Female students coming to office hours in overly revealing clothing



[because this is potentially relevant, I'm a 37 y/o male]

Being the end of the semester, I've had a bunch of students come to my office hours to ask questions about things I'm responsible for. Among them, there have been a small number of female undergrads that have shown up wearing the kind of clothing that I think is inappropriate for a meeting with a faculty member. I'm not a prude (I hope), but I feel there is something amiss when a 20 y/o undergrad wants to discuss course validation from a neighboring university and then she goes and sits in front of me wearing booty shorts and a very see-through t-shirt (or a tanktop so skimpy that half her bra shows no matter what, or... take your pick). Before someone says anything to the effect, yes, it's summer, but it is not that warm (we're having a nice 20-25 C average these days).

In short, how can I tell these women, politely, that they should think twice about showing up half naked to meetings with faculty members?

Note that I'm not implying that I'm feeling sexually harassed or anything along those lines. Without getting into details, I'm old enough and happily married enough that I don't find college girls sexually appealing anymore. What I'm looking for is a way of telling them meetings with people higher up in the hierarchy have implicit standards, including some pertinent to what you may and may not wear that doesn't sound like a crude rephrasing of oh please why don't you cover up you filthy [censored].


Posted 2016-07-12T12:09:21.617

Reputation: 5 690


This conversation has been moved to chat. Comments are not for extended discussion, and I mean it; further chatty comments will just be deleted, because I can't move to chat twice.

– ff524 – 2016-07-17T02:56:15.653

Related: http://workplace.stackexchange.com/q/30533/31893

– Erel Segal-Halevi – 2016-07-30T20:14:24.443



In short, how can I tell these girls, politely, that they should think twice about showing up half naked to meetings with faculty members?

I can think of 4 situations:

  1. If they are violating a university dress code, you should politely remind them of the policy.

  2. If they are not in violation of a university policy, but their appearance makes you feel sexually harassed, you should follow whatever procedure the university has in place. If the dress code allows for clothing that makes you feel harassed, I would follow the procedure to the letter and not say anything directly to the students. If there is no dress code, you can politely mention that their appearance makes you feel uncomfortable (or you can follow the procedure).

  3. If they are not in violation of a university policy and you do not feel sexually harassed, saying anything is giving them unsolicited advice. While I think it is not out of place for faculty members to give students unsolicited advice, you should do it politely and in a non-judgmental manner.

    Maybe something along the lines of:

    When meeting with someone in a professional setting business causal dress is often preferable, even when not formally required.

  4. Finally, you may want to document the issue with someone in your department. While an extreme case, I had a student who would regularly unbutton her blouse prior to entering my office and button it upon leaving. She would do this immediately outside my door and in my view. This probably qualified as sexual harassment, but I did not care to follow up. I did, however, tell my head of school and director of teaching (as well as making sure my door was always open) so that they were aware of the issue in case she ever raised a complaint.


Posted 2016-07-12T12:09:21.617

Reputation: 74 063

4Option #3 it is, then. – Koldito – 2016-07-12T16:31:31.040

8Meet outside the office. Or in a cafeteria, in public sight. Really, if someone unbuttons the blouse on arriving (and buttons it again on leaving), that means trouble. Good move to document this. – Captain Emacs – 2016-07-12T17:11:12.473

143@Koldito Be extremely careful with #3. While you might not feel sexually harassed, it's very easy for comments on student dress to be taken as sexual harassment of them by you. If you do take option #3, stress "professionalism" and stay away from terms like "half naked". Basically, don't say anything that wouldn't also apply to a guy showing up in a baggy, stained sweatsuit. (Both in details and generalities.) Also be cautious about which students you give the unsolicited advice to. Some may be accepting of it, but others will be more inclined to take offense. – R.M. – 2016-07-12T18:03:50.457

134-1: If they are not in violation of a university policy, that's it. – Massimo Ortolano – 2016-07-12T18:14:33.723

2@CapeCode are you suggesting that my suggested wording is not safe enough? – StrongBad – 2016-07-12T18:37:57.127

8This looks to me pretty much as going to look for problems where there's none. As already pointed out, unless violation of official dress code applies, that's the end of it. – gented – 2016-07-12T19:29:39.203

25@StrongBad I don't think it is your wording that is the problem. It is that the OP seems disproportionately concerned with women. Now, it may be that only women are dressing casually, but I think that is unlikely to be the case. – called2voyage – 2016-07-12T19:54:09.620

1In particular, I'd prefer sending the above unsolicited advice over email, rather than announcing in a student meeting. – svavil – 2016-07-12T21:03:07.653

63I agree with @R.M.; #3's conversation could turn dangerous very quickly. I can easily imagine a girl in that situation feeling very uncomfortable. Imagine being her: so I have broken no rules, and now this older, married man with power over my course grade tells me he's been paying attention to how I dress? – gwg – 2016-07-12T22:03:57.727

11If @Koldito really wants to take option 3, here is how to do it. There is nothing whatsoever to be said to current students. If this is an institution in North America (or somewhere with a similar system), add a suitable statement to all your course syllabi. Clear this with somebody in a suitable position in your department, unless you are that person in which case clear it with your chair. If students violate the policy, you need a consistent response, regardless of the particular way in which they violate it. Personally, I think what you describe is pretty normal, but it clearly bothers you. – cfr – 2016-07-12T23:09:51.880

6This strikes me as a really good answer in theory, but one which will almost assuredly not accomplish the OP's goals and has a high likelihood of causing him significant problems. Best case, the student thinks, "oh hmm." But there are a lot of worst cases or problems which can result from this, none of which are trivial for the OP to successfully navigate. – enderland – 2016-07-13T01:06:26.403

34@MassimoOrtolano, don't be silly. The idea that if something isn't against the official rules then its unproblematic is pretty daft. – goblin – 2016-07-13T02:27:28.877

6@goblin Generally yes, but in this context? One slight misstep and the OP could be facing a sexual harassment case. Unless official rules are being broken, I'm afraid that society is a lot less sympathetic to the OP's point of view. – Cronax – 2016-07-13T05:12:28.053

13@goblin I'm not being silly: in this context, I'm pretty damn serious. – Massimo Ortolano – 2016-07-13T05:28:26.623

5@goblin The idea that we can substitute the issue for 'something' and apply generalities is daft. On this something, it should be the end of it. – Insane – 2016-07-13T09:40:58.633


I read all your comments and I'm wondering if it is not blown out of proportion. Imagine the new mode is coming with shoes filled with dog poos, would it be appropriate?

There is a saying in France that goes like that La liberté des uns s'arrête là où commence celle des autres. (the translation would go like this you have to restraint your freedom in community e.g everything is not possible otherwise it will become abuse from some).

