Want to get ahead? Cover that cleavage, says research

A few days ago, The Sun reported on a survey undertaken by Stylecompare.co.uk, a fashion website, that found that about six out of 10 bosses cited women showing too much cleavage as the ultimate fashion offence. 

According to the UK tabloid, female managers were more offended than men, with 65 per cent placing too much cleavage at the top of a list of fashion blunders. This compared with 45 per cent of male bosses.

Other faux pas identified in women’s office fashion were jeans, Ugg boots, frayed clothing, bling jewellery, fake tans, and visible bra straps or thongs.

This is not the first time that we have explored the turbulent waters of what to wear at work. Last December we discussed guidance provided in a 43-page booklet issued by UBS, the Swiss bank, on appropriate officewear. There, too, women were advised to undo shirt buttons no more than one or two inches below the collarbone, certainly without revealing any cleavage.

Older readers may remember Melanie Griffith’s portrayal in Working Girl of ambitious secretary Tessa McGill, who suffers from enormous hair and a failure to read executive dress code. One memorable line from the film, “I have a head for business and a body for sin,” succinctly defines the challenge McGill faces – and her journey to the corner office requires a makeover that includes ditching her six-inch heels, lengthening her skirts and covering that cleavage.

What many of us seek is that nuanced balance between sexless androgyny and suggestiveness when it comes to executive style. Visible underwear and shows of bosom do not belong in the office, and as for Ugg boots – oh, puh-lease.



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About our bloggers

Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.