Update: We still think this is an interesting discussion of how to deal with offensive clients — but you may also want to check out our more recent discussion about the colleague who offered the reader’s firstborn to sweeten the deal.
How do you deal with men at work making derisive comments about the expense of your bags, shoes, and clothes? I’ve been thinking about this one ever since she sent it in. Reader O wonders how to deal with offensive clients…
After a recent exchange, I’ve been thinking about my preferred strategy for handling inappropriate/sexist comments from male colleagues/clients: making a joke that disarms the offender while sending a message about boundaries and respect. What are your thoughts on this strategy? Here’s my recent example:
Greeting the team pre-meeting, client looks at my shoulder and says “remind me when we’re done – I have a great Louis Vuitton story for you!! Don’t let me forget!!” Post-meeting (where per the usual I am the only woman in the room), client remembers & proceeds to tell this great “story” to me. And the team. “I’d never been in the store before and went to find a purse for my wife. I’m looking at this bag and can’t find the price anywhere, I finally find it – $2500! For a purse! I guess we know where those legal fees are going.” Another male team member seems particularly amused.
Me, looking at their wrists: “So, I see that you’re both wearing Rolexes. This is my Rolex.”
Like I said, I’ve been thinking about this since Reader O sent it in, and I can’t quite pin down my thoughts. We’ve talked about sexist clients and sexist coworkers, but I’m not sure the advice there totally applies here. Here’s what I know: I’m pissed on Reader O’s behalf. But I’m also not sure she handled it well, considering this was a client. More specifically:
– I squirmed a bit at the Rolex response from reader O. After thought I haven’t come up with anything better, and looking back I think it was fine and even pretty clever for an off-the-cuff response. Still, my gut reaction was, “that tone was far too defensive to use with a client.” Reader O didn’t say how senior she is and whether this is HER client (or her boss’s client) — if it’s her relationship she can talk however she likes. If this is NOT her client, though… I’m not sure it was appropriate, particularly given that this guy could just be a bumbling idiot who didn’t intend any harm, and given that it’s always possible that O is misreading the culture at her office (and, for example, those were not $10K+ watches, but rather cheap imitations thereof).
– That said: I get angrier and angrier the more I think about this. What was this guy (or your charming, bemused male coworker) implying — that you’re just Playing Lawyer until you can join the cast of the Real Housewives of ____? That you’re high maintenance? “Expensive”?
I’m kicking this one to the readers — what do you think, ladies? What should Reader O have done in this particular circumstance? In general, do you have to take a “laugh it off” mentality with clients? If this had been a male coworker (instead of a client), would your response be different? Would anyone, based on this experience, ask to avoid working with this client (or drop him as a client)? How do you deal with offensive clients?
Pictured: Vintage Louis Vuitton Multi Monogram Speedy Bag, available at ShopBop for $2,950.
I understand that clients are generally treated differently (better) than other people you come in contact with at work. However, I think her reaction is warranted. For matters of work, I understand the “kid gloves” but at the same time, why should we hold adult clients to a lesser standard of etiquette and social norm than others? Perhaps it is because of our default “well – he’s the client” attitude that creates an environment where clients feel they can say whatever they wanted without consequences.
I am proud of her comment. I think it was necessary. I don’t think it’s appropriate for clients to comment that legal fees (which are duly earned) are being “wasted” on personal effects when it is her money to spend as she wishes.
I agree. I think it was a perfectly fine response.
Another response to “I guess we know where those legal fees are going,” might be to laugh and say “I guess we do!” and move on.
I was thinking that the laughing it off response might be more appropriate, too. The “I guess we do,” or maybe (said obviously jokingly) “And if you guys don’t shape up, I’ll be getting some shoes to match!” or something like that.
I think the comment really depends on tone…if you imagine this said in a light, obviously joking way it sounds a lot different than if it was said in a defensive tone of voice. Probably would have been better to have left the client out of it though…(i.e. a joke more like some guys like sportscars, I prefer handbags).
although…also to be honest…I think obviously branded handbags are not the best choice for work.
Thinking in the cold hard light of day (night), its easy to think that she shouldn’t have replied as it was a client, but sometimes you need to assert yourself in order to gain some respect. I think it entirely depends on the personality of the client and whether they give more respect to women who stand up for themselves (some do, some don’t). You made a split-second judgement call (one I’d probably have done also) and I think you need to try and stop second-guessing whether it was correct (easier said than done, I know). His behaviour over the next couple of weeks will tell you how he’s reacted to your comment.
I don’t have many external clients, its almost exclusively internal ones, but a couple of years ago I started dealing with a particular (internal) director who was notorious for his sexist/outrageous comments. I put up with it for several months, getting less and less respect from him each time we met until he came out with something that was too outrageous to let pass without retort. It wasn’t that I bit back, I took his head off (Godzilla would have been proud). I’d been learning what I could about him and what made him tick and I came to the realisation that if you showed any weakness he didn’t respect you. I took a calculated risk that it would help me get some respect.
Once I started calling him out on his behaviour, not only did it get better, but he started treating me better too. He still came out with some outrageous things, but nothing as bad as he used to do. He did comment on my Mulberry bag, but I just replied it had been a gift (it had – but the person who gave it to me had just come back from a holiday in a certain country where these sort of things were ‘rather cheap’ and had purchased a few to give out as Christmas gifts) and that it cost a damn site less than the new car he was proudly boasting about. I also got fairly regular comments about being overpaid, but that comes with the job (finance). People assume you get paid more than you do (in my company most of the ‘technical’ folk get a d*mn site more than me but they still assume the finance team get huge salaries). I guess its the same (or more so) with Law.
SO PROUD OF READER O FOR RAWRING BACK. IF CLIENTS CROSS THE LINE, KICK ‘EM BACK ACROSS.
I agree with the poster above that Reader O responded appropriately. It was a gentle nudge, not a bludgeon, nor did she just get cowed and belittled, which was what the “glassbowl” client was trying to do. Letting your client roll over you doesn’t get the client to treat you with respect. Some glassbowl clients will purposely try this nonsense to “test your backbone.”
And….yet another reason why it was sexist was singling out something most women own or buy (purses.) The client was clearly implying that the things women shop for (purses) are somehow ridiculous Marie Antoinette frivolities to be made fun of, and dismissed, but that the expensive trinkets (Rolexes) that men shop for are somehow serious and never even questioned.
