When you get an unexpected comment on an outfit, does it make you question bigger things, like your judgment? Do plus-sized women need to be particularly wary of such office outfit comments? We’ve talked about when you can tell interns their outfits are inappropriate, and how to react when your male boss tells you you “dress too well,” but we haven’t really talked about a casual comment from a friendly coworker. A big welcome back to today’s guest poster, my old friend Kathryn Rubino, who’s written previously about the perfect plus-sized blazer and DIY options for gaping blouses. – Kat. (And I’m sure she looked FABULOUS in the blouse she’s talking about.)
“What a great top — I mean, I could never wear it, but it looks great on you!”
I heard those words and my blood ran cold, and I stuck a smile on my face and mumbled my thanks. Was this a genuine compliment or was I the victim of workplace shade? Disturbing though it may be, most professional women have dealt with this sort of thing (Kat has even written about the back-handed compliment phenomenon before). But it is such a ubiquitous problem that for my guest post I wanted to discuss that moment that has you questioning every fashion decision you’ve ever made.
First, a little background — this is a workplace where jeans are appropriate on more than just Fridays. The general guidance is that you shouldn’t look “sloppy” but there is quite a range that is considered perfectly acceptable office wear.
Second, I felt great in the outfit. You know how some looks just put a little bounce in your step? That was this outfit. Yes, the shirt was a bold pattern (shades of taupe mixed with a bright yellow and pink), but I had it paired with a dark rinse jean, a reliable black stretch blazer, and nude wedges. So there wasn’t a lot of the pattern showing, just enough to make me feel like spring had really sprung after this interminable winter.
Also, the comment came from a colleague with whom I have a good relationship. We share stories about our lives outside of work and grab the occasional happy hour drink together. It was also a Wednesday with zero chance of client meetings that day. She very well could have meant the comment in the most benign way possible, a mere reflection on a fun top that she liked but would not feel comfortable wearing personally. So why was my immediate reaction so much darker?
As a plus-sized professional woman who really makes an effort to look fashionable, I feel there are potential landmines everywhere. Sure, there are the usual ones that all women face (don’t show too much boob, always wear heels, is this accessory too much for the office), but there are simply fewer clothing options available. And even small missteps tend to be seen as a reflection of personality traits. A sloppy look on a size-6 coworker can be written off, but if that label gets applied to me? Well, it’s a short trip from “sloppy” to “fat and lazy” and that can negatively impact performance reviews and your whole career trajectory at a particular job. Perhaps I just have a deep-seated paranoia, but I think a lot about what I wear and how it is likely to be perceived. That means when I get a comment on my look that was unanticipated I question my own judgment.
I’ve thought a lot about the incident that sparked this post, and really studied the look. I believe it was a genuine compliment and I’ll wear the top again this season. And when the whispers of self-doubt rear their ugly head again, I will trust my gut instinct. When you feel happy and pretty about an outfit, that translates into a confidence that is attractive at any size.
Readers, do you think that small fashion missteps are a reflection of personality traits — and that size plays a factor in people’s tolerance of such missteps? Have you ever decided that an offhand outfit comment was just that — an offhand comment — and kept wearing the outfit regardless?
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