Please read this question and especially the first answer-> http://workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/67475/offensive-bumper-sticker-on-car

– Andy K – 2016-07-13T10:04:24.857

1Of course, when made explicit like this, its really not very persuasive. You might say: "ah! but its entirely possible that Massimo was trying to make a more nuanced argument." Well, I agree: but if so, the onus is really on him to be explicit about what that argument is; since, obviously, the usual guessing method isn't working here. I'm not a mind reader, and neither is anyone else. – goblin – 2016-07-13T11:04:50.653

5Disagree with the answer. The answer forgot/ignored the case of the OP feeling it is inappropriate and lacks any respect to come to his office dressed as if it was the beach. If a guy comes into my office without a shirt, as he's in the beach, I'll tell him the same thing. – Dilworth – 2016-07-14T16:56:29.050

9@AndyK Americans always blow things out of proportion because it's so easy there to sue and harvest money. In this case I can imagine a women dressing inappropriately lightly hoping it will help get her a higher mark, and then if the teacher berate her untactfully she is going to fake offense, sue the university/teacher and basically get away with it potentially ruining the teacher's life if she is cunning enough. So yes, better be extra careful. – Shautieh – 2016-07-15T05:36:15.017

2"unbutton her blouse prior to entering my office and button it upon leaving" -- I take it this wasn't a pointed comment on your thermostat being set too high? – Steve Jessop – 2016-07-15T08:53:51.627

12@Dilworth: if they go to lectures, libraries, and coffee shops dressed like that, then they aren't "dressed for the beach". They're dressed the way they normally dress and there are "a bunch" of them doing this. You and Koldito might not like that some people dress that way normally, and might want to change how they dress in your offices, but nevertheless it's wrong to describe their normal clothing as beachwear, simply on the basis that you personally would only dress that way on a beach. – Steve Jessop – 2016-07-15T08:56:27.757

3@AndyK: half the game in arguing these cases is deciding what extreme analogy you want to draw. Yes, if the style was dog poo then that likely would face immediate resistance from individual faculty members and in short order would be formally banned. So if you choose that extreme analogy then you justify the right of the faculty member to control clothing. But what if the style was for women to wear trousers, and some faculty member demanded that all women wear skirts or dresses to his meetings? By this we justify the right of the students to choose their own clothes, and come out even. – Steve Jessop – 2016-07-15T09:02:49.467

5@Steve Jessop, I disagree. There is a standard attire for going to the beach, and for going to other places like libraries and universities. These are to a certain extent objectively defined matters. It is not me who don't like something; it is the norm that determines which clothes are appropriate to which activity. If these students go with minimal clothing to the library and lectures it is also not okay, and the responsible person should inform them that. In this case the responsible person is the faculty who occupies the office, hence he should be the one informing them on the matter. – Dilworth – 2016-07-15T12:22:29.600

5I also reject the pathological fear that some commenters here express. If someone thinks she was sexually harassed, and I think otherwise, I'm not going to censor my words. We all (hopefully) have free speech, and should exercise it in cases we are certain that what we say is in good faith and are legitimate. Asking for appropriate dressing is certainly legitimate and if someone complains about it I'll be happy to defend myself forcefully. – Dilworth – 2016-07-15T12:26:01.540

6@Dilworth: but how does one asses that it's not them who's correct about the norm, and you who's wrong? How big could this "bunch" be before you admit it's within the bounds of the norm? 5% of students? 100%? It's not "objective" merely to state your opinion as fact. None of "booty shorts", "see-through t-shirts" or "tank tops" strike me as being specifically beach-oriented, so I think a little more care must be taken before deciding that they're all dressed for the beach and not for everyday life. If they're also carrying a surfboard, sure, that's inappropriate for an office call ;-) – Steve Jessop – 2016-07-15T14:55:32.003

11Anyway, the reason StrongBad's answer is correct to talk about university dress codes, is that an institution-wide policy is a better place to look for a local norm applicable to that institution, than your own personal feelings about shorts. If you can't get shorts banned or otherwise disapproved of by policy, then that's probably because your preferences do not conform to the norm and the shorts do conform: then it's not reasonable for each member of staff to invent their own dress code for their office. – Steve Jessop – 2016-07-15T15:01:03.673

Hi @SteveJessop I concur with Dilworth and I concur with you somehow. However, beside the fact of the dress code, should we see school , undergrad or grad, as mere school or more of a portal to the working world?

Forgive me, I'm not American but well it happens to a friend of mine who is American. He graduated valedictorian from his uni but he was gross, (not anymore and you will get the why soon), the kind of guy who was farting in the middle of a uni course and had a laugh with the teacher/professor. Professor would have a laugh 1/2 – Andy K – 2016-07-15T16:52:19.780

with him and his classmates.

My mate graduated, went to work for a top investment firm and has his own office. He was a lord ... He would show us the pictures of his office. One day, he farted in the office ... issue: one senior VP came in ... Guess what: He was fired on the spot. Obviously, he did not harm anyone, there was no code about no farting and no one should say senior VP would kick him out but that's what happens. Uni/Technical U/Rest of higher education is just a gateway for adult life with its implicit rules. My 2 cents ;) 2/2 – Andy K – 2016-07-15T16:55:02.823

10@AndyK: well, university should indeed teach some things about the world of work, but it needn't do that by simulating them precisely. I expect your mate had to wear a suit to work, it doesn't follow that undergraduates should have to wear suits to lectures. You can teach that different people expect certain things, you can't demand the same things that their future boss will expect. So if the kids have no notion that clothes matter, then this might be a valid opportunity for a "teachable moment", whereas if they know clothes matter but dress down for uni because uni allows it, that's OK. – Steve Jessop – 2016-07-15T17:32:25.163

1@MassimoOrtolano I have to disagree with your statement - it would seem akin to the old childhood adage "Am I bugging you? I'm not touching you!" There are plenty of things that are discouraged but not exactly against the rules, and the world needs more common sense guidelines and less bureaucracy. – corsiKa – 2017-10-31T20:50:12.343

1@corsiKa In fact, my common sense tells me that in 2017 that's an OP's problem not a student's one. – Massimo Ortolano – 2017-11-01T09:08:11.910


Does your institution have a student dress code?
Does your location have public indecency laws?

If their clothing violates either, refuse meetings until the problem is corrected.

Otherwise, ignore their appearance and carry on as usual.

Their sense of appropriate dress is clearly different from yours, but like political or religious opinions, such senses are often personal and cultural. For all you know, a bikini is her preferred set of comfortable clothing. Without a clear agreed-upon set of rules to defer to, such opinions are unproductive to dispute. Let it be.


