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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Dressing Appropriately

Dear Sue: I work for a very small company. The dress code is casual and the bosses’ son wears blue jeans most of the time. Today my boss told me that my skirt was too short. I felt really uncomfortable and picked on. Other girls wear mini skirts and he hasn’t said anything. I think that there may be another reason I am the one he is complaining about. What do you think?

– Singled out

Sue Says: I think that you should save the mini skirt for after-hours, regardless of who else is wearing them. The issue is that the mini skirt you wore was perceived by your boss as too short, and inappropriate for work. Your skirt might have been just a little shorter or tighter than what others have worn, and crossed the line of what is respectful for the workplace. Take your cue on how to dress from your boss rather than the other girls. You can’t be sure that your boss has never complained to other employees nor can you be certain you are being singled out.

There is a difference between dressing casually and dressing inappropriately. You need to take a good look at the image you project. Mini skirts, tight clothing and baring cleavage don’t do a thing to enhance your on-the-job image; in fact, it is a distraction for most people. Dressing proactively and inappropriately takes the focus off of your skills and onto your body and sexuality – not what you want or need to be taken seriously. Although you work in a casual environment, casual doesn’t mean careless. Many employers struggle with ways to enforce appropriate dress and dislike having to play the “fashion police”, but when an employee’s image stands out, it is a distraction and must be dealt with.

Take a good look at yourself and the image you project. Don’t pay too much attention to the other girls at your level and what they are wearing, but notice what people in higher positions are wearing and emulate them. If you are confused about what is expected, then ask your boss for clarification. I realize you may feel that what you wear should be a personal decision, but when it becomes the topic of discussion as it has for you, it is no longer a private matter. Pay attention to the feedback you are getting – difficult as it may be to listen to, your boss is doing you a favor. Your success in the workplace is dependent on more than the skills you have and the job you perform. Your image is an integral part of your success, and ultimately can influence your changes for promotion and the way people respond to you.

Dear Sue: I am part of a family owned business and I am absolutely miserable. My husband and I run this business together. Although I would rather do something else such as go to school, I am needed here. I am unhappy because I have no idea how to handle some of the details of the business. I am young, and sometimes feel all alone in trying to be responsible for so much because it is a small business. What can we do?

– Married to the business

Sue Says: First, you need to talk with your husband and tell him how overwhelmed you are. Don’t do it in the middle of a busy day, but at a time when you are away from the office.

Second, you need to determine if you have an interest in the business or not. Are you working there out of obligation? If you could go to school and learn the skills you feel you are lacking, would you be happier working there? If so, there may be a way for you to go to school and continue to work in the business.

It is important to realize that you do not have to be stuck in this business forever. Although it may be difficult to think of leaving since it is your business, people make changes all the time. You need to look at your options and your vision for your future. You are too young to feel that you have no dreams to pursue and stay in a job you loathe.

Consider hiring help – too often in a small business, the owners feel the need to do everything. Delegating some of the work load and getting help is essential. You have many options available to you. You need to explore them and make some decisions about your future before you begin to see even bigger problems in your business – or worse yet, your marriage.

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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