Rude? Or Just Clueless? Or Something Else?

by Erin on April 19, 2007


walmart wrap dress

So a while back (I'm not telling you how long, but I did finally resurrect it from my inbox, so if you're still waiting for me to post something you sent me, take heart) … where was I? Oh, yes. A while back, Dress A Day reader Carrie sent me this story. It seems she had bought an inexpensive wrap dress that was featured in a "work wardrobe" story in Glamour mag — nothing fancy, just a $20 wrap dress from Wal-Mart. Carrie was a bit nervous about it (it being $20, and from Wal-Mart) but she tried it on and it was pretty good quality and (being a wrap dress) really flattering. And it was black with a subtle purple dotted swirl pattern, which she liked. So she bought it.

She was about two weeks into a new job (thus the acquiring a work wardrobe part) and had to go to a training session at a customer site. Great time to pack a wrap dress, right? It doesn't take up much space in a suitcase or wrinkle. (Carrie is in clinical sales; she was traveling to a hospital to represent her company and train a few people in the lab on how to use a piece of diagnostic equipment. Having worked in the field for a few years, she figured that it would be business casual, meaning no jeans, but no suits, either.)

Carrie thought (and I agree) that the dress was simple enough and could pass for business casual or slightly nicer. She wore it with pumps and hose and small silver hoop earrings. Unexceptionable, right? But her two coworkers told her that she was overdressed and would intimidate the customer! In a $20 Wal-Mart dress!

Carrie responded only by praising the comfort and convenience of the dress, and tried to let it go … only to have dinner weeks later with two colleagues who ended up mentioning that they had heard about it!

I think that her co-workers (or cow-orkers, in this case) were way out of line. First of all, it's a hospital, full of doctors … doctors are not going to be intimidated by a simple wrap dress. Then, of course, it's always rude to comment on peoples' clothing, unless you are complimenting them (or telling them a slip is showing, etc.). It's doubly rude to say something deflating if the person has no chance to go and change.

(To make the story complete we have to give you Carrie's description of her critics. "The 'business specialist' [basically a technical sales person] wore navy dress 'slacks', a hawaiian button-down shirt, and an ill-fitting khaki blazer. The other co-worker, the woman doing the training [Carrie was observing her to learn the training] wore khaki dress pants and a coral sweater twinset with a ring of smallish faux crystals along the neckline.)"

I can't imagine that "intimidating the customer" was really the issue … I'm sure it was something else. Hazing of the new girl? An international conspiracy of pants manufacturers to bulldoze dress-wearers into pants-wearing compliance? What do y'all think?

(The dress above isn't the one Carrie bought, but a similar one from Wal-Mart.)

{ 77 comments… read them below or add one }

Hannah April 19, 2007 at 6:52 am

Yes, must have been something personal. A wrap dress like that is not overdressed (or under) but somewhere in the middle. How silly (and hurtful) people can be.

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Jesse April 19, 2007 at 6:54 am

You know, it’s funny — my boss is weirdly obsessed with my clothes. She’s always saying how well-dressed and fancy I am, and I’m convinced it’s just because I wear skirts and dresses most of the time. I don’t actually think my skirt and sweater is so much “dressier” than my coworkers’ pants and sweaters or whatever, but somehow having my legs exposed makes it a whole nother thing. I say whatever — I’m not going through the hassle of tracking down pants that fit. Skirts and dresses are so much easier!

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mickey April 19, 2007 at 7:01 am

Sounds like intimidation but not of the customer—the pants-wearers couldn’t hack the simple perfection of the dress. Shame.

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Anonymous April 19, 2007 at 7:03 am

Sounds like junior high antics to me. It’s a great dress–I’d even brave the dreaded Wal-Mart if they carried it in my size. Carrie, you’ll get your laugh (secretly, I’m sure) when you’re promoted ahead of them. Laura Anderson

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enc April 19, 2007 at 7:06 am

Simple jealousy was at the back of all that!

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Theresa April 19, 2007 at 7:17 am

Ridiculous! and I agree with all the other commentors. One of my co-workers and I, nearly always wear dresses (including wrap dresses) and have been told to be “careful what we wear” when certain high ranking military and civilian come to our office. (We’re not talking short and plunging necklines here either.) I wore a black and white houndstooth wrap dress and one older coworker looked at me and said “whatever.” People are also overly concerned with my high heel pumps (2-3 in). “Don’t my feet hurt?” No, I’m quite comfortable thank you. (I don’t do loafers). So to Carrie, I quess fashionably dressed women are intimidating to the fashion challenged.

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twollin April 19, 2007 at 7:22 am

Yep, I go along with the opinion about “dress and skirt wearing” vs. “pant wearing”. What those women were afraid of was that she, the observer, was going to look higher up on the food chain than they did because she wore what they perceived as a higher level of dress. Reading the description of what they wore, shame on them for wearing poorly made clothing of any type. A nice dress of any type will trump garbage-y “business casual”, so it always behooves (if that is the correct spelling) women who wear business casual to buy quality outfits. Personally, I hate business casual and I especially hate the use of “golf shirts” as part of that uniform (I’ve had to wear it numerous times for trade shows) – unless they are getting women’s sizes (which they usually do not since they get the best pricing on one style rather than mixing styles), the shirts generally fit badly on women of any size. OK, that’s my rant for the day.

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layzbugs April 19, 2007 at 8:07 am

I have a Walmart wrap dress. I’ve worn it with peep toe pumps and a lace camisole to a very swanky Manhattan restaurant. I’ve worn it with flats to a PTA meeting.It certainly doesn’t sound as though Carrie was overdressed. Bottom line: if she was comfortable and felt good she did fine.

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Cassie April 19, 2007 at 8:11 am

She was not genuinely overdressed, but a skirt of any type makes most people Dressed Up. Again with the me not wearing dresses or skirts though I love them– it calls attention to me. They were out of line to comment, but I can understand how a dress, no matter what the style or price, trumps their own outfits.

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Anonymous April 19, 2007 at 8:47 am

I’ve had similar experiences. I think it’s partly that wrap dresses have that plunging neckline (speaking of which, how do people avoid showing too much cleavage in wrap dresses at work? It’s driving me nuts.) Even when the neckline is perfectly discreet, wrap dresses, because of the wrap and the shape of the neckline, feel a little sexier than other dresses. Which is not to say that the dress was inappropriate–it sounds like the outfit was entirely appropriate! But that could be part of what’s going on.