Posted 2016-07-12T12:09:21.617

Reputation: 1 703

30It sounded like, and perhaps I'm wrong, but maybe the OP is worried the revealing clothing is more than just clothing choice on that given day. Sounds like the OP is uncomfortable about possible insinuations the revealing clothing may be attempting to apply. – SnakeDoc – 2016-07-12T15:20:18.653

42-1 If the OP feels sexually harassed, it is wrong to suggest that he ignore it. It is also possible that the dress leads to further issues. – StrongBad – 2016-07-12T16:15:24.303

17To be clear, it is not an issue of sexual harassment, implied or not. For better or worse, I've already reached the age where I find college girls nowhere as sexually appealing as they where when I was a college boy. – Koldito – 2016-07-12T16:30:28.970

1@SnakeDoc With all the more reason, just ignore any insinuations, as long as they violate no dress code. If they're clearly making sexual advances, that would definitely warrant action, but I see no evidence for that so far. – Anko – 2016-07-12T18:32:22.930

3@StrongBad Feeling sexually harassed is surely a problem. But whose problem it is is another matter. Sexual harassment is a real problem and feeling sexually harassed can indicate harassment, but it may not do so. Note that I'm not saying it depends on intent or anything like that, but that you can be unaware that you are being sexually harassed or mistakenly think you are being harassed. The behaviour described is very common on some campuses and definitely does not constitute harassment. – cfr – 2016-07-12T23:16:22.757

5@SnakeDoc That calls for fact checking. Do students dress differently when visiting the OP's office? Or when visiting male faculty, as opposed to female faculty? Especially if the OP has several students doing this, it would be surprising - not impossible, but surprising - if the students are attempting to imply or insinuate anything. – cfr – 2016-07-12T23:19:30.867

1@cfr I'm unsure how one would go about "fact checking" this situation. Given the OP said it was the end of the semester, which is usually when students realize their grades are in poor shape and attempt all sorts of shenanigans to save themselves, it seemed entirely plausible a few female students would attempt to persuade OP to look more favorably towards them. It would indeed be sad if these female students felt showing their bodies off was the only way to earn decent grades, but it does occur. I'm glad OP doesn't feel that's the case. – SnakeDoc – 2016-07-13T15:04:55.293

1@SnakeDoc Talking to colleagues isn't an option? While it is possible that female students might do the same thing in the case of female faculty for the reasons you suggest, it is really quite unlikely. I've had female students visit me in clothing similar to that described, especially at the end of the semester, and I very seriously doubt that the students were motivated in the way you're suggesting. Especially since many of them were from 'Bible Belt' backgrounds and quite homophobic. – cfr – 2016-07-13T15:46:34.740

@cfr What? OP is a male, and is not much older than his students... I've no idea what you are going off on. – SnakeDoc – 2016-07-13T16:04:50.917

8@SnakeDoc Male faculty have been known to talk to female faculty. You asked what I meant by fact-checking. I suggested talking to colleagues. If the students wear similar clothes when visiting female faculty, that suggests your suggested motivation is unlikely. My point is that it sounds pretty normal to me for some places I've taught and that I seriously doubt that my female students were attempting to massage their grades by wearing revealing clothing when visiting me, given that many of them were horrified by the idea of same-sex attraction. – cfr – 2016-07-13T16:55:06.263

10@SnakeDoc By the way, 37 is positively ancient when you are 18 or 20 ;). – cfr – 2016-07-13T16:56:30.397

1@cfr Positively ancient, or distinguished and authoritative? ;-P Stranger things have happened... Like I said, glad OP doesn't feel this was the case - but we should all be careful because this behavior does indeed happen. – SnakeDoc – 2016-07-13T17:10:58.103

26+1, but you should probably ignore it even if it does violate policies or laws. The last thing the student needs is some older guy giving her misguided, sexually charged "life lessons" about what to do with her body. It's just clothes and skin: shrug it off. – Mike Haskel – 2016-07-14T04:51:17.373


My suggestion is to do nothing and say nothing this term in order to avoid the risks others have pointed out, especially since you say you neither feel harassed nor uncomfortable.

However, next term, I would suggest doing what I had a professor do: add a "Professionalism" section to your syllabus and first day procedural talk. You still have to be careful in some of the ways others have pointed out: make sure you frame everything around professionalism and preparing them for the workplace, use subdued language that applies to unprofessional attire for both genders and if you cite examples, give one for men and women. Also, and this is key, include other unrelated examples of things they need to know for how to behave, like how to professionally email a professor (that's what my professor went on about. boring to me, but I'm sure some people in the class needed it). Don't forget to add something about how conforming to (for appeasing rhetorical purposes add 'arbitrary') rules about professional attire may be just a hoop to jump through, but that it is a socially meaningful way to communicate seriousness and respect. In general, just be careful of the tone. Preface and end it with something like 'most of you probably don't need this, but some students don't get the preparation they need in highschool for how to behave in the real world, yada yada yada...'

The benefits of this plan are many

  1. It gives you the opportunity to pass on actually helpful information to your students that they are expected to just know in the business environment
  2. It protects you from being misunderstood or maliciously attacked
  3. It accomplishes your goal or,
  4. Makes it so that if you do say something, it is less reasonable of them to claim you are overstepping or being oppressive since you made your expectations clear beforehand
  5. Gives you the opportunity to set expectations that will help the term run smoother and more enjoyably

Well, that's my two cents. Hope it helps.

Edit concerning addressing the issue this term (warning, somewhat abstract)

As someone in the comments pointed out, you could send out a mass email addressing the entire class. My concern with this gets at what I think the key distinction is in professionally responding to this scenario, and also provides an opportunity to respond to some of the critiques of the question itself leveled in other responses.

As many have pointed out there is a difference between professionalism and prudery. This distinction is not the same thing as whether or not student behavior (of any kind) bothers you. These are different aspects of the issue. Dress is a socially embedded method of communication, so it is unhelpful to say you merely ought to keep your opinions to yourself. Dress codes simplify dynamic, but are never exhaustively effectual. Taken together this means that professionally responding to scenarios concerning the professionalism of student behavior must take into account institutionalized norms (like dress codes), context (like your relation to students as well as timing), as well as personal judgements.

That last one is tricky though and that is where the fine line is. First of all, it is inescapable because we are socially embedded creatures. To say it is not inescapable by saying it is all merely opinion or that there is an absolutely objective response both lead to an arbitrariness as well as an abstract conception of what it means to be human which denies the real character of being a social creature both affected by and affecting norms. It is also problematic (ie, the risk of being a prude). This is all too philosophical though, so let me be concrete: it comes to not being disingenuous by simply imposing what you would like on your students, but making it about being helpful to them. Even if deep down you are disingenuous, it would be unprofessional to act that way, so you have to include various other pieces of advice on how to professionally behave as a student in a sufficiently non-confrontational, non-reactionary, and in an honest enough manner to actually help your students rather than to simply make them conform.

This means ultimately making it about the students and not oneself (even if deep down you're selfish about it). That means not being reactionary or making students feel singled out. That means you can't do it this term. It would be too reactionary causing those students to be self conscious about their looks, and would ultimately make it about you, which is morally condemnable, unhelpful to the students (I won't argue this point, but trust me), and (importantly seeing as this was asked within the context of academia), unprofessional. No pretensions about being objective would prevent this precisely because of its socially embedded nature.

As such, I repeat, do nothing this term, include a professionalism section next term, and try your best to use it to actually help your students. At least in my local, the highschools under-prepare their students, and you really may be the only person who ever explains to these students you are supposed to be respectful in an email, or turn off your phone before you go into a meeting with one's superior, and yes, wear sexually neutral clothing in a professional environment.


