I’m interested in your opinion on a dilemma I found myself with in the elevator this week – I was standing behind a young woman who had on a very nice jacket which happened to be missing one of the decorative buttons in the back. There was no one else on the elevator. I debated with myself whether I should tell her (after all, this is exactly the type of thing I would completely miss and continue to wear the jacket several more times), or to mind my own business. In the end, I didn’t tell her and it’s been eating at me since. What’s your thought? If you see a stranger with a problem like this (or another one I frequently encounter – the back of jackets still “sewn” together with the loose fabric X”), should you tell them if you can do so discreetly? How about a co-worker? A friend? (A friend I think is a slam dunk, yes, definitely, but that’s just my opinion.)The answer depends on the situation, we think. If it’s a problem with the garment — missing button, skirt tucked into pantyhose, split in pants — we would say, tell her if you can do so in a private manner. So here, where you’re alone in the elevator with her, and the problem is with her garment, we’d absolutely go ahead and tell her. Something as simple as “Fabulous jacket! I hate to tell you, though, that you’re missing a button in the back. I’m sure you can get it fixed super easily, though.” We would also put stains in the same category. (Pictured above: Fashion Emergency Kit, available at Amazon.com for $6.95.) If, however, the problem has to do with a choice the person made about the garment — such as whether to remove the fabric “X” that closes the slit on a jacket or skirt, or wearing a top that is gaping open because the person declined to wear a camisole or safety-pin it — then you should think twice before you tell her. OF COURSE, our suggestion is to recommend this blog to your friend — “They talk about what to wear to galas, and how you’re supposed to slit the fabric X, and other great stuff!” — but beyond that it’s going to sound like “You clearly don’t know what you’re doing.” Maybe, maybe in the right conversation you could say, “Oh, interesting choice to leave the slit closed on your skirt — it gives it much more of a pencil look!” — but even this, when said with the wrong tone, will sound bad. Some things definitely fall into gray territory — someone commented a bit ago about chasing a partner down the hall before she went to court to warn her that her white bra was showing through her black sweater, for example. There, we think the circumstances — primarily, “heading to court” (also “heading to big meeting”) justify the action and (if we knew the partner well enough to know where she was going) we would have done the same thing. Readers, what do you think?
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I think it all depends on how well you know the person. Missing buttons, skirt in hose, etc. – yes, tell them if you can do so discretely. The X on clothes, sewn pockets, etc. – only if you know them well, know they will take it well, or you are in a position where it would help them (example: a new summer associate – they may not realize it is important, and should be prepared to take advice.)
Of course, sometimes you have to give more than advice. I once had the CEO of our company point out that he could see an associate’s panties the way she was sitting. He was so embarrased, and she was not happy when I told her that my initial request for her to come help me was not really a request.
What’s wrong with leaving pockets sewn?!!! I do it on all of my dress pants, on purpose, so that the pockets don’t pooch open!?
I leave pockets sewn too…I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this.
Yep. I leave some of my pockets sewn shut on purpose, too. How could you even tell that someone else’s pockets are sewn shut?
me too – was just going to post this. Makes them lay so much better.
me too. I even leave the “X” on purpose sometimes (if it blends in REALLY well) for the same reason.
I dunno, I don’t think it could ever blend that well…
I see those “blending-in” Xs all the time. They don’t.
I can see though why stores try to have them blend in, when you realize the number of people toodling around with big fat white ones, the ones you aren’t supposed to be able to ignore. Protecting the customers against their own bad judgment? Trying not to have your brand slammed for bad design when somebdy doesn’t do as they should? Whatever the reason, it’s awfully discouraging to see that many of them..
Oh gosh, the panty thing is the worst. That happened to me when I was a 1L, and it was a male friend who told me. I was so embarrassed.
I have a male friend at work who told a female collegue that her thong was showing in the back…she reported him to HR where he was written up for “inappropriate conduct.” Very suprised about the CEO who told an employee he could see up her skirt.
I know it’s all in the tact, approach, etc. But I think you can cross a line and be inappropriate…thought?s
I worked with a young associate that ALWAYS had her thong out, and no one ever told her for fear of a complaint. Needless to say, she was the first out the door on a layoff, never mind her work was pretty good. She just made everyone very uncomfortable.
