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 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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/

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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 :)

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

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. As a significantly overweight woman (who’s just fine with herself in general, and at the beach/pool, i.e. when not among work peers and superiors) I would probably go with wearing a tankini under a simple cotton sundress. That way, you can sit on the side of the pool and dangle your legs in, you look appropriately dressed and not uncomfortable with yourself, and you can always say you just don’t feel like swimming. Obviously you go by what the other women do in general, so if all the other women just wear clothes and no swimsuit, then that’s fine, but if everyone is busting out the bathing suits, you don’t want to make any insecurities super apparent by not at least having the pretense of being ready to join in.

  17. I put “other,” because I would tell her to purchase a tankini or one-piece if she doesn’t already have one. Also, it totally depends on the context. If I worked at a huge firm where I didn’t know everyone, I would definitely stay covered and out of the water (this goes regardless of body type). Conversely, the summer after my 1L year of law school, one of the partners at the law firm I clerked for had a work party at her lake house. It was a law firm of only 8 attorneys, plus assistants were also invited. It was so casual that no one really gave a second thought to what they were wearing. Everyone looked appropriate (minus the secretaries in tiny bikini’s), but no one was going overboard trying to cover themselves. So in a situation like that, I think it’s fine to get in the water.

  18. Hmm…this is obviously a tough issue. So based on the poll results, if I wear a conservative swimsuit and a tasteful coverup to my firm’s pool party, half the women will think I look ok but almost half will think I look inappropriate? That seems unfair. I think if a function involves water activities, it is always appropriate to wear a conservative swimsuit in the water and a tasteful coverup out of the water. Just use good judgment and follow the lead of the female attorneys you respect.

  19. In Sydney , Law Firm Christmas parties by beach are very common, the whole bbq/swimming races/volleyball/burn yourself to a crisp while drinking in the boiling sun type of thing! Too many summer clerks (associates) have worn too little in front of too many! My trick is always to channel pale and interesting, wear a big big hat,white linen, flat sandals and carry a retro look sunshade. Lounge in the shade and people will come to you for a cool moment, maybe walk along the shallows and invite a couple of people who look lonely at the party to come too. I think the corporate memory is too long to have photos of a questionable swimsuit come out when you are being judged on your competence.

  20. Assuming Little Sister has no body issues (hah!), I would recommend a combination of preparedness & conservatism: go dressed ready to take a dip in the pool (otherwise risk being labeled a party pooper if everyone’s taking a plunge, and it really *is* a pool party)…but more than just a cover up – have that cover-up like sundress or linen pants on over that swim wear!

  21. I think this is a classic example of how women are harder on each other than necessary. I, personally, would not wear a skimpy swimsuit ever, much less at an office function because I am not that comfortable with bare parts of me out in the world. However, I don’t understand why women stand around and judge everyone else…? As Lee (above) pointed out, you can’t win. Some will find the swimsuit inappropriate, others will think it’s fine. I say live and let live.

  22. starlitskyy :

    I agree with the other commenters that we may be harder on ourselves than anyone else (men) would ever be. Obviously, the teeny-weeny thong bikini is inappropriate for an office event, but if the firm is hosting an event where water activities are being encouraged, there is nothing inappropriate about wearing a swimsuit and participating in them.

    For those looking for shopping tips, I’ve found that Lands End has some inexpensive and very conservative, but still nice-looking swimsuits with lots of mix and match pieces for those of us who are different on top and bottom.

  23. I can top NewAssociate’s story: I know someone who decided to bare it all in the jacuzzi at a summer associate party. At least she was being true to herself.

    I think she got the offer.

  24. I worked in a law office last summer as an intern, and we had a company party at a local waterpark. The point was to bring your kids (if you had them) and play in the water. I think it would have been INCREDIBLY rude to not partake in the fun, since the boss obviously paid for you and possibly your family and the point is to unwind. I wore a tasteful suit that didn’t show my stomach, too much cleavage, or my bum, and I felt entirely appropriate. Some other women wore two piece swimsuits, and I never gave it a second thought since we were at a pool.

  25. I voted other, because I really think it depends. In a modern world, some conservative one-pieces could really draw more attention to your body (because it can look so self-conscious) than a two piece from Lands End with lots of coverage. I think the same logic that goes for suits should go for swimming suits – try not to draw more attention to what you are wearing than anyone else.

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