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Anonymous April 19, 2007 at 8:52 am

I work as a paralegal, in a business casual office, and I wear a suit. I have also received comments, but I think it is mostly motivated by people who don’t want to dress in a more professional manner. From the sound of this story, it is a similar situation for Carrie. She did not look *intimidating* she looked professional.Amy

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kim p. April 19, 2007 at 8:57 am

The comment seems like a variation on “don’t work so hard, you’ll make the rest of us look bad.” I’m not sure I’d want to be working with those folks!

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sara jane April 19, 2007 at 9:17 am

anonymous, our own dear Erin showed us how to be more discreet in a Duro – wear a cami or tank underneath. A pop of color and a bit of coverage. Should work smashingly on a wrap dress, too.

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Marie-Christine April 19, 2007 at 9:22 am

Overdressed is relative. In this case, if she was wearing something totally out of whack with what the coworkers were wearing, she was wrong. It’s just never OK for a trainee to look like she’s trying to outshine the boss, sorry girls, this is a basic rule of work. Now I agree that it’d have been better to give her guidelines before she packed than complain after the fact, when she couldn’t change anything. But no matter how expensive the dress, if it’s perceived as too much, it’s got to be reserved for barbecues at home or whatever. It took a long while for women to get it generally accepted that wearing pants is professional, now dresses are regarded as mostly frivolous fluff, and you’ve got to work with the times.. Don’t think you’ll look professional if everyone is busy wondering how come your wrap dress is staying shut, let’s not even mention what they’re thinking when it’s not.

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kharma April 19, 2007 at 9:29 am

I have to agree with what many others have said – whenever I wear dresses to work I am told I look fancy (albeit in a nice way, not a demeaning way). Come to think of it, I’ve never seen anyone else in my office (I work in a design firm) wear a dress to work. I can’t understand why as a dress is the fastest, easiest, most brainless way to look really great when you’re exhausted in the morning.I regularly wear wrap dresses to work, and have never had any issues. Not to mention that wearing dresses works in your favor – I’ve had clients remember me and ask for me by my style of dress, not to mention my hair – but that is another story. It’s really not terrible to stick out as such, but unfortunately in this day and age of ill-fitting trousers and business casual you just need a little bit of a backbone for it.

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La BellaDonna April 19, 2007 at 9:49 am

No. No. No. What she wore was exactly correct. What the others wore would have been perceived, in any firm in which I’ve worked, as “file clerk.” I totally disagree with the “wearing pants is professional” and “it’s never right to outshine the boss.” She wasn’t WITH “the boss,” she was with co-workers. Who dressed badly. Pants can be professional, on some occasions, and, of course, the correct type of pants – if you can find ones that fit, and good luck with that. No. This was a case where the new girl really DID look like a professional, and her co-workers were afraid of looking bad – which they did, not because of Carrie, but because they looked bad. However, they were able to tell themselves that they looked OK, because they looked equally bad. Now, the interesting thing is that Carrie is in clinical sales; sales reps are a group that John Molloy covers in his Dress for Success for Women books. Carrie absolutely was dressed right. The other two – did I mention “file clerk”* ? They’re afraid she’ll outshine, and, worse, outsell them. There’s no way that Carrie is going to “intimidate the customers;” the doctors are going to see her appearance, and see her on the same level as a peer. They aren’t going to see her co-workers that way.I would caution Carrie to watch her back at this particular organization, however. I’d suggest she needs to smile and keep her back to the wall at all times. It sounds gossipy, clique-ridden, and petty in a nasty way. Carrie said she had two other colleagues mention that they’d heard about the dress; did they actually say what exactly they had heard? I wonder how Carrie is doing at that job now; I wish her luck there, she’ll need it. *This is not a slam at file clerks; good ones are a godsend to the companies they work for. However, they aren’t required or expected to dress the same way as the “professionals” in the office.

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Moonwishes April 19, 2007 at 9:54 am

What is this world coming to when a woman is told she is over-dressed by wearing a dress to work! If there was a dress code for the job it should have been communicated to her at the beginning and by her boss or Human Resources, not some bratty people who suddenly realized that they looked like slobs compared to her! I am soooo glad I no longer have to dance to office politics! I have seen several articles stating that this is the year of the dress! Go for it.

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Kristen April 19, 2007 at 10:17 am

I can see where you are coming from marie-christine but the fact is women got pants to be acceptable by NOT working with the times. In this day and age, it looks less and less likely that I will EVER be “working with the times.” It is not wrong to fight for a higher standard of dress, even if it’s not popular. Way to go Carrie!

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dawn April 19, 2007 at 10:21 am

Her co-workers are threatened by her. Period.BTW, I just got home from Walmart. That is a nice dress.

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jessie April 19, 2007 at 10:29 am

I’m chiming in to say that whenever I wear a skirt or dress to work, everyone freaks out about how dressed up and fancy I am. It has gotten to the point where I rarely wear anything but pants just to avoid talking about my clothing all day. I love skirts and dresses but don’t feel like I can get away with them all that often. I work in a library, where you would think it wouldn’t be a big deal.

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Jen P April 19, 2007 at 10:48 am

I think part of the problem may be that if Carrie is new and the other people have seniority on her, her dressing in what are perceived to be ‘better’ clothes does have a bit of hierarchy problem. Sales is so much about appearance. If they’re supposed to be a team, they want to equalize the team. Now, in an effort to create harmony, she may want to modify her style of dressing. This doesn’t mean she has to join the slacks-wearing-masses. One of the problems with dresses versus skirts-and-sweaters is that it is very visually different than a shirt and pants because you are wearing the same color and pattern across one’s entire body. So doing something like adding a sweater to a dress can soften the look. Of course, I’m a skirts-and-sweater woman, myself. And I’ve gotten snotty comments at work (mostly ‘don’t you own ANY pants’ nonsense) and I charge them with finding pants that fit decently. That usually shuts ‘em up.

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Mossback Meadow April 19, 2007 at 10:51 am

I picked up 2 of those walmart dresses this winter – they are pretty nice, and flattering to my figure.I agree – how rude. People don’t know how to dress anywhere these days.Bring classy back!