Let me clarify – he didn’t tell her, he told me, and asked me to deal with it so she was not as embarrased. At a convention we were holding, she was sitting in a group with several of our clients, with a too short skirt, and not in a ladylike manner. EVERYONE could see her panties, it was pretty hard to avoid, if you looked in her direction.
Considering some of the off color comments that were made afterwards to me, it had been noticed, by several men. So, yes, something needed to be said, and the situation resolved pretty quickly.
The partner mentioned here evidently told a female associate to tell the young woman to keep her panties to herself. I think it’s a wise precaution to have embarrassing sartorial news be given by a same-sex manager. On the other hand, the subject of this young ladie’s panties is obviously going to have to cross the gender divide at some point.
And if I was the second male friend, I’d definitely appeal that writing up as far up the corporate ladder as possible. This is not the kind of black mark you want to leave on your record!
Of course you tell!
I follow a simple rule: Would I want somebody to tell me if I were having the same wardrobe malfunction? If the answer is yes, I tell the person (friend, co-worker, and even the stranger on an elevator).
Nobody has ever gotten mad at me for sparing them more embarrassment in the long run.
Completely agree with that rule. If you would want to know, you should tell. A few weeks ago, this woman on the Metro kept staring at me and my legs. I was weirded out by it but never thought to look down at my legs. Turns out that I had a big noticeable run in my tights! I wish she had pulled me aside and just told me.
Once I had my skirt tucked into my hose and was walking in Macy’s. I was so grateful to the woman who basically ran after me and told me to pull my skirt down.
I think people who are slightly more fashion-conscious might have a different threshhold for “would I want someone to tell me” than most people though. So just be aware of this. Perhaps you’d want to know that your sweater is pilling heavily under your arms, but other people might be aware and just not care, or take offense. In general, I think it’s a good rule, but just maintain an awareness that your own standards might be different from those of others.
Absolutely! I don’t care if it’s lipstick on the teeth, obviously out-of-place hair (on a windy day or when a jacket messed it up, not poorly styled), the X, etc. I’d want you to tell me, so I’ll tell you! And you could easily make a new friend that way, and who doesn’t want another friend?!
I have no trouble with the skirt in the pantyhose, the missing button, the TP on the shoes.. The one that stymies me is the X. I know it’s wrong, most people know it’s wrong, and yet a week doesn’t go by without me seeing one on the metro. What stops me most is that this is something that’d require some explanation… The skirt is immediately obvious and nobody’s going to argue about it.
you should ALWAYS tell someone if their skirt is tucked into their hose! It doesn’t matter if you have to dash across traffic to do it, just do it!!
Can someone pls clarify – I dont understand how skirts could be tucked into hose? Do you mean the top of the skirt is below the top of the pantyhose so that the hose shows at the waist? In which case you’d want to pull the skirt down, not up…confused.
Sometimes, especially after using the restroom, you can get the bottom of your skirt caught in the waistband of your pantyhose. If it happens in the back, you may not notice it, exposing your derrière to the world.
Of course you tell!
I always follow this rule: Would I want someone to tell me if I had the same wardrobe malfunction? If the answer is yes, I tell the person (friend, co-worker, or stranger on the elevator).
I have never had anyone get mad at me for 1) being helpful and 2) sparing them further embarrassment.
I agree with anon’s skirt/hose comment. Some people don’t know that you’re supposed to cut the x on the vent or take off the brand label tag telling you your coat is cashmere off the sleeve. On the one hand, I feel like it would be a service to tell people who don’t know. On the other, it does seem rude (“I know more about the clothes you’re wearing than you do”). I don’t hesitate to tell my friends, but I wouldn’t know how to go about it otherwise.
It is pretty funny, though, to see someone walking down the street with “ITALIAN CASHMERE” blaring from her wrist.
I’ve totally done that before w/ a scarf, then I realized the tag peeled off – whoops =P
I have burst out laughing on several occasions. Or like when girls wear pleated skirts but don’t cut the pleats. The skirt just sadly bounces up and down…
As far as the “X” goes, I always tell people. I usually tell them and then smile and say something like “I ALWAYS forget to cut those off too so I feel like I have to tell random strangers in hopes they’ll do the same for me!” If they take offense or think I’m rude, no big deal.
