"I was told to leave and buy a new top." 5 women on being told to change outfits at work.

Ever been told to go home and change because your outfit is not “work appropriate“? You’re not alone.

A recent survey out of the UK found one in 10 women had been ordered to change their outfit while at work, with a further 16 per cent taken aside and told not to wear that dress/top/skirt again. That’s one in four women who’ve been met with a request to dress differently in the workplace.

So is it fair enough? Well, judging from the experiences of the Mamamia staffers we spoke to at least, not really.

‘I was told to leave and buy a new top.’

I was working as a cocktail waitress in Boston when I was 23. Our ‘uniform’ was a pair of denim shorts and a black singlet, even in the winter. Our manager suddenly decided she wanted us to wear racerback singlets, and I had one day to go out and buy one. I wore it to work, but I hadn’t had a chance to buy a brand new bra to go with the style of the singlet, so you could see my bra straps at the back. She told me to leave work, and go and buy another top (even though… the top wasn’t the problem). I cried because #feminism

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‘I was wearing a skirt from our own store.’

One day I rocked up to my retail job where it was compulsory to wear only clothes that were in stock. Typically, I wouldn’t have worn the black denim skirt that I did to work – I’m 179cm tall, and skirts can be, well… short on me. Unfortunately, all the other items I owned had sold out in store over the Christmas period, and buying new stuff was pretty pricey, so it was really my only option. It was quite awkward because my boss asked me to change as soon as I walked in, she forced me to buy something else to wear on the spot which seemed pretty unreasonable given I was 18 and was earning about $15 an hour.


‘She didn’t want people to “get the wrong idea” about me.’

I had only been working in my first full-time job a few months and still on a uni-student budget with not a lot of spare cash for clothes. (Did I mention this job was not high paying?) So as a 21-year-old I was making do with what was in my wardrobe already and doing a pretty good job of it I thought. Then one day, while wearing a black top and a red denim skirt that was on the shorter side, I was called into my female boss’s office. There she told me that my clothing choices were inappropriate. Part of my job meant I was often and “out in the community” and she didn’t want people to “get the wrong idea about me”. I could have handled being told to wear longer skirts if it didn’t come with a side of slut-shaming.

Sometimes it's not what you're told, but how it's said. (Image via Getty.)

'I was wearing black jeans and a nice top.'

I got told at my old workplace that if they sponsored me, I would have to start "dressing properly like Rachel" (my co-worker). So smart dresses and suits I guess. I was wearing black jeans and a nice top at the time - it certainly wasn’t offensive and I had no client facing meeting that day. It really annoyed me, my immediate response was to laugh, and ask if it was a joke. It wasn’t. The job was working for a financial company, so I had to be more corporate and he said I "looked like a student". I sucked it up and went and bought a new wardrobe because I really wanted to stay in the country.

'He told us to wear makeup.'

While at uni I worked at a children's play centre - where all the local mums would go for a chat with their girlfriends over a skinny cap while their kids played in a ball pit.

Part of the job was hosting kids parties, which also involved us dressing up like a princess or a pirate and running party games for a herd of four-year-olds.

Anyway one staff meeting - held on a Saturday evening when the centre was empty myself and a few of the girls were pulled aside and asked to "come to work looking more awake and not so much like we had just rolled out of bed" - which took us all by surprise because we always wore the uniform, had our hair in the ponytail they asked for with a matching ribbon. So one of them asked what they meant exactly - and the general manager - who was a bloke mind you - replied with - "a little makeup wouldn't go astray". Yes, really.

What do you think? Is the dress code policy a bit sexist?