What to Wear to the Office Pool Party…

office pool partyCan you wear a bikini to an office function? Are women really “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” when it comes to office pool parties? Reader B wonders…

My office is planning a couple “beach days” or “boat days” this summer. This will be primarily coworkers, but families may be invited to 1-2. I am the youngest person in my office by about 10 years and also one of very few females in my male-dominated company. We are a casual to business casual office normally.

What does one wear to something like this? I don’t want to wear something my coworkers will be chatting about Monday, but my typical beach/swimwear (bikini + straw hat + little coverup dress) seems like it would perhaps be too risque for an office party?

After I sent her the post and discussion from the last time we talked about what kind of swimsuit to wear for an office function, B wrote back:

I don’t own any one pieces (I’m 24 and just at the start of my career) or even tankinis, so I’d need to buy something if a bikini is too risque. I think part of my issue is I’d probably be one of maybe 2 women there. Most of the advice seems to be for larger offices, but I work in a small, mostly male office where I am positive if there is water, 90% of my male coworkers will be jumping in without abandon and will probably think I’m a bit of a party pooper if I don’t.

The poll question also makes me a bit sad – as was mentioned in the comments, it seems like I can’t win. If I go with my typical beachwear (a well fitting bikini I look OK in and is not inappropriate for a non-coworker event, covered up when I’m outside the water), everyone will think I’m inappropriate and my male coworkers might stare. Okay, fine. But if I wear a conservative swimsuit and a coverup, half the people will think it’s completely inappropriate I wore a swimsuit at all. And the other half would think I’m lame for not joining in the activities? It really does seem like a question that’s a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t.

Well, when you put it like that…

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First, to reader B, if your male co-workers are mid-30s, I’d actually be surprised if “90%” of them are comfortable enough in their own skin to rip off their shirt and dive on in (unless, perhaps, they’re taking their own children in).  But let’s assume I’m wrong.  Since it’s your first time going to the office pool party:

– Focus on wearing an outfit appropriate for other activities.  A barbecue?  Volleyball game? Boating?  These each have their own considerations, but I would say that an outfit appropriate for this is the primary thing you should be focused on. In other words:  your cover-up is not your outfit; it’s just something to wear immediately before or after you get out of the water.

– Think “sporty,” not pin-up, push-up, or sexy.  Think “appropriate for my boss’s 10-year-old son to see me in.”  I always think of Land’s End has having really conservative, well-priced swimsuits that can also be a bit cute; I also really like the vibe of the Athleta catalog. If you have to wear stilettos with your bikini, you’re in the wrong ballpark.

– Do your best to avoid the chance of any “wardrobe malfunctions.”  For example, the J.Crew bikini pictured above has no straps and ties in the back… so even though it’s really cute, I would avoid it for the office party.  If you haven’t worn the swimsuit before, make sure nothing’s showing through.  I would probably choose a top with a bit of padding on it to avoid “headlights.”  If you have bikini line issues, make sure that they’re under control.

– Whatever you wear, only wear your swimsuit in the pool itself.  Don’t lounge on chairs and try to get a tan or anything like that.  As one of the commenters noted in the older post:

We had a pool party event at one of the named partner’s homes when I was a 2-L summer associate at a California big firm. Some of the summers (male and female) went swimming, including one female 1-L who spent many lunches working out instead of going to lunch. She was in fantastic shape and looked great. She swam and also lounged a bit by the pool to dry off. She didn’t do anything that would have been inappropriate at an in-law’s pool. … The other swimming summer (also a 1-L) wore a sporty-type black bikini while in the water, and immediately changed into clothes once she got out of the pool. … She ended up declining her offer. People still mention her bright blue bikini two years later when her name comes up. The black bikini summer also declined her offer, but no one mentions her bikini.

That said, can you wear your regular bikini?  I still would strongly advise against it, if only because this is your first time at the office pool party.  If you’re really dead set on wearing your bikini, I beg of you: please bring a more conservative option with you to the event.  It’s ok if it’s an inexpensive, ugly one-piece — it’s even OK if the tags are still on it when you arrive at the event.  That at least gives you the option to figure out the vibe of the event and decide what to wear.  If you feel confident wearing your regular bikini in the water, rock it out.  If you don’t, though, you’ll be glad you’ve got a more conservative option to choose from.

Readers, weigh in: what have you worn to office pool parties?  What would you advise a 24-year-old just starting at a law firm to wear?