Posted 2016-07-12T12:09:21.617

Reputation: 931

6This. It’s the only constructive approach. – Crissov – 2016-07-16T23:54:39.567

4This is a logical and appropriate way to address the issue. – ABcDexter – 2016-07-18T19:52:50.127

1+1, but why can't he just send out an email to the whole class with a note on professional attire this semester? It's not like the only option is to talk to them individually or talk to next semester's class as a whole. Otherwise, fantastic answer. – Mehrdad – 2016-07-20T11:22:02.967

The problem with this answer is that it essentially accepts the premise that the students are doing something wrong and falling below a 'standard' which they need to rise to. The point of rules like dress code is to establish an upfront agreement on expectations, so that someone can abide by them and be sure that they will be free of criticism based on someone else's understanding of what is acceptable. Note also that most students, including and probably in particular women, are very well aware of attire relevant to context, so this professionalism lecture would likely be patronising. – Phil H – 2016-07-20T11:29:10.923

1Phil H, you are right that there is a premise to the answer, but it is not so nefarious as you make it out to be. It is rather merely the premise of the question which I was answering not critiquing. Not being in the room when these girls come to see the professor asking the question I reserve judgements concerning whether or not this specific instance is a real issue. Regardless, when it is an issue (and you might be surprised how often students are not aware of these things), I believe my advice would work. As to it possibly being patronizing, that it is a matter of tone, which I addressed. – Evans – 2016-07-20T18:21:21.457

5Whatever you do show it to chair of dept get them to approve it first. That way you have a legal fallback.IN most US universities it is simply not the place of the professor to give helpful tidbits about how to dress. Unless it is a class where that is relevant. If it is math, for instance, it is not relevant. – neuronet – 2016-07-21T03:03:28.873


I'm not a prude (I hope)

Being a prude is not a binary state. Their choice of clothes makes you slightly uncomfortable: you don't see them as sexual subjects but you do see them as "half naked", and you feel that there's "something amiss".

So, compared to them and their peers, actually you are a little prudish. There should be no shame in admitting that to yourself, or in considering that your feelings are what you can directly deal with. You don't want to see these women half-naked. That's a perfectly reasonable preference, but not necessarily one that you should require somebody else to go to extra trouble to fulfil.

You say that meetings with their superiors have implicit standards. This strongly suggests that none of those standards are explicit, that is to say there's no dress code or any other concrete expression of the standards you're talking about, and nobody else has told them that office hours visits should be considered a somewhat-formal meeting. In short, you're sailing on your own gut feeling here, which is a dangerous way to interfere with how other members of a large institution choose to dress.

Your feelings may or may not be in line with the gut feelings of the rest of the faculty, but it's clearly not in line with the gut feelings of your students, who don't feel they should dress up for your office hours. So speak about student dress to other faculty members and your own superiors, and anyone who has a direct responsibility for student conduct. Be sure to dress up compared with your normal clothes, when speaking to your own superiors, because they are ever-so grand. If in doubt, formal evening attire is always appreciated in the office of a Dean or above ;-) If there's a general feeling that things have gone too far then the institution should act consistently to suggest or demand a certain standard of dress when attending any office hours, not just yours.

I should add that I'm assuming these meetings with you aren't something they prepare for as a formal event: they see it as just dropping in on you in your office hours, as part of their day. So if you give them the advice you're tempted to give them, about "meetings with their superiors", then they'll be like tourists visiting a famous church. They have the clothes they wear normally for comfort or style or however they decide what to wear, then they have a cover-up they carry in their bag to put on when they visit you because you have different standards from the rest of their day. So yeah, that would come across as prudish and idiosyncratic to those who disagree with your standards, there's no avoiding it.

If you feel that meetings with you are a formal event, as opposed to one stop in the middle of their typical day, then by all means advise some level of business-casual dress. I attended a university that had a strict dress code for exams and vivas. I literally would not have been permitted to attend such "meetings" with my superiors if not wearing a bow-tie. So I know what academic dress codes can look like at the extreme, and if there's a standard, fine: people have to meet it, or lobby to change it, or get out. But this cuts both ways: if there's a standard for how students are allowed to dress, and this is within it, then you have to accept it, or lobby to change it, or get out. Don't tell them their chosen clothes are inappropriate if it turns out the "official" view of the university is that they're acceptable and that you should not treat your office hours as a formal meeting.

To avoid being accused of (and, for that matter, to avoid actually exhibiting) gender discrimination you should probably object to ripped jeans, baggy shorts, football jerseys, and other clothing inappropriate for semi-formal situations, just as much as you object to bras showing. Because if your standard is the number of square inches of female skin on display, sorry, you're showing your age and some prudery. I know this because I'm the same age as you are and I'm continually astonished by the fashions the young'uns go through. Male or female, and whether the clothes are revealing or not I confess to being bewildered!

Steve Jessop

Posted 2016-07-12T12:09:21.617

Reputation: 2 679

6Yes, +1. OP doesn't understand what it means to be a prude... – 6005 – 2016-07-15T21:01:48.430

7This is an excellent answer. – Tom Church – 2016-07-16T05:44:59.350

I mean, are you comfortable with your students being totally naked around you? If you are, then I rest my case. But if not, then does it make sense to call you prude because of that, too? At what point does this become a question of public decency on other people's part rather than prudeness on your part? And if your standard is lower than the OP's, then what makes you think your standard is the right one and the OP is being prude? Professional attire is generally less naked, so why do you think he's a little prude instead of you being a little perverted (or whatever the antonym is)? – Mehrdad – 2016-07-20T09:13:46.427

3@Mehrdad: I repeat, "Being a prude is not a binary state", but you're writing as if it is. Actually I'm not an academic, but if my students habitually lived their lives naked, but this made me uncomfortable to the extent I didn't want them naked in my office, then yes, relative to them I would be somewhat prudish. Professional attire tries to pick a point on this axis that everyone is aware of, which is fine provided that everyone agrees professional attire is required when visiting faculty offices. I am unconvinced it is at the questioner's university, or he wouldn't need to ask us. – Steve Jessop – 2016-07-20T10:32:02.913

6And the same applies in the opposite direction: if some new questioner comes along who honestly believe that women should cover their hair, is he being prudish or are we being "perverse"? Both, of course, he's a prude relative to me and I'm perverse relative to him. There is no sense and no mileage in trying to divide the world in to "prudes" and "non-prudes". Saying that the OP is prudish relative to his students is not to say that his standard is wrong, and I am not trying in this answer to define any absolute correct standard. He has to look to his own institution's standards for cues. – Steve Jessop – 2016-07-20T10:36:07.263

2FWIW I'd prefer "liberal" or "easy-going" as an antonym to "prudish", but I don't think the label should affect the basic analysis of what's going on here, which is that we're talking about a spectrum of varying social expectations, and how to navigate that. So, fine, "perverse" :-) The outcome does not hinge on whether or not the questioner "is a prude" according to some dichotomy, and I'm trying to guide him away from that mistaken path, not to classify him on the prudish side of the same so-called-objective dichotomy whose existence I reject ;-) – Steve Jessop – 2016-07-20T10:44:47.347

