

        * a “door desk” is simply that – a cheap indoor door with 4×4 legs attached. The pre-drilled hole for the doorknob is used for running cables through. Apparently doors and 4×4’s were cheaper than tables.

    12. KayDeeAye*

      I don’t think you necessarily need to go full-on suit, so long as the candidates are told clearly that business casual is the way to go. But I would personally wear something on the nicer end of business casual – just because I figure the candidates will feel compelled to and I don’t want them to feel wildly out of place.

    13. Software Engineer*

      It really depends on the field as others have said. And even for tech it matters a lot whether you’re interviewing at a tech company or interviewing for a tech role at another company (when i was interviewing for jobs the dressiest place was one that made software for the legal profession). And also where you live—i get the impression that the west coast is very informal compared to the east coast. Where i live nobody wears a suit besides lawyers and politicians.

    14. fhqwhgads*

      I think it might actually be snobby in the context discussed tho? If the point is everyone dresses this way normally at work, then it’s not really logical to call it “unprofressional”. These are professional people who get to wear casual clothes at work. Normal in one space might not be acceptable in another, but that’s why context matters.

    15. Hen in a Windstorm*

      You would be… insulted? That’s melodramatic. Other people do not dress *at you*. Also, I see your value judgment of “tee-shirt = sloppy”, because apparently it’s impossible to own a clean, well-fitting tee.

      If I’m interviewing professionals, that will be determined by their *skills* not their clothing. Your priorities seem out of whack. To me, that implies your professional skills may be lacking, as you prioritize surface appearance over substance.

    16. Office Lobster DJ*

      I wouldn’t feel insulted by an interviewer wearing whatever they wear for work, but if we were totally mismatched, I’d probably be distracted by the worry that I misread a signal somewhere or followed some outdated advice, and am I sinking my chances by being so out of step?

      The advice to let candidates know upfront is best. If that’s not possible, as an interviewer, I would suggest dressing to whatever you would wear on an important day in your particular office – maybe when you have a big presentation, someone from corporate is coming through, something like that. (I’m picturing along the lines of something as simple as a cardigan instead of a hoodie with your jeans.)

  11. Allonge*

    LW2 – uh, sounds annoying. I had some success in a similar position (not in healthcare, but still overworked and my boss’s style grated) to consciously think of it as something that had nothing to do with me – as if she was wearing something that to me was weird, but it still complied with the dress code.

    I knew that my boss’s comms style would probably not be an issue if I did not have a million other things wrong at work – it was unfortunate that it was an extra level of things to tolerate, but it was not even close to being my real problem.

    1. Sandi*

      I think the current workplace situation has a big influence on how this feels. I work in tech with mostly men, and if my male boss or female grandboss sent this out then it would feel honest and not infantalizing because they advocate hard for us. The heart eyes are a bit odd, but I had one male boss who wrote with a fluffier style (loads of !!!!!!! as one example) and he was genuinely supportive and friendly in person so I quickly learned that it was normal for him.

      1. Oh No She Di'int*

        So, although I agree with the overall sentiment that the boss in this particular case is being a bit infantilizing, I do feel some type of way about the implication that the way men typically speak or are spoken to should automatically be held up as some sort of gold standard for communication. Just saying that if we are going to break down patriarchal norms (something I’m in favor of), I think we can take seriously how some women communicate and are communicated to and maybe–dare I say?–learn something from it.

        1. Sandi*

          I agree, and that’s why I described my male boss’s style as fluffy and not feminine. It’s the use of extras in his writing, including fluffy “You’re the best” comments that are problematic, not that it should be specific to gender.

          I think my point remains valid, that fluffy comments are much easier to take when coming from a boss who cares and supports employees.

      2. Lightning*

        Ha, the heart eyes part made me laugh as I work in a very male-dominated (but also very techy and very young) workplace and one of my (male) coworkers used the heart-eye emoji response on a piece of good status just yesterday.

      3. Fanny Price*

        We have a board member who is not a native speaker and who uses a truly astonishing number of exclamation points in his emails, along with slightly odd diction. The first time I got one of his all-hands emails, I pulled a colleague aside to ask quietly if he was emailing drunk. (The colleague, who knew both of us well, thought this was hysterical and reassured me that that’s just how this board member emails.)

  12. Tau*

    OP4 – not only do I agree with Alison, I actually wonder if you should think about what your colleagues are suggesting! Because I have to admit my eyebrows went up a little when you said:

    the cost of flights during the week vs. weekend (this can sometimes be hundreds of dollars less), how expensive flights are at certain times (again, this can add up to hundreds of dollars in savings)

    This may be field-dependent – I can see how this could be very different at a nonprofit, for instance – but in general I don’t think it’s my responsibility to save the company money at the cost of my personal time and comfort. Sure, it may be cheaper for them if I sacrifice half my weekend to spend an extra day at a conference location, but it’s more inconvenient for me. A lot of the time my manager might not even want me to do that, because my satisfaction and me getting my free time so I don’t burn out is also important!

    You clearly have a lot of experience with business travel and a system that works for you, but just from what you’ve said here I wonder if your colleagues are concerned you’re not prioritising yourself enough in your planning.

    1. Willis*

      Agreed that that’s probably what people are responding to. I don’t know if the OP’s current or past employers have encouraged her to make travel arrangements to minimize costs, but I wouldn’t assume that’s always the preference. I’d rather my staff spend less time traveling – fewer hotel nights and direct flights when possible – even if it costs more. To me, their time is better spent at their desk (if it’s a workday) or at home/relaxing (if we’re talking about an evening or weekend). If someone wants to spend an extra night to avoid getting back late or to do a bit of sightseeing or something, that’s one thing, but I wouldn’t ask or expect people to value frugality over convenience when it comes to business travel. If OP hasn’t got any direction from her company about their preference, it might be worth asking because she could be spending extra time on the road unnecessarily.

    2. ARROWED!*

      Back in the day, it was almost always much cheaper if you stayed over a Saturday night. My then employer actually asked us to do so, though I don’t remember how strong that preference was.

      I actually didn’t mind because I was young and hadn’t traveled too much and got to spend a day exploring someplace new.

      Also, I was single, no kids. People who had a spouse and/or kids at home definitely had different priorities than I did. Kind of wondering if OP4 just has very different priorities, for that reason or some other, and if that’s what underlies this “you should change your flight” vs “tomorrow morning is fine.”

      1. UKDancer*

        Definitely it depends on an individual. I sent 2 members of my team (Edmund and Lucy) to an event in a foreign city. It finished on a Friday lunchtime. Edmund was on the first plane back because he has 2 children and needed to get back to pick them up from his mother’s. Lucy is younger and single, and she asked if she could stay over (at her own expense) and come back on the Sunday as she’d not visited that city before and wanted to sightsee. Both were fine options which worked for the individuals involved and the flight costs were broadly similar so I had no issue.

        Different people have different needs and I think it’s good to ensure you accommodate that as long as the costs are reasonable.

        1. UKgreen*

          Yep – I don’t have kids, so in the days when I used to travel to New York for meetings and to deliver training, I’d arrive or leave the weekend before or after so I had time to go sightseeing and shopping, while other colleagues would rock up on Monday straight from JFK, and out of the door on Friday lunchtime to be home to the kids.

          1. WellRed*

            My coworkers are like this. But they are used to me going earlier or later (on my own expense) to explore and never bat an eye.

    3. Roland*

      Yes! Especially when you travel so much, I feel like you shouldn’t even consider flying out the next day after an event ending at noon unless you actually prefer it. The fact that it would be cheaper to your company should be immaterial as long as your itinerary is reasonable, and flying out the day an event ends is reasonable.

      1. WellRed*

        My upcoming event ends at 1. Flight isn’t till around 8pm getting me home exhausted at midnight. Not … unreasonable but not fun.

    4. GammaGirl1908*

      Back in the dark ages when I was fresh out of college, I was a truly terrible admin for a few months, and I was tasked with making my boss’ travel arrangements.

      I would often schedule her at times and prices that made sense to me as a broke 22-year-old fresh out of college and accustomed to putting up with travel inconveniences, but at some point she pulled me aside and let me know her preferences. She was perfectly fine leaving on early flights and coming back the same day, and she didn’t care what it cost because her clients were footing the bill. I was choosing times that saved money but were a little more inconvenient, but she was perfectly happy to spend money to save time because it wasn’t coming out of her pocket.

      I’m sure LW’s colleagues feel similarly.

      The piece that makes a difference to me, though, is that LW prefers having a little bit more time in her travel schedule and doesn’t want to be rushing around or leaving at tight times, and doesn’t mind staying in the city for extra time, maybe to sightsee. I can understand that. I don’t want to take crazy early flights or have super tight connections, and I don’t want to be rushing to make the last flight of the day. Sometimes I would rather just take the extra time where I am.

    5. amoeba*

      Yep, thought about that, too! I mean, optimising the schedule for maximum comfort makes total sense (and I actually often prefer staying an extra night if somehow possible and employer is fine with it – but then I don’t travel too often and it tends to be to nice places). But cost has seriously never been a consideration when it’s the company paying, unless of course an option is somehow absurdly expensive (only first class flights available or something lik that). But in general, those expenses are peanuts for the company and as long as they’re not expecting me to find the cheapest option available, I won’t take that factor into account.

      (Was quite different when I was still a PhD student in academia, of course… remember some Ryanair flight with cabin luggage only and stays in hostels. But then that came of our group’s small budget and we were just happy to be allowed to go at all.)

      1. Hannah Lee*

        When I traveled a lot while I was single, I’d sometimes stay an extra night in order to have a direct flight so I wasn’t having to rush and make connections, or worry about delays, lost luggage on with plane changes. But also since I was a woman traveling alone, so I didn’t wind up taking airport shuttles and walking to my car in an unpopulated lot/garage or driving through some iffy areas by myself in the dead of night. Making my way out Logan airport in the wee hours of the morning was NOT a fun thing.

        I’d much rather hang out in whatever city I was in, grab dinner, sightsee a bit, have a decent night’s sleep and head home in the daylight. I was also in grad school at the time, so I could do some reading, course work in the downtime at the hotel, airport, where if I was home in my own space, I’d distract myself with life stuff.