All this. Susedna said it much better than I did in my post below
See, I don’t think that implication was necessarily there, and even if it was, Reader O didn’t have to buy into it. My feeling is, if you’re gonna carry a Louis, then own it, be proud of it, don’t let anybody shame you for it, don’t buy into any “frivolous” nonsense.
I agree with this – I definitely think the implication is that women buy frivolous items and men buy serious things.
So related question: how would you respond if you were receiving similar but consistent comments from a boss? I don’t want to point out my boss’ luxuries (he’s been practicing for 30 years and is entitled to it all!) but I’m also sick of him asking how much I spend on shoes or bags or him telling me he clearly pays me too much since my clothes are too nice.
The men who wear nice suits or have fancy watches don’t get the same inquiries.
Oh man, that is HORRIBLE! Wow. I don’t have any immediate ideas for you but I’d have a hard time not popping him across the jaw.
+1 to Susedna.
For TO Lawyer, I’d probably do the Caroline Hax-ish eyebrow raise followed by “Wow,” or an appears-to-be-genuine-confusion-y “Why would you ask that?” Because it’s none of your boss’s business. Also, saying he pays you too much because you wear nice clothes? GOD. WHY ARE PEOPLE LIKE THIS. RAGE.
Sorry TO, I accidentally reported you instead of replying.
I get this type of thing too a lot, but in perhaps a more obviously gendered way. I think the sassy retort said in a light and joking tone of voice is the way to go. It pushes back and refuses to let the commentary stand without being overtly aggressive. Also, it forces the person to realize at least a bit that it was an out-of-line comment, even if it was not intended as such.
My boss is the king of back handed sexist/ageist compliments. (“Wow, I am surprised your staff likes you so much despite the fact that you’re still a little girl in the business”) In a crowded room, I will make a quip back but when alone I try to address at least one of these a meeting in a serious way. Any advice on how better to handle?
Also, thank you for this thread and the note Kat!
Holy chit. I am sitting at a client site right now with a boss like this. She will take a swipe at anyone for not just things like this but everything – where you went to school, who your parents are, what you drive…the list is endless and the barbs are sharp.
Ya he claims he’s joking so I always try to deflect without seeming too confrontational because being on his good side is crucial. But it makes me ragey
Here’s a real-life example: I’ll fess up that I own a car by a fairly famous sports-car brand. But I drive 20 miles each way to and from work and I figure that if I’m going to spend so much time in my car, I’m going to like it. One time I had to drive one of my BigLaw firm’s managing partners to a meeting and he made a joking remark about how they must pay associates too much if I’m driving that car.
I (in a lighthearted, joking way) told him that the car was the first one I had ever bought because I drove the car that I got when I was 16 until I was an associate. My nice car was paid off at the time and I told the partner that I intended to drive it until it died, which I hoped would be at least 10 years, and so I figured it was a good investment if I enjoyed driving it (I did and I do). The partner responded and said that was an excellent answer and we chatted about other topics after that. I later heard from someone else that the partner was impressed with how pragmatic I was.
Moral of the story? Own it. But push back and inform your boss and maybe the teasing will stop.
For the ‘I pay you too much’ comments, I’d respond with ‘you pay me what I’m worth.’ Delivered with a smile, and in a light-hearted tone. It’s not aggressive, but it shuts down the whole line of inquiry.
For asking how much stuff cost, can you just say you don’t remember? Obviously you probably do remember how much your big-ticket purchases cost, but it’s a white lie that’s hard to contradict.
I *really* like this answer — “You pay me what I’m worth.” Or you could up it with “You pay me nearly what I’m worth.”
I have no problem at all lying to anyone rude enough to ask what something cost. Another possible answer: “Oh, it’s a hand-me-down [gift] [heirloom inherited from a dearly missed beloved relative], so I have no idea.”
One of my bossess has said this “we pay you too much” …. half-jokingly and not in relation to any stuff I own but in relation to me taking time off after some months with a lot of workload….
My answer (of course in a joking tone): It’s because of people like you that capitalism gets a bad rap sometimes
I can relate to this as well. My (male, also practicing for 30 years and living a very “fancy” life) has commented before that I always dress very professionally and put together (which I have taken as a non-sexist compliment because his remarks were genuine and in an overall “you present well to the client” type of speech). But recently, DH and I bought a condo, and DH asked me what it cost! (Nevermind that I live in a city where this information is easily accessible in online public records, so he could look it up if he really wanted to). When I declined to answer, he proceeded to throw out numbers and guess. I obviously could not say I did not remember, but I did say I am not comfortable answering. Which I am sure he took to mean “higher than you are guessing.” It was a super uncomfortable conversation. Ugh.
spring work travel
If this were my relationship to terminate, i’d have said just “nice rolex” and left it at that. Doubling down on the rude though, which is not what we need more of.
I’d try lying: “no, that’s from my ex-husband.”. Not that I have one, but it turns the tables. Or, “maybe it’s from canal street.”. Just something, besides a weak smile, to move things along.
I agree with you that doubling down on the rude is not the answer.
My first Louis holds a special place in my heart, I saved for it for 10 years out of every paycheck I had earned to that point. (From my first job at 16 to my first year end bonus as an attorney.) Of all the bags I carry, I get the most comments from men when carrying my LV monogram bag. It is instantly recognizable and well known as expensive. I always tell the story, but I don’t think it would be appropriate to lie about it.
I think the man was trying to make conversation and his attempts failed miserably.
I’m not super sure about O’s response…I think I would have replied more along the lines of, “And what a lovely Rolex you’re wearing!” if I wanted to respond with snark, or “Yes, I love my bag. It is worth every penny, and I am sure your wife would appreciate one too.” for a more demure answer.
Frankly, it’s no one’s business how much she makes, or where she gets it, or how she spends it. Maybe she’s working 8 other jobs so that she can buy these things for herself. Or maybe it was a gift.
But you’re right–maybe the client was just terribly socially inept.
Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention and accidentally hit the Report button instead of reply. Doh!
I think that a lot of times women do read too much into these types of conversations (I am also guilty). Many men just really struggle with what to say to women in a business setting, especially when their wives stay at home. So they go back to the things they know about your or can glean from your appearance, and think the woman cares about. Often times that is our outfit or our vehicle or our children. I’m sure he didn’t mean to offend and had no clue it was inappropriate in any way.
