My boss told me I needed a new bra

Ok, I don’t know what to do.

My boss called me into her office as I was heading home. It was 2 hours past time for me to leave, but I stayed to help her do monthly reports. She had me sit in the chair closest to her in her office and she shut the door. She told me that she is changing my dress code and along with this I need to change my bra to one that is more supportive. I am currently pumping at work because my baby is 9 mo old. I only pump one time on the clock but management has been jerks about this from the start.

I can’t wear a tight bra, but my bra certainly is supportive. She then made comments about my hair and lack of jewelry. She then said that I also smelled bad. She said she knew I was homely and earthy but then asked if I wore deodorant!!! I said yes! Then she made me tell her what kind. This was the most humiliating conversation I have ever had. Can my employer mandate the type of bra I wear? She literally told me to go to Victoria secret to get fitted and talked to me like I have never worn a bra before. Humiliating! She then stood up and made me give her a hug…. A hug!! I was furious. What should I do?

I’d like the answer to be, “Your boss is a horrible jerk! You should report her to HR and her boss and notify the papers!” But, that’s not actually the correct answer. The correct answer depends on a whole heck of a lot of variables.

Is she normally a nice person? This actually means a lot, because if she is normally a nice person, she truly believes you need the help and advice she’s offered you. Nice people don’t like to tell people that their bras don’t fit right and that they smell bad. If she’s a nice person, the hug at the end was to assure you that she thinks you’re a great person and you just need to change a few things.

Obviously, you didn’t take it that way. I wouldn’t either. I don’t care for hugging, and I wouldn’t handle it well if my boss told me to get a new bra and then hugged me. Frankly, I’d be creeped out. But, if she’s nice, you need  to consider the following:

  • You may actually need a different bra. Nursing can do strange things to your body. A 9-month-old is probably eating quite a bit of solid food, so you may be going through some shape changes and your current bra really doesn’t fit. You also may be losing that pregnancy weight and, like me, the first area to shrink is the area I don’t want want to shrink. Seriously, couldn’t my behind shrink instead?
  • You may smell. Let’s talk hormones! Okay, I’m not a doctor, but I am observant. As your hormones change, your sweat may change and the deodorant you’ve used for years may stop working.
  • Are hair and jewelry important? You didn’t say what it is you do, but those things can be very important in some jobs and completely irrelevant in others. If you’re the person selling high end makeup in a department store and you’re not wearing any makeup now, this can be a huge problem. On the other hand, if your job involves sitting in a cube and writing emails and you never talk to other humans face to face, this would be a ridiculous thing.

So, if she’s a nice person, and it’s possible that she’s correct, the best thing to do is buy a new bra, change brands of deodorant and change your hairdo.

Is she normally a jerk? What if she’s constantly critical? What if she’s annoyed that you take time out to pump. (The laws around pumping at work are pretty stupid. If you’re exempt, you aren’t entitled to pumping time.)  What if she’s still bitter that you took FMLA time and would prefer to have someone there who didn’t have to worry about a baby? Then it’s a different ballgame.

First, you need to consider that even jerks can be right. Evaluate your bra, your deodorant, and your appearance. If they need fixing, then swallow your pride and fix them and let it go–even if she is a jerk.

But, if you evaluate all that and she’s just flat out wrong, Then you can go back to her and say, “Jane, I double checked my bras, and they fit properly. I don’t smell bad. My hair and makeup are the same today as they’ve been the whole time I’ve worked here. Can you explain why you brought this up now?”

Let her answer.  If her answer isn’t an apology, it’s time to bring HR into it. Explain what happened and ask for their advice. Explain that, in addition, you’ve received a lot of criticism for pumping (and please state from whom), and that that is inappropriate (or violates laws, depending on where you live and what your status is). Regardless of the law, pumping once a day on the clock should be no big deal. People spend more time on Facebook.

A note to managers. The time to bring up dress code problems is when they first appear–not after someone has a baby, breaks a leg, or gets diagnosed with cancer. If you wait to address a problem, chances are something will happen that will make bringing it up look suspect.