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Alexa April 19, 2007 at 10:57 am

I’m envious of all the women who don’t think twice about slipping on a skirt or dress. My legs are so stick-like, I even look ridiculous in mid-calf length ones. Pants have been my salvation! The double-weave wool ones by Agnona in particular are so beautifully cut that the investment I made in them has paid off countless times over. I know I’m not alone not wishing to expose my legs, and being restricted in this way is very painful. Nevertheless, I always compliment women when I see them in skirts or dresses (not so keen on shorts)–they stand out, and look lovely in comparison to the pants-outfitted ones.

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Nancy Bea Miller April 19, 2007 at 10:59 am

I can’t resist joining in the chorus here. With few exceptions, a simple dress makes the wearer seem “dressier” (duh, right?) than if she were wearing trousers. Even if the dress is mass-produced and cheap and the trousers are designer and costly. So probably the female trousers-wearing co-worker felt intimidated that someone junior to her was dressing “higher up” than her. I’d bet that the male colleague was clueless, but perhaps sensed something was a little out of fashion kilter and when the female trousers-wearing colleague began sniping, he joined in out of solidarity.If the company wants its employees to wear a uniform (sounds like khaki trousers with cheap tops are the preferred look) it should have sent a memo. Your friend did nothing wrong, of course. Vive la robe!

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Anonymous April 19, 2007 at 11:10 am

I wear dresses all the time, even in my male dominated field. If I know I am going to a construction site, I bring flats. I never worry about last minute invites to lunch with the boss or a client because I look nice. If I worked somewhere where the boss was more worried about how I looked than my actual work, I wouldn’t last long. Nor would that business.

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The Momma Chronicles April 19, 2007 at 11:37 am

They saw what she was wearing, realized she looked great, and being the insecure women they are, they attacked her. Clearly they were worried *she’d* look like *their* boss and wanted none of it.

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Anonymous April 19, 2007 at 11:38 am

I’m going to fly in the face of the prevailing “YES! Carrie was absolutely VICTIMIZED!!!!” comments: Looking at the picture you linked to, I don’t think that’s an appropriate dress for office wear. It’s *really* low-cut. (Yes, you can wear a camisole under it, but visually, unless you manage a really good color match, that just means that you’re now going “Check out this triangle drawing attention to my boobs, guys!”) Is it possible that Carrie’s coworkers were trying to express something along those lines to her, but, to avoid being rude (oh irony!) didn’t want to say “Look, we can see too much cleavage.”? In the absence of hard evidence to the contrary, it’s usually safe to assume that people are in fact not trying to discriminate against you and keep you down.

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Rayna April 19, 2007 at 11:44 am

She did absolutely nothing wrong.Dresses are quick, easy, and travel-friendly; just pop it over your head and you’re out the door! In short, all the things that would be great for traveling to a training session…I’d suggest that if they thought the wrap dress was showing too much cleavage, she could just pop a suit jacket on over it…but then they’d probably get on her case even more for being “overdressed.”If I was Carrie, I would’ve responded by asking them what specific part of the HR handbook says that she’s overdressed. My hunch is that these Frumpy McFrump-frumps wouldn’t have a clue…

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La BellaDonna April 19, 2007 at 12:21 pm

Alexa, have you tried boots with your skirts? My legs are a non-issue, thanks to boots. (Yay boots!) I have thin lower legs compared to my thighs (neatly mimicking the shape of my arms, with the beefy biceps tapering into tiny spindly forearms and eensy wrists – except the arms are long, and the legs? not so much.*) This discrepency is never a problem, as I wear dark tights (yay dark tights!) and boots. Oooh, a rainbow wardrobe of (Flat, Thanks!) boots! They make me look long-legged, without drawing undue attention to the aforementioned legs. So I have Skirt and Dress Joy, without painful Leg Awareness. A good thing, too, because I don’t fit into trousers, period, end of sentence, that’s all there is to that one.*Yes, I work out with weights. They don’t correct the Limbic Discrepencies. It’s Nature’s way of having fun at my expense.

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Kristi April 19, 2007 at 12:41 pm

It sounds like her coworkers where intimidated by her wardrobe and possibly her youth and style sense. I have never heard of an office intentionally dressing dowdy for the customers.

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Lami April 19, 2007 at 12:48 pm

I believe that the advent of “business casual” has lowered the standard of professionalism in many a workplace. I entered the workforce with an MBA in the power suit 80′s, took a break to spend time with my children, and when I re-entered the paid workforce last year I was horrified to see what people are wearing to work. I usually wear a jacket because I like the way it looks. I love dresses and skirts. Everyone thinks I am always “dressed up”–I got those comments in the years I was doing volunteer work. I’m working on freeing my inner eccentric old broad who really doesn’t care!

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lulu April 19, 2007 at 12:50 pm

a dress like that could look slutty or professional depending on fit and the wearer’s figure. I don’t think we have enough facts to judge the situation.

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The J April 19, 2007 at 12:53 pm

You know, my dad had people commenting about how he was always dressed up at work (luckily by this time he was already senoir, although I don’t think it would have bothered him anyway) – he couldn’t figure it out – he wore no jackets, no ties, top button of his shirt undone…My theory: his shirts are ironed.It’s so hard to maintain the required level of slob ;).

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Karla April 19, 2007 at 1:14 pm

Love your blog and had to weigh in on this one, as an inveterate wrap dress wearer.1) “Style free” people love to comment negatively to those of us with style. I’ve been told I’m “shallow” because i like clothes. By a woman who only ever wears baggy t-shirts with no bra, shorts and bum bags. 2) Wrap dresses are a bit sexy, and perhaps those criticizing her were jealous that she looked good. Or bothered by it. You have to have a certain kind of figure for a wrap (even if they are flattering to many) and the frumps of this world would not dare wear one. I am quite sure she did not look slutty, I think she just looked good and feminine.Wear the wrap and be proud!It’s an iconic look that is comfortable and sensible while not being frumpy.

