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.

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. I think it depends on the function. If the function has swimming or water activities as one of many options, definitely avoid the swimsuit. If it’s exclusivly a pool party and you’re going to have to explain why you’re the only one not in the water, then wear a simple, conservative one-piece.

  2. Eva said it better than I would – if swimming is one of many activities, just avoid the swimsuit, but if you are in a situation where everyone else is wearing a swimsuit, I would recommend conservative one piece + a good coverup – preferable something like the piece I reviewed on my blog today, which is more dress than cover-up.

  3. Anonymous :

    Seriously, do law firms or other conservative offices have pool parties? do partners actually get in the pool? I work at a boutique law firm and I cannot even fathom a pool/swimming event. We do baseball games, horse races, boating events, but nothing where anyone would wear a swimsuit. I seriously do not think I’d recover from seeing most of the people in my office in a swimsuit.

  4. She should wear the sundress or linen pants and bring a conservative swimsuit that she could change into if need be.

  5. How about a burkini? http://www.ahiida.com/index.php?a=results&subcat=59
    On a more serious note, though, I agree with commenters above. If the event is exclusively water-oriented, it’s hard to avoid a swimsuit.

  6. I’m with Eva here. I’m from Florida and if you don’t wear a swimsuit for a work beach or pool party, people start to ask questions. We’re also expected to go into the water, so if we want more coverage all the time, something like swim shorts is probably a better option than a pretty dress that is of no use to you in the water.

    I don’t think there’s any specific type of swimsuit to choose. It really depends on a woman’s body type and what looks the most conservative on her. I have a long torso and can’t get a one piece to provide enough coverage, so a tankini with a longer shirt is typically a better bet for me.

  7. My botique firm has an annual lake-side picnic. Pretty common to see partners jump in the lake, and I like swimming too much to pass it up on a hot summer day. I agree that a conservative one piece or tankini, plus a cover-up when you’re out of the water is the way to go.

  8. Ugh, “boutique” obviously. Not particularly smart, today.

  9. My [boutique, business casual] firm does a family day every summer at a theme park which includes a water park. Most people do go in the water because they have young kids want to go. Since I don’t have kids, I can usually just avoid the water park pretty gracefully, but this issue does come up. The one year I did go in the water, I wore a fairly conservative (wide straps) halter top tankini that was loose enough and long enough that the top and bottom met, and no skin showed in between. It also had a cute skirt separate that helped. I’m a competitive swimmer so I have an entire wardrobe of Speedo suits, but those somehow feel a little too “butch” for this purpose. This year’s trip is in a few days, so I’m interested in any other suggestions!

  10. If it were my sister :

    I would tell her to try to blend in. Don’t stand out for being the bum on the beach fully dressed and don’t stand out for being the tart in the string bikini on the float. Wear what you feel comfortable in, tankini, one piece, sporty two piece – think what life guards wear, and layer so you can adjust as the situation is appropriate. I would also suggest she bring a fitted tank top and sports shorts that can get wet in case activities include beach volley ball, tubing, jet skiing or water skiing. Don’t want to have any wardobe malfunctions but you do want to be a good sport and play along, particularly if the activity is one you enjoy anyway.

  11. Anonymous :

    I work for a large law firm in a SE city and we have a lake trip every year. Two piece bathing suits are standard issue amongst the women as everyone is in the water and participating in water sports. I was hesitant to be in a two piece at first until I noticed that no one bothered wearing a one piece or a conservative tankini.

    The best advice is really to tailor your swimsuit to the appropriate situation. At my firm wearing a sundress all day would make you stand out, though many other people on this thread will likely say that a two piece would be uncommon at their firm.

  12. newassociate :

    we had a pool party event at one of the named partner’s homes when i was a 2-L summer associate at a northern 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.

    it was still not a good idea because it made everyone uncomfortable. some of the men tried very hard not to look at her, and some of the women tried not to turn green. it definitely didn’t make anyone happy.

    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. meanwhile, i stayed in a skirt and shell. possibly coincidentally, my class was the last class to have a pool party at that home.

