How to Address Inappropriate Attire in the Workplace

Don't overdo it when expressing your personal sense of style at work.
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All those hours at the gym have finally paid off, and Ms. Smith thinks she looks mighty fine in a skin-tight, super-short black spandex skirt and six-inch stiletto heels. Except it's not Saturday night, and she's not on her way to a club. It's Tuesday morning, and she's in the office break room getting coffee. Can you say "inappropriate?" Letting a co-worker know she's dressed inappropriately for work is not easy, especially if she thinks she looks great. Use diplomacy and tact to give her the message.

    Step 1

    Remind your co-worker what's appropriate for your workplace. Refer to the dress code in the employee handbook and remind her about the boring presentation you and she sat through during orientation. The goal is to leave as little doubt as possible about what's acceptable -- and what's not. Maintain a tone that's empathetic and friendly so she doesn't feel she's being attacked. Instead, suggest it may be a great look for a night out, but it's probably not her best choice for the office.

    Step 2

    Set the tone with your fashion choices. You can't speak with much authority on the subject when you're wearing flip-flops and Bermuda shorts or an outfit better suited for a party. Dress as your bosses do, rather than colleagues or subordinates. And, like a parent who "catches her kids being good," compliment your co-worker on those days when she's chosen more professional business attire. Tell her she looks great in her new suit or tailored dress.

    Step 3

    Talk to your co-worker in private the first time she dresses inappropriately to prevent future episodes. Suggest her outfit is not right for the office. and that you're only mentioning it to help her avoid a reprimand. Remain her that it's better to be judged on capability and performance than appearance. Inside, you may be screaming "What were you thinking?" but keep your comments focused on the image the company wants to project and what clients expect. Commiserate with her, but remind her that everyone needs to toe the line, especially with performance reviews coming up, or clients dropping by, or whatever the situation is at the time.

    Step 4

    Organize a shopping trip focused on selecting new work clothes. Invite a few fashion-conscious co-workers to join you and the fashion offender. As you shop for outfits or accessories, point out items that are -- or are not -- appropriate for work. If multiple employees are missing the boat on office attire, gently suggest to your supervisor that it might be time for a more specific policy or perhaps a staff meeting on the topic. Maybe a "dress-for-success" type book would make a good holiday gift.

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