Can A Water Bottle Be Unprofessional?

Can something as simple as a water bottle be unprofessional? Are there business etiquette rules for drinking water in the office?  Reader M wonders.

Are there any tips for choosing professional-looking water bottles? This is perhaps a mundane question, but with an extremely youthful face, long hair, and a newly-minted JD, I’m trying very hard to avoid any hint of ‘intern.’ I occasionally worry that my current metal bottle — complete with the name of my law school — really serves as a visual reminder that I just got out of school (it often ends up on my desk). On the other hand, I’m proud of my alma mater. Is the answer to trade it in for something completely nondescript? Are certain types more common among professionals? Are designs/logos that reflect some aspect of one’s personality completely out? Thanks for any thoughts you may be able to share!

Hmmn. First, congratulations to M for trying to get her daily water. Fancy water bottles have a lot in their favor — you avoid some suspect chemicals from plastic water bottles (such as BPAs), and they’re easier to clean and reuse. And I’ll admit, in my law firm days I used a simple stainless steel water bottle to carry water to and fro my office (similar to this one from REI). (I always drank out of a plastic cup — easier to throw away, less to clean — so the water bottle was really just my pitcher.  One pitcher filled about three plastic cups of water, so it did help me cut down on trips to the office kitchen for water.)

Now: was I unprofessional to use a water bottle?  Is M being unprofessional by using a water bottle with her law school logo?  I honestly can’t imagine how, just by carrying a water bottle, it’s unprofessional.  Even looking at some of the “sippy cup” type of water bottles (such as this one) it’s hard to imagine being in a professional environment with someone and thinking something like, “of COURSE she has a water bottle like that,” or “God, did no one tell her that kind of water bottle is unprofessional?”  I suppose, if really hard-pressed, I could see it being unprofessional if she were

  1. loudly gulping down water during meetings
  2. drinking from the mouth of the water bottle, thereby smearing her lipstick and possibly spilling on herself

(Or, fine, if you use a water bottle cozy or water bottle holder like the one pictured.)  Which might lead me to two suggested rules.  A) Unless it’s a super long meeting (e.g., multiple hours without breaks), leave the water bottle in your office, and B) only use your water bottle as your pitcher, and drink out of an office-provided cup or mug instead.   But, that said, I think even that might be taking it too far.  So in general, I think a clean water bottle is fine, so long as it’s within common bounds of decency — it doesn’t depict nude people, reference drug culture, etc, etc. 

Readers, what do you think — do you judge people based on water bottles, or other office drinking habits?  Have you learned any business etiquette around this kind of thing?



  1. I can’t imagine how this could be unprofessional unless it said princess or something on it. I’m currently wandering around with a thermos though. There are no kettles in my building and I have to stop spending £4 a day on tea.

    I am, however, seriously considering a princess mug because my colleagues use mine and don’t clean it properly.

    • OMG, this question is like the last f-ing thing anyone has or ever should care about. Get a life, stop worrying about everything, OMG sometimes I really hate you ladies and your “lets overanalyze everyhitng”

      Cut your hair if you are so worried the long hair makes you look young.

      Ugh, grow up, get a life.

      • so there are others out there that hate read this site sometimes :)

      • this is craziness

      • On what it means to "[have] a life" :

        It’s ironic that you would take the time to post a comment on a blog that you seem to not even like, telling *others* to get a life. If you do not enjoy analyzing subtler aspects of workplace culture, you’re welcome not to, but that certainly does not even begin to mean that you have any more of a “life” than do people who actually read things like this for the purpose of thinking critically and enjoying themselves.

      • seriously! I feel terribly sorry for anyone who succumbs to this level of insecurity-induced paralysis, and fiery rage towards the many on this site who contribute to it. let’s all paint ourselves the color of the wall and not move a muscle, guys — we’ll DEFINITELY get ahead that way.