I agree gaping, etc. is a more sensitive deal…
Ah a good approach, thank you K, I’ll be quoting you :-)..
re: things people might not know (the “x” etc) — you can totally tell them in a way that presumes that they already knew, thus saving embarrasment. “Wow — what a great new jacket! I should tell you though that that X is still in the back. That happened to me last time I wore a new jacket too — it’s not like you can see your own back!” Tell people stuff like this.
The X needs to be cut – if not, the jacket will bunch up when you stretch out your arm, twist at the waist, etc.
If the wardrobe problem is potentially embarrassing – skirt tucked into hose, open button in the middle of the shirt, open fly, black bra showing through white shirt, spinach in teeth, tag showing her size is visible, etc – and it’s easily fixable (so, possibly not the black bra/white shirt scenario unless the person is also carrying a cardigan), yes, DEFINITELY tell her. It’s just mean to let someone walk around with their fly unzipped, and any momentary embarrassment she feels about being warned is much less than she’d feel if she realizes it 3 hours later and wonders how long her wardrobe has been malfunctioning.
If it’s not embarrassing, and you don’t know the person, I’d let it slide. I’m not going to interrupt a stranger on the street to tell her her shirt is buttoned unevenly or her jacket has a price tag on it. If I know the person, though, I’d tell her, discreetly. Everyone appreciates being warned – discreetly – about a wardrobe problem.
My husband was on the subway in D.C. once, when a nice lady turned to him and said, in a very friendly way, “Excuse me, but did you mean to be wearing that sticker on your pants?” It was one of those long stickers from the Gap or whatever that says what size the pants are. He obviously had just bought new pants and forgot about the sticker. He was so delighted with the nice way she told him that he’s been retelling this story ever since.
Once met a friend after work, he’d been that day at an important presentation. So it fell to me to reach over to his jacket collar and take out the dry-cleaner’s ticket safety-pinned to it. Oh, dear.
MJ (the other one)
My rule is to tell only if there is something they can do about it right then. I might expand this category to include emergencies like split pants. So I’d definitely tell about the skirt tucked into the pantyhose or an unzipped zipper, and I’ve been known to offer to tuck in labels. I might offer to help on the stitched X too, along the lines suggested by anon. I wouldn’t mention a stain or a missing button, though, because then all I’d be doing is guaranteeing that they would be embarrassed for the rest of the day.
That’s generally my rule as well. With the some exceptions for stains, runs in hose, etc. if the situation indicates that it might be easily fixable or I can help out. For instance, my office is across the street from a drug store so the co-worker can potentially run out and buy another pair of hose. So I’ll tell her. If I’ve got a Tide pen in my purse, I’ll mention the stain and offer up the pen.
Tide pens, do those things really work?
shout wipes are MUCH better, if you can find them.
Thanks, guys, I put some of each on order. On order? Yes. A few years ago I started buying most of my drugstore stuff at drugstore.com. If I buy over $50 worth (not hard to do at a drugstore!), delivery is free (excluding heavy things, ex., a big jug of liquid laundry soap). It saves me a bundle of time and boredom trudging up and down the aisle, and I can find things more reliably, read labels and compare brands much easier on the site. Plus it has a really good user-review feature. Service is great. Delivery time is about a week, if you go for the free option. Prices seem to be about the same as in the actual store. The site lets you run a tab, keeping items as you add them over time, then when you reach $50 you can send it in. Dunno which bricks-and-mortar drugstore this is attached to, but odds are your favorite has an online store, too.
My “wardrobe malfunction” story. Some years back I wore a light- colored georgette dress to work. It had its own underslip, so I thought everything was covered. A few hours into the workday a close (male) co-worker came to tell me that he could see the printed pattern of my underwear through my dress. Needless to say, I was mortified. To make matters worse, I commuted to work by public transportation and there was not a store in the vicinity of the office where I could go and quickly purchase a slip.
So, yeah, don’t be shy about telling someone about a wardrobe problem, no matter how embarassing you think things might be.
And my lesson was learned, I always wear a slip under dresses/skirts and I always wear solid colored underwear to work. And I’ve kept that co-worker as a dear friend even though we have both moved on to other opportunities.