That said, even if it’s unintentionally offensive, it’s still offensive! I think that she responded perfectly by making a point but not biting their heads off.
I kind of agree with you, but at the same time, in this day and age, men shouldn’t be struggling with what to say to women in a business setting. There’s no good excuse for that anymore.
Women aren’t some foreign species. We’re people, just like men, and should be interacted with in the same way. If a man doesn’t know how to interact with a woman in a business setting (it’s the 21st century, this is truly no excuse but) he should look to how he interacts with men. If it’s inappropriate for a woman it’s inappropriate for a man too and vice versa.
I wouldn’t lie — I agree with other posters who say that you should Own It if you’re going to carry an obviously expensive or name brand bag. Plus I almost feel as though saying it was a gift or from Canal Street makes you…I don’t know, ashamed of it? Which you’re obviously not if you’re carrying an LV.
I’m mostly just appalled at what passes for acceptable behavior in the workplace these days. I’m no Emily Post, but good grief WTF is wrong with people to be making comments like this?
Agree; lying and trying to diminish the value of your bag is not a good approach. It’s no different than if a client finds out you went to Yale Law–you wouldn’t say “must’ve been a slow admissions year!”–ok, yes, it is different, but I find that when you fall into the habit of discounting praise (“Thanks [for the compliment on my clearly-DVF dress]! I got it on sale!”), it’s a hard habit to break and you’ll discount your achievements as well.
And, this varies quite a bit by person, but some people in the role of the complimenter would find that kind of discounting response offensive, like you think they just can’t handle that you could afford to spend $2000 on a bag, so you need to bring yourself down to their level by saying it’s a fake. I’m not at all saying this is what people intend when they give that kind of response, but just that there are some people who will take it that way (I’ve seen it a lot with kids who went to Harvard for college and instead of owning it, say they went to school “in the Boston area”–it’s silly but some listeners hear that as “you just can’t handle THA H BOMB”).
Funny. My DH went to West Point and frequently downplays that to “an engineering school on the Hudson.” It’s never been in the context of “you just can’t handle the WP bomb” but more that he doesn’t want to answer the half dozen silly questions that usually come next. More than anything, he’s trying to keep the conversational spot light off of himself.
Which is totally ok in the “where you went to school” conversation type, but–to drag this analogy out way farther–an obviously expensive bag is like wearing a Harvard T-Shirt.
Too funny. I know someone who went to both the Naval Academy and Harvard, and he uses BOTH of those lines (swapping “Severn” for “Hudson”).
I second OHCFO’s assessment: he just wants to dodge the followup questions and assumptions.
I agree that “downplaying” by saying it is a gift is touchy territory, but if she beamed, and was so excited about it, it shouldn’t matter.
“Oh, this!?? It was a gift, and I have loved every minute of it. If your wife is anything like me, she will appreciate it too.”
The most expensive pair of shoes that I own was a gift from my hubs. When people ask me about them, I use it as an opportunity to gush on him.
Eek, I wouldn’t say it was from your husband/ex-husband etc. – that just seems to carry weird implications of being a wealthy kept woman.
I also wouldn’t claim that it was fake. That raises a whole host of other ethical issues.
I think the OP’s response was fine. I probably would have just said, “So did you buy the purse?!”
It isn’t a claim that it is fake…………… it is a nice way of letting someone know this is not an acceptable comment.
You ladies need to lighten up and be less sensitive. Enjoy some banter, it is a sign of acceptance.
Since when is it ok to talk about money?!!! For negotiating a salary or purchasing something, but in casual conversation?
I agree that it’s not cool to talk about money, but implying you purchase counterfeit purses hardly seems like witty banter to me. There are probably better ways to make chit chat, no?
I agree that claiming it is a fake is inappropriate. A fake is copyright infringement and is against the law. Someone knowingly buying a fake is supporting a black-market. A lawyer (or I would argue anyone) buying a fake (nd admitting it tells me that they are willing to ignore the law for their own purposes. Fakes are all to normal in today’s world to ignore this issue but it’s not okay and it does not put you in the best light.
I agree not to say it was fake. It just identifies you as someone who buys counterfeit and doesn’t respect intellectual property law.
And also? In the anecdote as given, I don’t see anything particularly derisive about the comment, or any particular derogatory implication. On its face, it’s a guy being surprised that a designer bag was that expensive — that’s all.
I might say something like “I know, right? Crazy!” And laugh and move on. The point is the comment is only derogatory if I choose to make it derogatory. My attitude would be “Yeah, I buy expensive purses. And yeah, they’re really expensive, as you’ve discovered. Next topic…”
I think “I guess we know where those legal fees are going” is derisive.
I agree, this is how I would have handled it as well. A bit of “haha, yeah” and then move on. On a similar note, my husband and I are moving from the city to a nice suburb, and a client recently said to me, “Moving on up, George Jefferson style! I guess I know where my legal fees are going!” I just chuckled and said, “Yeah, we’re excited for the move,” and left it at that.
I’m going to push back and disagree here. I don’t think she should have said anything. Unfortunately his status of being a client gives him a lot of leeway to be a jerk. Likewise anything that takes place in front of client should be with a “happy camper” or a polite face.
It’s not fair, it’s not right but it’s the just the way it is. It’s business and the uplift of “boy you showed that jerk!” isn’t worth losing business.
That being said yesterday the senior partner epically fired a client who was a real sexist jerk & made a pass at one of the senior associates & it was just awesome.
If clients have leeway to be jerks, then I don’t see how it’s awesome that a sexist client was fired.
I agree with the above poster that this was most def a sexist dig and that the attorney handled it properly – by making a point without going too far. I do not think the client was only expressing surprise at the price, he was drawing a line between what he thinks is an acceptable way for a woman to spend money and what isn’t.
There’s a HUGE difference between making a sexual advance on an attorney and a misguided quip about how much a bag costs.
Yes, there the bag comment was sexist. But if you jump on every single sexist thing someone says you will lose tons of clients- and probably your sanity as well.
Granted, as everyone else has noted tone doesn’t come across and if she made it in jest but got her point across- great! Job well done. But she’s wading on dangerous territory.
YEAH BUT IT ALL BOILS DOWN TO A LACK OF RESPECT, AS SUSEDNA AND SILVER ALLUDE TO ABOVE.