    • Happy Anon :

      I drink my coffee out of a mug with my alma mater’s logo on it every day. I don’t think it screams “baby lawyer,” but I’ve been out of college for longer than I’d like to admit (okay, okay – 13 years). I do some volunteer work for my alma mater, and there are several other attorneys here at my firm who graduated from there as well. Maybe that makes a difference?

      I also drink my water from an insulated cup with a lid and hard plastic (reusable) straw. No logo. Maybe the straw factor makes it seem more juvenile, but I don’t take it to meetings. I love having a straw because I remember to drink out of it more frequently for some reason.

  2. When I was at the firm, I had a large, plastic cup (holds 20+ oz) with the firm logo on it that I used for water. It never struck me as unprofessional. In fact, I still use it every day at the office even though I haven’t worked at there in more than a year.

  3. I carry a water bottle all the time to meetings, when I travel and in conferences. I don’t worry about it in the office but I’ve had people tell me at conferences that they noticed and wondered if I was hung over!! Now I’m self conscious about it! I found a neat glass one with a cool silicon wrapper that I feel more comfortable with but I still sneak sips. Seems like a silly thing to have to worry about but I do too.

    • Wow. Being hungover is one of the last things that comes to mind when I see a person carrying a water bottle (sans sunglasses indoors, complaining of a headache, etc.). What a strange comment!

      Usually the only time I notice someone’s water bottle is when I’ve forgotten mine. Then it’s a d’oh moment and I think the other person must have their stuff a bit more together :)

    • For water? People are weird.

      I always worry I look hungover (or pregnant) when I have my diet 7up first thing in the morning but it’s the only thing that helps when I am nauseated.

    • People are weird. I have never ever ever had that thought about people with water.

      • i have never thought that about water, either. now gatorade, on the other hand …

  4. Would a man worry about drinking out of a water bottle? I know we can’t use that question for every situation (ie men don’t have to worry about hair or makeup, but we do/should etc) but as far as somethign like this goes, I think it’s appropriate. Drink water (or tea! or diet coke!) however you like!

    • I think men would select a water bottle without much thought, but within a very thin range. I don’t think, in a world with only professional adult straight men that pink flamingo monstrosity above would exist. I don’t know of any man that would bring to work at a professional job a water bottle that was emblazened with “King” or “prince” or “my other water bottle is a flask” or a picture of a kitten, or whatever crazy thing.

      Women have a much wider range of desk accessory, lunch accessory, and water bottle/ coffee mug options that would be socially acceptable in the world. Do you need to worry about it? Not if the bottle you have would also fit on a man’s desk. But if it is glittery pink and says “What happens in Vegas . . . ” you might want to re-think.

  5. This is such a funny discussion to me. Myself and the majority of my colleagues tote various types of plastic and metal water bottles and travel mugs for coffee/tea. My water bottle is a company logo-ed large Nalgene that I drink from directly, never with a cup. And my office strongly encourages this as part of going green! I keep mine bottles on my desk most times so consider it a part of my ‘decor,’ if I wouldn’t want it on my desk, I won’t drink from it.

  6. 32-year-old :

    My favorite desk mug (used daily) has a giant picture of Snoopy on it, with the phrase “If you have a great idea, run with it!”

    Juvenile? I suppose, but it was a gift from a beloved colleague and it brings a tiny bit of whimsy to my day. Given that I come across serious about 99% of the time, I’m not really worried about what other coworkers think.

  7. I never thought of the camelbacks with a straw/bite valve as “sippy cups.” They seem like they make a lot of sense–less chance of catastrophic spill (either by knocking the bottle over or pouring it down the front of my shirt when I miss my mouth) and less distracting to open than the wide mouth bottle with a screw-off lid that I currently have. I just wonder how easy it is to clean the bit valve and straw.

    • I will add that when I worked in an office that had ice always available, I drank ice water out of a travel mug. The temperature helped me stay awake/alert, and the travel mug didn’t get condensation like a reusable plastic bottle does. Plus, a nondescript travel mug might be more acceptable to carry around your office, if you’re worried about your waterbottle looking unprofessional.

