- The Washington Times - Friday, August 26, 2005

Perhaps prompted by last week’s reader question about the too-revealing blouses in her office, we received a slew of inquiries this week regarding the ill-advised wardrobe missteps of colleagues. It seems that many of you are less than thrilled with the attire at the office, but are unsure how to approach the issue. For this week’s column, we’ll go straight to the Q&A; and tackle as many as we can.

Hello Jordan:

My officemate, “Sue,” wears very tight clothes to work. Not only does she not have the figure for it, her exposed flesh is just not office appropriate. What is the best way to inform her that short sweaters and low-rise jeans are not the best choices?

Alexis - Woodbridge

Dear Alexis:

If you are a manager, consider sending a company-wide or department-wide office memo, providing an “update” of company dress code in the spirit of an “FYI” e-mail. You might make a general statement about complaints in the office to drive the point home. Otherwise, voice your concerns to HR and let that department take it from there.

Dear Jordan:

The programmer working beside me has a cubicle filled with sports junk like bobble-heads, banners and football schedules and koozies. Because our work overlaps, I have needed to use his workspace for client demos and it is hard to present a $50,000 software system in a college-dorm atmosphere. My boss is concerned about a harassment suit since cubicle dcor is not spelled out in writing. Any ideas?

Russell - Northwest

Dear Russell:

While I can sympathize with your frustration over the endless in-your-face merchandise, Try a tactful rather than a direct confrontation — tell the guy that you are distracted by the overflow of stuff in his cubicle - and you are concerned that clients might not take your product seriously if the atmosphere doesn’t reflect the same.

Dear Jordan:

My boss and his wife have invited me to their lake home for the weekend. Do I wear office casual which is khakis and collared shirts or lake casual which is t-shirts, cut-offs, etc.?

Jaime — Fairfax

Dear Jaime:

Cut-offs are for mowing the lawn or washing the car. When you are a guest with your boss (or anyone for that matter) dress respectfully. Go with the khakis and polo shirts but pack the basketball shorts and logo T-shirt just in case the boss wants a little one-on-one.

Dear Jordan:

My secretary is an excellent worker but she dresses like a teenager, wearing lots of denim, short skirts and boots, and feathers or glittery hairpieces. I don’t mind, but it sends the signal to others that she is immature and incapable of handling details — which has kept me out of projects and some client meetings. How do I approach this without insulting her because she really gets the job done!

Marla — Columbia

Dear Marla:

Completing tasks is critical but building trust and confidence in customers and co-workers is equally important. Praise your secretary for her achievements but tell her that her apparel sends out mixed signals which are keeping you both from getting ahead. Explain that even though we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, most people do. Appearance can have as much impact on our jobs as can our professional skills. Try a shopping spree together and compliment her regularly as her image evolves.

Dear Jen:

My boss is very fit and one of the lucky ones who can eat everything and never gain a pound. He is always snacking, lunching or nibbling and looses his groove when I indicate the “none for me” signal. How can I continue to be an asset?

Leslie - Silver Spring

Dear Leslie:

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em! Bring your own stash of veggies to nibble on and break it out when he does. Let him know you want to be supportive during the planning sessions but you also need to keep your figure or physique. Keep it light by reminding him you “need to look good” when you are out there representing the company.

Dear Jen:

My boss’ wife has hair and clothes from the dark ages. We are going to their home and I am worried my chic clothes will suggest that I am trying to upstage her. Any thoughts?

Tiffany - Gaithersburg

Dear Tiffany:

Your boss’ wife’s likely does not find her wardrobe to be as unfashionable as you do, so I wouldn’t be too concerned. Respect her right to dress as she wants, but don’t feel compelled to dress down because of it. That said, eliminating the most flashy of your outfits or accessories might keep any potential envious feelings for your fashions sense to a minimum. Remember to compliment your hostess, whether on the delightful dinner, home dcor or centerpiece flower arrangement.

Ms. Jordan Speer is the senior editor of an apparel business magazine and has been writing about the industry for more than nine years. Send workplace or corporate fashion questions to [email protected]

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