Do You Show Your Cleavage To Get Ahead In Business?

Businesswoman using cell phone in office
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While it is true that most of the world revolves around a beauty culture (what constitutes beauty varies from place to place, but in every society there are standards) there is a huge difference between accentuating your inner beauty on the outside and just showing off a hot body.

With summer just around the bend, you may be tempted to wear more revealing clothing. That’s okay – but only to a point. Here are some year-round guidelines to help you understand how to dress for work to get ahead – and not get fired for being too sexy.

Avoid “high-cut/low-cut” attire. 

Wearing a too-tight or super short dress/skirt or showing off your cleavage is not a skill; it is not making a powerful business statement -- it is a fashion statement that also speaks to your values, and more often than not sends the message to others that you may be relying too much on your physical appearance and not enough on your other attributes. 

How often do you see an employment ad that reads “must be willing to show lots of cleavage?” Admittedly, there are some jobs where an employer wants to exploit your outer beauty, but for the general workplace, most employers expect you to simply dress appropriately for the office and not provocatively.

Dressing for success and dressing for attention.

Dressing for success puts the emphasis on your professional side, not your “backside.” When you dress to over accentuate your physical attributes, that’s exactly what people will focus on first. You don’t want to be identified as the “administrative assistant” with the nice “rack.” You want to be thought of as the woman who can be counted on to get things done.

  • If you have to wear provocative clothing to get noticed, people are going to notice you for all the wrong reasons.
  • Wearing an appropriate business suit or work attire will show others that you are serious about your job and not there to pick up men (or women).
  • Dressing appropriately shows respect for your employer, and, if you are self-employed, it shows respect for your clients and customers.
  • Dressing appropriately shows you are a team player and do not have the need to show off and stand out among the crowd based on the amount of curves and skin you show off.
  • In the unfortunate event you are sexually harassed at work, or discriminated against based on your gender, like it or not, if you dress to show off your “goodies” too much, you will be taken less seriously if you file a complaint. Maybe that does not seem fair, but it is how the system works.

Why You Should Keep “The Girls” And Gams Under Control

In certain professions (mostly limited to the entertainment industry) it is necessary (and expected) to show off your best physical features, but that applies to industries that rely on physical beauty to get work. The corporate workplace simply is not the place to dress like you are getting ready for your photo-shoot in a woman’s magazine (or worse, for a “men’s magazine.) You need to tone down any look that shouts “look at my ….”

Before you start protesting that women have a right to dress anyway that they want and men should deal with it, hear me out a little.  Employers have rights, too.  They have the right to expect you will honor their dress codes and appreciate that you are not just representing yourself; you are representing your employer.  You should dress to make your company look good – not just yourself.

There is nothing wrong with dressing nicely or adorning yourself with tasteful jewelry and heels, but when you start to go too far outside the dress code box at work, the results are rarely worthwhile.

You can be fired for dressing inappropriately at work if there is a written dress code that is enforced company-wide (kids can get suspended from school for not complying with a dress code – adults can get fired.) In fact, “at-will” employees can pretty much be terminated without any reason given whatsoever. The law permits an employer to fire an at-will employee without giving them any notice or even a reason why they are being let go.

It is okay to…

  • … wear a skirt above the knee as long as it is still long enough to maintain modesty when you bend over or sit down and cross your legs.
  • … wear high heels as long as they are not stilettos.
  • … dress for the job you want and not necessarily the one you have. (For example, in most offices, is fine for a secretary to wear a plain dress – wearing a suit every day may send the message to management you are taking your job seriously, and you will be more likely to be remembered when a promotion comes alone.)

    It is never okay…

    • … to go to work without underwear on while wearing a skirt, dress, or any type of pants that are sheer enough to clue others in that you are going commando. In fact, you should avoid wearing anything that shows off your panty lines – either your clothes are too sheer, too tight, or that g-string needs to go.
    • … to show off your bra. Keep shirts appropriately buttoned, don’t wear bras that show through your shirt or blouse, and don’t wear bras in place of camis. It is also never okay to go braless at work.
    • … to wear evening attire (cocktail dress or other formal evening wear) to your day job. If you are going somewhere special after work (this includes office parties) bring evening clothes to change into or go home and change.
    • … to wear flip-flops or casual sandals unless your office specifically has a casual dress day that permits these things. Even on a casual dress day it is better to opt out and be a little more business-like if you are meeting with clients, management, or customers.
    • … to wear nightwear as daywear. Negligée tops and fancy pajamas are not blouses and should not be worn as such – even under a jack.

      The bottom line is that you have a responsibility to your employer to dress accordingly and when it comes to dressing appropriately at work, that does not include flaunting your “bottom” line.