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Margo April 19, 2007 at 1:19 pm

I side with Carrie. Personally and professionally, I would rather err on the side of being too formal. I am a better person when I dress well, and that translates into confidence and performance. You know those mornings when you don’t want to get out of bed, feel like a cold is coming on, or didn’t get enough sleep? A wise colleague told me to dress up, wear favorite clothes, and beat the blues. Works like a charm for me!My husband and I were dressing for an evening out to a comedy show recently and discussing whether it was better to be over or under dressed in a social situation. I said overdressed. When we arrived at the theater (he in blazer and dress shirt but no tie, me in nice sweater set with pants and dress shoes), dress ranged from jeans and sweatshirts to a few sequined tops and men in suits with ties. I guess there’s no dress code for theater anymore! Erin? You so carefully outlined wedding dress code. . .

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ellenbrenna April 19, 2007 at 1:26 pm

If you have breasts any clothing that fits properly will draw attention to your body and your breasts. Since it is part of being female I think most people need to grow up and accept that looking polished and professional while being female is not an immature attempt to get a particular kind of sexual attention. At a minimum everyone should be wearing clothes that fit properly when at work. That said standards for dress do vary widely across the country I was shocked at how casual Colorado is compared to New York. Colorado has actually made kind of lazy, too many jeans and hiking shoes.

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La Rveuse April 19, 2007 at 1:32 pm

Jealous.Insecure.Threatened.By a simple, classic, professional dress. Sad.I think her outfit sounded perfect for the situation, and showed her respect for her client. This is the most important thing after all.As a teacher, I am a frequent dress-wearer, including heels, scarves, jewelry, and make-up. (Yes, for children under the age of 10.) However, no one has ever called me shallow; I am too good a teacher for them to comment that all I care about is clothes. By dressing this way, I show respect for myself and my students, who are my clients, if you will. As long as she is showing her co-workers that she respects them and their contributions, I think it will eventually blow over. If not, perhaps it’s not an environment she wants to remain in. That type of shallow, immature and childish attitude is not productive to the workplace.And regarding the relative sexiness or not of the dress, it would depend a lot on the person’s body type as well as accessories, how they carry themself, etc. On me, yeah, maybe sexy (I’ve got curves). On another, more slender person, it may not be so overt. But, with a cardigan worn over, a cami under, some well-placed safety pins, a scarf at the neck–this could be toned down easily. We don’t have to wear turtlenecks every day to still be professional.I also agree that dresses are easy–nothing to match, and they fit on “fat days”. You’ve got to love that!

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Zoltar Panaflex April 19, 2007 at 2:09 pm

I was once told that I ‘really overdressed’ and my ‘ostentatious overdressing’ intimidated my coworkers.The environment? I was a demoted-by-politics manager and was at the time working in a copy shop. I had a small wardrobe. My usual ‘look’ was black or gray suitpants, and a matching plain sweater or blouse, tucked in, and I wore a belt (I had a waist then!). Most were solid colors, the most exuberant pattern was a tiny tiny block pattern on one top.I wore black shoes (I had one pair of Oxfords and one pair of penny loafers) that I bought from Nine West. I wore simple earrings, and a string of vintage pearls my grandfather presented me with (one simple graduated strand). I had a silver ring set with an onyx, and a watch. These are the ‘ostentatious outfits’ with which I offended my coworkers. I should say, this was in 1993, and my manager wore outfits that I swear to the heavens were copies of something that was worn years before on Dynasty, or rather, a cheap garish copy of it. Her shoulder pads alone were stupendous and massive…but that was “OK” of course….

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samsara April 19, 2007 at 2:11 pm

A wrap dress is appropriate for business casual. Carrie did nothing wrong. Her coworkers are slovenly in their attire and malicious gossips to boot. It sounds like a tough place to work if a dress can cause such a fuss. However, the wrap dress must be taken with some precautions. Without a camisole or tank top underneath, there is the risk of too much cleavage. But that depends on the wearer’s body type. A dame without a lot of people in the balcony (as the French would say) could probably get away with it best. Erring on the side of caution, I tend to wear both a camisole (or full slip) and a scarf with a wrap dress. In a complementary color, a long rectangular scarf looped around the neck and tied loosely in front can nicely fill in that front triangle.In addition, a wrap dress can pop open at the skirt without warning. A gust of wind, or just sitting down quickly can open it up. It has happened to me at the most inconvenient times. Always wearing a slip (like Momma taught me), I was saved from a Marilyn Monroe moment, but it made me wary. So I usually wear palazzo pants or a plain skirt underneath a wrap dress. Or pin it. And sometimes that is just too much to think about in the morning. Though I’m a cubicle monkey at a law firm, I wear vintage dresses pretty much every day. 40s-70s. My style isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but as long as I am neat and fairly covered up, there’s no way my clothing can be an HR issue. The key is not to wear anything too revealing. For those who feel that I am over-dressed and insist upon telling me about it in hectoring tones, I just say I’ve got tickets to the symphony that night. It’s a magic charm to end that conversation.

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Rachel April 19, 2007 at 3:07 pm

I know that we’re supposed to be howling with indignation, but I’m going to go against the tide here.It’s certainly possible that the co-workers were Just Jealous cluckers. And I’d certainly like to give Carrie the benefit of the doubt just ‘coz she’s a DaD reader and thus on our side, right?But it’s equally possible that they were correct and that the wrap dress was inappropriate. If you’re going to a client site where the clients dress informally, if you show up looking like a “suit” (or a dress, I guess) you may well be saying “I don’t really understand your business culture” and putting a barrier between yourself and your client.Dressing appropriately doesn’t always mean looking your best. Sometimes you just have to put vanity aside to get the job done.And as nice as a dress may look, it’s automatically more feminine than a pants suit and thus, sadly, less “powerful” (especially a wrap dress, which is somewhat coy & flirtatious by nature). I don’t wear dresses in new situations where my main concern is being taken seriously; I save them for familiar situations and people. But I’m very short and young-looking; those with more natural gravitas probably don’t have to worry so much.

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Oxanna April 19, 2007 at 3:23 pm

Hmmm…my first reaction was that the co-workers sounded jealous and/or ignorant of proper dress decorum. However, after reading some of the comments, it did occur to me that many people wear these wrap dresses without a cami underneath. That can pose problems, and instead of looking “too professional”, it can look sorta sleazy. Maybe that’s what they were trying to convey, without coming right out and saying it? I don’t know.However, if it was simply that they thought she looked “too overdressed”, then yeah, save the comments until *later* and politely mention the “desired dress code” next time. Even then, I’m not sure I’m buying it. I know dresses are viewed as more dressy than slacks, but I think something like this would be perfect for the situation. (Isn’t it what they tell us in the fashion glossies – wrap dresses can be worn for evening, office, and everything in between?) I probably would’ve done exactly the same thing.

