Poll of the Week: Should Anyone Wear an Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini To An Office Function?

This came up a while back and we wanted to postpone until it was actually warm enough to go swimming, but here is a question for the ages: if your conservative office has a pool party, boating trip, or something else where swimsuits would otherwise be appropriate, what do you wear? Particularly in light of the British scandal over some Speedo photos, we wondered what the masses thought.

For our $.02… it’s hard to answer this from a meta level, actually, because every part of our brain screams FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DO NOT WEAR A SWIM SUIT AMONG COLLEAGUES.  While on vacation amongst people you don’t know, it’s almost like being alone — no one can really judge, and so many people wear a swimsuit inappropriately (too small, too loose, too burnt to a crisp, etc) that it’s hard to single any one person out as The Worst Offender Of All Time at a public beach. However, change the group to fifty people who you vaguely know by name or reputation alone, and that “no judgments” rule changes big time. So, for our two cents, we’d wear a sundress or the most sun-dressy cover-up we could find, and leave the water to private vacations.

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As we’ve demonstrated, this question is inevitably tied to personal body issues — but the more interesting question may not be what you would do, but what you think others should do.  So please answer as if you’re advising a little sister who has no body issues.


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  1. If my firm is going to make me give up my personal time to go swimming, then they get to suffer through me wearing a swimsuit. And a large silly looking floppy hat. I figure as long as everything necessary is covered, and I throw on a towel to walk around in, they must have expected some level of exposure when they picked the event.

  2. I think the answer to this question must vary widely depending on the office culture and the specific event. If I were new and didn’t know what to expect, I would wear one of my usual bikinis (a less-revealing one) with a sundress over it, and then follow the lead of others at the party.

  3. I’ve been working in a conservative environment (accounting firm, government, boutique firm) for 20 years and have never encountered a pool party where people were expected to actually get in the water. No way, no how would I ever attend a function (or would I ever have attended a function) that required/expected one to wear a bathing suit. And as someone else said, no way no how would I ever recover from seeing some of my colleagues in bathing suits. I am having a hard time imagining that this is a real issue, actually.

  4. I’ve attended a law firm party with pool. I would say the attire amongst the females, partners or associates, was conservative one piece with sarong coverup. And swimming was minimal, but did occur.

  5. I’ve been to several events thrown by my Big6 consulting firm (sailing, poolside party, even snorkeling at an award event) and I say avoid swimsuits if at all possible. As J said, you can’t win. If you look great, you’re hated; if you look less than perfect, you’re scorned. Pool parties are easy, most people don’t swim at these events, so any modest summer attire is fine; Sailing, the same;
    For snorkeling on an award trip, I wore a conservative tankini & my cover-up on the boat, but obviously had to remove it for the actual snorkeling — and yes, my less than perfect body was on view, but I wasn’t with any immediate colleagues or my reporting structure, so I felt more comfortable than I would have had they been there (in fact, I would have probably chosen a different afternoon activity)

  6. I just think it depends on too many factors to possibly choose one of the given options. Plenty of my colleagues, even partners, have seen me on the beach in the type of bikini I’d normally wear (of course we’re not talking about thongs and triangle tops here) when we’ve had down time during destination conferences and things like that. Still I’m not sure I’d be comfortable in the same thing at a partner’s house for a pool party. In that situation, I’d probably put on suit with a pretty conservative cover-up and stay out of the water. That said, I think individual firm culture must be considered. I’m with a boutique at the moment, and had it been a function with my former biglaw firm, I’d probably have stuck with a sundress and called it a day. Or stayed home.

  7. We have a “firm retreat” at one of the partners’ lake cabin every August. None of the “girls” swim or wear a swimsuit, ever. I don’t even take one.

  8. Fairly conservative NY law firm that is disporportionately male, especially the partnership . We often have a summer pool party at a partner’s house — thankfully, it’s mostly kids that I see in the water. I do not need to see my bosses, peers and junior colleagues in their bathing suits and they don’t need to see me in mine. I always wear a skirt and t-shirt and never consider swimming.

    Recently was on an away trial team with 6 male colleagues. On the last day of trial, court ended early, and most of the guys hit the hotel roofdeck pool. I met them later for cocktails — it’s difficult enough to keep conversational boundaries etc. in place when you are (always, it seems) the only woman in the group — without blurring the lines of intimacy by being nearly naked together.

    This probably sounds outrageously prudish, and you should do what others at your firm do, and what you’re comfortable with. But as sad as it may sound, being one of a tiny number of women (except at the most junior level) at my firm is a continual challenge (for me) to project the right tone of authority, competence, etc. without bitchiness on the one hand or flirtation/girlishness on the other — bathing suits would not make anything about that daily challenge any easier.

