After receiving a complaint about female co-workers who wore revealing outfits, I asked readers to share their views on professional office dress for women. Here’s a representative sample of their comments:
• When my younger employees start work, they have seldom given much thought to appropriate dress. With the women, I have found a quick and easy way to deliver the message about suitable attire. I simply ask, “Do you want to be known for your intellect or your assets?” I have never had to explain what I mean or repeat the question.
• I get really ticked off when women display more skin than people should see in a professional setting. The current trend apparently involves exposing generous amounts of breast surface. These women need to realize that if they want to be taken seriously, they must dress seriously. Thanks for letting me get this off my chest — no pun intended.
• Women who are on the prowl should do their hunting outside the office, where they can dress as provocatively as they like. At work, modest clothing is always more appropriate.
• Media images are part of the problem. In movies and on television, women see physicians displaying lots of cleavage and lawyers wearing mini-skirts in the courtroom. After awhile, this seems like normal workplace behavior. Bombarding women with over-sexualized images may be good for ratings, but it provides an unrealistic view of the working world.
• These are my personal guidelines for professional dress. Showing cleavage is never appropriate. Sleeveless tops are a bad idea, because very few women have the arms for it. Skin-tight pants and skirts should not be worn at work (or anywhere else). Sandals and flip-flops are never acceptable. People sometimes ask if I’m dressed for a job interview, so I must be doing something right.
• Dressing professionally seems to be a particular problem for young women making the transition from school to work. Because they can wear whatever they want at school, they frequently don’t understand that expectations on the job will be very different.
• From a male perspective, I don’t think professional women should ever have bare legs at the office unless the weather is very hot. If they don’t want to put on hose or tights, then they should wear nice pants. Bare legs are unprofessional and look ridiculous in the winter. It’s like a man wearing a suit without a tie. My wife agrees with this opinion, by the way.
• From one professional woman to another, I say leave the scoop necks and tight skirts at home. This is especially true in jobs where you frequently have to lean over (which I must do as a doctor) or where you are seated and others are looking down at you (like a receptionist).
Thanks to everyone who sent in their opinions. Like it or not, the way we dress inevitably conveys a message, so just be sure that your own office attire is sending the right signals.