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Sara Noemi April 19, 2007 at 3:24 pm

I can only imagine that Carrie is voluptuous up top,. A wrap dress only enhances what’s up there and maybe they were trying to find a delicate way of telling her that but i think it’s cool, casual and current. Kudos to her for buying such a find!

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Laura V April 19, 2007 at 3:30 pm

Since I don’t know this situation or this audience, I won’t speculate on what was going on.But a big part of my job is working with a large group of people who I know *perfectly* well will shut down on me if I’m dressed any more professionally than “not quite business casual”. I usually wear cords or jeans, a plain cami, and a button-down shirt or a cardigan with them – it signals that I’m “one of them”.I would never wear a dress to work with this group. I can hardly think of a clearer “outsider” signal I could give, aside from, say, not knowing their vocabulary.

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La BellaDonna April 19, 2007 at 4:05 pm

Ninotchka, you said “If you’re going to a client site where the clients dress informally, if you show up looking like a “suit” (or a dress, I guess) you may well be saying “I don’t really understand your business culture” and putting a barrier between yourself and your client.”This is without a doubt a possibility in some instances, but I suggest not this one. In this instance, Carrie’s clients are Hospitals (with a capital H): the administrative side will be business professionals; and Doctors, who will be ‘casually’ dressed themselves, because they will generally be in scrubs, but they are definitely at a professional level.It is certainly true that her clothes set her apart from her co-workers. What are her options, if not the items currently in her small, limited, tiny-budget wardrobe?Vis-a-vis the possible inappropriateness of wrap dresses:It is possible to be decent in a wrap dress, by:wearing a camisole and half-slip, or opaque tights, underneath;wearing a full slip underneath (my solution is to use a slip-style silk nightgown – they’re easier to find than slips are, and come in more colours!);using strategic hooks-and-eyes (NOT SNAPS!) to keep church and state together;adding a couple of ties, elastic, ribbons, etc., to keep everything together;or a combination of the above.I’m against Carrie lowering her standards, for both personal and professional reasons. Personally, I don’t like bullies, and that’s what we have here; professionally, Carrie is right; she dresses in a way which is respectful to her clients. She might even have aspirations to climb the corporate ladder; she might run into a potential new client while she is working. I don’t honestly see how hunting for hawaiian shirts and chinos on a limited budget can improve her professional appearance.I know that I can’t find trousers that fit, and I’m not comfortable in jeans – nor am I flattered. Dresses may look “female,” but not only IS Carrie a female, the outfits her co-workers are described as wearing wouldn’t even register on a “Dress for Success/Dress as a Professional” meter. Is it possible for a wrap dress to be inappropriate? Yes, it is possible. Is it possible for a wrap dress to be professional? Yes, it is possible. Is it possible for those other two outfits to be professional? I really don’t think so.Laura, I perfectly understand what you’re saying, and agree. My suspicions, though, are that with this group? Your camisole under another shirt, and your corduroys, would be deemed “dressed up.” Especially if you ironed the shirt.

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Lauren April 19, 2007 at 4:11 pm

Wow, I never realized how clique-y job settings can be. This brings back a lot of memories of junior high and high school, where you were “un-cool” if you didn’t wear the same thing as everyone else.Since when has wearing a dress (or a skirt) become “fancy”, “overdressed”, or a signal that the wearer thinks she is better than her peers? I think people forget that it has only been in the last decade or so that it has become acceptable for even men to go to a “professional office” type job in less than a suit and tie. Have we as a society really gone so far on the lazy meter that wearing clothes that fit well, look good, are visibly clean, and pressed means you are trying to look better than everyone else?

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Theresa April 19, 2007 at 4:13 pm

Have you noticed the issues of what to wear, looking fat, or finding clothes for figure problems get the most comments? I know there is the old saying that clothes make the man,er woman, but I really don’t see how wearing dresses or skirts translates to outsider if you work with people who prefer to wear pants. (Unless you are working in a gym, on construction, or something equally impractical for dress wearing.)And – there are actually dresses that are too casual for any work situation. (Patio dresses, casual halter style sundress, kaftans)

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Pamela April 19, 2007 at 4:39 pm

I suspect that the criticism about clothes was partially jealousy and partially, they couldn’t come up with any other kind of work-related criticism. When I was one of two women in a sales office, all the men wanted to see my expense report; they wanted to be sure I wasn’t undercutting them and making them look bad. I think there is a similar principle at play here. If you dress well, they fear you will make them look bad. In 1978, my boss gave me a speech about my clothes. “Dress for Success” was all the rage and he wanted me to wear navy suits or….navy jackets with tan skirts. He made these comments while wearing poly doubleknit tan pants, a brown poly twill jacket(very shiny), and a striped rust banlon knit shirt with a purple tie(I doubt it was silk). He was shod in white shoes with a matching white belt. I am not making this up!! I tried to keep my lower jaw glued to my upper lip.I had previously worked at Bloomingdales and had 2 Calvin Klein suits, a tweedy suit which looked like Ralph Lauren, and 2 DVF wrap dresses. I also had all the wool jersey Geoffrey Beene stuff I had sewed for myself. Obviously, he did not recognize that my clothes were highly desirable and conservative enough for most offices.Face it, many people think they qualify as fashion critics. Most of them can’t tell one fiber from another and could not identify the hallmarks of a well-made suit. I would ignore those people. Unfortunately, these are the people who will have us all in nasty, wrinkly, poorly fitted khakis with polo shirts. Sadly, there is a significant “dumbing down” of dress in the work force. If you are a person with a good sense of personal style, I say go for it, as long as you are not flashing your trash. You will brighten the work days of those who appreciate it.

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Anonymous April 19, 2007 at 5:26 pm

I am guessing, but it seems to me that the only way she would “intimidate the customer” is by being too pretty, young, & shapely, etc. The wrap dress might have seemed “intimidating” because it showed off her figure. Because although I like the dress, and am a big big fan of wrap dresses in general, it’s definitely a fairly ordinary, run of the mill garment. The only thing that could “intimidate” anyone is the body it was showing off.OK, I hope that didn’t offend anyone, especially the young lady who wore the dress.

