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When Your Coworkers Complain About Your Clothes

Do your coworkers complain about what you wear to work? Here’s how to deal with coworkers who don’t like your clothes and are causing problems for you at work.

“My fellow female employees are much older than I am, and they constantly make comments about the fact that I like to wear heels and skirts to work,” says Carrie on Wearing What You Want to Work – Whoopi Goldberg. “I’m well within the proper dress code, but they’re offended by what I wear to work. There is a huge generation gap at my office and the majority of the people I work with are over 50 (I am 33).”

Well, that’s the first clue – her coworkers have a different sense of style! But that doesn’t solve her problem. Below, I offer a few tips for dealing with coworkers who don’t like what you wear to work.

If you struggle with wearing the right clothes to work, read Dress Your Best: The Complete Guide to Finding the Style That’s Right for Your Body. The authors use real people to help readers figure out the best clothes for their body types, and cover what to wear if you work in an office.

If you have long-term career goals you want to achieve, read books like Toxic Coworkers: How to Deal with Dysfunctional People on the Job. The more adept you are at coping with fellow employees who disagree with you, the happier you’ll be at work! Negotiating office politics takes practice – and office politics range from emptying out the dishwasher at work to delegating complicated, sensitive tasks to your employees.

And, office politics also includes what you wear to work…

When Your Coworkers Complain About Your Clothes

Here’s the rest of my reader’s comment on my article about dealing with difficult coworkers.

“There is another female employee is in her mid 20′s who also gets harassed. They make comments to each other about what she wears, even though she is also within our dress code stipulations. We both simply wear more modern and trendy clothes, yet we constantly hear snide comments. I generally ignore them, but the other day one of these coworkers printed out our dress code. She thought I should read it because some people were ‘offended’ by what I was wearing. I completely felt I was dressed appropriately, and was offended that I was being singled out – especially since this person was not my supervisor. Plus, she would not tell me what aspect of the dress code I was violating. My supervisor was out of the office, which is usually when these coworkers strike. I’m just not sure how to address this situation.”

Ask yourself if what you wear to work is worth going to war

Some battles are worth fighting: workplace discrimination, harassment, unfair wages, bullying, and unsafe work environments. Other battles are really just pesky annoyances that are easier to shrug off. You have to ask yourself if this is the hill you want to die on – do you really want to wage a clothing battle at work?

If this were me, I’d re-evaluate what I wear to work. But I’m not a fashionista – I’m definitely not modern and trendy! So it’d be easy for me to rethink my clothes, and wear less fashionable clothes at work.

That said, however, I do think it’s unfair for the older coworkers to set the clothes trends at work, and basically tell the younger women what to wear to work. It shouldn’t be that way – we should be able to wear whatever we want to work, especially if we’re within the office dress code!

But, my friends, life isn’t fair. It’s not fair that women still get paid less than men for doing the same job, and that women in general do more work at home than men. It’s not fair that some people have to work in crappy factory jobs, and others get to do what they love – and get paid for it.

So while it may not be fair that you have to rethink what you wear to work because your coworkers have a problem with your clothes, it’s reality.

Be realistic about how this “dress code war” will play out

Do you think your coworkers will change their minds about what you wear to work? Nope, not in a million years. They think they’re 100% right – just like you think you’re 100% right! They hate what you wear, they’re offended by your skirts and heels, and they’re determined to make you see it their way.

You won’t change your coworker’s perspective about what you wear to work, unless you’re a master at solving problems at work. It doesn’t matter if your supervisor agrees with you or you get the president of the company to agree that you’re well within the office dress code guidelines. Your coworkers will still be offended by your clothes. Your clothes will still be causing problems at work.

So while you may be 100% right about what you’re wearing to work, you will never convince your coworkers to see it your way.

Realize how important clothes are – they affect your work relationships

“Some people are surprised to discover how much clothing counts toward the assessment of their personal competence,” writes Dianna Booher in Creating Personal Presence: Look, Talk, Think, and Act Like a Leader (an excellent book for people with career goals!). “Research proves the importance of dress and grooming to your personal clout and credibility. Like it or not, people make important decisions based on how you dress and what you wear to work.”

You may be wearing trendy, modern clothes, but what message are you sending to your coworkers, your supervisor, your customers or clients? Maybe your coworkers are actually doing you a favor by pointing out the message they’re getting from how you dress.

blossom clothesI’m not saying your coworkers are right – I’m just giving you an objective perspective on how what you wear to work can affect your relationships with your fellow employees. And if your coworkers feel this way about what you wear to work, maybe others feel the same way.

“People size you up quickly, and change their minds slowly,” writes Booher in Creating Personal Presence. “Instead of resisting that fact, understand how to make it work for you rather than against you.”

Do you want to be right at all costs – do you want to win this battle of the dress code – or do you want to do your job in a peaceful work environment? Do you want to stubbornly stick to your perspective, or do you want to learn from your coworkers? Maybe you can find a way to make this situation work for you, not against you.

Sometimes it’s easier and smarter to let go of the little things, and live in peace. Marriages work better that way – and so do office relationships.