MEN ARE TOO COMFORTABLE AT BELITTLING WOMEN, INCLUDING SEXUALLY. THERE ARE WAYS OF CHALLENGING SEXISM BUT IT SHOULD BE CHALLENGED. ALWAYS. FOREVER.
Especially following up the price of an accessory with a dig about fees. Nothing about that speaks to respect to me at all.
I wonder if there were wearing bespoke suits and how much they cost?
I’m with Godzilla on this one. Sure, it’s objectively “worse” to make a sexual advance than to make a misguided quip about a bag, but they’re both fruit of the same tree, as it were. Also, hasn’t it been shown that a lot of rapists and otherwise certifiably Creepy Dudes tend to groom their victims by starting out with less objectively awful infractions, and then proceeding towards worse ones when those less-awful things go unchallenged? Not trying to say Reader O’s client is a rapist, but again, same tree of lacking respect for women and women’s choices.
re: emeralds comment – this seems a little extreme of a response. i think we should be really careful to say a comment like that is similar to what a rapist would say to ‘groom their victim.’
I agree that sexism should be challenged. But I’m pointing out the practical realities. I’d love to live in a world where everyone could just jump on every sexist comment with a fabulous shut down but if you choose to go that that route you have to be aware there’s a cost.
In the case of firing a client for making a sexual advance on an associate, that affected her dignity and rose to the level that it needed to be addressed, and thus, was worth the literal price of said client’s future business.
In the case of the handbag, (& again disclaimer- I don’t know the tone or the OP’s relationship dynamic with client) it is worth potentially shutting down a sexist comment and embarrassing the client if now going forward he doesn’t want to work with you? If you ignore it or redirect the conversation & now you are put in charge of the case- or whatever level of power you get to rise to in this situation. Is it worth jeopardizing future power? Are you more effective as “boy- she showed him! Good for her!” But doesn’t get to rise higher. Or now because you didn’t embarrass him or shut him down you are top dog on this case or whatever place of power working on this case gets you?
If someone equal to me or someone I meet on the street says something sexist to me or acts sexist to me- you bet your sweet a$$ I’ll say something. But if a client says something annoying — not to the level that affects my dignity– then yeah I’ll make the sacrifice and I can deal with sexism more effectively when I’m CEO or named partner.
Both instances are lack of respect but just know the reality & actions come with a price. These are the tradeoffs and choices I’m make. I will fight the good fight and I will do so in a place of power where I can affect more change. A brilliant professor, writer, and role model of mine was assigned to be the secretary by the chair of a board she was sitting on at a very top university- instead of wielding her tongue and pointing out the fact that they assigned her secretary bc she was the only woman in the room- she used her position as secretary to address the topics she wanted in the meetings and she created the agenda.
[this is long – I almost typed sorry! but then I thought better of it b/c women apologize too much! :)]
SCOUT, IF EVERY SINGLE WOMAN CALLED OUT SEXISM, THEN CLIENT WOULD HAVE TO LEARN HOW TO TREAT EVERY WOMAN WITH EQUAL AMOUNTS OF RESPECT, NO? THERE SHOULD BE NO REWARD FOR LETTING THINGS SLIDE. WE ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE CHANGE WE WANT. IT’S WORTH THE PRICE FOR ME.
I respect you for being willing to pay that price & for your passionate defense of it.
But not every woman is going to call out sexism. It’ll never happen.
And is that necessarily going to change the jerk’s future actions? He is suddenly going to wake up and go- oh! I’m sexist, dang it I’ll change. She put me in my place with her comment?
No stuff is going to change because there’s going to be a female president, because there’s going to be more female presidents of universities, because there’s more female CEOs. Because being a woman in power will be normalized.
I agree. My brother is really bad at respecting mine and my mother’s personal space and private possessions (will just pick up my phone from the table and start playing with it) and I worry that this is symptomatic of how he treats girls in general. Plus he apparently thinks feminism is anti-men sexism….
I think there is a huge difference between making a pass at a woman and making a comment about a handbag. Even if the comment is derisive. To begin, the first is sexual harrasment and possibly more if he touched her.
I didn’t even know senior partners ever fired horrible sexist pig clients! This may restore my faith in humanity, lol.
Perfectly fine response. Kat, you can’t possibly tell her tone from that email. She may have very well said it with a smile or humor and it would not be inappropriate. There is no need for her to be deferential on this and it has nothing to do with how high up she is. I have seen male coworkers rib a client/board member about their sports team etc and even if there is a significant age difference, it does not come across as inappropriate. I think Reader O’s response is similar – witty and smart, without being inoffensive and inappropriate.
I think the response is perfect. The client is saying “Crazy women! They spend so much money on doo-dads!” And the attorney is saying “Actually, we have a lot in common. We both like expensive doo-dads.” Relationships are built on common ground like that.
Yes! Perfect analysis!
I completely agree with this.
I don’t know how is personally respond in the situation, but I’d like to think that I’d push back.
I agree. I actually think that, depending on how it’s phrased, this is a good, humorous way of responding (but still gently making the point).
This matters a lot depending on seniority, nature of the relationship, etc., but I think that pushing back (politely and with humor) on stuff like this can actually be good in terms of developing respect in the client’s eyes.
A slightly more subtle version of the jab would have been more appropriate. Something to the effect of what was already suggested, “we sure do!” and then a side swipe at your male coworker’s rolex to show that, duh, lawyers have nice things because they make a lot of money.
We sure do! You’ve caught me, I love an expensive purse and Bob over here, well you try prying that Rolex off his wrist. Haha. Said with a light joking tone, it would bring attention to the fact that *client* also has the same nice watch, but without directly calling him out on it.
advancing the joke
I like this, too. Same idea.
+1 more. Keeping it off the client but still directed on “men spend $$$$$$$ on stuff too” is effective and keeps your nose clean.
I’m very sensitive to gender issues, particularly given then ridiculous environment I just left, but I really don’t see his comment as offensive. He didn’t say “little lady and her trivial pursuits.” He just expressed shock at the cost of a purse. I can imagine many many non-gender associated items I’ve been shocked at the cost. It’s simply something he had never bought but recently realized cost a lot. But it is rude to mention money and cost of luxuries. That’s the rub for me. And I probably would have laughed it off.