I once had a “do I tell her?” moment and opted not to, and then wrote to the NY Times column “Social Qs” to ask their advice. They actually published the question, but I thought their response was kind of mean. I didn’t think the answer was quite so obvious as they make it out to be. I know I would want to be told. I am curious what everyone else thinks. Does the fact that there was no quick fix here change the calculus?
Q: I was running errands in a crowded store, and noticed a lady in front of me wearing leggings too small for her shapely behind. As a result, the leggings had become see-through, and her white “granny panties” were fully visible. It almost looked as if she was wearing stockings. I don’t believe this was her intention, and I considered letting her know. Would that have been appropriate?
A. Not unless you’re the host of one of those horrible fashion-stylist television shows and you’ve run out of administrative assistants and hopeful young designers to beat up on. You have no relationship with this woman, and you don’t know what her intentions were. Except for an oblique view of the tragic panties, nothing terrible was exposed. So unless you’re angling to replace the recently departed Mr. Blackwell, I’d leave shopping strangers to their own fashion instincts.
I think the fact that there was no quick fix here changes the calculus entirely.
To me the threshold question should be, “what will the offender actually do with this information?” If she can’t do anything (in that moment), then leave it alone.
I think you might want to tell in this situation – what if she wears them again?
I think this is one of the key distinctions to make when deciding what you can tell a stranger. Ongoing wardrobe malfunctions can and should be dealt with by close friends– they’re likely to notice eventually if she keeps wearing the ill-fitting leggings, after all.
I have to say, after the horrors of adolescence, I’m still touchy about remarks other women make about my clothing. The “tell if I’d want to know” rule is fine for some, but I’m afraid I’d take offense if a comment by a stranger could possibly be construed to insult either my taste or my judgment. Tag sticking out or skirt tucked into my tights? Tell me! It’s a temporary problem and easily fixed. Missing button or shoes clashing with my dress? Mind your own business.
I agree, anything that translates to “your taste is terrible”, like shoes clashing with dress, or unbecoming leggings, is a no-go. Anything fixable and clearly unintentional (skirt tucked into hose, toilet paper on shoe, opened buttons) is an obvious yes. If it’s not immediately fixable but tragic (split pants) then tell, otherwise only tell if the person is equipped to deal with it somehow. Wrong bra with the shirt? only if you’re a friend and it’s a private moment.
turtle: sorry, but I’m with NYT here. If my tags are hanging out, that’s a fact, and please tell me. Thank you. If the clothes I’m wearing out in a non-work place don’t meet with your fashion sensibilities, that’s opinion, and thank you for keeping your opinion to yourself.
anon - chi
Ditto. I think this is especially true for clothing issues that are weight/body type related, such as clothes that are too small or gaping in a button down. I think I would be really offended if a stranger or someone I didn’t know very well told me they thought I should go up a size! That’s something your mom/best friends/signficant other should do, preferably as gently as possible.
Maybe this is just me, or just because I live/work in NYC where this is easy to do, but if I had a serious wardrobe problem that was not easily fixable (by, for example, adjusting the article of clothing), I would go out and buy some sort of replacement for the offending garment. So I would want to know even if there is not a seemingly “quick fix” for the problem.
Obviously tell on something like the skirt-in-hose situation, open fly, split pants. No one wants to be walking around like that.
For other things, though, I think its much more difficult. How obvious is the X? I mean, you really have to have been checking someone out to know that the X is still on the split in their skirts unless it is gaping really funny – you’re kind of saying “I was really staring at your clothes really hard there.”
For stains – if it looks like someone sat in something and might not have realized it, I’d tell. But if its somewhere they probably knew it existed, like a coffee stain on their front, I think I’d stay quiet. I know I’ve spilled coffee on the commute a time or two and had to go through a day with a nice brown splash somewhere, and I’d really prefer to pretend that no one noticed :)
I am a 3L, and this past summer I worked with a woman who did not wear a bra to work. Ever. This included the several days a week that we were in court. Her wardrobe consisted of silk tops (some that were see-though) and oxford shirts (they would gape in the middle so we could see straight in her shirt). She obviously knew what she was doing because it wasn’t a one-time mistake. It bothered all the other female interns in the office, but none of us ever knew if it was appropriate to approach her on this subject. How would one go about this issue?
If it is making people uncomfortable, go to someone above her and point out what you have noticed, in private. As a 3L, you may also simply want to find another female attorney, and bring this up — and ask how it should be handled. Part of what you are there for is to learn.