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  1. Why are we assuming she works at a law firm? She doesn’t actually say so…

    Anyway, I think it’s fine to wear a swimsuit when one is swimming. It’s a pool party. People swim at pool parties. Maybe don’t strip down to your bikini and do a cannonball, but if others are swimming, no reason not to join. If others aren’t swimming, then hang out in your cover-up sundress and have a drink.

    As for what kind of swimsuit, I’d just say one that’s not deliberately sexy. A sporty two-piece should be fine. I agree with the advice to wear a cover up when outside the water. A sundress or tunic and a hat should be fine.

  2. ugh. This definitely hits home. I’m currently the only woman in my office of 40 or so and have two water-related events coming up this month. At 24, I’m also the youngest person in the office, though I have a lot of co-workers in their early 30’s.

    My second week on the job last year, I wore a bright pink bikini at an office retreat, but only a few people were around to see since it was during free time. I don’t think it negatively affected anyone’s opinion of me since I’m generally pretty demure, and there were wives/daughters around, but I’m looking for a one-piece this year.

    I have a second event with co-workers my age from other offices, and I have no qualms about wearing a bikini around them because of our ages and because I don’t work directly with any of them.

  3. I recommend buying a rash guard to wear over your bikini. Full coverage while you’re in the pool or out of it, minimal cost/consumption of stuff you might never wear again, and excellent sun protection (much better than sunscreen). You can add a sarong or board shorts or whatever for out-of-the-water lounging if you are worried about showing the skin. I started using rash guards for sun protection, but they are IMO the perfect solution to this problem, too.

  4. De-lurking to put in my two cents.

    I think that if you can find a modest one-piece bathing suit, you should be in good shape. It doesn’t need to be ugly either — I prefer 50’s silhouettes cause they cover everything and they’re pretty too.

    As for my cover-up suggestion, I think you would have a lot of leeway from a cotton shirt-dress (not too short) to a caftan or maxi style. Basically, I’m a bit of a sweater, so my main concern would be light and breathable fabric so that I wouldn’t overheat.

    Also revealing the fact that I’ve seen some awful films: check out stills from Monte Carlo with Leighton Meester. She does the coverup (one on the left http://www.fansshare.com/celebrity/montecarlo/450_monte-carlo-stills-movie-1856534039.jpg) with bathing suit (on the left: http://i46.tinypic.com/10gzio3.jpg) situation really well! (cute one-piece and a shirtwaist dress in complementary colours).

    I know I’m going to be stuck in a similar situation soon, so I’m taking that scene as inspiration. The only thing I’m not sure about is footwear: not sure if I want my beautiful leather sandals to get splashed with chlorine, so in this case, some decorative flip flops might just have to do!

  5. karenpadi :

    Thinking this through a little more, if it’s a beach day on the ocean or one of the Great Lakes, I’d probably bring my shorty wetsuit. I get cold easily and it’s good sun protection.

  6. SoCal Gator :

    When I was an associate at a Big Law firm (eons ago) I never wore any kind of swimsuit to an office pool party even though I looked great in a bikini. That was not how I wanted to present myself to my work colleagues and bosses. I always wore shorts and a tee and did not swim. I was at the party as part of a work event and not to act as I would if at a pool party with my friends. There is a big difference.

    I recall one pool party that was part of the summer program in the heyday of such programs. It was at the managing partner’s McMansion. A male summer associate got so caught up in poolside antics that he threw the managing partner’s nine year old daughter into the pool. She was fine but very upset, as was her father. That’s all everyone ever talked about after that when the summer associate’s name came up. He did not get an offer……

  7. Keep comments coming! I have a “beach party” coming up this wknd (don’t think that there is a regular pool, just the beach a block away) and totally plan on wearing shorts, a cute top and sandals/flops. Most of my day will likely be spent watching my toddler in the kiddie pool and talking to people. This is a new job so I have no intention of busting out a suit until I know if it is actually expected.
    I did work at a small firm that had a lake party with tubing/swimming. I wore a one piece and re-dressed in dry clothes as soon as I did my obligatory spin on the boat.

  8. This one is tricky. I simply cannot imagine a pool party with colleagues at a professional job where you actually went IN the pool. Stood by it, sipping G&T’s, yes….but…..urg… I once ran into a colleague I worked with at a large medical centre at a water park. He was with his kid , I was with my adult sister (yeah, we are still 13 at heart). But just being faced with someone who you see in a certain way every day (someone who I had a good rapport with)…in his swimsuit…..me in mine….facing each other, trying not to notice that we are both nearly naked……weird. To do that voluntarily!? No thanks.

