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.



  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. The Style writer for the WSJ, Christina Binkley, wrote a great column today on surviving the corporate outing: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203739404574290281502960814.html

    Whether you’re built like Kathy Bates or Kate Bosworth, my advice to women is to save the bathing suit for get-togethers with family and friends, and dress with casual flair at corporate pool-side events. Men have it a bit easier, as longer bathing trunks can cover a multitude of imperfections, but again, super hunky and super-sized gents alike will want to remember that the occasion is still work-related and may find it best to wear good looking resort wear instead of a bathing suit and remain poolside.

  12. That article has nothing to do with anyone’s choice of attire.

    Seems to me you dress for the activity. I wouldn’t play baseball in linen pants; why would I swim in them?

    Of course, you have to know what the activity actually is. Plenty of social functions held at pools revolve around drinking cocktails and the the water is reserved for floating candles.

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