Why Inappropriate Dress at Work May Send the Wrong Message

In my book, eavesdropping is snooping. It may be accepted behaviour in spy novels and British mystery programs but unless your name is Inspector Poirot, eavesdropping is a no-no.


Last week, I admit, I had an Inspector Poirot moment. Really. I couldn’t help myself because as I was having lunch outside at a local restaurant, a young woman at the table next to me was speaking so loudly it was open season on eavesdropping. I suppose I could have moved to another table but my lunch had arrived, my seat was in the shade and I was, I confess, intrigued. Quickly, I rationalized my situation as “professional field research.”

Apparently, the woman had been sent home from work to change her clothes. She was furiously bashing her boss, “Miss Perfect in her purr-fect little cardigan, linen pants and sling backs.”

How could I resist? There I was with a ringside seat. I leaned in a little closer.

It didn’t take long to sort things out. The self-proclaimed victim showed up for Casual Friday in flip-flops and leggings, prompting her boss, the so-called Miss Perfect, to send her home to change. The tirade continued, “What’s the matter with her? Doesn’t she know Friday’s the day you let it all hang out? It’s the day that transitions you into the weekend. Doesn’t she know anything about dressing down? Doesn’t she ever relax?”

Whew! Quite an outburst and yet the friend said nothing. At the time I thought she should have backed up the boss; after all, sending someone home to change sends a pretty strong message. I guess she knew there was no point. I’ve come to realize that since the young woman in flip flops could read the signals — cardigan, linen slacks, sling backs — but didn’t get the point, she’s probably not the right person for the job.

The moral of the story? Actually, I guess there are a couple:

* Please let this be the last time I say it this summer — flip-flops are for the beach.

* Leggings are ideal for workouts, and that’s where they belong.

* Look to the top for cues about casual dress codes. Where skirt and pant suits rule, don’t even think about showing up in a sundress.

* Same goes for guys, if suits and ties are routine most days, chances are polo shirts are off-limits on Friday.

* And finally, beware of boss bashing. You never know who’s listening.

And speaking of bosses, Standford Professor and best-selling author, Bob Sutton, has a new book — Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best… and Learn from the Worst —that’s scheduled for release September 7.

I haven’t seen it yet but advance press makes it clear Dr. Sutton has directed his book at employees, not the boss! Should be an interesting read.

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