I wonder if she would have felt less offended if the guy had simply made a quick comment about the price of LV purses initially an then moved on. As she describes it, he noticed her purse, they had a meeting, and then he remembers this “story” that he just has to tell her. This was something important to him so I can see getting annoyed. I do wonder if it was a misguided attempt at connecting with her. I have met men who really thought that the best way to socialize with women was to talk about “women folk” topics like purses, shoes, makeup, chocolate, diets, and menstruation. He said this to me after we’d been part of an intense discussion of a TV show we both love. Aside from the last two, I’m fine talking to anyone about those topics but they’re really not necessary.
I’m not sure how I would have responded because I would have been shushing the voice in my head that was saying, “You need to get out more if you think that’s a story, let alone a great story that I have to remind you to tell. That’s not a great story. It’s not even a story!*” That little voice is why I don’t drink in front of colleagues or clients.
*The voice would basically sound like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vjf6NQtSYko
Could it possibly even be a complement? If he knows it is expensive and she has one it could be a weird atta boy?
To me, the client seems to be a bit of a clueless guy trying to make a connection. I’m actually a bit impressed that he recognized the bag, and that he could put together the story! It’s likely I would have responded by saying something similar to “They are expensive, but it’s really lovely. Did your wife like the bag you bought for her?” He is either going to say yes, and then everything is equal, or no (and assuming the Rolex is real) be the guy who didn’t buy his wife the nice bag!
Yeah, I’d probably go with “Your wife has good taste”. Although I don’t think the OP’s response was out of line.
I like this: “Your wife has good taste!”
Another good response!
I agree, it seems like he was trying to build camaraderie, and it seems like her jokey response was appropriate in this situation. It’s ok to joke around with some clients and not with others – everyone is different and it’s a “know your client” situation.
I would be so tempted to say “Your wife has excellent taste in bags” (implying that her taste in men is somewhat lacking by comparison.)
advancing the joke
I’m not sure I could have come up with this on the spot, but I like the idea of saying, “This bag? I paid for this after [that huge takeover deal/I spent 10 weeks on trial in California]. I don’t charge you guys nearly enough to afford this!” While wearing a smile that shows you’re joking/teasing.
The client’s comment is frustrating on two levels: (1) it seems to question how Reader O spends her money, but (2) it seems to devalue how the client is spending his money on her fees (“I guess we know where those [high] legal fees are going.”). The joke above makes light of the cost of the bag, while boosting the client’s ego, e.g., “You should see what I charge my other clients! For you, a special deal.”
Assuming he’s awkward, which many people are, it dissipates any tension, allows him to be in on the joke, and doesn’t make any apologies. I think this response counts as “gracious.” You get to wear the adult hat, and retain the power, but everyone feels good at the end.
One of the principles of group improv is that you must always advance the joke.
+1 I like the special deal response
To me, this is just a classic lawyer joke- ha ha you guys make so much money. It’s not a funny one, but I think a polite “well, save on some things splurge on others” with a smile would be more appropriate than a quip.
Yes, I agree completely. I probably would have come back with something about splurging and saving to the effect of “They are expensive. But my shoes and shirt are from Target/Old Navy.” But this mostly sounds like a failed attempt at a lawyer joke.
“…if boys say something that’s not funny, you don’t have to laugh.”
Or you could say, “this bag? If you think it was expensive, you don’t want to know how much my shoes were.”
Honestly, I find that these kinds of comments come more often from women, with the insinuation that you live a frivolous and extravagant lifestyle because you don’t have a family to feed. I am so fed up with women-on-women crime in the workplace!
I had a similar conversation at work, but this was with a partner and it concerned my shoes. Entering my third year at the firm, I changed offices and was looking to work under a certain partner. I had let him know this multiple times, but due to his travel schedule and preference for certain other associates who had been in the office longer than me, I didn’t get much work from him. After a CLE that he lead where he spoke about some interesting cases that he was working on, I stopped into his office to again ask him for work under the guise of discussing the CLE. In the middle of our conversation, he stopped me, asked me if I was wearing Louboutins, joked about how his wife had/wanted a pair, then made a snide remark about paying the associates too much. I was speechless. Unlike Reader O, I didn’t respond. I didn’t know how to. Needless to say, I still haven’t gotten much work from this partner.
(my reviews at work have always been very positive, so I don’t think that had anything to do with him not giving me work).
The problem with this type of behavior is that it is based on the presumption that as women we’d want to discuss our shoes/handbags/clothing/looks in a professional/working environment. I was in this man’s office to ask him for work, not discuss footwear. Plain and simple. And, I doubt he’d ask my male equivalent about his Gucci loafers. Although it’s not as blatant as asking me to get coffee or answer his phones, it’s still sexist and it’s still wrong.
So, one caveat – at least in my office, when male associates where recognizably expensive clothes, they do get similar comments from partners. It doesn’t mean the comments are okay, but I don’t think they are *always* gendered (although, of course, I would agree that they often are gendered). Sometimes they are just a tight-fisted boss who doesn’t like seeing their employees with money to spend on what the boss would consider frivolous items.
I think I would have pointedly looked at his Rolex and said, “Well, lucky for you it looks like you can afford me.”
I think this works if you are a prostitute. Not otherwise.
Witness Protection Program
Psst. Your internalized misogyny is showing. This is a really heinous thing to say.
Unfortunately it’s something that the people overhearing the conversation would probably think, though.
Seriously, this sounds so prostitute-y.
Just change it to, “Well, lucky for you it looks like you can afford those legal fees.” Fixed!
And I like it a lot.
What about the obvious: “So, did you get her the bag?” Either he did or I’d think it would make a guy with a Rolex look a bit cheap. Either way, I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to give in to the urge to put people their place. Plus, it usually backfires.
Witness Protection Program
This kind of comment makes me glad we don’t work together. If someone–even a client–says something that’s hurtful to any of my colleagues, I will always have my colleague’s back.
But I guess you just keep looking out for Number One and tolerating all manner of injustice around you.
Just how do you “have your colleague’s back”? I am not seeing “all manner of injustice” in the balance here.
Witness Protection Program
Then you’re not thinking very hard.
“I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to give in to the urge to put people their place. Plus, it usually backfires” apologizes for and tolerates all manner of inappropriate and hurtful conduct. I really don’t want to surround myself with people who think and behave like that.