    6. Philmar*

      I once took a 4 hour layover only to learn all my colleagues were taking a flight with a 2 hour layover, which was about 100-150 euros more expensive. Now I’m less precious with my travel requests. Although to be fair I just spent the layover drinking so I was fine with it.

      1. Hen in a Windstorm*

        Yeah, a few years ago I went to a conference and of course booked nonstop at a reasonable hour. My colleague fortunately found out before we left, because she had assumed she “ought to” book the awful 6 a.m. flight with 2 connections to save $100.

    7. KateM*

      Maybe the colleagues are thinking OP is about to become that person who carried heavy equipment for an hour or half instead of taking a taxi.

      1. WellRed*

        There is a smidge of that coming through. OP I hope you are also staying because itsybetter for you, not the company bottom line. I also hope you aren’t spending hours on all this cost analysis.

    8. AnonMom*

      In my office the extra travel day would be fine as long as the OP is working remotely during the extended stay (or using PTO if not). It would be looked at askance if they were regularly staying an extra day but also basically just getting a mini-vacation out of it on the company dime.

    9. Dinwar*

      That warrants a brief discussion, though, not pushing. Once the LW made their preferences clear, that should have been the end of it. To keep pushing is extremely rude, as rude as pushing on any other lifestyle choice.

      And sometimes it’s not the case that you can ignore the cost. I’m in a role where my job is to manage cost, for example. I still travel, but as a project manager I need to be conscious of the impact on the budget. $200 for a change of flights isn’t going to break the budget, but it’s still a minor consideration–sometimes I’d rather have that $200 as a cushion than rush to get home.

    10. OtterB*

      I interpreted OP4’s discussion of the financial analysis as demonstrating that she’d done the analysis to show that staying an extra night wasn’t a significant cost to the organization (not getting a “free” vacation day or half day in the meeting location), not as meaning she discussed this at length justifying her choice.

      I had a boss some years ago at a fairly frugal but not bare-bones nonprofit who said that in making decisions like that he advised us to make the tradeoffs as we would make them with our own money. I realize that’s got lots of implications built in about privilege and who can afford what, etc., but his point was that if we wouldn’t get up at oh-dark-thirty to catch a 6 am flight to save $50 bucks on personal travel, we didn’t have to do it for business travel either. I’ve used that as a guideline ever since. I don’t do red-eye flights any more, for example, except the one I took back from a meeting to make sure I didn’t miss my daughter in a high school play the following night.

  13. Dawn*

    OP2 – I dunno, I’ve had a lot of managers who are like this (to mixed-gender teams) and I’ve never found it particularly patronizing or out of line.

    “Proud of you” is maybe a little much, but I’d say take it in the spirit that it’s meant; in a time where healthcare is simply collapsing across much of the developed world she’s really thankful for your team and, as I might read it, proud to be your manager.

    1. Warrior Princess xena*

      I have definitely had managers of all genders use this sort of talk. I have also seen it more with female managers, but in retrospect I’ve worked with more female managers so there’s even odds that it’s sampling bias.

      I do agree with an above poster that this is more likely to be a BEC sort of thing. The job is hard, underpaid, and melting down – of course every little thing gets on your nerves. It’s like smacking your elbow vs smacking your thigh – your elbow doesn’t have any cushion over the nerves to keep it from hurting while your thigh does. Having a good job makes little things like this eye-rolly at worst.

      OP #2, I wish you sympathies and whatever your favorite beverage is and hope that your negotiations go more smoothly.

      1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        Ah that’s true. If my boss did that I would just assume that they are trying to be nice but it’s hard to use communication *

        * I have great difficulty in this area.

    2. Artemesia*

      How many times do we hear the criticism that the manager is never supportive and positive and only shares critical comments. This seems benign to me. Not my style but better than just expecting long hours and only grumpy negative feedback.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        I agree. My team, a mix of men and women, is the opposite of OP–they WANT this and will complain they don’t get any positive comments if we don’t do it.

    3. JayNay*

      the heart-eye emoji in particular seems gendered, i can’t really see a male boss use this.
      to me it reads similarly to how women /female-socialized people often soften their speech. that’s the written version of it – lots of smiley faces, heart emojis etc.
      I can see it being grating for the OP, especially when real recognition would look like better pay, more reasonable hours and better staffing and instead you get heart-eye smiley faces.

    4. bamcheeks*

      “proud of you” rubs me the wrong way because it sounds like someone claiming part of your achievement for their own, plus I don’t know that “being flexible over the weekend” is an achievement.

      The rest of it I could see myself saying to my team, but the vibe I’d be going for it very much, “I appreciate it, because you didn’t have to do this and you did, and I want to recognise that”, whereas “proud of you” feels like, “I am congratulating myself on having raised a team who prioritises work over their personal lives” and that’s very icky.

      1. Daisy*

        Yeah, “Your team is awesome” or “You folks rock!” may go over better with OP. But I do think this has reached BEC level. If in healthcare the employees have probably been run through the wringer already and definitely deserve more money, better scheduling, time off, etc. but those things may be nothing the manager at that level can influence.

      2. Irish Teacher*

        Yeah, I always see “proud of you” as working on the premise that “I am somebody you look up to and that one of the reasons you are working so hard is to gain my good opinions.” Which is reasonable from a parent or teacher or coach, but less so from a boss.

        1. bamcheeks*

          >>the premise that “I am somebody you look up to and that one of the reasons you are working so hard is to gain my good opinions.”

          yes that’s a really good way to put it!

    5. Flossie Bobbsey*

      I can understand how the “proud of you” language is grating to OP2, in part because it implies the manager is taking credit for their work ethic, but also, OP2 and her colleagues are clearly not “men in a technical field” so it’s not a logical benchmark. You work in the setting you’re in. Expectations and norms will be different in corporate, retail, manufacturing, academia, healthcare, etc. It’s not reasonable to expect managers to neutralize how they interact with employees to fit any given field, and ignore the field they’re actually in.

    6. Patrica*

      I work with a lot of women and IMO proud is one of those compliments that should be used very very sparingly in contexts like reviews or sort of sentimental moments, not day-to-day. I think my boss has put “I’m so proud of how you’ve grown x skill” in a review or two. But I also think there’s a difference between saying “I’m proud of how you’ve grown x skill” and “I’m so proud of our team’s work this week” vs simply “I’m proud of you.” The first two put explicit emphasis on the employee’s growth and work, rather than sort of paternalistically taking credit or condesending.

    7. N C Kiddle*

      Yeah, I thought maybe this was just this manager’s personality and not meant as patronising at all. Perhaps if you reframe it as “this is just how she chooses to communicate” it will be a little bit easier to tolerate?

      1. Kes*

        Yeah to me this just read as the manager’s personality and something they might say to a team of guys as well. I can see how it comes across as patronizing but I suspect it was meant sincerely as appreciation by the manager – thanks for being flexible, and I’m proud of you (in general, ie I think you’re a super team and I’m proud to be your manager). I suspect OP is at BEC level and a bit frustrated, probably also with the work situation in general.
        Keep in mind that the manager may be doing the best they can and trying to provide what they can (appreciation) in lieu of what they currently can’t (sufficient staffing and pay). Of course, if they aren’t trying to improve things in these areas the appreciation will ring a bit hollow, and I suspect at least at some level that’s happening here (if they really appreciated us they would make sure we don’t have to be in this situation in the first place). But if they are trying to improve things, providing appreciation at least in the meanwhile is not necessarily a bad thing

        1. Office Lobster DJ*

          Yeah, I wondered the same about the OP’s frustration level. I know there are definitely times when an overly effusive work thank you can irritate me, and it usually boils down to times that I feel so unsupported that it rings hollow: Don’t thank me for doing my job, JUST DO YOURS.

    8. Hats Are Great*

      I switched from a pretty formal-communication company where no one used emoji or exclamation marks really, to one where people are sending you quick slacks all day, and constantly include emoji in their emails and messages. I vividly remember in my first two months on the job agonizing over whether this message required ❤️ or , and feeling very weird about sending ❤️ to people I didn’t know well or opposite gender colleagues in a work setting.

      but now I’m pretty fluent in our corporate emoji speak and I know that the heart means thank you and the heart eyes mean you did me a favor and so on. I hearted the VP of my division yesterday to thank them for going out of their way to get me documentation I need and I barely even flinched.

  14. Cranky lady*

    #4- I received comments like this when I had a very travel heavy role. It was usually based on the assumption that of course I wanted to get home ASAP. In reality, there were times when a night alone in a hotel without 8am client meetings to prep for was like a vacation. These same colleagues also assumed that I wanted to sit next to them on the plane when I really wanted nothing more than to be alone. If you can ask why they are making the suggestions, it may help with correcting any incorrect assumptions.

    1. Artemesia*

      Oh I remember the days of young motherhood when a business trip meant a room of my own and an evening with no demands except maybe to catch dinner in a nice restaurant with a congenial colleague. No one appreciates a hotel room to themselves like a young mother.

      1. Llama Llama*

        I business travel about once a year. It is a nice little vacation from everything. If I did it a lot I probably would not have the view.

    2. bones*

      I laughed about your colleagues assuming you wanted to sit next to them on the plane – I made a comment upthread about literally hiding in the gate area from my colleagues before takeoff so I didn’t have to talk to them!

  15. SelinaKyle*

    #1 – I was once interviewed for a job where the interviewer wore a God of War t.shirt, navy cargo shorts and flip flops/thongs/sliders it turned out to be a toxic company. I was desperate so needed up working there for 7 months. It was a software company.

  16. SelinaKyle*

    #1 – I was once interviewed for a job where the interviewer wore a God of War t.shirt, navy cargo shorts and flip flops/thongs/sliders it turned out to be a toxic company. I was desperate so ended up working there for 7 months. It was a software company.

  17. Posilutely*

    LW2 – I also work in a female dominated branch of healthcare and I share your annoyance at the emojis. Other similar irritations include always being addressed as ‘ladies’, ‘girls’ or (eurgh) ‘girlies’ and messages such as ‘Would anyone like to come and play [work an extra shift] tonight… think about all those lovely pennies for Chrissy pressies! xxxx’. My biggest bugbear, however, is one particular head of shift who blows actual kisses at people in response to things they’ve done (‘Posilutely, was it you who sorted out the ventilator? Mwah! Mwah!’). Bad enough generally but much worse in front of people from other departments who aren’t used to her. Having politely objected in the moment to this kind of thing for years without success, I don’t have a solution but I do empathise.