    • It’s not. I stopped using mine because I couldn’t clean out the rubber valve.

      • You can easily pop apart all the pieces. I haven’t had a problem washing mine.

        • Yes, this. I love my Camelback and don’t have problems cleaning it. The insulated one works great and I love that its spillproof.

    • I think they can be hard to clean manually. I’ve had to swab mine out with a cotton swab to get inside the bite piece and valve. Of course, I have huge sports top bottle on my desk right now. As in the one I use at the gym. Judge away. Tervis tumblers are very popular at my office as well, we have a huge collection with the firm logo.

    • Camelbak sells replacement straws and bite valves for about $8 for a set of two. I almost bought a set but I decided to upgrade my Better Bottle to the redesigned Eddy for $13 – there was a serious mold incident and even with bleach and cleaning it just sketches me out. The prices are pretty good on Amazon.

  8. anon for this :

    Toronto legal ladies, I need help. I need to find a court filing for my job (journalist) but am told I need a file number, which I don’t have. Its not turning up on the viewing computers when I search by parties and a nice man at one of the counters couldnt find it in his internal system. Its a civil case in Ontario superior court of justice. Does that mean it hasnt been filed, what else can I do? The action was announced in a press release today… Too bad if I’m outing myself, feel a bit silly returning empty handed.

    • TO Lawyer :

      there’s a chance the press release and action were issued at the same time but the action hasn’t been filed yet (ie by the process server), or it’s not in the system yet. This may not be helpful but I’d try checking again tomorrow.

      • anon for this :

        Thanks, that is actually helpful – as in, there’s a chance I’m not just too dumb to find it! I’ll try again tomorrow.

  9. It might depend a little on environmental context. Here in Colorado, water bottles are such a common accessory that I can’t imagine anyone remarking on them in the negative. I see them in meetings all the time.

    • Coach Laura :

      I’m with Aspen. Here in Seattle, reusable water bottles are common. I don’t like the ones with straws, as I don’t think I get them clean enough. I use Nalgene or the Costco brand ones that have easier to clean spouts. And for tea, I have a mug that I re-use instead of throwaway cups.

  10. I have one of those CamelBak “sippy” water bottles, and I carry it around everywhere. You can drink hot beverages in it (and the straw is good to prevent teeth staining.) Honestly, even if it was printed, like the one in the link, I don’t think anyone will judge you for your water bottle.

    • Maddie Ross :

      Haha – I have the one in the link in question currently on my desk (full of water). I wouldn’t recommend hot beverages in that one because it’s metal, but I would put hot ones in my plastic version. I cannot imagine someone saying I was unprofessional for using it.

  11. I drink straight out of my bottle because I don’t want an open cup of water on my desk – too much capacity for spillage!

    • Coach Laura :

      Ditto. I am prone to spilling so the top is always on my water bottle.

  12. Koozie Advocat :

    Good god, the water bottle is fine. Just don’t bring it to meetings at the expense of files, papers, pens you may need at a meeting.

    I use a favorite Koozie from a regional bar in my office (large firm for southern city) for soda all the time. I love that bar… I love my diet coke… Koozie keeps it cold / my hands not cold… and it prevents drink marks on my desk / papers. I don’t take it to meetings. My firm even has koozies w/ firm logo, but I don’t use mine b/c it is the non-foldable thick foam type.

  13. Lurkey Lurkersdottir :

    My steel water bottle is a Hello Kitty one from Old Navy and has lipstick smeared all over the mouth. In all the years I’ve been using it, I’ve received two comments. One man wanted to know where to buy one for his wife, and one woman said it was cute and she loved Hello Kitty.

    • Kontraktor :

      A senior sales exec at my job has a Hello Kitty iphone cover. She uses it unabashedly and told me she has used it for years. Clearly that has not affected her ability to get ahead. Sometimes it’s okay to do what you like and just rock it.