1@SteveJessop: What I'm ultimately having trouble with is the tone of your answer. Your answer (like most people's that I've seen on SE, whenever the topic is sensitive and the answer is likely to get downvoted if it goes the "wrong" way) reads as if you think the OP is the one misjudging the situation. But to me it seems quite possible that the OP is correct and that these students ARE out of line compared to other students, even if they're within the dress code -- obviously, the OP isn't bothered by all the students, only a few of them, so presumably he sees a difference somewhere... – Mehrdad – 2016-07-20T11:10:14.307

...this is similar to the same way that (I hope) you don't think it's appropriate to show up shirtless outside professor's office window, even though that's probably within the dress code (especially if it faces the street, in which case the school dress code might not even apply). i.e., just because it's within the code that doesn't make it appropriate, whereas the tone of some of your answer suggests it does. – Mehrdad – 2016-07-20T11:12:38.730

1Not sure what you're getting at with the window example: it's most likely inappropriate to loom outside someone's window regardless of what you're wearing, but if the professor's window faces a street then it's most likely appropriate to walk down (or even to stand and chat) on that street in your usual streetwear. I say "most likely" because of course I could come up with circumstances where something that's usually OK becomes not OK. – Steve Jessop – 2016-07-20T11:21:10.340

I think the questioner's discussions with colleagues can come down to a few points. (a) is this clothing appropriate for everyday wear by students (I would say yes, a Saudi university might well say no in which case end of discussion, it's not appropriate for office visits either). (b) is everyday clothing appropriate for dropping in to office hours (and if the answer to this is yes, end of discussion). (c) if everyday clothing is not appropriate, what is the proper standard and how should we as an institution communicate and enforce that (open-ended). – Steve Jessop – 2016-07-20T11:21:12.090

1I've tried in the answer to make clear that the questioner cannot resolve this issue a priori from abstract thought and his own taste or instinctive reactions, or whether he is or is not "a prude". He's either with the grain or against it. He needs to know which and take that into account. Whether he's made a "misjudgment" is up to him to decide with hindsight: he might very well discover that he has strong support. He might have no support but decide to make a principled stand anyway, that's up to him, but he should know that's what he's doing before plunging into potential trouble. – Steve Jessop – 2016-07-20T11:34:02.257


Going against everyone else, I believe that, if the university makes any sort of claims about preparing people for the workplace, there should be some attempt to remind these students of what is (in)appropriate. Based on my experience, the students may not be deliberately being inappropriate; many seem to have no concept that what is appropriate in one context is not appropriate in another. If we don't teach them that at university, there's a good chance they'll have to learn it the hard way when they (try to) enter the workplace.

However, I don't think you as someone-they've-come-to-at-the-end-of-term are the right person to pick them up on it. If you can identify the students, I would flag it to whoever is their individual tutor. If not, find who is responsible for them as a cohort. At least in the first instance, professionalism should probably be addressed at cohort level or above. How individuals can be approached, if there is a serious ongoing problem, will depend on the local structure of pastoral support.

Jessica B

Posted 2016-07-12T12:09:21.617

Reputation: 12 200

5Your advice is not against everyone else. – Laurent Duval – 2016-07-15T08:59:07.143

2+1 this, IMO, is a professional way to address the issue. – Sathyam – 2016-07-15T10:55:28.347

2I second this advice. – Dilworth – 2016-07-15T12:32:41.273

@LaurentDuval Well, no, maybe not everyone. But all the answers and comments I read seem to see the only criterion for inappropriateness being whether the particular person themselves feels sexually harassed. – Jessica B – 2016-07-15T12:32:43.543

13University is not a training ground for 'the workplace'. What makes you think that these students wouldn't be capable of dressing correctly for work? – jwg – 2016-07-15T16:36:41.783

8@jwg What do you see as the point of university then? Many here explicitly advertise that they make people employable, and the government seems to value very little else from university education. As well as not dressing appropriately, I see students who lack any formality in emails (almost regardless of who to), or when speaking to you in person, or when in a formal teaching session.... When they show no appreciation for context while at university, how do you expect them to suddenly start doing so when they leave? – Jessica B – 2016-07-15T20:11:46.983

2@jwg Besides, your office is your workplace.Suitable dress applies both ways. It may be considered best for an employee to ignore poor behaviour by a customer, but that doesn't change that it is poor behaviour. – Jessica B – 2016-07-16T08:08:15.810

I agree that university is not a training ground for the workplace. The purpose of the university is to disseminate and investigate pure knowledge. However, the answer is still good as it clearly identifies a problem with the student's dress code. – Dilworth – 2016-07-16T19:13:05.383

12A nightclub is a workplace. A beach is a workplace if you're a lifeguard. Merely pointing out that you're entering somebody's workplace is not sufficient to imply that you should be wearing a suit (or business-casual, or whichever of several possible workplace standards you're going to choose to apply when visiting an academic's office in the name of preparing the visitor for that workplace). Granted, I'm struggling to think of a profession that both requires a degree to enter and where the norm for the workplace is for your bra to be visible ;-) – Steve Jessop – 2016-07-17T15:24:23.433

@SteveJessop I would say that when entering someone's workplace (or anywhere else) you should be dressed as is considered appropriate for the context. For a non-example, I visited a travel agent once to book a flight, and the lady who served me had a dress that was showing too much. As I got up to leave, I pointed out she needed to pull it up. She responded with 'no, it's always like that'. – Jessica B – 2016-07-17T16:41:39.047

2This is sort of what I'm driving at: before cautioning students to dress appropriately for the context you need to somehow determine or decide what is appropriate for the context. Just saying "it's my workplace" is not enough to establish that the students in this case are dressed inappropriately. At least that's the way I see it, but clearly you and the questioner both feel that the inappropriateness is evident without any further justification needed. I don't think you're necessarily wrong, but that if you're right the questioner needs to find some argument or authority to establish this. – Steve Jessop – 2016-07-17T16:47:55.650

Anyway, if anyone can nail down that argument establishing that there's a more objective standard than just what the questioner says, "I think is inappropriate for a meeting with a faculty member... I feel there is something amiss" (no indication whether the faculty collectively thinks and feels the same way), then you would have a complete answer. – Steve Jessop – 2016-07-17T16:58:12.107


Similar issues to this one also arise in industry (in the United States) on a semi-regular basis and generally it seems that the following is the general consensus:

  1. Unless there is an explicit dress code in place, dress and appearance should be ignored in a professional manner (i.e. you don't comment on it unless invited to).
  2. Counseling someone on dress and appearance needs to be done in a very sensitive manner and usually it is better if someone of the same gender does it to avoid potential accusations of sexual harassment. This generally includes explicit dress code violations as well.

Without there being something like an explicit article of clothing that could be cited as troublesome (i.e. this scenario) the situation would likely be seen as very subjective, as evidenced by the comments on your question and the answers here. About the only thing you really can do it note it with your superiors since it does sound like the student's appearance was questionable enough to warrant the question on this site.


Posted 2016-07-12T12:09:21.617

Reputation: 1 772

At the very least you best bounce your words of wisdom off of colleagues of the same gender, see if you are being reasonable, and likely the chair of the department. Leave a paper trail to cover your butt in the likely case that they file harassment charges against you after you give your helpful fashion advice. :) – neuronet – 2016-07-21T03:05:42.417


This is about rules, but also context.