    1. Casper Lives*

      Those comments would drive me up the wall. Especially calling work “play” and “lovely pennies for Chrissy pressies.” Nope nopity nope!

      The language in the OP, I’d roll my eyes at and ignore. I don’t need my boss to be so proud of me. I need her to work toward me not having to do extraordinary effort at work.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        Yeah, that strikes me as way worse than the OP’s thing which is irritating but probably just a speech pattern. “Come and play, think of all those lovely pennies for Chrissy pressies” sounds like a way to get 5 year olds to tidy up the classroom by offering a dollar to whoever helps tidy up. I am quite sure my students would look at me like I had two heads if I spoke to them like that, never mind adults.

    2. londonedit*

      This sounds more like someone running an MLM on Facebook than someone in healthcare! I don’t think I’d be able to cope.

    3. Emmy Noether*

      I just threw up in my mouth a little. I think keeping my inner rage from boiling over would be very, very difficult if I were in your place.

      1. londonedit*

        I suspect the commenter above is in the UK (or possibly somewhere like Australia?) where there are totally people who speak like that all the time – ‘biccies’ for biscuits, ‘pressies’ for presents, ‘hubby’ for husband, ‘choccy’ for chocolate, etc. It wouldn’t be unheard of for someone to ask whether you want a ‘choccy biccy’ with your tea (or more likely, ‘choccy biccy with your cuppa?’). ‘Chrissy’ for ‘Christmas’ is one I haven’t heard much, but I’m imagining it in a Scouse accent.

        1. JimmyJab*

          Haha, I immediately understood as an annoying American who says things like this all the time (only to my partner honestly, would never do this at work) :) So, I can imagine this being in the US or elsewhere

        2. Amey*

          I agree, I immediately went ‘this is British’, 5 million kisses and all. It’s always cloying to me, but some people do just talk (and particularly text) like that.

      1. Patrica*

        the x thing drives me insane in personal contexts. And then I forget to do it back and feel like an asshole.

    4. Fives*

      I don’t have a problem with emojis or what OP’s boss did, but this would absolutely drive me up the wall.

    5. Parakeet*

      Those would all annoy me (because of my own gender nonconformity among other reasons, and also because it took me several confused rereads to figure out what “all those lovely pennies for Chrissy pressies” meant) a lot more than what LW2 described, which seems benign, just effusive.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Me too. Plus, I’m not Christian. By the time Christmas rolls around I am so sick of it I could puke.

  18. op2*

    Its op2 here. Thank you Alison for answering! I Will keep rolling my eyes and fight on the greater level issues.

    I def. agree with you and some commenters, that this is just a cherry on top of a steaming pile of #… it seems very tonedeaf, but also suits my boss’s over all behavior… thanks again for posting!

  19. Inkhorn*

    #1 reminds me of the early-morning interview I had once where I thought I’d been let into the office by the cleaners … until the interviewer showed up in jeans and a t-shirt. I felt very self-conscious sitting there in satin shirt, pencil skirt, and heels. (No, I didn’t get the job … rather to my relief, as I thoroughly enjoy getting dressed up and couldn’t imagine working there.)

    So a +1 to the suggestion of giving people a heads-up to avoid potential awkwardness.

  20. TherapyCat*

    For the dress question, consignment (which can take time) or Rent the Runway could be more feasible. I hope you get the award, OP3, even if you can’t attend!

    1. PsychNurse*

      Yes I’ve found amazing items secondhand at a consignment shop! Of course it helps if you’re a common size but at least look around in your town to see if you can find anything cheap.

  21. PsychNurse*

    Oh my gosh, number 2. When I started reading, I thought “Lol she must not be a nurse or else she’d be used to it.” But then I read on and I think you are!!

    Look, you can be annoyed by this if you want. In my experience, it is common in our field, and I’d suggest you learn to either like it or ignore it. My current nurse manager is way over the top: “Hello beautiful!! (heart) (heart) (smiley face). Can you work Friday??! (Coffee cup) (pleading hands) (loving face)”. I guess I could get annoyed if I wanted to— it’s not my style of texting so I don’t respond in kind. But she’s a kind person and that’s just how she communicates. I don’t find it insulting.

  22. HR Lady*

    OP3 ask on Facebook! I see women all the time swapping ballgown for work events. no one wants to spend that kind of money for a work event. in my local fb group women will loan out or swap gowns because they can’t wear them twice so they are often very willing to share them.

  23. Luna*

    LW1 – As Alison suggests, mention prior to the interview the dress code so that candidates know. I know I’d be miffed if I were dressed up in a nice blouse or so, and then my interviewer is donning a hoodie or even a t-shirt. I’d almost feel disrespected, like the interviewer doesn’t care about this interview.
    But if you mention ahead of time that the dress code is overall more informal, it removes that feeling, and you know that a clean hoodie or shirt is enough for the candidate to wear, too.

    LW2 – My boss does similar. I personally don’t mind, as she’s overall a very happy and casual person. We also work in retail, and majority of staff is female, too. Maybe because it’s retail I don’t mind it, but I’d say this is more just a pet peeve of yours and something to let go.
    I sometimes add emoticons to my own messages, especially if it’s about something happy or about celebrating. (Like, “We made a net earning of over 2000€ today! (partyhorn blowing emoji)”

    1. ecnaseener*

      It’s not the use of emojis in general that’s condescending, you’re fine with the party horn. The heart-eyes emoji specifically is a very…lovey-dovey tone for work. (But then, I’m on record saying normal heart reacts at work often skeeve me out, and I seem to be the minority in that.)
      Add the “I’m so proud of you,” which makes sense from a teacher or coach and might even make sense from a manager in the context of significant growth, but not so much when the manager is just thanking her team for doing their jobs well. Can’t quite put my finger on why, but “I’m proud to work with all of you” feels much more appropriate to me.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        I think it’s because “I’m proud OF you” implies you are doing it FOR me. There is an implication of “well done. You’ve pleased ME which is obviously why you worked hard, to win my approval” (I mean, that’s an exaggeration but it does kind of imply the person was trying to get your approval and you are letting them know they have achieved that) whereas “I’m so proud to work with all of you” puts the person speaking less on a pedastal and makes it sound more like “this is such an awesome team to work on. I’m glad to be part of it.”

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Yep this exactly. I’m not trying to make my boss proud of me – that’s weird. I want her to be happy with my work of course but I’m working for a) a paycheck and b) to produce a good work product for the benefit of those it’s targeted to. “I’m proud of you” feels very much like a pat on the head and I don’t want it.

  24. I don't mean to be rude, I'm just good at it*

    In a previous life I had a job that required about 85% travel. I was young and dumb (versus old and dumb now) and loved it. My employer would let me stay over the weekend and fly out Monday to my next assignment. My co-workers would fret over my 3 week adventures, but paid hotel, car rental, (I had to buy my own food) and travel adventures were terrific. I saw so much of the US that I would never have been able to otherwise.

  25. L-squared*

    #1. This is one of those imbalance things I actually don’t have a problem with as an interviewer. As Alison said, I like to see what the actual day to day is at a company, not the prettied up version. If most people wear t-shirts or hoodies, that is good info for me to know. That said, I’m almost always going to dress up for an interview. Maybe not a full suit, especially for zoom. But always a nice button down shirt, possibly a tie. It’s like the dating analogy. While I may be fine with a woman who dresses for comfort most of the time, on a first date, if I’m trying to impress her, I’ll probably dress a bit nicer than I may normally dress just to grab a drink.

    #2. Its interesting to find this patronizing. I’m a guy in tech. My team is pretty much 50/50 men and women. My boss is a woman a bit younger than me. If she sent that type of message on slack, I’d think nothing of it. Usually when she sends messages about hitting goals, or being close, they have a couple emojis on there. People often react with them too. In general, people at my company use more emojis than I typically do, so I’d just see it as an extension of that. If it is wildly out of sync with your culture, I suppose I get it. But just throwing in my opinion as a guy in tech, since you used that as an example.

    #4. I agree with Alison, I doubt most people are caring that much about company money, unless you are regularly traveling with the CFO or something. But unless you are in some wonderful place that people typically want to spend an extra day, I can understand people being like “why not go home to your own bed?”. Like, I rarely travel anywhere super exciting for work, so the thought of an extra hotel day, getting up earlier than I normally would, etc, just isn’t exciting. If on my trip to Omaha (nothing against that city lol) I was leaving at 2pm, and they were leaving at 5am the next day, I’d probably also suggest they try to change their flight.

    1. Dinwar*

      I think your response to #4 and mine illustrate one difference between someone who rarely travels and someone who constantly does.

      I can only really speak to my experiences, but from what I’ve seen they’re not unusual, at least not in my industry.

      For me, my “own bed at home” is just another bed. There were times when I’d be home maybe two weeks a year–I spent more time in specific hotel rooms than at my house. And if the work is done at 2 pm, I can get work done in the hotel, go to bed early, get a good night’s sleep, and be up for the plane ride the next day. That way when I DO get home, I don’t have work obligations hanging over my head. If I change plans and rush home I have to rush to pack my stuff, check out of the hotel room, and then tomorrow–when I COULD be sipping coffee and playing chess with my son–I’ll have to do the work anyway.

      When you’re constantly traveling these sorts of considerations become nearly instinctive. You develop your way of coping with it, that work for you and your specific situation. When you only do it every once in a while you don’t need to develop the same coping mechanisms, or to the same depth. This is an abnormality to your life, something to be dealt with before returning to normal. When you travel 80% of the time, that IS your normal.

  26. Just Another Techie*

    The related links at the bottom have me wondering if there was ever an update from the LW who had to work 27 days straight? That letter was bonkers!