  14. chocochat :

    Sometimes I think we worry unnecessarily about innocuous things. Skirt length? Sure. Personal hygiene and beauty routines? Absolutely. But a school-logoed water bottle?!
    Not everything we do is wrong. Not everything we carry is offensive.

    • Assuming your work product is good, you get along with your colleagues, and you’re dressed appropriately … it really is OK to show you have a personality. Good grief.

    • Seriously, this question verges on parody. Sorry, original question-asker, if you’re really losing sleep over this, but…good god, child, it is okay to be a person.

      • Maybe Kat got trolled? Was the e-mail signed Lennay Kekua?

        • +5000.

          Somewhere, Kat drops a coffee mug in slow motion and the bottom of the coffee mug has “Kukua” written on it.

          • This comment wins the internet.

          • Indeed. What is truly unprofessional is the booming guffaw that just resounded from my office reading your comment. Winner, winner, we can all go home.

    • Anonymous :

      Agreed, if a water bottle is the dealbreaker for being promoted, then I either have bigger problems than just the water bottle or the company/boss is so unreasonable that I’d want out. This question is stupid.

    • hellskitchen :

      I think this is plea from Kat to send more meaningful and interesting questions her way :-) Or evidence that we simply exhausted (and solved) all reasonable questions for professional women and are now verging on the ridiculous

  15. Alright vicarious shoppers, I’m on the hunt for a camel colored sweater and stumped. I’m looking for one that I can wear both over a lightweight, patterned J crew buttondown or alone with a suit. So full-length sleeves and lighter-weight – but not so lightweight you can see the pattern through it. The richer the camel color (and less “light tan”) the better.

    Anyone seen anything out there that might work?


  16. kerrycontrary :

    People in my office always bring water/water bottles to meetings, even if they are only 30 minutes long. Being thirsty is the worst!

  17. so funny to read this, considering that my manager gave me a “team jacob” water bottle as a gag gift and while I used it all the time, I was self-conscious when I had it outside the immediate vicinity of our floor space.

  18. Considering I kept the giant Twilight: Eclipse cup that I got at a movie theater and used that for water in my office daily, I think a law school logo is fine.

    That cup was a great conversation starter with the male partners when I would fill it up in the break-room. If you have good work product, it’s ok to not look like a lawyer automaton.

    • Judy Jetson :

      I have that cup! It has actually been appropriated by my husband because he like to keep a giant glass of water on his nightstand. It cracks me up to see him take a sip out of a giant cup with Edward gazing forlornly off into the distance, and Jacob brooding in the corner.

  19. I have the immense need to let you all know that I have a butt station at my desk (courtesy of the superawesome SunnyD), with a flower pen sticking out of the toilet tank. And alma mater drinkware everywhere.

  20. Anonymous :

    Drinking water is healthy and will make you a better lawyer because you will be more alert.

    Using a computer? Then drink from a sports water bottle- if you knock it over, then your computer and files won’t be soaked.

  21. Next up: does my pink highlighter make me look too girly? Should I swap it for more masculine blue? Or should I settle on gender-neutral yellow?

    • green. green is the only acceptable highlighter color.

    • Orange. Only orange. Orange is for hunters/predators seeking prey and perfect for blood-sucking lawyers and [email protected]$$ businesswomen.

    • Equity's Darling :

      Thoughts on purple highlighters? Too close to pink and therefore also too girly? I do love some purple highlighter….

      Pro-tip, yellow highlighter won’t show up when you photocopy in black/white, but all the other colours will. At least for the photocopiers in my office.

    • does this mean I should stop using my Lisa Frank hot pink glitter sparkles highlighter? :(

    • I recently started signing all my unimportant documents like transmittals in pink pen and using a pink highlighter. I’m not even super girly, but it’s fun and brightens up the construction documents. ;-)

  22. I think there is a big “interview exception” to the rule that water bottles are OK. If you are interviewing as a job candidate, please leave your personal water bottle at home, in the car, or in your tote.