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28 thoughts on “My boss told me I needed a new bra

  1. This is meant in the nicest, most objective way possible. Please receive it as such.

    Being a male, I choose to not comment on areas where I don’t have expertise. Based on things I’ve seen at several offices, the deodorant comment seems like a nice way that this person is telling you have body odor, perhaps others think you do too, perhaps they’ve talked to your manager.. You probably can’t smell it yourself because it’s you. Earthy is another “nice” keyword for body odor. So you can use anti-perspirant because it stops smell from happening as opposed to deodorant which is just smell that tries to mask B.O. I’ve seen two coworkers in the past who smelled terribly and had no idea they smelled at all: their B.O. was so so so bad. I’ve also had some coworkers who had a sickeningly sweet smell, so sickening that I felt like vomiting when I was near them and I know they put some stuff on because there is no way in nature that any human could ever smell that way.

    Going way back we had a French kid at summer camp who put deodorant on whenever he started to sweat. Eventually we threw him in the shower, clothes and all, and wouldn’t let hime come out till he washed himself with lots of soap. He learned real fast that he needed to shower with soap every day and wash his hair too. Deodorant by itself was a joke. If a bunch of teenagers punished someone for smelling you can imagine how bad it was. Does this apply to you?

    I didn’t see hair in the query but perhaps lke Frenchie, it is in line with the B.O. comments: wash it more regularly to keep it clean.

    Regardless of the manager’s style, I see this as a huge wakeup call to you. As hard as it is to just suck it up, please heed the call and address the issues.

    1. > as opposed to deodorant which is just smell that tries to mask B.O

      The deal is that BO comes from bacteria living on the chemicals in your sweat. The exact chemical makeup is different for different people and can change with your diet as well as over your lifetime, and that’s probably why different products work better for different people.

      Anti-persperants work by stopping the sweat glands that it touches from sweating. No sweat = no chemicals for those bacteria to live on = no stink.

      Deoderant is not perfume. Rather, it works by stopping the chemical action of the bacteria. Sweat with no chemical action = no BO. For the most part, deoderant must be applied BEFORE sweating.

      But for both products, they only affect the areas they actually touch. And a LOT more of the body creates odors than just the armpits (which is where soap comes in, and laundry.) The crotch is also a good source of stink, especially for teenagers.

    2. One other thing to consider, even if I wear the clinical strength deoderant, if I have a lot of anxiety one day, I can still have a bit of BO. But your have to get up pretty close to me. I wonder if she has this or something similar that’s hormone related going on.

  2. No. NO NO NO.

    If the OP actually smells bad, and there have been complaints from coworkers, then I suppose there’s no other alternative than the supervisor confronting her about it.

    But her bra? No way. It’s inappropriate and humiliating. Her lack of jewelry? Unless she’s working in a jewelry store, I don’t see how that’s an issue (and I wonder if any of the OP’s male coworkers are berated for their lack of jewelry).

    This response is very disappointing.

    1. It depends on the job. Most jobs it should be irrelevant, but not all.

      And in an inappropriate bra can be a real issue.

      1. I’m sure she’s wearing nursing bras. They may be getting old and stretched out. But if she’s only going to nurse another month or two, this is a very expensive thought. It’s hard to say if she could afford it.

    2. I am with Dana; I am disappointed in your response to this letter. How supportive a bra is, or isn’t, is no business of an employer. I am curious as to why anyone would think it is okay for an employer to comment on and “manage” how perky or saggy someone’s breasts are. Sounds like sexual harassment to me.

    3. I disagree, there are definitely people who need appropriate undergarments in an office. Offices usually have varying levels of formality but most have some sort of dress code and a bra that fits can certainly be part of it.

      Turn this around, it’s completely possible for someone to write in that they have an employee who has a smell issue and their bra is causing dress code issues. That seems like a letter that could very likely come in. I’m not sure why people are saying it’s off limits and inappropriate. It’s definitely a possibility it was out of line but I think there’s a fair chance the LW might need better bras.

      1. BRR, or even Evil HR Woman, in what world should commenting on the perkiness of a woman’s breasts be appropriate in a work environment? What does the perkiness of a woman’s breasts have to do with her professionalism? I am seriously flabbergasted how anyone would think that is okay. Would it be okay for an employer to mandate that male employees wear snug briefs, rather than boxers, because (for whatever equally ridiculous reason) they think that a higher/firmer package is more professional?