  27. Dinwar*

    #4: I disagree with Alison. They’re being pushy about things that are not their business. I work in a job that’s between 70% and 95% travel, and it’s extremely common to spend a day before or after the work enjoying yourself. Obviously the company won’t (usually) pay for hotels or food or gas during that time, but as long as you’re willing to pay and it doesn’t interfere with your other jobs have at it. That’s a selling point on some jobs, in fact, especially in tourist destinations (Vegas, Alaska, the Republic of Georgia before Russia started invading its neighbors, that sort of thing). I once got the company to pay for my flight to see my family, who lived across the country and whom I hadn’t seen for several years.

    It’d be one thing to ask “Are you heading home today?” and leaving it at that–that’s general chit-chat, plus maybe some good-natured concern about your safety (it’s good to know each other’s travel plans, for a variety of reasons). But to push you to re-arrange your travel schedule to fit what they consider ideal, to the point where they’re telling you the mechanics of how to change plans, they’re being obnoxious at best. They have no way of knowing what your plans are, or what you’d have to give up to follow their preferred plans.

    It’s like if they were pushing you to eat at a specific place, without concern for your dietary needs, and simply wouldn’t take “No” for an answer. They’re putting their desires ahead of yours, and ignoring your opinions about your life. There’s really no excuse for that sort of behavior.

    1. NaoNao*

      I’m the LW4 and I’m happy to see this generating some discussion in the comments-it means it’s not just me!

      One of the parts that grated on me was that the most insistent person was a senior-to-me male (I’m a woman) colleague who had this very patronizing vibe like I’d never seen a calculator and/or that I was somehow taking advantage of the company by staying an extra 24 hours and flying out early the next AM. Sir, I walked 2 miles to the office today because I couldn’t get a signal for Lyft. Please stow it.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        The best Lots of Travel company I worked for had a very specific policy on booking travel. And it was ingrained in the company culture. So, for example, they wanted us to book direct flights whenever possible. They made it clear what the threshold was for trade-offs on various options (cab vs lyft vs train). It spelled out “within x dollars to save y hours, do it” or “over y hours extra to save x dollars, don’t bother” etc. If they ever wanted us to travel on a specific day for a specific trip, they’d say so. It was always very clear what was up to our discretion/personal comfort and what wasn’t. It was great.

  28. SJ (they/them)*

    OP #3 I just want to chime in here to say that I believe you that you can’t afford a gown for the event. Allison’s advice is good and I hope the conversation goes well with your employer. Much love.

    1. Ginger Pet Lady*

      I second this!
      I’m amazed at how many people are assuming she doesn’t know what kind of dress is really required and they’re just SURE she can find something to buy.
      I thought we were supposed to take LWers at their word?

      1. just passing through*

        LW never says that they know the dress code *is* formal, though. They’re just assuming that “gala” means formal, and commenters are urging them not to exclude themselves from this opportunity based on an assumption about the dress code that may not even be true.

        1. just passing through*

          I agree, by the way, that some of the comments along the lines of “You can easily find something at such-and-such place for less than $100” are tone-deaf–$100 is a lot for a lot of people! But I hope, because LW sounds like they deserve this, that they discover the dress code is closer to business wear and something they already own can be made to work.

  29. toolittletoolate*

    I had to go to a debutante ball (long story, but it was a relative who was coming out and my presence was pretty well required, despite my general abhorrence of such events) and I certainly had nothing appropriate to wear. I also refused to spend the kind of money it would take to dress in the manner my relative told me was “required.”

    So….I went to a local thrift shop and purchased what I thought was a cool looking formal dress for $20. I got to the event and the ball hostess’ eyes lit up. I had no idea who she was, but she came over to me and started gushing about my dress–she named the designer, the vintage year, and got misty eyed remembering that she had a dress just like this when she was young (I was in my late 20’s at the time and she was 70+). She insisted I sit with her and introduced me to people all night long.

    I wondered if perhaps I was wearing her old dress! :) It was a good laugh for me and I wound up having a better time than I expected. So if you do go to the event, hit the thrift shop and see what you find!

    1. sketti*

      This comment gave me warm-fuzzies :). I’m glad it worked out for you, hopefully it’ll work out for op as well.

  30. Erica*

    OP 3 – I would gladly contribute to a GoFundMe or something like that if your employer won’t cover the costs . You deserve to go!

  31. Me (I think)*

    For #5, so your company is fine with you working over 40 hours in a week and not paying you for the extra hours, but if you take 2 hours for a medical appointment (and still clock over 40) they take it out of your PTO.

    That sucks.

    The solution is to never, ever, work over 40 hours. I know that can seem impossible, given your workload, etc., but that’s the solution.

    1. CharlieBrown*

      Yep. That work will be there waiting on Monday morning.

      If the company wants to prioritize the work getting done in a timely manner, then they also need to prioritize properly compensating their employees for doing said work.

    2. WellRed*

      Yes, I had to reread the letter a few times because I was confused that their employer does this. OP, if you are going to get punished as well as ripped off $$$, stop working extra hours. Stop working for free. (Yes I realize this is an exempt position). There are exempt positions don’t pull this crap.

    3. The Rural Juror*

      This is actually how my current company handles it. We bill our hours, so we do track them pretty extensively. If I hit 40 on Friday at noon, I’m told to take off the rest of the day. We are exempt, but it’s nice that they don’t stretch us too thin. Some folks are approved to work over 40, but then are given a day off here and there to make up for the project having crazy needs.

  32. NotSoWicked*

    I have to attend 2-3 black tie events a year for my work and am a huge fan of rent the runway for formal rentals. They have dresses starting at $40/50 and you can sort reviews based on your personal measurements (to get a real sense of what the garment would look like on a body like yours). You also get to rent two sizes, and they are generally great about helping you find a replacement if the garment you ordered doesn’t work out!

    1. Somehow_I_Manage*

      I am a man who won a national award last year. I expensed my tuxedo rental and my mileage to and from the event. I even billed my time. The company has used photos from that event in multiple marketing materials and proposals. Make no mistake, it’s fun, and you earned it, but you’re still at work at that gala!

      It remains unfair that renting a gown is not as straightforward as renting a tuxedo, but I would not think twice about requesting an expense allowance to do so.

  33. Maxie's Mommy*

    OP3, go to Facebook’s “Buy Nothing” section in your area and ask for an evening gown in your size. My neighbors have helped out many college students who needed an outfit for an event. Second, go with short formal. I go to a lot of events and I notice that even though the dress code is ‘formal’, cocktail attire is fine. Many people have a closet full of evening wear they don’t expect to wear again. Offer to return it—I bet folks will tell you to keep it. And if you’re a size 12–14, just tell me what you want!!

  34. Purple Cat*

    LW3 – Don’t assume that just because it’s “on a weekend, and optional” that your work wouldn’t pay. It’s a benefit to the company as well to have you recognized. Your dress absolutely wouldn’t be reimbursed, but the travel and meeting absolutely might. (Not quite *should* but strong possibility). Plenty of other people have commented, but even at “black-tie optional” events, you see women in everything from formal gowns to simple dresses or slacks/tops.

    LW4 – You sound extremely conscientious about company funds, perhaps too much so. *Most* people want to get back home as quickly as possible when a meeting is over, and that’s what they’re reacting to. They’re worried that you’ve focused too much on a cheap flight and are inconveniencing yourself too much. Not that you’re wasting funds by staying an extra night.

    1. EB*

      Re LW3 – I was thinking the same thing.

      If it’s an industry event, I thought it was the norm for company’s to pay for their representatives to go to industry events.

      I was wondering, however, if LW3 wasn’t high enough on the chain to be considered a company representative for the event, as it’s not uncommon for only certain levels of management to go.

      My additional advice would be to make sure that it’s industry or company standard for someone in LW3’s position to go because it’s not uncommon for a team to be recognized, but to have only the management go to an industry award event.

      I remember older posts asking about how to handle lower level people who were dead set on going to management conferences or events. One letter described a person attending an event that was for higher level people but did not explicitly say so. I recall that management viewed the employee to be not only tone deaf, but their attendance was viewed as being damaging to the company. So LW3 should check on that.

      If it’s an event where some org is presenting an award for the teamwork, then the hosting organization should pay for all travel related expenses for the awardees. The same issue I mentioned above can apply in these circumstances – the org may only be paying for team leaders or key representatives to attend to receive the award.

  35. Annie*

    To OP #3 – Have you tried reaching out to the event organizer about covering your travel expenses? It may not completely solve the gala attire issue (for that I would try my favorite online thrift shop –, but it could cut down on the costs. As an organizer of events, I would want to know if someone we were honoring could not attend due to their budget and would bend over backwards to ensure they could come. Good luck!

  36. Nerdgal*

    There are companies that rent formal wear for woman. At my former employer (I’m retired), that was a reimbursable business expense.

  37. Guin*

    Event Dress OP: A black suit – skirt or pants – is 100% appropriate for a “formal” business event. Add a scarf and earrings, and maybe fancier shoes than normal. Business formal events don’t mean ballgowns and tuxes.

  38. MicroManagered*

    OP2 I feel like you are being very hard on your manager. It can be really hard to convey feelings over electronic media and there’s not much um, emotional range between the thumbs-up and heart emojis. Your manager might *be* genuinely proud of you when you’re able to work through tough situations or whatever. Also, maybe *you* don’t need to hear that, but there are some people who very much do need that. Maybe she wouldn’t communicate the exact same way to a team of men… or who knows? maybe she would because *she* is a woman herself.

    I think your real issue is it feels like she’s adding insult to injury because of the other issues you mentioned, but it stood out to me that none of those issues seem related specifically to her. Especially if you work in a large health system, your direct supervisor probably has very little control of things like salaries and headcount. I say cut her a break.

    1. Hen in a Windstorm*

      Haha, people have been conveying feelings in writing for centuries, but because it’s electronic now it’s hard?

      How about don’t convey feelings? Nobody at work needs to bring their feelings into it. “Thanks for picking up that extra shift. It’s great knowing I can count on you.” Done. No emojis, no condescension. Thanks for the specific thing she specifically did.

      1. Somehow_I_Manage*

        I think that take is unfair. We are all paid to be pleasant. There is nothing wrong with expressing positive feelings like gratitude and appreciation. The workplace would be a better place if managers expressed genuine appreciation more often.