I totally agree with MJ — go to someone above both of you that you trust. Open the conversation with “I need to ask your advice about something I’m not sure how to handle.” Then proceed to explain the situation and propose two alternative courses — “I wasn’t sure whether I should address this with her directly, or if it would be more appropriate for someone from HR. What do you think?” Don’t just leave the issue on the table for someone else to deal with. Even if you’d totally hate doing it, be prepared to address it directly. Most often, the superior will take care of it, but they’ll appreciate you owning the issue. My .02 — I’ve been both the uncomfortable coworker and the uncomfortable superior.
anon - chi
I would not touch this with a ten-foot pole, not as a 3L (or even a junior associate). Maybe this sounds overly paranoid, but there is absolutely ZERO upside for you, aside from not having to see this woman’s inappropriate clothing choices, and there is a real possibility that she will be angry about the situation. Why risk it? Like you said, this is not some sort of accident or one time incident – the woman clearly has made a choice to dress in that way.
“I worked with a woman”. Who, how?? Another intern? Definitely discuss it with a common manager (female if at all possible), if you’re sure they haven’t noticed that she’s showing up in court like that. A personal friend? Sure, with tact, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. Anyone else? Don’t even think of saying anything.
I had a coat where one of the buttons on the sleeve popped off. I continued to wear it anyway until I could fix it because the button was wholly aesthetic and did not affect the wear or function of the coat. Had someone pointed out the missing button to them my response probably would have been curt and I would most likely be annoyed [“hello, yes, I am aware that there is a button missing, thank you for scrutinizing my outfit”].
That said, if my skirt were tucked into my stockings or I had sat in a giant puddle of molten chocolate, etc, I would like to know it.
I hear you — sometimes, I already know that something is a little “off” with my clothing (missing button, small hole, etc.) and I don’t really need it to be pointed out by someone else who is a stranger. I would not mind if friends pointed it out, though or made suggestions about camoflauging whatever needed fixing.
I never tell strangers something is off with their clothing, unless it is another woman and it is something that is obviously not on purpose.
Here’s a funny one. A potential client dropped into my office a few weeks ago. He’s a stockbroker with an office in my building, so he had seen me around. I was standing by the window and turned to greet him. He’s a very big man in his 40’s. I immediately noticed that his fly was unzipped. I pointed him toward a visitor chair and he told me of his circumstances, his planned venture, and the legal help he would require. I tryied all the while to keep my eyes focused on his face. After about 10 minutes, he said, “Oh, my fly is open”, and proceeded to zip it up. Our conversation continued smoothly. I was quite proud of myself, although I do not know for what. P.S.: he has not yet brought me his file. (???)
I also go with “tell if you’d want to be told”. I think some of this is regional. During a recent visit to the Midwest, I was wearing a Lululemon yoga suit and it has a little iridescent logo on the back of the jacket, and one on the back of the pants leg. I was in line at Starbucks and all of a sudden felt someone pecking on my shoulder. A nice lady said, “looks like the sticker is still on this jacket.” lol. I wasn’t offended but I told her the design was intentional and permanent. :)
If I see toilet paper stuck to someone’s shoe, skirt tucked in hose, etc. I almost always inform them. I would most certainly tell the CEO if he had TP stuck on his shoe. Fly being down is a bit more difficult (if it’s a man). I did tell a male boss about his fly being down one time, and he thanked me and fixed it, but his face turned bright red.
this is when you say – ‘barn door is open’. quick and painless
I think the rule of thumb is … Can the person do something about it quickly and unobtrusively? If it’s the unzipped fly, the toilet paper on the shoe, the spinach in the teeth, the size sticker inadvertently left on the pants, the skirt inadvertently hiked up in the back, then you tell them. If, however, there is nothing that the person can do in the moment, then I think it’s a kindness just not to point it out and make the person feel self-conscious.
My faux pas: When coming back from my maternity leave and sleep-deprived with two infants at home, I wore a cotton cable knit sweater backwards. Someone did have the kindness to inform me so I could turn it around.
