How To Handle A Coworker Who Dresses Inappropriately

How To Handle A Coworker Who Dresses Inappropriately

You have problems, I have advice. This advice isn’t sugar-coated — in fact, it’s sugar-free, and may even be a little bitter. Welcome to Tough Love.

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You have problems, I have advice. This advice isn't sugar-coated -- in fact, it's sugar-free, and may even be a little bitter. Welcome to Tough Love.

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This week we have a guy who thinks his coworker dresses suggestively and he doesn’t like it.

Keep in mind, I’m not a therapist or any other kind of health professional — just a guy who’s willing to tell it like it is. I simply want to give you the tools you need to enrich your damn lives. If for whatever reason you don’t like my advice, feel free to file a formal complaint here. Now then, let’s get on with it.

Hi Patrick,

I’m in a situation where I have to tell a colleague they aren’t dressed appropriately. The situation is that I’m male, she’s female, and the issue is that she dresses a bit too nicely at times (read: inappropriately so). It’s not too bad, and it doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens enough that I need to say something (especially when we’re having customer-facing events). I would like to get the message across without embarrassing her, without affecting our working relationship, and without having to resort to corporate/HR BS.

Any ideas?

Confidently Confused

Hey Confidently Confused,

I have one question for you: Are you this woman’s superior in any way? And just to be clear, “superior” doesn’t mean being older or being a man. You say “colleague” so I’m guessing you aren’t. So if you aren’t her professional superior, it isn’t your place to be commenting on the appropriateness of her attire — at all. Heck, even if she is a subordinate, it’s still pretty inappropriate to say anything about her appearance.

And I don’t know what you mean exactly by dressing “too nicely, inappropriately so”. You might be saying she’s dressing up too much — like going black tie to a business caj lunch — but I think you mean dressing too attractively and couldn’t think of a better way to say you think she dresses like a slut sometimes. But here’s the deal, ConCon, that’s a matter of opinion — your opinion — and you’re not the ruling party. For whatever reason, men think they have the authority to tell women how to dress in the workplace, and they don’t. Not only do you assume what she’s doing is unprofessional, you feel the urge to handle it yourself instead of going through the proper channels! You keep saying you “have to tell” her and that you “need to say something”, but you don’t, and there’s no way this won’t affect your working relationship if you do. The audacity!

If it really is that big of an issue for you, ConCon, you have to go through HR. I know you were hoping I could tell you some tactful, clever way to bring up the issue while avoiding the “BS”, but it’s the only option here that doesn’t make you look really bad. If you tell HR and she isn’t breaking any dress code rules, too bad. Keep your damn mouth shut. If her attire is actually inappropriate according to the dress code, however, HR has the authority to let her know. They will do it privately without embarrassing her and she won’t even have to know it was you, which keeps your working relationship from being affected. You know, by trying so hard to avoid the BS, ConCon, you almost stepped in a big pile of it.

That’s it for this week. I probably didn’t make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but sometimes what you need is some tough love. ‘Til next time, figure things out for yourself.


  • I will attempt to win ‘least appropriate clothing’ award:
    I was a linesman, lost on a large farm, trying to reach a specific span in a transmission line.

    I stopped on a weir in order to consult my topomap and get my bearings.
    I looked up to note that my workmate had stripped naked and was swimming in the river.
    Once I had my bearings I called “Let’s go” and he leapt back into the ute clad only in a small towel.
    I had to explain that more clothing was going to be required before we proceeded.

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