        The emoji is benign. The real reason that OP is upset is because the praise is hollow given larger context. It’s just another part of a large group of grievances. If we read between the lines, OP feels “You wouldn’t need to thank me if we weren’t forced to deal with constant staffing and management issues!” From that standpoint, “It’s great knowing I can count on you” wouldn’t have gone any better.

        1. MicroManagered*

          If we read between the lines

          How ironic you mention this when the comment you’re replying to is about how easy it is to read subtlety through written words! LOL

          1. Somehow_I_Manage*

            Unfortunately, yes. Whether intentional or not, their comment seemed condescending to me. At best it’s dismissive. Maybe this is all meant to be meta 4D chess, and they’re just operating on a higher plane of comment art than me ;)

            /sorry about that emotionally manipulative emoticon.

      2. MicroManagered*

        Do you not work in an environment that uses email or something?

        I cannot tell you how many back-and-forths I’ve have with people over email that escalated, usually unnecessarily, over the fact that it’s harder to read emotion or intent over print. Sure you can communicate emotion in writing if you are using prose. Business communication such as email — not so much.

  39. Michelle Smith*

    LW3: I’m going to disagree with Alison a little here. You said that you don’t know whether the travel expenses can be reimbursed or not. I would approach the manager more from an request perspective rather than just outright assuming the expenses won’t be reimbursed. Why can’t you just say “Hi Manager, I wanted to discuss the award ceremony. I would love to go but I can’t afford to pay for the travel out of my own pocket. Since this is a recognition of the work Team has done for Company, would Company be able to pay for the travel expenses or reimburse us?” If the answer is no, then you know. But right now, it sounds like you haven’t done that and might be worried about nothing.

    If they say no, you may also want to reach out to the people giving the award to see if they have any funding to assist you with being able to attend. I remember I wanted to attend a virtual conference once that would have cost a few hundred dollars I didn’t have. I reached out to the person who kept sending the email reminders about registering and explained my situation. She responded with a code that allowed me to register for the conference completely for free. You just never know what people can do to help you unless you ask, and they could be willing to work with you to make sure their honoree is able to attend without worrying about having enough to pay bills afterwards. You’re already not going as things are currently, so what do you have to lose by asking?

    1. Captain+dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      > reach out to the people giving the award to see if they have any funding to assist you with being able to attend.

      Since she’s invited to this event in her capacity as an employee of this company, it would make sense to check with the company first whether to reach out in this way. It could come off as making the company look bad for not paying, especially if other companies are paying for their staff to attend.

      This seems to me also an internal equity issue. If OP is unable to make use of a professional networking opportunity that her team-mates have access to, that puts her on an unequal footing. It sounds like external people will be recognising the people winning the award, and if OP isn’t there, her contribution won’t be visible by any of these people.

    2. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      Your company may also make a different call because you, specifically, are being recognized at this event, rather than just attending the event.

      Recent example – it’s not uncommon for there to be conferences in my field in a city about two hours away. If I’m attending a conference, I’ll be expected to drive there and back the same day (or carpool with a coworker), and only be reimbursed for mileage. (These conferences always include lunch.) However, when I spoke at a conference in the same city, I was also able to get reimbursed for a hotel in the conference city the night before. I did check with my boss first, but because I was going there in a different role than usual, different decision making criteria applied.

    3. Eyes Kiwami*

      Yes also ask the conference organizers. When I helped organize such events, the conference paid for travel and lodging for invited speakers, winners of prizes also got their travel comped up to a certain amount. This was very standard.

  40. chellie*

    Letter #2. That does sound very irritating. And, as a person who recently received a lot of health care, I estimate that 70-80% of my interactions with staff (clerical, nursing, billing, clinical) were patronizing, infantizing, and otherwise disrespectful. Treating adults in a way that would offend a 4 years old is so, so, common and it’s not hard to imagine that given the power dynamics it would carryover to supervisory relationships.

    1. metadata minion*

      I continue to be impressed and vaguely baffled that by far the most respectful health care I’ve received is at the children’s hospital. Other doctors, take note — your colleagues who regularly talk to actual four year olds can switch over to talking to adults no problem.

  41. Jennifer Strange*

    #3 – If your work is willing to cover travel costs and you would like to go try finding a gown at a Ross or a Neiman Marcus Last Call! I work in fundraising and have needed to purchase gowns for galas on a budget and those are my go-tos (and for reference I’m a short, busty, plus-sized gal, so generally you’ve got options for many body types!)

  42. Miller_Admin*

    3. I can’t afford to go to an event recognizing my work

    Most employers will fund the travel for events recognizing an employee. There may be a cap on the amount they’ll spend.

    Regarding an outfit to wear. I would recommend a black sheath dress that you can dress up or down depending on where you are wearing it. You can go with a scarf, dress jacket, cardigan, a string of pearls. You may be able to find it 2nd hand. I was at Goodwill the other day and I so regret putting weight on. I’ve gone up a size over COVID. They had a ton of dress suits and classic dresses in 10P. I have a Bob Mackie wearable Art dressy top that I use as a jacket. It’s black with silver and copper diamond highlights. You have quite a bit of freedom in what you can wear. Look at photos from the last few events on their website. I assume they have photos taken of the individuals receiving awards. You can use that as a reference point.

  43. CharlieBrown*

    re: #2

    I work remotely and when I review somebody’s work and send the email, I will often add the smiley face emoji because if I were delivering the message “this is fine; I could find nothing wrong with it” in real life, I would also smile then.

    In Microsoft Teams, we also have the option to add gif images, and I will do that to keep morale up (we’re in a high-pressure environment from time to time). When somebody tells me that we are finished with a project and everything went well, I’ll often respond with the “Kermit waving his arms in the air” gif. And if I make a goof, I’ve responded with the Homer Simpson “doh!” gif. But I know my team and my team knows me. We try to keep the tone light.

    I keep thinking of the woman who texted her son to tell her a family member had died, adding “LOL”. The son was shocked, and asked her what was so funny about this event. Turns out the mother thought LOL means “lots of love” and not “laughing out loud.”

    It’s possible your supervisor just has no idea what these emojis mean. Yes, she sounds a bit patronizing, but I agree; I just don’t think this is worth wasting capital on.

  44. Student*

    #4: Sometimes, the costs of changing flights at the last minute are very different from the costs of booking a flight from scratch.

    In the pre-pandemic times, I used to do exactly what your colleagues were suggesting if my work on travel ended earlier than expected. If it’s within the same day, you can often try the earlier flight on standby for no added cost. If it’s for a different day, my company generally paid a ~$200 flat fee for changes, which I then weigh against an additional hotel night, car rental for another day, additional per diem, and the additional billable hours I had (usually the earlier flight was the better deal for the company’s $$$).

  45. Shiba Dad*

    OP 5 – have you asked what the thought process is behind this PTO policy? If you are comfortable doing so, explain the two scenarios that you wrote about and ask why you are being forced to use PTO time when you have worked more than 40 hours.

    If you are not comfortable doing this or this conversation doesn’t lead to anything I would follow other advice here and keep your work week to 40 hours.

    1. Lab Boss*

      I can’t speak for OP5’s employer, but in my experience employers with this type of policy have absolutely no problem shifting between “we pay you to be here 8-5 5 days a week, if you miss part of that time you have to use PTO” and “being salaried exempt means you’re paid to complete the work, not by the hour.”

      Charitably, they consider being present during the full standard business week to be a duty of the job, so time away has to be counted against the employee. Less charitably, any excuse to nickel-and-dime away your PTO means there’s less chance for employees to actually leave for significant chunks of time and disrupt the business. Plus outstanding PTO may count as a financial liability on the books- offering good PTO attracts employees, and then draining it away clears up that liability.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        Nonetheless, if you require me to take 3 hours of PTO when I’ve already worked 46 hours this week, you will find that I have something going on right after work every day now, and I simply can’t stay late. If there is no flexibility on the employer’s side, I’m working 40 hours and not a minute more.

        1. Lab Boss*

          I agree in spite of my company’s official policy, which is why when my team works extra hours one day, I develop a sudden case of situational blindness and just don’t see them leaving early another day.

    2. Really?*

      OP 5- I, too am remote, in Florida. My situation may not be exactly the same as yours, however… Some of our assignments are billed hourly, for which I track the time, others are on a flat fee or NTE basis, and I generally do not have to be that careful about time, because we are only going to be paid what we agreed. Deadlines of course are deadlines. So, how do they know what you are doing when? You could be out at a client or driving to/from; doing practice development activities, or on a phone call, trying to troubleshoot an equipment problem, or anyone of a myriad problems for a three-hour period. If you make up the time, it’s certainly not stealing from your employer. It’s a lousy policy, but find your own workaround. Those extra hours on Tuesday or Wednesday may be reported on Friday, etc., etc.

  46. Delta Delta*

    #1 – This feels like a “know your audience” situation. If the industry and the company are a little more dressed-down, why should an interviewer throw on a suit? I suppose there are ranges within this, as well. I can see being a little concerned if a casual industry interviewer showed up in ripped or stained clothing without explanation. (I once had to do a work thing directly after school; part of my school day was a field lab, where I fell in a bog. I was muddy and had a good explanation. Shrug.)

    #2 – I’d hazard a guess that it isn’t the infantile use of emojis that grinds your gears so much as literally everything else about the job, and the manager’s choices are not landing well.

    1. londonedit*

      I agree on number 1 – I’m in book publishing and it’s generally pretty casual. Jeans are perfectly fine for the office, unless you have a particularly high-powered meeting. I’d be unnerved if I went for an interview and the person interviewing me was wearing a formal business suit, because that’s really rare even for senior staff, and I’d worry about expectations for the dress code etc if I worked there (I don’t want to have to wear a business suit!). My usual style of dress for work is jeans and a nice top/jumper, or a midi dress and smart trainers, but for an interview I’d take it up a notch in formality by wearing black jeans and a blazer and nice necklace with my nice top, or smarter flat shoes with my midi dress. I wouldn’t expect an interviewer to ‘dress up’ specifically, but I’d expect them to at least be in jeans-and-nice-t0p or jeans-and-open-necked-shirt.