Teenage, adolescence and early adulthood is a period where all sorts of provocative and inappropriate behavior can be met, and these issues reveal very sensitive, with mixing with the rules of a university or a workplace.

Early adulthood is a period of transgression, and transition involving self-esteem, fear, social building, etc. Light dress, aggressive words or attitude, political or religious signs are examples, that I do not put on equal footing. Young adults test themselves against older adults. Call it nature, hormones, growth, whatever. As an adult, do not take it personally. As a teacher, a figure of trust, better take it professionally: you are here to provide them with knowledge for life or work.

Just remember that quite often, "Sin is in The Eye of the Beholder" too. Some can be equally shocked by mystical signs on T-shirts of some metal listeners (I do listen to that kind of music. As a teenager, I was pleased this could shock my parents).

Adults can provide some guidance, should show a flawless example, and remind some of the rules that exist. I believe quite important not to make a personal case, either face to face or in public. Mentioning inappropriate dress code in a classroom is likely to spark attention to certain persons. So one has to stay professional, as much as can.

If the rules exist, they can be recalled at the beginning of the year, by an authority, while students (or co-workers) are still fresh and do not have a firm status: a dean, social services can do the job. If inappropriate behavior appears later, it can be interesting to share it with (trusted) colleagues, to address whether some actions should be taken. If so, a letter could be sent to some people (or all students), with a copy of the university's rules, recalling to respect them all.

If the rules don't exist, this is a good opportunity for the university staff to work on some.

Laurent Duval

Posted 2016-07-12T12:09:21.617

Reputation: 4 224

4I don't think the students are teenagers, actually. – Dilworth – 2016-07-15T12:33:15.683

@Dilworth I have corrected as "Teenage, adolescence and early adulthood" – Laurent Duval – 2016-07-15T12:41:02.440

2@Dilworth -- There's a lot of research that says that human minds don't completely mature until 25 or so years of age. Insurance companies in particular are very interested in this phenomenon. Young adults do stupid things. I have yet to meet an interesting older adult who did not do stupid things as a young adult. – David Hammen – 2016-07-20T02:50:54.110

2I would add to this answer: Beware of being patronising. Students are not stupid, nor are they unaware of what they are wearing. If you see them wearing clothing that tests the boundaries and respond with a lecture on how to dress like an adult, you will just be unceremoniously dropped in that box of all the people that try to control their behaviour to their own taste, like their parents and high school teachers. – Phil H – 2016-07-20T11:34:43.953

Just for the record, I've met dozens of "interesting people" that were extremely sober as young adults. Me included :) – Dilworth – 2016-07-20T12:41:52.140


Couple of points that might help:

  1. It helps defuse the situation if you make a general guideline than if you address specific individuals because it might make them defensive or feel like they have been picked on. Ergo, if you do feel strongly about it send a general email to the class group or post a document addressing this on the class webpage.
  2. It helps even more if a third person does this job. e.g. Talk to the Department Secretary etc. & see if they can send a general email to the student body. That way the message is sent but no one feels picked upon, not even the members of any particular class. If this is an issue I am sure it is an issue for more than one class
  3. Another strategy that helps is to be seen as proactive rather than retaliatory. So next time perhaps have some of these things included in your class handouts on the first day itself.
  4. Talk about this issue in confidence to other faculty you trust. To make sure it is indeed an issue and not something you are overreacting to. Sometimes getting an independent perspective can totally surprise you.
  5. Make the effort to read up and see if there are university or departmental policies on this. If you do send out an email about this make sure you refer to those general policies. Never try to rewrite policy on an ad hoc basis.
  6. Try to differentiate between two different matters: (a) Is this affecting your interactions and hence you want change or (b) Are you trying to improve the students' professionalism for their own long-term good. If it is (a) then it warrents an immediate solution. If it is (b) there might be alternative paths that are a better resolution. e.g. A Departmental required seminar on professional conduct etc.
  7. Recognize that the problem may indeed be real, and you did a good job recognizing it but you may not be the best placed to deal with it. So try to see if someone else is best placed to handle it. e.g. The Department Secretary, The Student Affairs Dean, Department Chair etc.
  8. Take a minute to think if the effort is worth it. Is it easier just ignoring it? One must pick one's battles. Do you really feel so strongly about it? But if you do, then by all means pursue the matter.


Posted 2016-07-12T12:09:21.617

Reputation: 179


If you're on good terms with the (quite likely female) office staff in your department you might consider asking one of them to catch the student in the hall or the office and comment - of course without telling the person that you or anyone else had suggested that.

Do clear this with the department chair in advance.

Edit in response to comments (and downvotes). I fully understand the reasons not to do this. My answer is based on my experience as professor and chair with an extremely competent and sensitive administrative assistant. I can well believe that had I suggested this to her she'd have agreed with the commenters that it was not the right way to handle the problem.

My goal in answering was to make sure that all avenues could be considered. There's a fine line to draw in many such problems between informal local solutions and the procedures spelled out in the rules (or, often, not spelled out).

Ethan Bolker

Posted 2016-07-12T12:09:21.617

Reputation: 2 322

6I'd worry that students might feel "who the hell are they to tell me what to do" and, more seriously, that if students complain then support staff are not, erm, defended as robustly as TAs and academic faculty – Yemon Choi – 2016-07-13T17:22:29.193

11Casually Involving another staff member in this sensitive issue strikes me as dangerous. The fact that she is addressed by a female staff member does not necessarily mean the student will react any more charitably. I would say follow all procedures to the letter. Do not involve anyone who is not either your direct supervisor or explicitly tasked with enforcing relevant standards. – Andrew Cone – 2016-07-13T20:09:20.207

10This is ridiculous. For one thing, it is not fair to ask office staff to do this. For a second, it is not appropriate to have office staff perform this kind of pastoral role. – cfr – 2016-07-14T00:31:51.997

7There's also an unfortunate undertone here from the "quite likely female". I'm aware that there are plenty of correlations, but if your suggestion is to have a woman talk to them (not that that's necessarily a good plan anyway, as Andrew pointed out), then why bother saying it should be the office staff? – Cascabel – 2016-07-15T00:43:03.063

2Beyond the "office staff are female" angle, is it likely that most random undergrads even know the administrative staff in your particular department? I generally didn't, except in a few departments where I had particular involvement (e.g. I had keys to one university building, so I knew the staff member responsible for issuing keys, or in another case I presented at a department event, so I knew the staff member who helped organize that event). Having a staff member they've never even met critique their clothing is unlikely to go over well. – Zach Lipton – 2016-07-15T15:36:42.833

1+1 for the idea to have a woman co-worker make the comment. A comment from a woman is less likely to be considered harassment. – Erel Segal-Halevi – 2016-07-16T20:43:28.023

@jefromi Hmm. Given that, in real life, administrative staff usually ARE predominantly female, why is it unacceptable to say so? I haven't bothered to look up the statistics but every office I've ever worked in, the vast majority of admins are female. Why do we have to pretend that we don't know this provable, observable fact? If a task required a tall person, would you say that it is unacceptable to suggest looking for members of the basketball team? – Jay – 2016-07-22T05:46:33.733

@Jay Again, if the point of the answer is "ask a woman", then just say that. There's no need to effectively say "ask a woman, and also remember that there is a huge disparity in gender and job roles that will be handy here." And thinking like this can be even worse than that: people will routinely assume that women are admins not faculty, PMs not engineers, and so on. Yes, it's based on a real fact, but that doesn't make it any more fair. – Cascabel – 2016-07-22T06:38:33.393

So even though admins routinely are mostly female, we're not allowed to say this because you find this fact "unfair". The War on Science continues. – Jay – 2016-07-22T15:59:59.590


Others have given good answers, I don't want to repeat them, but just another couple of thoughts:

I agree with you that this sort of dress is inappropriate. I AM a prude and I'm proud of it. But that said, if the university does not have a dress code or if the dress code is loose enough to allow what you describe, I think your options are very limited.

