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.)

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