  47. AvonLady Barksdale*

    I once worked for a very casual company. We were interviewing (in person, this was a while ago) and one of my co-workers didn’t even bother to put on shoes to greet applicants. While video interviews definitely don’t require shoes, I do think it’s nice to dress up a notch when you conduct interviews. Not a suit, but a plain shirt without logos, or a sweater instead of a hoodie, that kind of thing. I look at interviewing like hosting an important guest– you want to make things extra nice and comfortable for them, and you also want them to see that you made an extra effort just as they did.

  48. LaDiDa*

    If they will pay for the travel you can look into Rent the Runway for clothes to rent. The quality is exceptional and very reasonably priced. They have work clothes, and cocktail gowns. All kinds of things! I hope you can figure out a way to go.

  49. MCMonkeyBean*

    For number 3, you’ve maybe already thought of all this but my first thoughts were 1) has the company said they wouldn’t pay for this travel or is it just not in line with their usual policies–it seems work asking if they would cover it under these circumstances! An event that honors work you did looks good for them too! And 2) I don’t think they’d likely cover anything to wear but if the company agreed to cover travel then you might be able to figure something out. Like if you own any black dresses they can read more formal in a formal setting, and can be helped with accessories. Or do you know anyone who might be able to lend you either a dress or any accessories or something?

    I’m crossing my fingers that you’re able to get there!

  50. Mary Jane*

    OP 3: This is something I was just talking about at work. A lot of times these “award” ceremonies are fundraisers for the companies giving the awards. Not that you didn’t deserve the award, I’m sure you did! It’s the ceremony part of it I find frustrating. It’s not uncommon for an awards organization to say to a company “Oh, one of your people is up for an award…we have tables you can sponsor at the awards ceremony that only cost $20k each…would you like to sponsor one?” In my opinion, the awarding organization should go out of their way to ensure that it’s affordable and easy for award recipients to accept their awards.

    OP 4: This happens with me a lot. Typically it’s my colleagues with young children that rush home. I think the thing is not to be defensive about it, but treat it as if it’s normal (which I think it should be!) to not rush home. Some common things I say to colleagues when they ask me when I’m flying back;
    “I plan for extra time after a customer meeting as a way to hopefully entice them to spend more causal time with me after the formal meeting is over.”
    “I perform best for our company when I’m well-rested and stick to my sleep routine. I could get home at midnight, but then I wouldn’t perform well. It’s in the company’s best interest to have me well-rested.”

  51. I'm A Little Teapot*

    #5 – There’s a couple ways you can handle this. First, you have the option of not working more than 8 hours a day. Your employer may not appreciate it, but it’s a reasonable response to the lack of flexibility being provided to you.

    Another option is to move some of the extra hours to the short day. Yeah, its time sheet fudging, but I know it happens. And it happens because of this situation. It’s not time theft (those hours were worked, just not on Friday when they were reflected), but it is dishonest time entry. I don’t recommend this option for obvious reasons.

    Another option you have will depend on the specifics of your employers policies: admin time or similar to make up the 8 hours on the short day. This definitely can have consequences, so you need to know your employer’s policies and practices.

    1. Lab Boss*

      Time card fudging seems like a really bad idea. That’s putting you at a real risk of discipline or even termination over a couple hours of PTO.

      1. I'm A Little Teapot*

        Agreed. But I’ve seen it done and I’ve been at companies where it was the unspoken norm. Frankly, if a company doesn’t want time sheet fudging to happen, they’re going to have to change their practices around time entry requirements.

  52. She of Many Hats*

    LW 3,
    If you can get the company to cover travel expenses, check with friends or thrift stores to see if they have outfits or pieces you can turn into a more formal outfit such as elegant black pants and a satin or sequined top especially if you glam it up with statement jewelry. There are also a number of online women’s formal rental sites that may bring the cost to you down. It sounds obvious but we often focus on brand new for events like this instead of shopping our own and friends’ closets.

  53. Trucker_Tikal*

    On #2, I don’t find the message patronizing. My boss is a man in his 50s, and he sends messages like this all the time, complete with emojis. This is his “normal” in both texts and our in-person meetings. We are a transportation company, 80% male employees. I love his over-the-top thank you’s and recognitions. It’s better than the previous boss, that we only heard from when there was a problem.

    1. WellHeresTheThingJanet*

      Yeah, my previous manager was the most genuine and kind man I’ve ever known and cared *so much* about us as people that he had to leave the room during heavy layoffs to avoid tears. He would go to bat for us, take the heat for us, and work the extra overtime and holidays so we could be with family. He would be exactly the person to gush over how proud he was of us – as workers, or as people, or both – and actually MEAN it. So those people do exist!

  54. JessicaTate*

    LW3 — Definitely get real confirmation on that dress code. I once had a client invite me and a couple of her other consultants to an “Awards Gala” in the middle of a conference, and she told us up-and-down that it was “black tie.” It was in a field/industry that is just not a “black tie gala” crowd, and I was wary. I punted and went with a non-descript little black dress already in my closet and dressed it up with jewelry and a wrap, and hoped I didn’t look like a bumpkin. The other consultant wore a full-length gown. …The event was decidedly NOT black tie. It was business suits, business dresses — nice, but not over-the-top. I blended in, but the woman in the gown felt uncomfortable all night. So my lesson from them on: Always check specifics of the dress code with someone who really knows!

    I understand that even the business dress may not be in your wardrobe already. On that front, like others up-thread, would encourage trying thrift shopping or other ways of borrowing. If you can get the company to pay the travel (and they should!), I hope you can find a way to get an outfit without breaking the bank so that you can get the professional benefit of recognition and networking. (And congratulations on the award!)

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      All of this. And the company also benefits from the recognition! Basically, this recognition is “look at this awesome work that These People at This Company did.” The networking is good for you, but is also good for the company, since you and your team are going to be ambassadors for the company.

  55. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    LW5, sounds like the company is setting itself up for you to not work so many extra hours/long days. You’re being flexible in a way that probably benefits them and are getting screwed over because of it. That’s a crap deal.

  56. Poppy*

    #2 and its response are demonstrations of how difficult it is to be a woman in management. As another commenter mentioned, men’s style of communication is lauded as being some kind of “gold standard” that we need to strive for. Why? Because men are inherently better managers? I speak and write messages informally to my team (which is made up of all genders) because I’ve been managed by the cold, emotionless, constantly formal drones that seem to be idealized here and it was demoralizing to only ever hear about what I did wrong.

    Women in management never seem to get a break: if we try to send encouraging messages to our team, we’re infantilizing and condescending. If we straightforwardly correct their behavior or performance, we’re told that our tone needs adjusting. The message is “be men, but softer, but not TOO soft, you still have to lay down the law but show you care about people…” It very much seems like an impossible standard because it is.

    1. CharlieBrown*


      Anyone who’s ever done design work has inevitably had the question from a client “Can you make it more blue but without adding more blue?” (Clients from Hell used to have a lot of these; alas they are no more.)

      No matter what you do, it will never be right for some people because they have completely unreasonable expectations.

  57. Pocket Mouse*

    #5 – I was actually mulling over commenting (griping?) in a Friday thread around something very similar. I’m eligible to earn comp time when I *work* over 40 hours in a week, meaning if I take any time off, I would have to more than make up those hours to receive any comp time that week. It sucks to have over 40 hours listed on a timesheet between work and PTO and still lose PTO- you’d think that if we must use PTO in such a situation we could at least earn comp time to come out even.

    I see suggestions above to just not work those extra hours elsewhere in the week, but as acknowledged, sometimes it doesn’t feel possible. Other times I simply forget that I have PTO on another day and I keep going with the mistaken idea I’m at least earning comp time for doing so.

  58. LW3*

    Hi all

    Thank you so much for all of your kind suggestions. I’ve read them all and there are some great ideas. I perhaps should have included more information in my email:
    – I’m in the UK so don’t have access to some of the great American resources, but hopefully they’re useful for other people to know about!

    – I’m in my late 40s and a mid-level manager, so not brand new to the world of work by any means, but I don’t have the kind of background where people went to awards events- I grew up in significant poverty, we lived hand to mouth, and I didn’t have anyone to teach me professional norms. Ask A Manager has been incredibly helpful in showing me the ‘what everyone knows’ kind of things that I wasn’t even aware were A Thing.

    -I’m a UK24/26 so borrowing clothes is impossible, buying them from charity shops unlikely. Business wear is expensive and hard to come by in my size so I tend to make do the best I can- nothing in my work wardrobe would pass muster at a formal event, no matter how nicely I accessorise!

    -My income is a good wage for the part of the UK I’m in (~£35k) but is our only household income. Our budget is stretched but manageable at the moment. There are things that my family needs more than a pretty dress for me!

    -The upper levels of my organisation are mostly staffed by people who earn AT LEAST double what I do, and a significant number of them are from privileged backgrounds. The idea that one of their middle managers is in a position where buying a pretty dress would break the bank is pretty much unthinkable for them, and very embarrassing for me to admit to.

    – When I mentioned making myself vulnerable, I’m aware that sharing with colleagues that I can’t go to a gala event because I can’t afford an outfit and travel potentially puts me in position where opportunities no longer come my way- perhaps with the best of intentions, but it would still possibly scupper my career development.

    Transgenerational poverty has a real impact! I’m the first person in my family to earn more than minimum wage, to have a degree, to have opportunities. It’s been tough (and continues to be tough) to navigate lots of the things that people whose parents were professionals ‘just know’ – I was older than I care to admit when I realised that how I behaved at work had an impact on how far I could advance in my career.

    Thanks everyone. I still haven’t decided what I’ll do about this in terms of disclosing to work colleagues that I’m poor and how that affects the opportunities I’m able to jump on. But I will absolutely consider the advice from commenters here.

    P.S. I’ve had a look at pictures of the gala from previous events and it is FANCY! Black tie and evening dress fancy- everyone looked like they were going to a posh wedding! I don’t think my usual cheap black trousers and black top would cut the mustard…

    1. UKDancer*

      I think definitely as it’s a work event you shouldn’t feel inhibited about asking them for the money for the travel expenses. You’re representing them after all. I’d treat it as calm and rationally as possible and make clear you’re assuming that as this is a work related function bringing good publicity for them, you’re expecting they’d want to pay.