        1. I see what you’re saying and in general the whole convo by the boss is strange. But that being said I’m wonderimg if by supportive they meant maybe they’re bouncing around excessively when she’s walking around the office? And second, my BF got talked to once about his package being uh too prominently displayed. He had to buy all new pants and it still shows a bit. He’s not like a horse it’s just the way it hangs

        2. If it’s a real problem, she’s not commenting on the “perkiness” of anyone’s bra. She’s commenting on an inappropriate foundation garment. We can’t see a picture of the OP, so we don’t know whether the boss is crazy or she really does need a new bra.

        3. It’s not about perkiness though. There are multiple possibilities which include a boss being out of line. And it can be a problem for a man’s goods to be displayed as well.

  3. Assuming the boss is a nice person, this must have been beyond awkward for her! (The hug, ugh.) But it does sound like she’s not very, er, supportive, since “management has been jerks” about the pumping.

    At least she told the LR exactly what to fix, instead of a general, “You need to look more professional” which would leave me staring at my mirror wondering WTH I was supposed to do.

  4. Another thing that may not be realized: if you are pumping and nursing excess milk gets on your bra. As a nursing mother I didn’t even notice because I was so used to the smell. I found out one day when I took it off and did housework. As I was cleaning I was trying to find the source of an odor I smelled. Imagine my horror when I realized it was coming from my bra.

    1. I thought about this that maybe the smell was breast milk. Those of us who never had babies find it an odd smell. We’re not used to it. Also maybe if the baby drools on mom before work, it dries and doesn’t show but might smell. I don’t know exactly how she would solve all this.

      Maybe wear a tshirt until baby is dropped off then change. Sounds like a pain.

  5. I understand as a manager this is a conversation you might have to have. But I don’t think this was done well and I understand OP questioning the motivation.

    What is the bra problem? Her nipples show? Her breasts sag? She has too much cleavage? Why does she have to go to Victoria’s Secret? They have nothing for nursing mothers. IMO nothing for anyone above a size 10. She is basically saying nursing bras are not appropriate. Red flag.

    There is no reason at all she needs to know the brand of deodorant. None. What would she gain from that? Oh you should use Secret not Degree. It might be worth it for OP to get a travel deodorant and reapply during the day. But I would also tell her to get some friends to be honest with her.

    The thing about making her sit close and then hugging her is above and beyond inappropriate. The boss does not get a pass on this for being female. Would it be ok for a male boss to do this? You do not hug in the workplace unless you ask and get permission. Never.

    I agree OP should check her bras. They could be getting old. But they might be fine. Make sure your shirts have full coverage. After pumping, use a wet washcloth on your breasts in case of the smell of nursing milk. Reapply deodorant. (You can easily bring a wet washcloth in a sandwich bag and it will stay wet.) Then go back to work and try to put it out of your mind. If your boss hassles you again, ask her to be more specific. Ask her directly if the pumping bothers her. Be prepared to talk to HR. It may not be illegal to hassle you about pumping, but you may get somewhere with expressing your disappointment to HR about the company not supporting a nursing mother.

  6. Wow. This was handled horribly. Hugs from the boss after she just told you your bra is unacceptable and your deodorant isn’t working? Eesh….
    On the other hand, just don’t go to work without a shower and a bra that doesn’t show. We’ve all been exposed to colleagues who are rude and unprofessional. The Colleague Who Farts Because It’s Natural. The Coworker Who Thinks Anything in the Breakroom Fridge is There to be Eaten. The Employee Who Spends an Hour in the Restroom Every Morning. Just don’t be that person.

  7. Maybe it is because I’m male and hugging a female colleague would be waaay out of line that I balk at that.

    But, yea, I was willing to be open-minded in that maybe this was a needed conversation; until the “hug” thing. That one act, especially after such an awkward conversation, makes me think the rest of this boss’ behavior is suspect too.

    I’d even be willing to overlook the stupid “homely” comment; but, given the, no doubt, uncomfortable act of hugging. Screw that.

    And, just who calls another person “homely”? This boss comes across as not knowing how to manage. In the very least she seems to be lacking “people” skills.

    Good luck, OP. Oh, and kudos to you if you continue to work late; after such a conversation I don’t think that I’d be willing to stay even 5 minutes, let alone 2 hours, late to help out ever again.

