Is Workplace Cleavage Ever Acceptable?


women at the officeThe world of business attire has changed over the years. Thankfully we have many more options for looking professional and feeling confident without being forced to wear the proverbial suit. But along with the more relaxed business attire has come more exposure to skin. And we’re not talking just arms and legs, we’re talking about breasts in the workplace.

I once found myself in an awkward moment when trying to present work across a table to a woman whose shirt was so low cut you could see her navel. I was trying to be buttoned up and serious about my presentation, but the image of her breasts made the whole conversation disconcerting. So is cleavage in the workplace ever okay?

As far as Ruth Sheldon is concerned, “To cleave or not to cleave; that’s the question. The answer, like most things in life, is: it all depends. Last night’s Golden Globes Awards Show gave us an in-your-face example of America’s obsession with celebrity breasts. But that’s show biz. In most office situations, boob etiquette is best determined by what your female coworkers are wearing. As I see it, when you reveal too much of the goods at work, your girls are shouting, ‘Look at me, not my brains.’ Although cleavage will get you noticed, it’s not the best strategy to give you a push up the corporate ladder.”

“I love cleavage and I find it sad to admit the closest I have come to having buxom bosoms was when I was nine months pregnant and measured a measly 36C. You bet I flaunted my girls! In my personal life. The workplace is a different story. I am all about commanding the attention of my peers and my mentors, but with my brain and stellar ideas, not my bust. I say ‘no’ to cleavage in the work place, just as I say ‘no’ to low-rise pants revealing sexy unmentionables and other cracks south of the panty-line equator. I am not suggesting high collars and conservative frocks, but if you are serious about your professional presence, there are plenty of ways to highlight your femininity without showing too much skin. Work is about work, ladies. It’s not about the twins,” said Elizabeth Rago.

Myrdin Thompson had this to say: “First, I want to celebrate the fact that no longer must you dress like a man in order to be taken as seriously as a man in the workplace. I am thrilled that you have greater freedom to express yourself in your attire and that you have been able to adapt the styles put forth either in a fashion magazine or on Pinterest with your meager salary. However, just because a magazine tells you that you can wear a leather bustier to work as long as you also pair it with a conservative blazer and pearls, does not mean it is a good idea. Wearing your happy hour ensemble during your working hours only makes me think your head and heart want to be someplace else, not preparing the quarterly report. You have more sense than that. Please use it. You can be bold and brassy while being classy. As the saying goes, “check yourself before you wreck yourself,” because your co-workers respect will be lost even if you still have your job.”

“Cleavage, aka the great distractor!” said Nicki Anderson. “Whether it’s a work environment, or a parent/teacher conference, when you’re exposed to the undeniable breast crack does it scream sleazy? Or, is it simply a woman that’s proud of her body and oblivious to the attention her cleavage is getting? Are we holding tight to the label “stuffy American” that Europeans charge us with? Or are we justified in expressing our concern when the professional environment becomes a show-n-tell of sorts? The truth is if you want to be taken seriously, what you wear and how you wear it becomes the “decider.” If you have an office meeting and your boss comes in with shirt collar open and chest hair peeking through, is it the same? Personally, yes. It is certainly more than I care to see at the office.”

“I have heard some women say that showing cleavage is really irrelevant, if you’re good at what you do, and you’re professional, it shouldn’t matter. I disagree. Coming to work in a short, tight skirt, pants that are too tight (men guilty too) or a blouse that screams, “The girls have arrived!” is in my humble opinion, unprofessional. How you dress speaks volumes, and in my world, dressing appropriately eliminates all doubt about promotions and why they’re given. It may be stuffy to object to obvious cleavage, but then again, I’m an American, that’s how I roll,” replied Nicki.

So what’s your take on cleavage in the workplace? Do you take a woman less seriously if she’s flaunting “the girls”? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

15 Responses to “Is Workplace Cleavage Ever Acceptable?”

  1. Funny stuff and I agree with this story. Your work should do the talking, not your skin. Women should be women and not dress like men, but also still be professional. The same rule holds true for men. I once saw a man take off his shirt at the office to show people his tattoos. The next day, clients were complaining. So the rules apply to men and women. It’s about professionalism and appropriateness.

    Suz Murphy
  2. Attractive people of either gender, use every tool at their disposal. Simply because you are attractive, does not mean thast you less competent (nor does it mean you are). Cleavage, brief hemlines and form fitting wardrobe on a fit form do distract. So if you think your presentation is more impressive than your content, if it will enhance your chance, go ahead. However, if your content is great, do you really want to distract from it?