    2. Lifelong student*

      For the party- consider something like a black maxi-dress that has a nice cut- or that you could add a belt, scarf, or wrap to. Bonus- if you later want to use it for other things where it would be too long- you could hem it. There are some on Amazon which could be fancied up- and under $30 US. You could add elements to it.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      I think you’ve got three approaches you can go with, depending on what you’re comfortable with.
      1) Be the diversity expert, and use an “I’m sure you’d want to know this sometimes happens” tone. I grew up a lot rougher than my colleagues and I’ve found they’re actually super grateful for any insight that will prevent them coming off as privileged. I once had to explain to a colleague that not everyone we serve in our line of work will be able to afford x, y and z, and she was very surprised, but also welcomed the insight. There really isn’t anything embarrassing about not having (stuff), just because it’s surprising to some people who have (stuff). However we’re teachers and we work with kids, so this knowledge adds to our ability to serve children and their families. Your industry sounds very different, but it WILL help people be better managers and help the hidden people in your industry if they are receptive. Only you can know how it would be received to say: “Like a lot of people at the moment, I don’t really have the budget for occasionwear, and plus sized is especially expensive, nor do I have a travel budget. However I’m really keen to join in, I don’t want to look disinterested in opportunities; so I wanted to ask how we support people who can’t stretch to this.”
      2) Do the numbers as to whether you need to treat the outlay of funds as an investment. Does your industry really does have a secret “show us your wardrobe and hotel budget” barrier before anyone gets to advance to the next level? Is it more of a budget priority for your family than a pretty dress if so?Is there anyone you trust to ask about the importance of these events in your industry?
      3) Make an excuse about a prior commitment and go without your well deserved celebration while a bunch of people with identikit backgrounds celebrate instead. It’s not a storybook ending, but if you’re sure you’ll be penalised for being a single income person with a working class family, (or at least haven’t got any visible reassurance to the contrary) then it won’t be your fault.

      1. LW3*

        Thank you, that’s some really good food for thought. Even at this point in my life, I am still a bit ashamed of how poor I was as a kid, and how relatively poor I still am. I do A LOT of diversity flag-waving and educating (to the point where I’m sure people internally roll their eyes at me! :D ) but it always feels easier to advocate for others than for myself. I like that approach and might go with that. I have a similar previous profession to teaching, and it’s blowing my mind that in this industry poverty and inequality are absolute elephants in the room- like you, I was very comfortable speaking up about financial and emotional hardship in that role, but I’m conscious it isn’t really welcomed in the same way in this new role.

        Sadly, my industry really does have a bit of a snobbery barrier to push through- a colleague comes from a similar background to me and at work uses a very different accent, speech pattern and mannerisms from those they use when it’s just us poor kids together! It’s paying off- they’re on their way up through the ranks, but our very senior management team is made up of people who have had private educations, money and connection- many of them are oblivious to the privilege they have and would be offended and touchy if this was pointed out. Unfortunately, there’s still a real sense of ‘let them eat cake’…

        1. Ellis Bell*

          I think there are genuine snobs, and people who just simply don’t know how the other half live. The latter are open to having their horizons opened if you approach them positively, like “of course” they are. When you know better, you do better. On the shame issue you mention; how much well earned pride in your achievements do you have balancing that? Take stock. It has a strange way of popping up when in the company of a genuine snobs, I found. One was boasting about the brilliant school his father had made sure to send him to: “One of the best in the country!” and I just burst out laughing at what a spectrum we had in the room. I said: “I went to one of the worst. My borough was the worst in the country and my school was the worst in the borough”. Someone at the table at the table wanted to know what that was like and I very laconically said “chaos”. A good work colleague (who is super posh) said: “Ellis is just pretty bloody clever”. It was totally unplanned, so I had no time to get ashamed ahead of time, if you know what I mean. Afterwards, I reflected I had more to be proud of than top-school boy, even though I think it’s great that he liked his school and that his dad got the best he could for him. Nevertheless, I still did better. I will add that he was not a work superior, and I often button my lip in situations where people have more power….. But I would ditch the internal shame as much as you can.

    4. AnneOfAvonlea*

      A good UK site for secondhand clothes is There are a number of gowns in your size on there now, some for only £10-15 plus delivery.

    5. the Viking Diva*

      OP3, I feel your pain about the difficulties of borrowing this type of clothing from your own circles. Can you dress up your black top and bottom with a fabulous borrowed necklace, artsy silk scarf, or beaded shawl? Those are easier to borrow because they don’t have sizes. A friend of mine has a dramatic necklace that I’ve borrowed for special events – it is set off by plain black and steers the conversation to the necklace, not what’s under it. (style-wise, think folk art or modern art – not the royal sapphires).

    6. Jo*

      So personally, I would definitely push back on the idea that the company wouldnt expense it. You are going there because of work, if you can usually expense work travel, honestly, this should fall under that category. This is the kind of situation where Alisons approach of “Obviously this is what we’re doing right?” can sometimes be really great.

      Regarding what to wear, thats a really tough one. Like some people have said – Facebook groups and Gumtree/Ebay can be a lifesaver for this. I see people selling great things on there for like 5-10 pounds, so hopefully something there is in your budget? Its a timesuck wading through it, but finding things in your size might be easier than you think.

      From your response, I kind of want to encourage you to go even more because if its a good networking opportunity, it means the chance to improve your career and get even *further* ahead – but I appreciate that it can be super hard on a tight budget.

      I know Alison doesnt allow it for good reasons, but this is one of those times I wish I could throw some £££ at you because it sucks having to miss out on opportunities due to things like this! This internet stranger is cheering you on!

    7. RagingADHD*

      A good friend of mine is a wedding photographer. She has one (1) black infinity dress, that she wears to everything from afternoon garden weddings, to the most upscale glittery formal events you can imagine.

      Infinity dresses can be made by anyone with basic sewing skills and styled to suit any body type. Fabric isn’t free, but can often be found on deep discount.

    8. Problem solving*

      If UK 24/26 is US 20/22, I would give you one of my (thrifty because I was poor and work for a non profit) gowns. Send you pictures of choices.

    9. Curmudgeon in California*

      If this was me and I was still dressing fem I’d probably be digging through my patterns and fabric stash to make something. Why? Because I wear a US size 26, and most fat lady clothes available these days are just tacky. As it is, I’m slowly building up a suit wardrobe, but I seldom wear anything in it.

  59. Purely Allegorical*

    OP 1 — having done a lot of interviews lately at casual tech companies, I really *don’t* appreciate it when my interviwer is in a hoodie/slouchy clothes. I took the time to present a polished experience, and the prevailing expectation is that I’m trying to make as good an impression as possible. It makes the interview feel very lopsided if my interviwer isn’t matching that expectation.

    Certainly an explanation right at the beginning that it’s a casual atmosphere would be helpful, but it still feels disrespectful. I’m taking time off my regular job to chat with you and put my best foot forward, I’d really like it if you could show me the same courtesy.

  60. This or That*

    Wherever I’ve worked, the deal on exempt employees has always been:
    1. You work however many hours it takes to get the job done–including over 40–as needed.
    2. If it takes less than 40 hours you aren’t penalized for taking a few hours off early.

    I’ve never worked a place where being exempt meant you worked a minimum of 40 hours every single week plus as much overtime as needed. This is way too one sided.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      I had one manager try to tell me that the expected weekly hours were a minimum of 50. I reported that to HR, and he got slapped down.

      Properly done, exempt means that you get comp time or at least can flex your hours within a week – if you do 40 hours by Thursday night, and you don’t have any pressing deadlines, you take Friday off. This idea of putting in 46 hours and then having to take PTO for a Friday appointment is just nuts, and an abuse of the rules about exempt workers.

  61. AcadLibrarian*

    I’m sure someone has already mentioned it but so few gowns are worn more than once that it might be possible to find one second-hand too. Plus less waste!

    1. Ellis Bell*

      The OP is a size 24/26 in UK sizes which changes the game considerably. There’s a plethora of stuff on UK eBay that’s say, a size 14 or 16, but it’s clear that 22+ people are keeping tight hold of their occasionwear and wearing them into webs once they’ve found it; even if selling they’re not giving it away like the lower sizes. New stuff from Boohoo, Evans and Yours competes easily with the prices of the second hand stuff at this size. Depressing.

  62. Angstrom*

    #2: I’m a cranky old curmudgeon when it comes to emojis, especially for business communication, but I try to let it go. It’s a style difference. If the person is otherwise competent I can live with it.
    If the person is perpetually cutesy, that can get annoying, but it still beats working with a grouchy sourpuss.

  63. Elm*

    LW2: Your boss is happy y’all are doing a good job and she uses emojis to express it. There’s no ill intention. I read recently about how younger people (and I’m in my 30s, so I’m only a tiny bit older than the high end of the study) find emojis out of touch and, yes, patronizing or unclear in inte t. Like…to older folks, “k” could be totally innocent, but to younger folks like me, it’s SUPER RIUDE.

    But at the end of the day, this lady is expressing something positive. Unless you have real reason to believe she’s mocking y’all, I wouldn’t think on it and take the win.

    (I’ve also gotten in trouble at work for not using emojis ENOUGH. Apparently it helped our second language workers understand tone? I’m a former ESL professional and have never heard of that, but I gather the request came from them. So, something to keep in mind I guess?)

    LW3: If there’s an evening gala, it shouldn’t matter how far away it is unless the event is in your own town. You’re supposed to attend that, and it wouldn’t be safe to drive home after a long day. This award makes the company look good, and that should be enough. I’ve been to a few galas and one literal ball. The galas were more like what you’d wear to a nice restaurant, while the ball was full formal. (I’ve found the shoes make ALL the difference!) If there are photos from previous years, check those out. And don’t forget about thrifting!

    1. Ellis Bell*

      What you said about the boss being happy with ALL of them has finally enabled me to put my finger on exactly what’s bugging me. Group praise is pretty much watered down praise. It’s far far better than a grouchy boss and an environment of “whippings will continue until morale improves” but generally praise has so much more power when it’s specific and individual. However, getting heart eye emojis delivered to one individual might be too awkward for words, so perhaps OP should count their blessings.