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Anonymous April 19, 2007 at 6:08 pm

In all honesty, I don’t think I would pay much attention to dress advice coming from someone wearing a Hawaiian shirt or a twinset with faux crystals around the neckline in a professional situation – unless, by chance, they were agents selling those items of clothing. Even “business casual” is being strained a bit by the Hawaiian shirt, methinks.Personally, I would never wear a wrap dress, because it would absolutely look dreadful on me. Also, I’m one of those unfortunates whose body tends to make clothing shift around, so I have enough trouble keeping everything anchored! A wrap dress would be a nightmare for such as I. But if Carrie was decently covered up in the dress, and well accessorized, it strikes me as being perfectly appropriate for a situation where her clients will be hospital administration or doctors (having worked in the medical field for many years in the past).When I hear about incidents like this, I’m very glad I am self-employed!

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Marie-Christine April 19, 2007 at 6:14 pm

Totally agree with Ninotchka that there is no better way not to be taken seriously in a semi-scientific setting than laying on the girl thing with a trowel. A hospital could be administrative only, but the presence of doctors implies there is something beyond that to this job. I’m an engineer personally, and I’d get laughed out of the office in a dress. Face it, cleavage isn’t professional. The equivalent would be guys in tiny shorts, how would you like that? And ‘dress for success’, while a good 20 years out of date, never advocated anything like that. And never applied to much of the working world, such as doctors, being mostly for wanna-be managers.Scientifically speaking of course, y’all don’t have any more data to say all this vicious stuff about how sloppy the co-workers were than to be sure Carrie wasn’t revealing way too much. And if she is new and in training they are -not- her equals.

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Ms. Laaw-yuhr April 19, 2007 at 6:56 pm

I think your friend’s attire was appropriate as long as she wasn’t rocking too much cleavage. I disagree with Ninotchka and Marie-Christine about those in the sciences not taking a person seriously if you “lay on the girl thing with a trowel”. Vamping it up is not appropriate, but that doesn’t mean that a person has to dress like a man/shapeless blob. In the legal profession, skirt suits are considered the norm, especially in the south. A huge dilemma for female lawyers is often “can I wear a pantsuit on this interview/court appearance?”. A judge told me that once, when she was a young attorney, a judge (in California!) threw her out of court because he found her houndstooth print skirt suit too informal! Mind you, not the length, cut, or amount of cleavage being show (which were all appropriate).In the sales, and legal profession for that matter, projecting professionalism and confidence are key. I wouldn’t let a fool in a hawaiian shirt sell me a bottle of water in a professional setting.Additionally, my father is an engineer who has headed up R&D at a large company and I cannot imagine him laughing a female engineer out of the office for wearing a dress. Marie-christine, I am sorry if your co-workers make you feel that way, and I hope that you dress in the manner that makes you feel most professional and productive, regardless of what your co-workers might say.

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lsaspacey April 19, 2007 at 7:02 pm

In my last job, the majority of the employees were men. They dumbed down “business casual” by wearing Hawaiian shirts and succeeded in having the privilege stricken and being required to wear dress pants and button down shirts. The only way they could get out of wearing a button down was by wearing crew neck sweaters like the 32 yr. old CEO. Whereas the women in the office were able to keep wearing what we wore, a variation of slacks, skirts, and dresses.

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Anonymous April 19, 2007 at 7:29 pm

I too don’t know a single engineer that would laugh a female out of the office for wearing a dress either. Sorry you have to work in that kind of office, Marie-Christine. It sounds very sad.

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Anonymous April 19, 2007 at 7:46 pm

Great dress but I’d wipe on leaves before I’d buy toilet paper at WalMart! After they put alot of smaller private fabric stores out of business now Hancock’s is having trouble too. And alas, WalMart decides to close ITS fabric departments from what I understand from the sewing forum of about.com, which has alot of ladies really worked up.I love your blog. Your writing style is very fresh.

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Anonymous April 19, 2007 at 9:23 pm

anon 7:46YEAH! About Carrie and the wrap dress… childish jealousy.

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jen April 19, 2007 at 10:00 pm

“It’s just never OK for a trainee to look like she’s trying to outshine the boss”I completely disagree. In the corporate world, even in the biz casual corporate world, you dress for the job you want to have–or dress like your bosses boss. It’s not outshining the boss, it’s showing respect and seriousness for your position and your workplace. Add me to the chorus of the coworkers were jealous and/or intimidated by her style, and wanted to put her in “her place”.

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jenny April 19, 2007 at 11:50 pm

For whatever reason, this reminded me of an incident that happened to me in grad school. I was TAing a class for a new professor, and he wanted to talk to me after class. It seems that I was “too tall” and somehow making him look bad; he wanted me to do something about it. Huh??? Admittedly, I am 6 feet tall with stawberry-blonde hair (I gave up on “fading into the crowd” a long time ago) and the professor was about 5’8″. but then again, I happened to be wearing my hair down and flats that day.If there’s a dress code in situations like this, it needs to be explicit. Its notable that Carrie didn’t seem to get bad vibes from the clients (and frankly, I can tell when I’m making someone uncomfortable, including the aforementioned professor). She was getting them from her co-workers.

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Kitty the Cat April 20, 2007 at 3:11 am

“Face it, cleavage isn’t professional.”Um, okay. So where do I put my F cup breasts when having a professional meeting? It’s impossible for me not to show some cleavage.Seriously, who would actually listen to ‘fashion advice’ from people who show up wearing Hawaiian shirts? I love Hawaiian shirts – but not if I want to sell something to people.I’m not a big fan of wrap dresses as they’d look abysmal on me, but if Carrie can rock a wrap dress, then more power to her. Her colleagues were out of line, end of story.

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Anonymous April 20, 2007 at 4:12 am

At first I thought her co-workers were really rude and green with envy…but I would really like to hear their side of the story – perhaps she did look really slutte without a cami underneath? I would never wear a wrap dress without one.I have to confess I have been guilty of talking behind a co-worker’s back about her clothing, which was very classy, stylish and expensive – but she was such a b…., I can’t tell you how much I disliked her, and so did everybody else – her catwalk-like walking into the office every morning was just the drop along with her arrogant attitude, rude comments and inability to cooperate with others…My point? The co-workers may have been getting rid of some steam because they disliked something else about Carrie?With that being said, I would like to say that I would probably be considered very dressy, as I hardly ever wear pants and because I love dramatic and/or vintage dresses….but I like to think I can pull it off because I am a nice(r) person….