Another option is to find a job that is more in line with who you are and how you dress! Read Should You Quit Your Job? 6 Things to Consider Before Resigning for tips.

I welcome your thoughts on dealing with coworkers who have a problem with what you wear to work…


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6 thoughts on “When Your Coworkers Complain About Your Clothes”

  1. I had a job with a good employer. I worked hard and was conscientious about my job performance, attendance and how my coworkers felt about my job performance. This company did not pay well although I have had even worse paying jobs. I appreciated the job for what it was- a good stable job in a pleasant environment. The clothing I wore to work(their dress code was office casual) was bought mostly at thrift stores- dockers, button down shirts. My clothes were clean and (at least I thought) presentable. I certainly made no effort to look “well dressed” at work. I wore what I felt was good enough for what this company was offering me. Since my job was mostly processing incoming mail (and we got HEAVY mail-thousands of bills arrived daily) I dealt with a lot of paper dust from the high volume letter openers, ink on my hands from handling the invoices-in other words I was not in a cubicle on the phone with vendors and working spreadsheets-I was labor intensive with a high volume workload of LOTS of mail, lots of paper. The other employees didn’t see me very much cause I had a lot of mail to process. After the mail was processed I left my work area and passed out the mail to the various accountants. This was the only time they saw me-it wasn’t like I was in the public eye very much.
    After working there a number of years one coworker who was about 20 years younger than me started in a fairly good accounting job. I know she made somewhat more than me-and why shouldn’t she-she had a qualifying amt of accounting experience and was professional and competent in her area. I thought it odd that she had a discussion with my boss about my office apparel. She wrote my boss a note and said “Please look at Bob M. His clothes are not acceptable” (or something to that effect.) Then one day as I was entering the building coming from a break she actually spoke up to me in person loud and vocally in front of my coworkers. This was almost 20 years ago but I still can remember how embarassed and humiliated I felt. I never had any dealings with this lady at work-never spoke to her except to say hi in the mornings and give her her invoices to be paid- so I really don’t know what her beef was with me.
    I said nothing but burned with hurt feelings. I would like nothing more than to go back in time and walk to her cubicle and give her a piece of my mind. This thankless job- of which I had near perfect attendance-was made less pleasant by the thoughtless remarks of a bimbo coworker. If this company was paying top dollar and stressed a “dressing for success” work ethic, her remarks would have made sense. The company DID NOT pay top dollar and in fact had a big turnover problem because they did not compete in the workplace wage-wise. I was the bottom-of-the-ladder-mail-clerk. I wore appropriate clothing for what my job entailed. Perhaps it is petty and trivial but I feel life throws enough at you without having to deal with the negative banal thoughts and remarks of a coworker. (I was thrilled when she found “a better job” and that company folded within a month. What goes around comes around, honey.)

  2. This situation sounds like covert bullying by the coworkers. If this lady really was wearing something wildly inappropriate to the workplace, then I am sure that the boss, HR and possibly people who work with the company would have told her already. Do not be a pushover and be assertive – for example, I would have asked the worker what exactly she meant when she said that your attire was offensive and she should have been prepared to say to your face if you did happen to be wearing something that violated the dress code what the problem was. That’s basic respect. Stand up for yourself and nip this in the bud now because if you do not then even more bullying will follow.

  3. Thanks for your comments, Marquita – I think a “clothing intervention” can be really helpful if someone needs help. It’s the ones who don’t know they need help, who need help!

    This reader’s comment reminds me of Erin Brokovich, who wore skin tight mini skirts and stilletos to work. When people complained, she said they were jealous. Jealous or not, I don’t think it’s appropriate to wear nightclub clothes to work!

    But I agree with Grady – if your coworkers are complaining about what you wear to work, you need to handle it creatively and tactfully.

  4. I had a one-of-a-kind experience (for me) a few years ago on this very subject. I’d recently changed jobs – moving from hotel travel sales to heading up marketing and sales for a regional aquarium. In my previous job I was required to wear business attire at all times. When I began working at the aquarium I was still in tourism and meeting with many of the same industry leaders so it never occured to me to alter my attire. A couple of months after I started the managers all went out for a holiday dinner and took the opportunity to do a ‘clothing intervention’ on my behalf. The issue was everyone – including the general manager – wore “dressy casual” clothing, often shorts and they felt I wasn’t properly representing the aquarium with my ‘stuffy’ attire. I admit I was stunned, but they weren’t mean about it and I chose to take it that they wanted me to be part of the team so I adjusted and never regretted it.

  5. Hi! I love your informative articles and how helpful they are to the reader. I would like to know how I can write for you–I am a beginning freelance writer and would like to gain a bit of experience. Your blog is the perfect place to start, and I would appreciate your help. Thank you so much for both creating this blog and for letting me know how I can write on here in advance.

  6. I don’t have that problem much, since we all wear almost identical clothing where I work, but I would agree with you that the person might want to pick their battles. At the same time, it really isn’t fair if the “older” people are encouraging an “unwritten” guideline as to what people should wear to work. I don’t know how I would handle the situation, but it is something that should be handled carefully and tactfully.