    FWIW, I wouldn’t bring my personal mug or water bottle to visit a client.

    • Anonymous :

      Come on! Again, does this need to be said? There is a HUGE difference between what to do on an interview and what you can do when you’re already hired. Some with a client meeting vs. sitting in your office / walking through the halls of your office. Of course, don’t tote a water bottle to an interview. Don’t eat a salad or a granola bar during an interview either. Or check this website. I agree with everyone who has stated that things are getting a little ridiculous around here.

      • I don’t know. I disagree with carrying a water bottle to an interview. Granted, I would probably carry a purchased (aka non-personal) one, such as Dasani, Nestle, or whatever, but I’ve had interviews where I carried a cup of water from the waiting room water cooler into the office and it was no problem at all. I’ve never had anyone remark on it. You end up talking a lot. People understand if your throat gets dry.

  23. Use whatever you want, just don’t be the person that brings it with you everywhere — like, don’t take it with you to meet with a client, don’t bring it with you walking down the hall to talk to random people… People that are always always attached to their water bottle do remind me of undergrads, but perhaps thats because you couldn’t be a fratstar when I was in undergrad unless you had a Nalogene superglued to your palm.

  24. Migraine Sufferer :

    Shouldn’t everyone’s water bottle be emblazoned with JSFAMO?

  25. I did work at one (highly dysfunctional) place where this would have been an issue! All conference rooms were stocked with beverages including water bottles, and people would have found it weird if you took your own water bottle to an internal meeting and frowned upon if you took it to a meeting with clients. In general, trying to do anything “environmentally friendly” was frowned upon. For example, the office did not recycle, and saving things at your desk to throw away later was not OK. Not a very inclusive culture by any means. One person was fired and a contributing factor was that he was very vocal about wanting to make the office more environmentally friendly & it upset some key people.

    But in general…carry whatever water bottle you want, and good for you for drinking water & reducing waste!

  26. Wow — this really is not at all interesting.

  27. I really can’t imagine most water bottles being an issue. I suppose you may want to take into account anything that’s written on it and potentially avoid carrying things around with profanity, political statements, or that cheer on a rival sports team to the one in your city – or a rival company to the one you are working for should that be a possibility.

    I agree with not taking it anywhere you couldn’t take your insulated coffee cup.

    That picture is the only time I’ve ever come across anything like that flamingo thing. In general, I would suggest that carrying around anything – regardless of its function – that could be mistaken for your 3 year old’s favourite naptime toy, could strain your professional credibility a bit, but I bet the water bottle inside that thing would pass muster in any environment.

  28. Christine :

    Um, why in God’s name would you use a bottle and then POUR WATER INTO PLASTIC CUPS ALL DAY??? This is totally ridiculous and defeats the purpose.

    • THIS.

      Water bottles are normal. Pouring water toted from home into a future piece of trash heap filler is not.

      Neither is worrying about if you look young for carrying a water bottle. You look young because you’re young. Put your hair up and wear less makeup and you’ll look older. Drink your water.

  29. I have never thought twice about drinking water from a water bottle at work – though I do tend to just use the Company provided glasses and make frequent trips to the kitchen to clear my head and get more water. As corporate counself for a mid-sized regional restaurant chain, no one here would notice even if I used a hello kitty water bottle – not that I ever would!

    That said, water bottles CAN be unprofessional. Take for instance a mediation I had a few months back. There with my over-priced outside litigation counsel, the ONLY thing the two of us could discuss was the fact that opposing counsel (who was a fairly junior attorney) was never without his water bottle (which was the sippy cup kind) despite water beign provided on the table – and that he would take huge swigs from said sippy cup every five minutes during the very active mediation. Maybe it was a planned distraction from the complete lack of merits of his case? I doubt it. Whenever I speak to counsel about that case, we still giggle about the oversized man-child with his sippy cup bottle. Moral of the story: Water bottles at the office are fine, water bottles in Court, at mediations or in business meetings? Stick to the provided pitcher and glass of ice water.