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Lucelu April 20, 2007 at 4:58 am

I work as a nurse in the environment Carrie was presenting in and I have to say she was dressed appropriately. A number or our nurse practitioners wear heels and dresses as do many of our family doctors. One NP in particular never wears anything but heels and dresses, always looks fabu,is sweet as pie and is professional. All MD’s do not wear scrubs all the time (just mainly surgeons and interns). Nurses almost always wear scrubs unless they are in administration and while comfortable, it is strange to go home and “dress Up” after work. I tend to wear Dockers, tshirts and a smock jacket with cross trainer sneakers as scrub pants are too much like pajamas for me. I might send everyone into a tailwind sometime and wear a skirt but the problem with wearing a skirt to work is wearing nursing shoes with it (ugh.) Part of the fun of wearing a dress is all the lovely shoes I can wear with it.Also, I often have to help lift people, some are very heavy people and we are in tight spots where we have climb over stuff so a skirt isn’t very practical–maybe culottes….Anyway, as a company rep., Carrie was totally appropriate. Most of our pharm reps are dressed office casual/or in suits–unless they are staying on our floor all day for tech assistance–like for new iv pumps in which case they dress in identical colored polo tops (very neat and groomed)for us to find them easily (they would be going into patient rooms). I would have been put off if they were looking like slobs. Also very important for reps–bring food and pens.

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mare April 20, 2007 at 5:11 am

I’m coming late to this discussion, but what struck me about Carrie’s outfit was the stockings and pumps. Maybe they’re fine, but maybe they’re too much. In a hospital where everyone’s running around on hard shiny floors, someone who has to tread carefully (with feet that are sore or shortly to become so) will stand out as being inappropriately dressed. I wear shoes with heels in my carpeted, corporate office – about half the time. I hardly ever wear stockings. (Tights, yes.) Carrie might be a naturally conservative, feminine person, but pumps are probably not ideal for a hospital. Her colleagues might have felt that something about her presentation was not quite right, without being able able to put a finger on exactly what.And whatever, they were just rude. Give a new person time to figure things out and find their own best solutions on their own budget before feeling compelled to offer advice.

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Jennifer in GA April 20, 2007 at 6:24 am

This reminds of a situation I was in a few weeks ago. I am in charge of the teenage girls at church. We were invited to attend a youth conference (for both guys and girls) where part of the day’s activities would include getting to klnow you activities, guest speakers, a casual dinner and a dance to end the day. On the invitation, it was stated that the dress would be “nice casual, no blue jeans”.This wasn’t a problem for the boys; they all wore khakis and either a nice polo shirt or a button-down shirt. The girls had a bigger problem, however. We didn’t know how much physical activity the games would involve, but they still wanted to look nice for the dance. Most of the girls (including myself) ended up wearing casual, but nice, skirts. One girl wore very cute khaki capris with a sweater-set. They all looked pretty and I was confident they would be appropriately attired. When we arrived at the conference, it was clear that at least 75% of the attendees (both teenagers and adult leaders) had ignored the dress standard. Most people were in jeans and t-shirts. At first, my kids were upset that they weren’t wearing more casual clothes. I told them that it was better to be overdressed in a casual situation than underdressed in a more formal situation. I also told them that it would be apparent to everyone that they cared about how they looked and that they didn’t have any problem following the standards that had been set. It’s obvious that Carrie’s co-workers need to learn this lesson for themselves.

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Rebecca Haden April 20, 2007 at 8:09 am

I’m getting ready for work myself, so I must admit that I haven’t read all the previous comments and may not be the first to say this. But I am guessing that “intimidating” and “overdressed” were code words here for “looking way too hot.” Some girls look, in a wrap dress, more lush and bosomy than you want to look in a work environment. I’m one of them, myself. The coworkers probably felt that “You look too sexy in that” was too personal, and went with “intimidating” in a failed attempt to be tactful. Carrie, being a modest young woman who didn’t realize that she looked fantastic in her dress, misunderstood. Just a guess, of course, but it’s the first thing that came to my mind.

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Beth April 20, 2007 at 8:24 am

We just moved and next year my kids will be transferring from the Catholic school with uniforms to a public school that’s dress code actually states things like “absolutely no pajamas,” “no underwear showing,” “stomach must be covered,” “no shorts or skirts above the knee (showing thigh).” Honestly, we live in a society where a dress code has to state “no pajamas?” Part of me had a good chuckle but my mother would roll over in her grave if she saw that!!So, while I have a mixed wardrobe of jeans/blazer/skirts/boots outfits and I wear what I want without don’t worry about what others think, I AM a LITTLE concerned that an institution where certain standards were assumed has to make such statements.PS–love the wrap dress on others, but too revealing for me to wear.

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T-Rex April 20, 2007 at 10:25 am

I predict that if Carrie continues to dress well, that her coworkers will slowly, eventually raise their own standard of dress. It happened when my always neatly dressed and well groomed Mom began working at a daycare center many, many years ago. Her coworkers and bosses went from wearing clothes that were safety pinned to stay together (seriously!) to outfits that were at least neat and coordinated. More power to you, Carrie! Even if the problem was that you looked *too sexy*, the fact remains that someone needs to raise the bar for your too casual co-workers.

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India April 20, 2007 at 10:37 am

Late to the conversation, but I just have to say: “lush and bosomy” is now officially entering my phrasebook.Okay, I will also say that I believe Carrie’s dress was almost certainly appropriate, if she wore it with a camisole underneath. Without a camisole, it would depend on how bustalicious she is. In either case, I really don’t see how there could be any risk of “intimidating” the client; they’re clients, you’re sales; they’re in the more powerful position. This criticism and subsequent gossiping to colleagues not present was obviously cover for some other complaint.Me, I have, like, twenty of those tank tops with the built-in shelf bra, in colors to go with every possible gappy dress or top. I wear them over a real bra, of course, and I always have a cardigan for back-up. I always wear a half-slip, sometimes I safety-pin, and sometimes I’ll wear a skirt under a particularly flyaway wrap dress.And on some days, despite my best precautions, I’m sure I’m still giving away a bit more of “the coin of the realm,” as I’m calling my cleavage these days, than is strictly professional. So sue me. At least I don’t look like a cheap whore.