  64. Software Engineer*

    LW5, as Allison says they are legally allowed to do that (make you use PTO even if you already worked a full week of hours) but if that’s the policy I would be keeping that in mind for the future. Flexibility goes both ways, and if my employer don’t want me to nickel and dime them and work only as much as required, they better not nickel and dime me on PTO or needing to take off a little early to run an errand or whatever occasionally. It’sa two way street and I would factor it into my future decision making on whether to stay late to get something done next time

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      I’m a salaried employee (not in the US, so I expect it’s not quite the same as being exempt). My willingness to be flexible is directly proportional with my management’s willingness to be flexible with me.

  65. Jacob*

    El oh el at all the comments to poor OP #3 that boil down to “have you heard of this little-known thing called … a thrift store???” How condescending.

      1. CharlieBrown*

        Nobody is saying they don’t believe she can’t afford it. They are merely pointing out an alternative the LW could possibly afford.

    1. CharlieBrown*

      It’s not meant to be condescending. A lot of people have no idea that thrift stores exist, or what kind of inventory they carry. Where I live, most thrift stores don’t carry high-end clothing at all, so I would not assume this would be a good place for someone else to go for something like this. But if you live in an area where thrift stores have higher end goods but you didn’t realize it, a comment like this is helpful, not condescending.

      Your experience is not the same as everybody else’s. You might want to remember that in future.

    2. LW3*

      Thank you, I know people mean well. I’ve been poor pretty much my whole life and I’m very familiar with charity shops! :D

      The issue for me personally is that I’m a UK24/26 and charity shops don’t tend to have much to offer in those sizes- mainly because us fatties tend to hang onto our clothes because they’re so bloody expensive!

    3. WellRed*

      I don’t think of it as condescending but the amount of people over the years commenting wit hadvice to “accessorize with a scarf and earrings”drives me crazy. Plus, scarves look like you are trying too hard if you can’t pull it off. There. I said it.

      1. WellRed*

        Sigh. Trying to say if someone feels they can’t fit the dress code, telling them to strap on a scarf(do people actually have these o handy?? Fk, no!) and cheap jewelry isn’t helpful.

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        Plus, although I’m AFAB, I’m fat and look like a rotten sausage in the usual “little black dress”. If I try to dress fem I’m uncomfortable and awkward.

  66. Angelinha*

    On the awards ceremony, I’d start by checking about the travel logistics. I think it would be very weird for them to expect you to pay your own way! In most workplaces, if they’re inviting you to go, they are going to pay. They might assume you know this so I would confirm!
    This doesn’t sound like the kind of thing most people would pay out of pocket to travel for, even if they could afford it, unless it targets self-employed people.

  67. plumerai*

    To LW#3: I was in a similar position early in my career. I mentioned to a more senior colleague (though not my boss) that I didn’t have anything appropriate to wear, and she immediately volunteered her closet. Depending on the size of your organization, and the relationships you have within it, that could be an option, perhaps—though I do get that it’s difficult to ask someone. But maybe just saying this flat-out could lead to a similar offer?

  68. El+l*

    OP4: Look, flight selection is often a complex problem – that’s why I personally book all my flights – but you probably are overthinking it.

    Especially if it spills over into the weekend, most people just say “Enough, I’m going home today” and leave it at that. And they can’t get outside their own heads.

  69. louvella*

    When I was doing interviews via Zoom I would tell candidates, you don’t need to dress up, I know we’re both at home, I’ll probably be wearing a hoodie! I didn’t want them to stress or feel like they had to wear a blazer while sitting in their living room. Then when the final candidates had another Zoom interview with a VP at the company I let them know that he would be doing the interview from the office and would likely be wearing something on the more formal side of business casual, and they may want to consider that when choosing what they wore. Didn’t give them specific instructions, and have no clue if the VP would have cared, but didn’t want anyone to feel bamboozled by what I said earlier.

  70. Lauren*

    OP #3: Amazon has an amazing selection of gorgeous dresses that would absolutely be suitable to a formal event (and also still appropriate for a professional setting like an awards gala) and many are less than $50-75! Don’t feel like you have to spend hundreds to look like a million bucks.

    But also, your employer should absolutely want to cover the travel expenses for you to attend this event! It makes THEM look good when your work is recognized, so it’s a win for them too.

  71. Onward&Upward*

    #3 – there companies out there now that rent fancy dresses that makes the type of event you’re going to a more affordable option for many. You might want to explore this service to know if this is doable if your employer covers the travel portion. Congrats on your recognition and I hope you’re able to attend! Maybe you’ll have to do a mini celebration with friends/family if you can’t go :)

  72. RagingADHD*

    LW#3, if you have enough lead time, the best place to find amazing formalwear for rock-bottom prices is on the clearance rack at a department store. This can lead to especially lucky finds if you are somewhat awkwardly shaped, as clothes which fit you perfectly probably won’t fit the majority of people (hence the reason they’re on clearance).

    I once found a truly Oscars-worthy dress at good old Lord & Taylor for (IIRC) $20, and I bought my wedding dress for $15. You do need to go frequently, or know their sales cycle, to hit the jackpot.

  73. Lanlan*

    LW#2 — some people are naturally that peppy and saccharine. I’m one of them, lol. I’ll consider whether I come across as patronising from now on, but I’d also like you to consider that her intentions may well be benign. (Also, I would totally treat a man that way. I definitely do not discriminate when I’m handing out words of praise.)

    1. Jasmine Clark*

      I’m the same way. So is the boss mentioned in the letter, and you’re right — it’s benign.

  74. LPUK*

    For#4, i am not good at early morning flights – waking up that early tends to be me migraines ( I’m a night owl not a lark), so I prefer to fly out the night before and get a hotel room near where I’m working the next day. As morning flights are much more expensive, doing that doesn’t cost the company more – in fact sometimes even with the room rate included, its still cheaper to catch a night flight than an early morning one. I prefer to do this because travel that doesn’t leave me with a migraine is actually more efficient for me – I don’t then feel shattered for the rest of the week, but I have had co-workers get extremely weird about it because I’m spending ‘ more time away’.

  75. Lori*

    #1. Have you considered dress rental or a second hand dress? Threadup is a great option they have new and used dresses as well as eBay.

  76. Problem solving*

    If UK 24/26 is US 20/22, I would give you one of my (thrifty because I was poor and work for a non profit) gowns. I would send you pictures of choices.

  77. Future silver banker*

    LW3 I would be matter of fact about it and not apologetic. You worked hard and deserve the recognition. Over the years, I missed on so many things because I had no disposable income, I would do things differently now.
    Ideally, your manager finds a way to cover travel costs even if the cheapest way is a bit longer e.g. train over plane. Or pool you with someone else from your company who is going anyway. Or sometimes these events have a small networking forum to chat, perhaps you could see if someone else is leaving from close to where you are (even if they are not in your organisation).
    On the dress, like Alison said, you could get away with a non gala gown. 20ish years ago, I remember borrowing a shirt from my roommate because I had to go to a conference and had no proper shirts at the time. Also, I come from a country where national dress is prohibitively expensive (think gold thread everywhere) but you can borrow it from family and friends or even rent it. Perhaps there is a dress renting service you could use?

  78. tinynerd13*

    Oh, I’m using this to check myself now. On maybe 1-2 occasions I’ve told the larger staff that I’m really proud of a major accomplishment our team has pulled off- it’s usually a collaborative and really challenging project. Should I not do that again?

    1. just passing through*

      I feel like “I’m proud of this specific thing we have accomplished together” is very different from “I’m proud of you (plural, generic).” People are reading the latter as the manager somehow claiming responsibility for her team being good workers, while the former is much more specific and meaningful praise. (For what it’s worth, I suspect the manager means something more like “I’m proud of how well our team has worked together during this difficult time” and just hasn’t devoted the amount of obsessive thought to the nuances of tone that this comment section has, but obviously I don’t know her and can’t be sure.)

      In your case, I wouldn’t worry.

      1. Jasmine Clark*

        I genuinely don’t see what’s wrong with “I’m proud of you.” It doesn’t mean you’re claiming responsibility for someone else’s work and I’m not sure why anyone thinks that. It means you’re recognizing someone else’s hard work and accomplishments. The fact that people are interpreting “I’m proud of you” in a bad way is so strange to me.

  79. RedinSC*

    For #3, if your company will pay the travel costs (and speaking as a manager I would), there are a couple of options for the clothing.

    My first bet would be Rent the Runway. You can find a stylish gown to rent for the weekend for a pretty modest price. I did this for a couple of weddings I went to. You get 2 sizes and there are lots of options from expensive to very affordable.

    I also swap clothing with some friends, do you have a friend or a coworker you could borrow something from? My friends and I do this, because I have a Gala dinner that I have to attend every year and just don’t need that many dresses.

    COnsignment shops. we have a great thrift store here that gets some high end things in, if you didn’t want to buy it, you could ask them about renting a dress for the weekend. It will be a donation to the thrift store and then then can resell the dress.

    But I really do think that most places will reimburse the travel, and you probably don’t need a gown, if you have a tidy black dress, that covers pretty much all occasions.

    1. RedinSC*

      Ah, I should have scrolled through the responses before chiming in.

      LW 3, sounds like you have some great options, and good luck!

  80. Jasmine Clark*

    I’m so disappointed in question #2 and Alison’s response. I think that both the LW and Alison are being judgmental and uptight. There are so many rude, mean, unappreciative bosses out there, but you’re upset over a kindhearted boss? Isn’t it a good thing to have a boss who’s nice to you and proud of you? Why is this perfectly innocent comment being twisted into something negative?

    I really don’t think this language is patronizing in any way and I wish LW and Alison would be more open-minded about people’s communication styles instead of jumping to a negative conclusion.

    I’m not anyone’s boss but I am a freelancer and I use this type of language (with emojis) with my clients because that’s the way I communicate and that’s how my clients are too. I don’t like the typical stuffy, uptight way that many people in professional settings communicate. That style of communication feels unnatural to me. So that’s probably where this boss is coming from. The idea that she’s being insulting, sexist, patronizing, etc is just not a reasonable conclusion to jump to.

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