    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.

  13. Agreeing with Eva and City Girl – opt out if possible, but if it’s a water-centric event, go for a one-piece. J.Crew has lots of colors/styles, even in long torso sizes.

    City Girl, I love that coverup. Most are blousy tops that hit somewhere in the upper thigh, stretchy tube dresses, or sarongs. None of those alone seem to provide enough coverage when out of the water.

  14. I’m usually all for firm events, but seriously? An office pool party? Yikes! That’s pretty much my worst nightmare.

    I would definitely wear a conservative swimsuit (that would mean buying one, since all I own are not-very-conservative-bikins) and a modest cover-up sundress. Then, I would play it by ear at the event whether or not it is worth it to take off the cover-up and actually get in the water.

    The way I see it, you can’t win. If you look less-than-perfect in a swimsuit, some people might judge. If you look drop dead gorgeous in a swimsuit, you will almost certainly get some unwanted attention.

    Sort of a shame, really. I suspect that there are a lot of guys who log a lot fewer hours at the gym than I do who wouldn’t bat an eye about wearing a swimsuit at a firm function.

  15. Speedo makes some very nice, very conservative one-piece suits for women. It’s clear that they’re athletic wear, not eye candy, which is the look you want to go for at an activity-based office function.

    • I own a couple of those and I would never wear them for an office function – they are lined but not padded over the chest, so I feel very undressed in them if I have to interact with people.

      I have a one-piece from Next (UK shop) which is a mid brown and has a halterneck top, but is fairly covered up – thick straps rather than little thin tags, and thin shape-hiding padding in the top. That, plus an appropriate summery dress, would be more than appropriate, I should think.

  16. Anonymous :

    I guess a conservative swimsuit is the way to go–but I’d define “conservative” as a non-string bikini if you have the body to rock a 2-piece.

    My firm is very active and social engagemetns are pretty important as far as getting work goes. You would not fit in with the rest of the crew if everyone was skiing/tubing, and you were sitting in summer street clothes sweating to death!

    I am kind of sad that the “hot” summer in the swimsuit above got kind of picked on for the bikini (albeit indirectly). I’m sure that even the hottest, most built MALE summer associate, even amongst a company of all women, would have no problems wearing a swimsuit and enjoying himself by the pool…the women would probably be appreciative and talk about how hot he was, but there wouldn’t be any issues over the “appropriateness” of his suit!

    It’s a little bit annoying that having boobs and a workout habit makes you as uncomfortable in a swimsuit as someone with huge body shape issues.

    Guess I’m just frustrated that women have so many standards and rules to follow when it comes to working with men!!!

  17. Delta Sierra :

    I’d try not to attend, since if any of the paunchier men were wearing even modest swimsuits and I had to see them and then next week go back to working with them as if I hadn’t ever seen their flabby pink tummies… well, just something I don’t really need. If I couldn’t gracefully get out of attending, I’d wear a sundress.

  18. There’s nothing wrong with doing beach activities at a beach party. Also nothing wrong with wearing a conservative swimsuit, although I don’t think it necessarily has to be a one-piece if you’re in shape. Obviously, you don’t lounge around in the suit after the water activity is done.

    Femininity is a strength. i don’t see a reason to emulate 6th grade gym class in my adult life because i”m afraid the boys will see me in a swimsuit…

  19. summerassociate :

    My firm had a canoe trip, and I know of other firms that have done the same this summer. In that situation, of course you should wear a swimsuit, at least under your clothing. And if you fall in the water and need to take your soaking wet shirt off to dry, I don’t think it will shock anyone to see you in a conservative/athletic swimsuit.

  20. You bring the nun-like swimsuit, just in case it turns out that not participating in the ‘fun and games’ singles you out as a conspicuous non-team player. But you pray that everyone is like you – not wanting to swim – and it becomes merely a party BY the pool and the only ones IN the pool are colleagues wives with small children. Okay – what to do if YOU have small children? One of those tankini suits that has actual ‘shorts’ for a bottom.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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)

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