  9. Wear rash guard and board shorts over your suit. Take off one piece to get in the water, but not both. Patagonia and Title 9 both have suits designed to be active in. If the guys are splashing around and you want to too, jump in–doing stuff together is a different kind of networking/tea building. I don’t think being known as that person who would. not. give. up in the water polo game is a bad thing at all.

    • Team, not tea! Though I guess you could sip a glass together.

      On the attitude–don’t get in the water if you don’t want to. People will pick up on it and brand you as finicky or high-maintenance or squeamish or something negative instead of saying what a good sport you are for doing something you don’t like.

  10. You know, this is yet another example of how being top heavy really stinks. I’m pretty average weight / height, but super busty (think bust 9 inches larger than my waist). There is no bathing suit I can EVER wear, whether 1 piece or 2 piece, that isn’t going to look obscene for work-event purposes. I consistently wear a 2 piece for personal swimming (I love to swim!) and think I look pretty darn good, but absolutely not work appropriate. And one pieces, given the general lack of heavy-duty bust support, don’t really solve the problem.

    Work pool parties are just cruel – I love, love, love the water, but swimsuits in front of coworkers are a disaster for me.

    • Notalawyer :

      Have you looked at Bravissimo.com? They have cute bathing suits–2 piece, 1 piece, tankinis, and coverups for just this body type.

      I do like the suggestion of rash guards and shorts. They’ve worked for me in the past.

    • 9″ is not a huge difference, when you think of classic ideal measurements 36-26-36. Not that I’ve been those recently, just sayin’

    • Not to mention that if you do find bathing suits that fit, they are super expensive. Like you, I go for two pieces for bra-sizing support (I find Freya works adequately, if not perfectly). I haven’t found a one piece yet that works. Why on earth do they think soft cups with those stupid foam inserts support large busts? All they do is soak up water and make it look like we’re lactating after we leave the pool. Sigh.

      • Blondie, Esq. :

        Have you tried J.Crew? They make D-cup one pieces. I have two of them that I love.

    • Have you tried Land’s End recently? You can buy tankinis (and even one-pieces I think) that accommodate exact cup sizes & different suit sizes. So that you can accomodate a DDD cup with a size 6 suit. Of course, they may not even go high enough, but I found them to be a lot more flexible than most. They also have these adjustable-scoop swimsuits that you can adjust to straight-across cut for when you need to be very modest.

      I really have found them to work, but you do deal with annoying inserts. However, I haven’t found them to look weird after getting wet like some inserts can. And they keep the headlights away.

  11. and so anon :

    I remember an event like hosted by a large law firm. Good God.

    One summer associate made a point of telling the other women summer associates that she’d chosen her sexy suit with care. Another was brave enough to show a big surgical scar. A rude male senior associate asked her about it. I wore white pants and a Hawaiian shirt, which everyone thought was weird.

    I’d wear a cute cotton shift dress, casual shoes and not swim.

  12. love my bikini :

    Is there ANYONE who thinks it’s okay to wear a two-piece to a pool party? I’m attending a party with a pool this summer with my kids. I love swimming. They love splashing. We will be in the pool together having fun. I haven’t worn a one-piece since 1992 (truly). I didn’t even think twice about what I would wear to the party until this post. And honestly, I think I’m going to go with the bikini no matter what. Because I’m a two-piece girl, and wearing a one-piece or tankini, no matter how cute, just isn’t who I am.

    • You sound like you know what you’re doing. If you’re splashing with your kids, you aren’t going to be wearing some sexy number that’s about to fall off anyway. I’m with you on getting in the water.

    • Posting this in secret due to cowardice- I was born in 1990. I would not want to see you in a bikini.

      • Oh, honey.

      • love my bikini :

        In years past I would have been offended, but instead you make me reflect and smile! I am in far better shape at 39 than I was at 20, and much more comfortable in my skin. Which is why this string has me a little perplexed. Perhaps I’m too old for this blog?