You certainly could offer advice about proper dress for "professional" meetings. But realistically, I think that given current culture and academic norms, the most likely response is that the young lady will reject any such advice. "Who are you to tell me how to dress?" "I can wear whatever I want." Etc. As others have noted, she might even accuse you of sexual harassment for bringing it up.

I wouldn't make a move without talking to higher-ups. The real solution is to get the dress code upgraded. If the university isn't willing to do that, then I don't think you have much of any chance to "win" trying to take action unilaterally. If you ask them to change the dress code (or to implement a dress code, if there is none), and they say no, then it's hard to imagine that they would back you up if you tried to impose the dress code that was just rejected on your own students.

Others have said that if there is no university rule about something, then an individual professor has no right to invent one. IN GENERAL I'd say this is absurd: professors impose their own rules on their classes all the time. If a student submitted his homework in crayon, I think many professors would tell him this was unacceptable, whether there was a university rule against using crayon or not. I'm sure a chemistry professor could tell students that they are required to turn off the Bunsen burners before leaving the lab, whether this is an official school policy or not. Etc. But in the particular case of student dress, especially female student dress, you're walking into a minefield. This is an emotionally, culturally, and politically charged area.

In American culture today, and especially at universities, there are some things that we all know are true but you are not allowed to say. A pretty young woman walking around campus in a bikini will be instantly sexually arousing to most males. She will likely find many young men following her around. Male professors, no matter how old and how happily married, will have to struggle to restrain inappropriate thoughts about her. A young man, no matter how handsome, walking around in a bathing suit will not have at all the same impact. Most people will just think it strange. Young woman may well notice he's handsome but it will likely be a passing thought. Female professors will mostly find it annoying, not arousing.

And I bet many of those reading the above paragraph are saying, "That's not true! That's absurd! How dare you say that!" But you know it is true. So maybe now they're saying, "Well, okay, it's true, but it's bad that it's true, and saying it out loud just, umm, like perpetuates stereotypes, or encourages people to think in terms of the way the world really is rather than the fantasy world that we wished we lived in". (Well, they probably wouldn't put it that way, but that's what they'd mean.)


Posted 2016-07-12T12:09:21.617

Reputation: 721

4I don't have to struggle to restrain myself from inappropriate thoughts about students, even when (as sometimes happens) they don bikinis to enjoy the sunshine. It's sad that you find it such a struggle to be a professional, but don't push your problems onto other people. – Tom Church – 2016-07-22T14:32:54.583

2But you know it is true. — [citation needed] – JeffE – 2016-07-22T15:41:00.700

@JeffE Seriously? You need citations to prove that men like to look at pretty girls? If I say that rocks fall when you drop them would you demand a citation for that too? Can you give me a citation proving that I need to give citations for common knowledge? Well, okay, how about http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/science-men-like-to-look-at-women/, http://www.foxnews.com/story/2007/09/05/earth-shattering-study-men-like-good-looking-women.html, http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/02/19/women.bikinis.objects/index.html I'm sure I could find dozens more if necessary.

– Jay – 2016-07-22T15:53:31.167

I rest my case. I stated the obvious -- men like to look at pretty women and find female bodies sexually arousing -- and already I have two posts challenging it. Next up: Do people really like to eat food? – Jay – 2016-07-22T15:56:08.043

3You need citations to prove that men like to look at pretty girls? Of course not, but you didn't claim that "men like to pretty girls". I think your claim that I (an old, male, happily married professor) struggle to restrain inappropriate thoughts about pretty young women in bikinis requires some evidence. I'm particularly interested in seeing your evidence about my internal mental state. – JeffE – 2016-07-22T18:18:57.780

@JeffE Ok, fair enough. I should have included a qualifier like "many, possibly most". And perhaps the accuracy of this statement hinges on the definition of "inappropriate". But still, can you honestly say that you have never, ever in your life seen a pretty girl in a bikini and found yourself thinking about her in sexual terms? Not necessarily intending to do anything about it. If so, frankly, I think you're a rare man. No, I don't have a citation for that. I'll have to see if I can find some studies on the subject. – Jay – 2016-07-22T20:17:03.560

I'm downvoting even though I think there are some valid points in the first few paragraphs, because of the needless attempts at mind-reading (of the mental states of men and women) in the later paragraphs – Yemon Choi – 2016-07-23T14:16:09.973

@YemonChoi Fair enough. Though it seems to me that most or all of the answers here are speculating about how a female student and/or the administration might react to comments from the professor. I suspect your real complaint is not that I am guessing how people think, but that my guesses challenge your world view. :-) – Jay – 2016-07-25T13:44:55.233

Jay, you may suspect that, but actually my complaint is that you are guessing how people think. I know people who think like you (in the context of the question, and I know people who think like Tom Church and Jeff E). Your penultimate paragraph also makes assertions about how women might react, which (based on my conversations with female colleagues over the years) are far from self-evident – Yemon Choi – 2016-07-25T13:58:22.857


Let's take the extreme situation, and say that a female student shows up completely naked. Even in that case, your best bet is to do absolutely nothing.

  1. Most important, really, what do you care? How does this impinge negatively on your life at all? Don't you have better things to spend your time on?
  2. What business is it of yours? You have a fair amount of de jure and de facto authority over these students. You have therefore a corresponding responsibility to only use that authority appropriately. You aren't, I assume, teaching a course in fashion.
  3. What good can happen? Best case scenario, the student takes the advice in the spirit it was intended and follows it -- which is not that great. Worst case, and nowadays a likely one, is that she files some sort of grievance.
  4. Some of the rest of us like it when girls dress like that and would appreciate your not messing with a good thing.