  3. “‘Look at me, not my brains.’ Although cleavage will get you noticed, it’s not the best strategy to give you a push up the corporate ladder.” I just had to smile at this, no pun intended I am sure ;)

    I agree, workplace cleavage should be a “no-no” unless your workplace calls for it, ie. strip club, movie set, etc. Women for decades have worked hard to be recognized for more than the sum of their bodies. A workplace wardrobe can show your uniqueness and creativity through colors, accessories and unique styles. But save showing off “the girls” for fun not work and professionalism.

    Shawna Bell
  4. Great article. I agree that no cleavage in a typical office environment is breast. Oops, I meant best. Seriously, you want people to take you seriously at work and not be distracted. I have seen men in unbuttoned shirts in an office before, and that was distracting and unprofessional – same goes for women. I would give pregnant and nursing women a break, though.

  5. I agree that cleavage in a professional environment is not acceptable. I am a perfectly straight woman with no interest in breasts, but when some woman has her “girls” hanging out, I can’t look away. It’s distracting. I mean, really distracting. To everyone.

    • Showing cleavage at work deteriorates trust and is counterproductive. As a man, if a woman has to use her breasts to sell her idea/product/service, then there’s a good chance the idea/product/service is a real lemon. Also, when a woman in a high power/influence position covers herself up, I and other men assume she got to the high power position via hard work, intelligence, and legitimate skill in her field. When a woman in a high power position shows a lot of cleavage or wears a super short skirt, we men assume she got her promotions by sleeping with a lot of her managers or customers.

      • Jc is absolutely right that too much cleavage “deteriorates trust.” The men (and women) who notice a woman using her “assets” in that way don’t trust her, and they won’t trust (male) management if it is perceived that she is being rewarded for doing so.

  6. I agree that cleavage should not be shown, but unfortunately in some situations–like my current work situation–it most definitely can benefit the exhibitrix. Apparently so can flirting and drinking alone with male managers. One woman in my fairly small office engages in such behavior on a regular basis, while the rest of the women refrain. While she is a good worker, she has been rewarded far beyond her actual accomplishments and has received many perks the rest of us can hope to get. That has caused a lot of resentment on the part of the men and women in the office who actually respect our marriages, and the marriages of the male managers who enjoy the attention they get from her. That she chooses to not “fight fair” has made her unpopular.

  7. hi all
    Can I ask you do you think its okay for women to use the power of their cleavage in the office even though its distracting to men- are women aware of how distracting it can be to men and maybe interfere with their concentration. As a man I find it distracting
    Why are more women nowadays showing more cleavage and dressing sexier in the office – do they not realize that its distracting to men

    • I know it’s distracting for men, I’m not sure if all women do. My opinion is there is a time and a place for it and it’s not the office.

      Holly Pavlika
  8. Love the article… on a legal stand point…. I am an Office Mgr. and employ a very large busted lady, and the only tops she seems to own are VERY low cut and worn constantly. The office I run is a…. construction company! Yes a male dominated company…. I have had many mentions and one (kinda)complaint about “her” attire. How do I approach the subject of taming the tops/shirts in this industry in legal way?…. Remember… male dominated construction co… yes “inappropriate content” discussions daily, (that have been addressed daily)….but if the “guys” are coming to me commenting on “too much” about her dress, how do I address it legally with her? Thank you in advance.

  9. My experience, women that show them are very defensive about it and looking to ensure you aren’t (looking that is). If you don’t want them ogled, don’t show them. Show a little, ok. Show a lot, don’t get upset if someone looks at them and act like that person is deviant. Remarking to others about how someone looked at your “girls” when you have them on display is ignorant.

    Old man
  10. I googled this topic as it had been on my mind — yesterday my new female manager (meaning I got promoted to work in her department) called me into her office She is a large woman (fat) with large breasts. She has always struck me as classless in that she lacks diplomacy, tact, empathy, and manners. When I came in, I felt deeply disconcerted because her breasts were seriously hanging out. She then bent over on the desk,flopped them there, exposing them — pretty much everything was exposed but the nipple.

    To me, her display was unprofessional, undermining my trust and respect for her. As a heterosexual woman, I also felt deeply uncomfortable and sexually harassed. I didn’t know where to put my eyes as her breasts flopped around in front of me. I had to consciously avoid looking at them. Energy and focus that should have been concentrating on her message were instead diverted to my trying to avoid looking at them.

    Granted, the woman will soon be going on maternity leave. However, she is a control freak and a greedy materialist (no compassion for customers — just wants to “squeeze as much money as we can get out of them” regardless of the pain inflicted upon them.) I see her as largely immoral anyway. Did I mention she also treats people horribly? To me, her breast exposure was a power play to stamp her dominance on the office and use her feminine power to her advantage to reap whatever benefits she thought would be available to her regardless of the discomfort created.


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