        • Is part of all of this an age issue? I know I’m more comfortable wearing a well fitting bikini in my late 30’s than I was in a ill fitting one piece in my early 20’s. Now I’m more confident generally, and frankly, I don’t really care what my pool-side coworkers are wearing, so long as they aren’t self-conscious about it. We all have bulges and wobbly bits. But for women in their 20’s, maybe this all feeds into general concern over issues of authority, competency, being seen as a complete individual instead of (merely) a sex-symbol. Was that the fundamental difference between the black bikini girl and the blue bikini girl mentioned earlier – self confidence?

          • I think this is part of it. In my mid-30s, I’m further away from being viewed as a sex symbol than I was when I was 20. Also, people at work know how smart I am. I think that’d be tougher than when I was 20.

        • Amen! I look so much better and am more comfortable/confident now than I was in my 20s. I guess I was a late late LATE bloomer who didn’t grow into my adult looks until my 30s. I have always worked out a lot, because I enjoy it, and as I get older, the payoffs are more and more apparent. :)

          That being said, I still think an office pool party is a horrible idea. :/

      • Is cowardice the new code word for being rude?

      • You poor thing.. Hopefully you’ll grow out of that competitive thing before it bites you.

      • Anonymous :

        Hey 1990–your time will come. Getting old happens a LOT faster than you think it will.

        That said, I’m about to be 43 and I’m the same weight I was at 17 (okay, 3 pounds heavier) and in pretty much the same shape (ie, pretty decent shape). Sometimes I feel self-conscious in a bikini, but then I look around and plenty of 20-year-olds are in much worse shape than I am.

        So there. I don’t think it’s about age at all. (And go check out that BBC video of the 75-year-old bodybuilder. That woman looks GOOD.)

  13. When my old office had a function at water park, I wore a tankini top and board shorts. There’s enough variation in summertime business casual that showing bare arms, shoulders, and a bit of cleavage doesn’t feel too far afield. But there’s no legit business circumstance that would expose my upper thighs; that seemed much too intimate to me.

  14. I’m going to be horrible and say that if I am at a work function I don’t want to see you in a two piece or to be honest a plunging neck one piece or a cutout one piece. I don’t care how young or fit or hot you are I just don’t want to see it. Now whether or not you care what I think and what you plan on doing about it is all on you.

  15. love my bikini :

    Exactly Penrod! Well said. And with that, I’m wearing my cute Patagonia two-piece to the pool party, one kid on each hip and all.

  16. Lesson Learned :

    I wish I had read this article before our retreat a few weeks ago! I brought a bikini because I realized too late (the night before) that I should have put some thought into what to wear to the pool. As it turned out, there were several guys, roughly my age, in the hot tub with me. They were all wearing shorts, of course. It was awkward. Especially since I had to sit with my feet dangling in the tub for the majority of the time because I found it was too hot. Also, I sucked in my belly at the same time because I was also very self conscious.

    If that wasn’t enough, every time one of the non tubbing associates walked past the indoor pool area, they’d knock on the window and wave at us. UGH.

    I’m already looking for a tankini that I’ll wear for next time.

  17. YOU have to check out the Tommy Bahama halter dress and matching one piece. It is made of swimsuit material and can go from BBQ right into the water and is really an appropriate length without being too long or short. I am a size 10 and IT WAS great to be able to decide if I wanted to wear the swimsuit in was on and under the dress or I could just go in the pool with both on. It is also fast drying. HERE IS THE LINK:

    Most have matching swimsuits Bikini and one pieces!!! A must have for Office Events

  18. To save money, go to a Goodwill store and buy a swimming suit. It will save you some $$.

  19. If you have to wear a swim suit, try a swim dress. The top is like a swim suit – mine is a halter and you wear a bikini bottom but it is long enough to cover your rear.

  20. I’ll admit, the one time my work group organized a beach party for our summer outing, I came up with a last-minute reason to skip it. It just felt like one big opportunity for awkwardness of all kinds. Also, I loathe “mandatory fun” events.

    Now if I am going to go to such an event, I would probably opt for a tasteful/sporty bikini over a one-piece because I feel like my stomach is NOT my problem area and I might as well uncover the good parts. If I would want to hide something, it would be my rear end (which is not bad, just more booty than I would choose) but neither a one-piece nor a bikini is going to cover that. So my choices would seem to be forgo the swimsuit all together and just wear shorts/tank top or a coverup or go for the two-piece where at least my confidence about my flat stomach would balance out my discomfiture with my butt (and I can’t take credit or blame for either of those traits as they are genetic!) :)