Rude? Or Just Clueless? Or Something Else?


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.)

0 thoughts on “Rude? Or Just Clueless? Or Something Else?

  1. 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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  2. 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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  3. 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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  4. 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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  5. “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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  6. 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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  7. “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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  8. 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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  9. 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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  10. 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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  11. 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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  12. 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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  13. 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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  14. 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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  15. 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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  16. 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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  17. 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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  18. 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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  19. 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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  20. 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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  21. 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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  22. 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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  23. 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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  24. 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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  25. 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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