I was recently quoted in Huffington Post Canada regarding the unspoken etiquette rules on cleavage in the workplace. When dressing for work, the line between attractive and provocative can be easily blurred. Often, the two terms can overlap. Studies have actually shown that women who dress too sexy at work can hinder their careers and may be viewed as less competent (Journal of Social Psychology study).
Here are a few tips for those in a cleavage conundrum:
More skin is less power. If any part of your cleavage is visible, button up, your professional reputation is at stake.
Measure up. The standard rule is that a shirt should fall two inches above the cleavage. It’s distracting to tug and pull at your blouse when talking to a colleague or coworker. Just as you wouldn’t fidget with your hair, you should keep your hands away from your upper torso.
Protect your reputation. Like it or not, your choice of clothing speaks volumes about what you want people to notice. You are solely responsible for your professional “brand”, which does not include too short, too tight or too revealing.
Dress for your size. When you have a curvier figure, finding clothes that fit properly can be an extra challenge. Tailoring is a must. A silk or cotton underpinning (a.k.a. a camisole or tank) is a great way to raise the neckline on lower cut shirts, or an awkward fitting blouse that dips a little too low because you are well endowed. Another option is to buy your buttoned shirts one size larger, and have them tailored to fit.
Take a picture. For a quick, easy way to get another perspective on your look, ask a trusted friend to take a photo of you in your work clothes. Sometimes we don’t realize how we look to others. This is a good way to see how you are presenting yourself and what others see when they look at you. Adjust accordingly.
Focus on style. Spend some time looking at different blouse options and select clothing that makes the most of your individual size. If you have no idea where to begin, consider using the services of a personal shopper or ask for help from a friend who is a style-savvy professional.
Handling distracting displays at work. What do you do if you are around someone who is continuously bearing their breasts? Before you break out your ruler to enforce the “2 inch rule”, determine if you are close enough to share your concerns. If the answer is “yes”, you may privately talk to her. If the answer is no, confidentially discuss the issue with your supervisor and leave it up to them. Ultimately it’s their call as to how the company will decide to proceed.
Look up. You are always in control of your eye contact. Look directly into your co-workers eyes and keep focused on the conversation.
For more tips on professional attire for women, refer to my library of articles on this topic.