North Shore’s comment made me laugh – I was riding the D.C. Metro one morning and alerted a man to a size sticker on the back of his pants leg. Even his ears turned red, but I timed it so he was just getting off and we didn’t have to sit awkwardly staring at each other afterward! I’ve found that it’s much easier to alert someone to a wardrobe issue if you’ve got a rapid exit strategy – for instance, they are walking into the bathroom as you’re walking out, or you know they get off the elevator on a different floor than you do.
I second the idea that it has to be EASILY fixable or incredibly embarassing. A missing button or the like doesn’t cut it, but I will tell someone if her skirt is tucked in to her skirt, her collar twisted, or if she has a little spinach in her teeth.
Of course, I was with a colleague in the hallway outside of a courtroom a few years back when a woman helpfully chirped that the colleague had neglected to remove the X from her skirt’s slit. The colleague was humiliated and defensive. (I hadn’t noticed it – we had all been sitting for most of the morning, though I didn’t know her so well that I would’ve said anything anyway.) It was really uncomfortable to witness, and I wouldn’t inflict that on anyone.
I’m down for telling someone about a faux pas, but make sure you’re seeing it correctly before you say anything:
Example 1: Summer student at my firm once told a partner that she had “missed a button” on her button-up shirt, as it was unbuttoned really low, the partner responded “I’m finally back to wearing my regular bras (after maternity bras) and I thought this looked good!” Now, ignoring whether or not that is a weird thing to do, it wasn’t an inappropriate look and it made it seem like the student was calling the partner trampy. The partner did not do up any extra buttons after this encounter.
Example 2: Same overzealous student used to make comments to me all the time like “You can see your bra when the buttons gape on your shirt- you should really be wearing a camisole”, and then I would have to tell her that I was already wearing a camisole and that is what she was seeing, not my bra… It just made her seem really annoying.
I was once a young paralegal who told a senior attorney that he had a tear in his pants and his hot pink boxers were showing through. Not in those words… One of my motivating factors was that he was unliked by many of the other attorneys and this would have given them more to talk about. He seemed appreciative and called me from his office to report that he had succesfully taped the tear in his pants.
About three months ago I was wearing a black collared shirt, similar to a button down, but that zips up on one side, instead of having buttons. I was at lunch with a colleague and put one arm up to wave to another colleague walking in the door. When I did, I noticed that a table of four men began to sort of snicker and laugh. No one said a thing. We continued our lunch and the family sitting at the table on the other side of us also began laugh. Still, no one said anything. At this point, there were three tables who were obviously distracted by us (ok, me). My colleagues laughed and suggested that the men found me attractive. I discovered about half way through lunch that the zipper on my shirt had split, leaving it closed just at the bottom and just at the top, so my entire midsection, bra, etc., was clearly visable to anyone who even merely glanced my way. I was appalled that no one had taken two minutes to inidicate that there might have been a problem with my shirt. My colleague (neither of them noticed) rushed me to the ladies’ room, grabbed a stapler from the hostess and promptly stapled me back together. I spent the rest of the day in staples. I assure you, I’d have rather been told than left hanging out in the open.
I have let a partner know that he had a hole in back of his pants, where his boxers were showing through. He was extremely grateful and we laughed about it for quite some time.
While I recognize that each of us has our own opinion and/or standards regarding what we want to be told and what we will tell, for those of you would would be offended, I would suggest that perhaps you simply look at the other person and recognize that they are trying to be helpful. They are not trying to tell you they know how to wear your clothes better than you or tell you that you look silly, they are trying to help you and save you future embarassment. Taking offense to someone trying to be helpful seems really silly and petty to me.
I once wore two different colored pumps – one brown and one black. They were the same style so there was no difference in fit. Unfortunately, it was my assistant’s birthday, which means most of the floor gathered around her desk to sing. At that point I had already noticed the problem. Some not so discrete person pointed it out in front of everyone. Thanks guys.
I recently wore a sweater to work, where the neckline tag keeps folding the wrong way and sometimes sticks out. My male colleague, while discussing some work topics, suddenly reached over and tucked it in, saying “Your tag is sticking out. I’m going to tuck it in so I’m not embarrassed looking at it.” First of all, why would someone feel embarrassed looking at it? I wasn’t embarrassed…it’s just a freaking tag…it’s not my underwear. Secondly, while I would have seen just telling me as a kind thing to do, I think it was inappropriate of him to invade my personal space and actually tuck the tag in FOR me.