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La BellaDonna April 20, 2007 at 11:02 am

I’m thinking that for me, since Lucelu actually works in the kind of environment in which Carrie was presenting, and she says that Carrie was appropriately dressed, pumps and all – it’s most likely that, in fact, Carrie was appropriately dressed.Marie-Christine, the wrap dress was one of the dresses that Molloy showed in the Women’s Dress for Success book (in the “good to wear,” as opposed to the “do not wear!” section). Granted, the book was first written a long time ago, but I don’t think that style has gotten less professional since. And Lucelu, who works in that field, assures us that Carrie’s attire was professional for that setting.You have my sympathy, however; it sounds as if you’ve had to deal with a difficult and unpleasant work environment.

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Archivarian (An Archival Library Mistress) April 20, 2007 at 11:16 am

jessie said… I’m chiming in to say that whenever I wear a skirt or dress to work, everyone freaks out about how dressed up and fancy I am…I work in a library, where you would think it wouldn’t be a big deal.—–I work in a library too and it shouldn’t be a big deal about dressing up. Be bold – you should be entitled to wear what you want. Your co-workers may be jealous of your fashion sense and unless your superior has mentioned that you’re over-dressed, I just smile and say thank you. I dress well to feel great and notice it when I grab my cozy, not as dressy wear. I’ve worn dresses, skirts in bright, rich colours. Some of my coworkers dress more casually – khakis and polos tops or cardi twin-sets, but as long as I’m not wearing jeans or anything that shows too much cleavage (chest and butt) or tummy, as per the dress code, it’s ok. Mind you, the head of my department wears skirts a lot and I take my cues from her. Ugh, last night, one of our shelvers was wearing a t-shirt, leggings and sneakers, which I think is a bit too casual, even if you have to bend and reach. Beth: I occasionally see girls coming into the library in flannel pajama bottoms (not employees, just patrons). Even in university, there were girls who’d come to class wearing their jammies.

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Theresa April 20, 2007 at 12:43 pm

I just want to say that I think LaBellaDonna is one of the nicest posters and is always intellgient and thoughtful. *and she gives goood advice.*

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Anonymous April 20, 2007 at 6:35 pm

Cute dress! I have both the pink and the purple wrap dresses from Walmart! All they need are some pretty lacey tanktops underneath.I’m sure Carrie’s coworkers were jealous that she looked so good. I hope Carrie keeps dressing prettily and femininly for herself and not what others think.

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Anonymous April 21, 2007 at 5:42 am

Awesome dress! Where was that at my Walmart?! I work in a hospital and don’t think that is “dressed up” at all! It’s perfect for her situation and she sounded no more dressed up than the others. She shouldn’t let other people rob her of her confidence! Wear the dress again and be proud of how great she looks in it! Shame on the other for making and passing along the rude comments!

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Shay April 21, 2007 at 2:00 pm

Rude? Clueless? how about insecure as well?

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Tailypo April 21, 2007 at 11:06 pm

I would guess that “Overdressed and intimidating” was code for “Waaay too much boobage!” if her wrap dress fits her the way mine often fit me. That’s a mighty low neckline and the fabric might be a bit more thin than she realizes.It would also explain why this particular bit of newbie instruction became office banter. Not, “Jeez, Phyllis, the new girl is uppity!” but instead more along the lines of “Who is gonna look at the product with her bazongas served up on a plate!”Just a guess of course, but I’m sticking to it.

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La BellaDonna April 26, 2007 at 1:30 pm

Theresa, thank youfor the kind words. There are some days when I am convinced the only kindness to be found is here with the wonderful folks at DressADay.If you would like to see an instance of La BellaDonna not appreciating someone’s unsolicited input, feel free to go here:http://www.stopbuyingcrap.com/2007/04/25/facing-reality-the-tremendous-cost-of-higher-education/#commentsYup. Feet of clay, warts and all, just as fallible as the next, c’est moi. As long as the next wasn’t the person who made that comment, of course. (At least … not in the same way.)

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Chicago Sarah April 26, 2007 at 10:44 pm

A late comment… I am a nurse practitioner in the hospital setting and wear mostly skirts and dresses to work. As for wearing hose, in the hospital setting doing patient care it’s required (at our hospital in Chicago) to wear something covering the legs- either long pants or socks or hose. I wore a dress in the exact style of the one posted to a clinic day, had several patients and staff comment favorably, and the senior doctor in our group (who always wears a tie to work) mentioned it was nice to see me in a dress. He didn’t seem intimidated at all. I’m 6 feet tall, sometimes I wear heels, sometimes I don’t. All appropriate. I’m a 34D and I just put a pin at the neckline if I don’t have a cami handy. (Although in the end I gave the dress to my sister- I’m just a little too tall for it and the waistband kept creeping towards my chin.)

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Lexy Girl April 27, 2007 at 6:00 pm

Argh! That reminds of something that happened when I was doing my marketing internship in college. I worked for a small technology company and traveled to several trade shows with them.On the first full day of this particular conference I wore a very nice Anne Taylor silk sweater (3/4 sleeves, cream w/ black trim and a belt) and an adorable vintage black pencil skirt.One of the women in engineering got all huffy and talked to my boss who asked me why I wasn’t wearing the company polo and I said:1) I wore it yesterday when we set-up and it’s all sweaty and nasty.2) I was never told I was required to wear it in the booth.3) It made me look like I worked at McDonald’s and I hated it.I was ordered to return to the hotel and change (humiliating much?) and I think the engineering woman who complained was just mad that she was no longer 20 and thin and beautiful (hell, I’m mad that I’m no longer 20 and thin and beautiful… those were the days)Appropriate work attire is appropriate work attire. Although at my last job if I wore a dress/skirt people would think I had a job interview.

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Anonymous June 17, 2007 at 12:50 pm

One word: Jealous.A few words: Keep up your good spirit, don’t do or say anything intentionally hurtful and just be yourself. Which of course, no one can do better than you :-)Hope that helps,Georgia (my name, not my state :-)

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