  30. I actually use a tall water glass that I got from Ikea (it’s like a water glass you would find in your home). I bought it a while ago, actually because someone made a comment me just graduating when I had my Uni water bottle on my desk. Weird what some people will pick up on!

  31. Does it look like a penis? That was my first thought. Drinking out of a dick at the office would be unprofessional.

  32. I work in healthcare. I use one of the so-called sippy water bottles to avoid spilling on medical charts at my desk. I am lucky in that patients never see me at my desk, so I can be a little more casual.

    I do not bring water in to appointments, unless I have a cold and need to avoid coughing as much as possible. Patients do not seem bothered or put off by this, probably because I am obsessive about hand washing, and less coughing means less disease transmission. I do use a regular disposable cup at that point; it feels odd to bring my actual water bottle into an appointment room, almost like a violation of the separation between my daily life and my role as doctor.

  33. Silly sounding post or not, I actually worried about this (as well as a travel coffee mug) when starting my new office job a few months ago! Sometimes it’s the insecurity and nerves of starting in a new environment that will lead to overanalyzing, but if a $10-20 investment helps, then I’m all for it.

    I was worried because I was out of grad school, and am a pretty casual person with a background in nonprofits, where big, bulky Nalgene bottles were pretty common – the same bottle I’d then take out on a hike, which would be all scratched and dinged up. Moving to a corporate office setting, I didn’t want to use a bulky or scratched-up bottle. Luckily, HR provided me with a “welcome package”, with a sippy-style lidded cup inside! I love it, and bring it to meetings all the time. Most other people in my office use styrofoam cups all day.

    I also went out and invested in a decent travel coffee mug with a flip closure, as the one I had through grad school was free from a gas station, didn’t close, and was covered with gas station logos. This to me did not exactly say “professional”. I ended up with an Aladdin recycled plastic travel mug, which just proved it’s worth the other day when I hadn’t placed it properly in the cupholder, and it fell onto the floor of my car – not a single drop came out! The free gas station one would have spilled coffee everywhere! Sometimes it’s the little things that make you feel like a professional.

  34. Right there with those who think the question is ridiculous. Totally use a sports water bottle that I got at a bike race. It has a sticker on it with a particularly delicious beer brand’s logo. Because when I’m not at work, I like to ride bikes and drink beer. It’s all very scandalous…

  35. The author missed the point of the question. The writer wasn’t asking whether it was unprofessional to use any water bottle, the writer was asking whether it would make her seem young, newly-minted, and not experienced if he/she used a water bottle that had the person’s law school name on it.

  36. Sorority logos scream “recent graduate” but I don’t think anything with your school logos makes someone seem young. The fact that she is worried about such a thing shows how young she is, if anything! And that’s ok, it can take awhile to feel entirely comfortable in the office setting. I think as long as you dress a little on the conservative side and refrain from talking much about your coworkers or personal life, and focus on doing your job well, that’s enough guidance to get her to the point where she can just trust her gut.

    When i first started working in an office 8 years ago, I had to go to nfl cheerleading practice right after work, and it was the summer so I had makeup in my gym bag that we had to wear for practice, so I couldn’t keep the bag in the hot car. It was just a plain black gym bag, but I always felt so incredibly self conscious, wondering if it was “unprofessional” to bring my gym back into my office every day. In retrospect I think I have figured out that other people aren’t really paying that much attention to you nor do they really care about things like this, or if they are the type, they’re just looking for something to nitpick and screw ’em anyway.

  37. I’ve never thought that some people judge people based on water bottles! That’s pretty weird. I always carry my water bottle with me every day. It’s one of the few things on my list of “things to bring”.

  38. Funny enough I recently got a verbal warning at work for drinking out of my water bottle and told it was “unprofessional”. I kinda laughed at first cause I didn’t think anybody could possibly be serious about this? But apparently they were.

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