Posted 2016-07-12T12:09:21.617

Reputation: 257

51 and 2: Perhaps because the professor doesn't want to be sexually aroused during office meetings with students? – immibis – 2016-07-14T00:30:28.457

14@immibis -- I used to have a job that required me to speak on technical topics to young women who were topless or naked. Well, "required" might be putting it strongly, more like "made it convenient", but my point is, the essence of professionalism is continuing to conduct yourself appropriately even in the face countervailing emotions. If a woman in a lacy top so distracts the OP he cannot function, that is a problem for him and his therapist, not other people. – Malvolio – 2016-07-14T00:39:35.440

7@Malvolio Lol what job was that? – 1110101001 – 2016-07-14T03:39:50.690

4@1110101001 -- it was sort of an R-rated cam-site. (BTW, a tougher business than I would have imagined.) – Malvolio – 2016-07-14T04:29:20.477

5@Malvollo Well that's something you should expect when you apply for a technical support job at a cam site... not so much as a university professor, I'm sure. – immibis – 2016-07-14T16:29:28.133

@immibis -- to expect, you mean, a difficult job or seeing scantily dressed young women? I'm not in academe, but my understanding is that some guys go into that area to avoid the former or to seek the latter. – Malvolio – 2016-07-17T23:45:18.447

1The main problem with provocative clothing, or nudity (!), is that it easily leads to various kinds of social trouble: Will other students think that she is manipulating the OP? Are better-looking female students getting some sort of privileged treatment? How easy would it be for the student to claim that the professor pressured her to dress that way, or otherwise exploit the ease with which she can make false accusations? Or perhaps she honestly gets the false impression that the prof is leering at her. And on and on. This is why business attire in general tends to downplay sexuality. – Ben Kovitz – 2016-07-18T14:23:53.587

A college education is not just learning course material. It's entrance into the culture of educated people. Part of a culture is the conventions for how clothing signifies the job you are doing and how seriously you take it. – Ben Kovitz – 2016-07-18T14:28:44.977

1@BenKovitz -- if you believe that professors can be or will be etiquette instructors, you will be disappointed; if you believe acceptable conduct in college will translate well into the greater world, you will be very disappointed. – Malvolio – 2016-07-19T01:32:50.323

@Malvolio To expect seeing scantily dressed young women, of course. – immibis – 2016-07-19T02:58:37.897

1@Malvolio I have worked 20 years in the business world, and I have seen that good etiquette and customary clothing command respect, and poor etiquette and improper clothing do not. This is no secret, but it is something to understand before you finish college. Good professors do inform students about professional and unprofessional behavior when necessary. – Ben Kovitz – 2016-07-19T03:14:42.897


I've got hand it to you Koldito. I brought up a topic loosely similar to yours many months ago and nearly got crucified by a prude that frequents this site. I will only reveal his initials (N. E.).

I'm almost 50 years old and I can tell you that my libido is still very strong. I don't believe you one bit when you say you don't find college ladies appealing anymore ;>). I've been around too long and seen too much. I'll probably get crucified for saying that as well!

Anyway, I definitely do agree that you have yourself a difficult situation and I don't know what the ladies' motivations are. I have ideas though. In other words, I'm certain something is definitely amiss like you indicated.

I haven't read the advice others have posted. Perhaps you should place a dress code on your own academic web page that delineates how anyone should dress for these important meetings. Then, maybe you should tape a hard copy to your office door so that it can't be missed. Make sure it's strongly worded. You might need to get permission from your bosses to do this.

Your concerns are warranted. You are being placed into a dicey situation that you really don't want to be in. If I was the guy in this situation, I'd also be seeking my wife's advice. Your wife may be one of the best females to seek advice from...your best ally.


Posted 2016-07-12T12:09:21.617

Reputation: 1 406

2It might have something to do with the "creepy undertone" your writing passed me on this topic... The whole initials thing is childish, sorry, and the OP was considerably classier and more sensible expressing his doubts. It all sums up. While I do agree with the dress code, I think that should have been done previously.... You couldn't do it now without opening yourself to be asked "was it because of student X?". Maybe in the vacations before the next semester, while you don't have "current" students... – Fábio Dias – 2016-07-22T03:41:44.593

@Fabio Dias Wow! You had an unusually harsh reaction to reality. I think it was the word "libido". I wonder why that bothered you so? Interesting. – Inquisitive – 2016-07-22T23:34:22.000


As others have said, if there is no formal dress code, then their clothes are beyond your control.

But, your own behavior IS under your control. So, do not look at these students. Talk to them with your eyes on the ground or on the table.

This expresses your discomfort with the situation in a perfectly legal way. Your eyes are your own, and you do not have to look at people if you do not like their appearance, for whatever reason.

I believe this will make them consider their appearance, at least when they talk to you.

Erel Segal-Halevi

Posted 2016-07-12T12:09:21.617

Reputation: 4 561

7"a perfectly legal way" -- not necessarily. As their teacher, Koldito has a responsibility to them. Supposing that their dress is acceptable so far as the university is concerned, that responsibility likely includes talking to them in his normal way. Refusing to make eye contact with them might be considered as bad as refusing to teach them: he has the right to do it, but he may not have the right to do it and keep his job. – Steve Jessop – 2016-07-15T08:48:21.920

7Definitely prone to misinterpretation - eye contact means different things in different cultures. – Anonymous Physicist – 2016-07-15T08:54:59.123

5@Steve, you seem to assume that we live in a sort of corporation dictatorship. Nobody is going to fire a professor who don't look at their students. Period. – Dilworth – 2016-07-15T12:35:20.677

8@Dilworth: try it. Choose one of your students at random, stare only at the ground when talking to them, whilst continuing to make eye contact with all your other students, and see how long it takes them to be seriously freaked out and/or complain. Of course you won't be fired at the first offence, just told to behave better in future. Better yet don't pick on a student (since it's unfair to experiment on them), do it with your boss. When asked what you're doing, say as in this answer, "my eyes are my own and I don't have to look at people if I don't like their appearance". – Steve Jessop – 2016-07-15T15:07:52.003

11This is an awful plan. How about just being professional and discussing the course with the students in your normal way no matter what they're wearing? – Zach Lipton – 2016-07-15T15:30:03.740

1@SteveJessop This is a question for a law expert, but in my opinion it should be illegal to fire a worker because of not-making-eye-contact (unless there are specific regulations about it). Eyes and clothes are similar - they are both related to your own body and you should have the freedom to do what you want with them without risking your job. Just as there is freedom to dress, there is freedom to look (unless there are specific regulations). It is the same freedom. – Erel Segal-Halevi – 2016-07-16T18:22:40.317

1@Steve, actually, if I don't look to some students in the eyes nobody is going to complain, or if they do, take their complain seriously. You know, faculty also has some rights. Doing this to your boss is of course a completely different and unrelated story. – Dilworth – 2016-07-16T19:16:24.977

4Carrying out this plan would immediately offend the female students coming into the office, especially if this is not the OP's typical behavior. – Brandon Thomas Van Over – 2016-07-17T03:11:28.867

2@BrandonThomasVanOver this plan will probably make these students feel uncomfortable, right. But, they also make the TA feel uncomfortable with their clothes. This is the price of freedom... You want the freedom to behave in a way that makes other people uncomfortable? Fine, but you have to accept it that they have the freedom to do the same. – Erel Segal-Halevi – 2016-07-17T04:35:27.803

@BrandonThomasVanOver, precisely! Isn't this the whole point of the plan? Just as the professor is offended by their lack of appropriate dress code, they will feel offended by his lack of appropriate behavior. – Dilworth – 2016-07-17T13:34:39.170