    1. I wondered about “homely” too: in context of the OP, it seemed to me there was a slim chance that it might mean “kind of a hippie”—but honestly, that would make the best-case scenario that the boss was tactless instead of flat-out awful with that particular word.

      And forced hugging at work? A thousand swearwords in front of “NO.”

  8. “She told me that she is changing my dress code”
    your dress code? not the company’s dress code but one for you specifically? is that even allowed?

    Given that she gives you a hard time for pumping ONCE on the clock, makes you stay 2 hours late even though you have a baby to look after and thinks it’s OK to hug a subordinate, I think it’s fair to say she’s more likely to be in the jerk category.

    Also, who makes comments about the bra/boobs of a nursing mother? is your bra showing through your clothes? I presume you’re an office worker and not a lingerie model, so your bra and boobs are none of her business unless they are on display.

    The only good thing here is that the boss was very specific in her criticism so you have the chance to check whether it this criticism is valid or not. Did you have completely different hair/jewellery and hygiene routine before your baby was born? If not, she’s just picking on you and you need to inform HR.

  9. Hopefully I wont get shouted down, as this is my first time commenting on here after reading this website for a while.
    But I have to agree with Roger Rabbit, and I’m commenting this in a nice way.
    These conversations that managers have to have with their reportees can be just as awkward for them as it is for the person on the other end of the conversation.
    I think you genuinely should listen to her comments and take heed of them. Nursing bras aren’t the most supportive and often are not the most covering of bras so perhaps she’s trying to tell you that they’re not fitting you well, or it’s showing a lot of nipple perhaps, or that you’ve leaked a bit and its a bit smelly?
    I don’t think the Victorias Secret is meant as ‘buy your bras from there’ but go and get properly measured now it’s been 9 months since having your baby and your breast may have changed shape and size so much your other bras don’t fit as Evil HR Lady wrote also.
    As for the smell, again as people have mentioned I think it may be worth while having a travel size deodorant with you in your handbag. I keep one in my desk draw for if I forget to put it on in the morning or I feel I need to reapply, perhaps do that? it may well be the milk that is the smell.
    Shower more often perhaps, also as obviously as others have mentioned it will freshen you up and clean your hair which is another thing your manager mentioned. Perhaps get it trimmed and cut or perhaps coloured, it’s amazing what a new hair cut can do to your mood as well as over all perception.

    I’d want someone to tell me if any of these things affected me, even the bra thing as I wouldn’t want my nipples being obvious through my top, or really tight causing lumps and bumps, so I think perhaps swallow your pride and make the changes as I’d doubt these comments are baseless and perhaps she’s had comments from other coworkers and such.

    1. I don’t think it’s ok for a nursing mother to go for a bra fitting. That involves trying on bras. Breasts leak and she would be ruining bras for resale for leaking on them. The store doesn’t want that. She could google how to do the fitting measurements and do them at home maybe. But you don’t take nursing breasts to the store so some lady can pull, push, tug, etc. The poor fitter.

      1. Eh, maybe your breasts leaked when you were nursing, but mine didn’t. Okay, now my readers know WAY too much about me.

  10. If a male, especially a supervisor made the same comments and demanded a hug, wouldn’t it be sexual harrassement? If so, why would it not be sexual harrassment from a female supervisor?

    1. I don’t know if it fits sexual harrassment or not but it is wrong. Being female does not matter. No forced hugs in the workplace.

    2. A one time hug after a difficult conversation does not equal sexual harassment.

      I’ve hugged people at work and I hate hugging. Not ever after a difficult conversation–usually after a baby shower or something like that, but still.

  11. I get the feeling this supervisor was trying to be nice and help, if I was this supervisor, I would have never had this convo, would have told HR to do it as coming from a guy, it would never been scene well. As far as bras, there are so many options in terms of what the problem could be, you never know, maybe it was too small of bra or too big or maybe something that wasn’t appropriate. I get that it is a personal thing, but in a business office environment, if she is expected to look professional, having some bra on that is not fitting correctly could come off as non professional. As close as I can come to this, is my undershirts sometimes the colors start to become loose and every few months I just buy new undershirts, but certainly I could see if I kept wearing undershirts that were showing under my polo how it might look tacky…

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