Um no- that’s extremism. You’re extrapolating pretty far to get that refusing to have a knee jerk reaction means that Chewbacca apologizes for and tolerates “ALL” manner of inappropriate and hurtful conduct.
Ah, that would have been a funny response.
I’m sorry, but did anyone else see the irony here? This blog is all about professional women discussing fashion, even very expensive splurges. And, yet, here we are getting offended because a man mentioned an expensive accessory? Between this and the ridiculous “back in the good ol’ days” rants this weekend, I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re the source of a few jokes.
Eh, there are ways of mentioning expensive accessories without setting off the jerk alarm. For example:
“Nice bag! I was just in an LV store finding a purse for my wife.”
“Oh, my wife loves LV bags. I was surprised by how much they were, but I’m glad we can all afford the things that matter to us!”
I’m inclined to agree. There are things in this world to get offended about. This just isn’t really one of them. I’ll agree that it put her in an awkward, how-do-I-respond sort of spot and that it was sort of obnoxious, but I just can’t get offended about this. When I saw that the post was about obnoxious sexism, I expected it to involve commenting on her body or s3x life or something like that. Not an accessory.
You have an expensive bag. People are going to notice that. Either get something less noticeable or just deal with it.
While I do think there’s some sexism here, I think that the more helpful discussion really ought to be polite ways of fielding the inevitable comments about how much money lawyers make. EVERYONE gets those comments and it’s really helpful to have a good response. Because today it’ll be about the bag; tomorrow it’ll be about airplane upgrades/hotel choices/cars/etc. (regardless of the attorney’s gender).
I completely disagree that someone who has an expensive bag just needs to “deal” with comments, because it implies that the comments are appropriate in the first place. It’s rude and completely unnecessary to make unsolicited comments on what someone else spends their money on, and just “dealing” with those comments condones and perpetuates them. I guess anyone with an iPhone must be subjected to “if you can afford that, you can afford rent/food/[insert anything else for which public assistance is provided]!”? To take it outside the money context, I guess a woman who chooses to dye her hair red should constantly be subjected to “WHOA! FIRECROTCH!” comments.
Witness Protection Program
I disagree and since you brought up the weekend topic about the content of this blog: this is a work place dilemma that many of us face.
This is the is what has been missing. The other personal topics, that have nothing remotely to do with careers or fashion, take up far too much space.
Hmm, I’m not sure I agree that this comment is sexist, but perhaps that is because I have seen clients make similar “I guess that’s where the legal fees are going” comments about male attorneys’ luxury cars many times. I think that sort of teasing about obviously expensive items is pretty standard. Even if there is a double standard and such comments would not be made to men, this remark is really pretty tame as far as inappropriate/offensive remarks go. I agree with Kat that the OP’s response was not ideal if its not her client, particularly if she’s an associate. I really think this is the kind of thing you’re expected to laugh off at the associate level. I would never risk antagonizing a client (and the partner) over something this minor. Save that for when the client hits on you or says something really outrageous, and you really feel like you can’t continue having a productive working relationship without saying something.
Ditto, I have totally seen the same comment made multiple times with regard to male associate’s cars. I think the client is always looking to throw a punch when it comes to legal fees. It’s just another lawyer joke, as noted above. No offense to our doctor colleagues, but sometimes in these situations, I throw the medical profession under the bus! “Yes, I love it, I saved forever to buy it. Now, my friend the dermatologist, she seems to get a new luxury bag every week!”. Of course, YMMV, and I certainly do appreciate that not all physicians make the big bucks, but since client is way over generalizing, sometimes I head down the same path too….
agreed. I’ve received similar comments for where I ate dinner and have heard them for cars that some partners drive. I think it’s just poor attempt at humour from the client, and possible trying to connect with a woman and show he knows what kind of purse it is.
This was my exact thought! I could see this being said about male attorneys’ nice cars. I probably would have laughed and said, “I know, right? We should all be investing in LV/luxury goods!”
I don’t find Reader O’s comment to be inappropriate at all. IMO, it’s a straight “apples to apples” comparison and she called out the commentary in a way that was appropriate to the situation.
I think she should have mentioned something like “you should see what I charge my other clients”. Other than that own the purse!
I am glad I do not work in biglaw. Where I work (legal aid), we are discouraged in bringing expensive toys to work as it makes our clients more likely to feel self-conscious and/or steal them. Yes my shoes and clothes are nice (they pay great and I get great benefits), but there is no visible branding.
If someone makes an offensive comment like that, I think it’s petty and unprofessional to make a snide comment back. Why stoop to their level? And frankly, who has time for this?
Furthermore, it sounds like the offender was telling that story out of ignorance rather than to give a catty, underhanded insult. Does that make it okay? No, but if Reader O thinks it’s a big enough deal, then Reader O should have professionally explained why it was offensive.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told someone I’m Chinese and they’ll come back with an irrelevant story about Japan or another Asian culture on the basis that all Asians are the same. I pick and choose my battles.
The only time I would advocate for using a snide comeback if it was toward a coworker (someone you see with regularity) who was clearly doing it as an underhanded catty insult. Sometimes you can only stop cattiness with cattiness. However, that would have to be a last result. I can’t imagine most professionals have time to waste on thinking of “witty comebacks”.
I probably would have started petting my purse lovingly while repeating “My precious” in my best Gollum voice. Unprofessional?
Not if I had been in the client. I wouldn’t have made the remark that would require that response but that would help cement my business with you.
+10000. I just laughed out loud in the library.
This is an interesting post. I’m the person who has posted in the past about my boss makes comments about my appearance – shoes, bags, etc. so he got me a gift card to Coach for Christmas so that I can live up to his standards apparently. And by the way he HATES the bag I spent his gift card on.
So this goes both ways, not being ridiculed/teased for wearing designer brands but also for wearing run of the mill brands rather than designer brands. I dress professionally but I don’t wear LV, Theory etc. I wear run of the mill brands like Naturalizer shoes (not frumpy looking ones – my opinion of course), some Coach and Cole Haan purses. Bottom line – people are allowed to spend their money how they so choose. My husband and I choose to save 65% of what we make and we do that by not buying luxury items. I don’t judge people who do buy luxury items and I’d appreciate if they didn’t judge me.
The same thing goes for cars – I drive a 10 year old car. You can drive a Mercedes, I won’t judge you, but I enjoy my 10 year Subaru.