  9. Anonymous :

    If the bathing suit is impossible to avoid all together, I agree with the Speedo or other athletic-type swimsuits. They are cut conservatively and come in solid, conservative colors, but won’t look as granny-ish as a very conservative non-athletic one piece.

    That said, I’m really shocked that so many places have pool parties and that people participate in this. It’s seems like it is just begging for a sexual harassment lawsuit.

  10. Erica Foley :

    god – you really can’t win on this one. I voted the second option, but I’d say that I’d only do this if it was an event where NOT wearing a swimsuit would look genuinely strange, and only if I had a REALLY conservative suit. Like one that my grandma-in-law could wear without creeping me out.

  11. Anonymous :

    I’m sure this won’t go over well but I’ll post this comment anyhow.

    Everyone seems to be ignoring something that is readily apparent in my law firm and probably yours as well.

    Most of the senior attorneys and partners are men. When they staff cases and transactions, they often staff them with people whom they like and find attractive. At my firm, if two women are equally smart and competent, the more attractive and likeable one will be staffed on more projects. This is just a fact of life. Don’t you want to work with people whom you like and find attractive?

    If you’ve got a great figure and you’re expected to wear a bathing suit, why not show it off? Obviously you shouldn’t wear a totally skimpy and inappropriate bikini that makes people uncomfortable or makes them question your judgment, but why cover up your body when displaying it could yield dividends in terms of more and better work?

    Personally, I no longer have a great figure after several years at my desk, and at this stage of my life I would wear something conservative to a pool party, but if had a rockin’ body I would definitely wear a two-piece. I think it shows a lot of confidence, which is another trait that partners like to see in junior lawyers.

    Just my $.02. Feel free to flame away.

  12. I suggest an athletic-type suit. Years ago I had a two-piece from J Crew that would be perfect for an office function – the bottoms were briefs, and the top was kind of like a sports bra. So it was cute, but not sexy, but not stuffy either, and it was comfortable for swimming, playing volleyball, walking around, and my big bum was completely covered. PERFECTION.
    J Crew doesn’t have anything like that anymore (they only have boy-shorts), but if you find something similar please let me know!

  13. Ingrid Lingod :

    Of course not!! Working as a lawyer is already tough enough without catching that kind of heat. I’m glad anytime I see stories like this one that portray attorneys in a good light: http://lawblog.legalmatch.com/2009/06/18/trusting-americas-lawyers/

  14. housecounsel :

    I think I would feign a bad case of swine flu before I wore a bathing suit of any kind in front of my colleagues. My firm used to have a golf outing at a club with a pool every year. People talked about over-revealing bikinis and hairy backs for years and years after these ended.

  15. I marked “other” because I would never wear my athletic Speedo one-piece to an office event – it’s hideous! But I did think that a one-piece or a conservative tankini is the best option. I think some of the retro-style one-piece “maillot” swimsuits aren’t granny-ish. So my two cents is wear a cute but conservatively cut one-piece or tankini.

  16. I work at a small boutique firm. I recently attended an event that involving swimming and sitting around a pool with the firm’s founding partner and other coworkers. I wore a black retro-style halter one piece from the Gap. I thought it worked well because the swimsuit was cute, fashionable, and modest. I think retro style is the way to go in a swimsuit if it’s your thing.

  17. AMEN! I was thinking the exact same thing. If you look good and you are confident, just roll with it. Who cares if the other women are green with jealousy. That is their own problem. I think it works even better if you are married or with a significant other b/c then they are less likely to be able to accuse you of trying to sleep your way to the top or whatever catty-ness they try to pull. I don’t see anything wrong with looking good and I also think it makes people want to be around you.

    Years ago I was in law enforcement. I was asked to work on something fairly prestigous as a rookie. I later found out it was because several of the young guys asked for me to be on it so they could “get to know me” aka they thought I was hot. Too bad for them I was engaged. But, my great work on that team got me noticed and got me recognition and put me on the fast tract to bigger and better things. Things I wouldn’t have been eligible for without that first break. Was I insulted that I only was asked because I was “hot”? Heck no. I was a rookie. They had no other way to discern between the rookies. If you got it, discreetly flaunt it :)

  18. Sorry, my comment was to 8:03 not from 8:03.

  19. Summer Associate :

    3 letters: CYA. (IF you don’t know: Cover Your Ass. Literally.) I’m sick of seeing summer associate’s T&A at our events. Seriously, it’s not funny when you flirt with the 60 year old partners while wearing a bikini that doesn’t cover your butt and a top that leaves little a secret. COVER IT UP.

  20. As a female partner, with small children, I’ll concur that avoiding the water at the (annual) pool party is the way I do it. I send in my husband with the kids. :) But I must admit that this is because I certainly don’t have a bikini body (and didn’t even before I had two kids with c-sections). At my firm’s pool party, mostly spouses & kids were in the water. A few male partners did go into the water, and I must say that I do not approve of tight speedos on males either, in a business setting.