I can’t imagine having a boss who comments on the brands of clothes and accessories I wear (other than simple compliments, I suppose). I’m sorry that some people are so rude.
This kind of thing happens all of the time to both men and women I know. It happened to my husband at work just last week, when his boss noticed they were wearing the same (very expensive) shoes. The boss said, “Look at that! I must pay you too much!” and my husband was embarrassed and said, “They were a gift….” (which, um, they were not). He felt just as uncomfortable as the OP seems to have, but chose to just be deferential rather than come up with a snappy response.
Being in LA, it also happens almost any time a partner sees an associate’s car. Most of the associates at my firm drive fancy cars because we’re all in our cars so much. Whether it’s a male or a female, the partner will say, “Wow, nice car, how much are we paying you again?” even when he/she drives the same or better car. I think it’s just a way to make conversation, really. My response has been “Don’t worry, I still have student loans and rent is crazy expensive, I’m nowhere near your level yet.”
See, I kind of feel like our natural inclination to be like “here let me explain why I can’t really afford it/didn’t really spend that much” etc just undermines our power and authority.
I think the appropriate response to a boss’ “I must pay you too much!” is a lightly-toned, with a smile “Good thing I’m awesome, huh?!”
Someone commented to me (a co worker) regarding my Mercedes “Must be nice (to have the ability to buy that”. I replied “Actually it is”. Never heard another such comment.
Love this. I often find myself defaulting to defensive. It’s really not your business how I spend my income as long as I am worth the price I’m being paid. If I choose to buy a new car or donate the same amount to feed orphans, what’s it to you if I get the work done?
Anon from 3:38
Exactly. And more critically, these comments really do usually have some underlying motivator. While the story about the wife was, perhaps, innocuous, the comments about paying too much in legal fees was what really motivated it. On some level, client feels like he’s paying too much. This isn’t unusual, clients often feel they pay too much. Senior partners aware of the bottom line are often equally feeling that way. Associate pay cuts into profits, and partners have to deal with write-down of time and unhappy clients sometimes. But long story short, what any comment about “how much I/we are paying you” is really about is a question about your worth. Your response needs to indicate that the value exists for the client. Even a gentle somewhat joking reminder that you’re awesome can suffice, because it brings to mind all the things you’ve done/accomplished for the client.
Similarly, comments from friends/coworkers/others are sourced in jealousy. How is it you can afford those things? Why can’t I afford those things? It’s not FAIR that you blow money on that thing and still seem happy. Must bring you down a peg. Those comments are designed to make you feel small and petty, and to make you defend yourself. But the commenter is the only one being small and petty, and it’s fine to turn it around on them by reassuring them that yes, it is nice, yes these shoes are beautiful AND comfortable, yes this car does drive like a dream and the leather is like butter. Thanks for playing “who’s being petty,” the answer is YOU.
Don’t ever address the content of the comment, address the motivation.
It’s hard to think of a good response on the spot, so I think the reader did a pretty good job on the spot.
A light “Hey, this is my Rolex.” would maybe be better, because it doesn’t point at any one person in general so it draws an apt comparison without being rude.
I’m not sure what to say about the “That’s where those legal fees are going!” part — that’s rude regardless of the gender. Maybe “And I hope you believe you are getting good value for our services. As always, please let us know if there is anything we can do for you.”
A little bit lighthearted, but a serious ending in a client oriented tone.
But if her response really upset the client… do you want a client like that?
So I’m struggling with something about this scenario and I hope others can help me to think more clearly about the issues. There’s no question that the client’s comment was condescending, dismissive, and sexist. Even without the extra-jerky comments, it’s inappropriate to comment on how much someone’s attire costs.
But does it matter at all if the item in question is an iconic piece, i.e. with LVs all over, versus a nice-looking (and perhaps recognizable if you’re familiar with the brand) piece? If you’re carrying something with LVs all over it, how offended do you get to be if someone points out that it has LVs all over it? On the other hand, women shouldn’t have to modify their behavior to avoid jerky comments. I’m honestly not sure whether men experience anything similar – do men who have messenger bags with LVs all over receive the same types of comments?
They are status symbols. Rolex watches and LV bags. The list is long and not many achieve a level of comfort where they can spend on such luxury items. Whether you saved by working 8 jobs, received it as a gift, or bought it on a whim one afternoon the fact remains that you are still among the few in the world privileged who can own it. That’s why you cherish it. That’s why its fun to own it.
I can’t imagine this comment was s3xist. The fact that he recognizes a the bag as a LV means he has a higher than usual perception of the small things around him. To be offended because somebody that you presumably have an established relationship with notices your LV bag and wants to share his experience with this same item isn’t trying to be offensive. My take is that he is simply trying to connect with you. Maybe it was a miss from his part. But this is a total first world problem – let it go.
I think I would have responded with something along the lines of, “Yeah, I remember being shocked by the price when I went to buy my husband/father/son/dog/whoever a Rolex. It’s nice to be able to splurge on a high quality piece sometimes.” It equalizes the male/female expensive sh*t part and says that this isn’t an everyday purchase all at once, all while saying that you relate to that experience of going to buy a gift for someone and being surprised by the price.
I still have a bad taste in my mouth from a recent client lunch where a group of women (all from the client company) decided to play mean girl about my shoes.
It was extremely uncomfortable not to mention, very unprofessional. I just kept laughing it off. But I am not putting myself in that position again and am declining group lunches now.
The good news, most of them are fresh out of school and are temporary interns.
The bad news, the head of the department was one of the most derisive. (And that is her personality and she makes little snide comments about everyone when the mood strikes).
One thing is for certain, I will never let them see that they are getting to me. I know that would be fuel on the fire with the type of personality this thread is discussing.
I do find this comment about the wife’s purse sexist (tho not on the egregious end of the spectrum) and demeaning for the reasons some have already stated— women & their silly doo-dads!— and also because, if I’m interacting with a male client or co-worker, I’m there as a lawyer or a colleague and things should stay within that context. He shouldn’t be thinking of me as a wife and certainly not comparing me to HIS wife. Unless his wife is also a kick-a** lawyer and that’s the purpose of the comparison. Otherwise, it’s belittling.
I don’t mind the Rolex comeback, provided it was delivered with humor. I would give a client more leeway than a co-worker, though, which is perhaps too mercenary of me.
I do not believe Reader O’s comment was on point. First – It establishes a defensive attitude, which she shouldn’t have. So you own a nice purse – now OWN it! Second – It’s a client and client’s should always be treated with a certain level of respect.
My appropriate response to his “Now we know where those Legal fees are going” should be a lighthearted “For now. . . Until I decide to have kids and then it will all go to funding their college tuition!” (or something equally “light” if you do have kids).
I actually don’t think you should let these types of comments get to you as much . . . there are far worse things a client or a colleague could say to us . . . I say we should just brush this type of comment as an attempt by the client to make friendly banter.
I think Reader O’s comeback was good, provided that 1) the tone was light and not attacking, and 2) the client was someone she knew would take it as such.
I also agree with LH above that I don’t think the comment was overly sexist … I think that such a remark might occur with any overt status symbol. That’s the risk you take wearing or using any big ticket item at work (which I know has been covered in other Corporette posts). Although it might be in somewhat poor taste for someone to comment on another’s accessories or possessions, when you’re in a service profession -especially as an associate!- you must take into consideration “how is my big-ticket item going to look to someone who is paying me”? I’m not saying don’t wear it, I’m simply saying you shouldn’t be taken aback by a client commenting on it.
E.g. I live and practice in a small town, and have occasionally carried a Chanel bag to social functions. If anybody asks, I am completely comfortable telling them that “it was inherited from my great aunt” (true), but I probably wouldn’t use such an obviously expensive bag in my area (where I am guaranteed to run into clients) otherwise. It’s a “know your audience” issue!
Come on ladies, have a little humor! Guys like to banter! Her response was witty and if said in a light-hearted way I think that a man could appreciate it. Men talk to each other like that. I was in the military and watched very carefully how my collegues interacted with each other. I put my own spin on this interaction and it has worked wonderfully for me.
As a well-paid lawyer, I will judge anyone who spends that kind of money on a purse the same as I will judge someone who spends crazy amounts on a car, a Rolex, etc….and not well.
You have the right to spend your money as you wish, but your choices are a reflection of your values. I will take note of your value choice here, same as I would take note of the value choice of the married father of three who abandons his family for a mistress.
Margaret Jane Powers
I’ve enjoyed responding in similar situations, “No, I am independently wealthy.”, because normally their fees couldn’t begin to pay for it all.
A lot of these comments are making me cringe a little. If you wear an Obvious Status Symbol, like a LV bag or Louboutin shoes, then you need to be prepared to handle the comments. Many people will think that you are wearing the Obvious Status Symbol because you want the comments that go with blatant presentations of wealth, or because you are proud of being rich. There are plenty of lovely, expensive, exclusive products that you can wear that aren’t also conversation points.
I also think you need to Know Your Client. If you’re in Manhattan working for hedge funds and I-banks, then go ahead and rock the bling. If you’re in Legal Aid (like coffeequeen posted), or if you’re in the Bay Area working with cash-strapped start-ups, consider whether you want to wear the Obvious Status Symbols. Maybe you do. But the reality is that the Obvious Status Symbols send a message. Don’t wear them unless you like the message that they are sending.
Finally, if you do wear the Obvious Status Symbols, just own it. Please don’t defend, explain, or rationalize. I find that a smile, a laugh, a light touch goes a long way.
This has happened to me numerous times. And often the men say/ask “Did your husband buy it for you?” No thank you very much, I can afford and choose to purchase the item for myself. I think the Rolex comment was appropriate – especially as it points out in a less-confrontational way the bigotry in the statement.
As an in house counsel at a fortune 150 company and client to about 35 different outside counsel, I would never say anything about an outside counsel’s dress. However, outside counsel should be aware that what they carry/wear sends a message. I would leave my LV at home during work hours. Did you earn it? Sure. Do you deserve it? Absolutely. Will it send a message to a client that you live a luxurious lifestyle with excess money burning a hole in your pocket? You bet. Is this how you want your clients to perceive you? That’s up to you.
I don’t see anyone else yet pointing this out. How about accepting that the materialism on display is offensive, more than the comment he made? Both his and the OP. People who spend this much money on items like this are excessively focused on image and vanity. There are a lot of people in need in the world. All this stuff causes a lot of waste. I get most things second hand- including some very nice items but not show-off uber designer brands- because the main point of those is just that. I won’t carry anything with a visible label. It’s odd that every one here is so offended and defensive about someone calling it like it is. That IS where the legal fees are going in the case of the few thousand for that purse. Not to buy a piece of forest to preserve, not to a charity, not to a relative in need, not to a kid’s education fund, etc. I’m not advocating to give away every dollar you earn, but come on. You bought an overpriced purse that cost far less to make and only costs that because of the brand, which you are feeding into the economy of vanity and show-off wealth. (There is NO other reason it needs to cost that much, sorry). That doesn’t make his watch any better, but please stop crying tears for yourself.
Yes, I realize this will completely inflame most everyone. But from the poster last week who said she felt the quality of posts and commentary has declined, I agree. I am a busy professional with a kid and not only could care less about L Vuitton bags or what people say to those who carry them, I have a negative view. Of course, birds of a feather can enjoy that shopping/status thing among themselves- and will surely argue that we all have our ‘things’ but frankly most people do not, of that level of spendy materialism. So just voicing a controversial yet practical opinion here. This post is less about mean clients and more about the subculture of materialistic, shallow lawyers and their clients. Do something better with your time, folks, for the world or your families or yourself.
“Of course, birds of a feather can enjoy that shopping/status thing among themselves- and will surely argue that we all have our ‘things’ but frankly most people do not, of that level of spendy materialism. ”
Sure they do. Your “spendy” area is in excessive judgment of random strangers.
You are out of touch if you think multi-thousand dollar watches and bags are the norm in the world. Sure, there’s a segment that does, and cars/TVs etc., but most have far less to work with and many make different choices. I think there is not enough judgment of these values, honestly; the culture and waste this behavior promotes isn’t helping build core connection or .uality in our communities. See: entire post and thread
Your comment is a red herring. The morality of spending a lot of money on a handbag is irrelevant to the propriety of the client’s comment. If you looked down on a coworker for being, in your opinion, too promiscuous in her personal life, would you think that makes it ok for male coworkers to make inappropriate, unwanted sexual comments to her?
If she came to work showing off a set of dirty thongs to a client, yes.
Thank you very much for expressing far more eloquently what I was thinking when I posted my comment.