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Jun. 8 2010 - 2:20 pm | 731 views | 0 recommendations | 20 comments

Too Sexy For Her Job At Citibank, Fired — Fair?

The "Darnley Portrait" of Elizabeth ...

This looks about right...Image via Wikipedia

Lots of foofaraw about Debrahlee Lorenzana, a 33-year-old woman who is now the scratching post for anyone self-righteous with a keyboard. She has big breasts and wears tight clothing and is beautiful. Apparently, the guys she worked with at Citibank just couldn’t handle all that gorgeousness and asked her to tone it down a little. Then they fired her.

Here’s the story.

Puhleeze. What’s next, boys, a burqa?

One nice thing about working alone at home is that no one — nope, not even the UPS guy, the only person I see many days — cares what I wear or has a thing to say about it. The downside is you get a little feral. “Dressing up” means putting on a bra and some deodorant. Brushing hair? Optional. Makeup? Nope. Men who work at home don’t have to shave or polish their shoes.

Journalism generally rewards smarts and toughness, not silk and linen and labels. As a working writer or photographer, you need clothes, in most jobs, that you can run and stretch and kneel in. I once wore an Army surplus jacket while covering a Royal Tour of Queen Elizabeth — all those pockets were great for notebooks, pens, granola bars. Chic? Not so much.

I’ve seen plenty of women dressing badly — exposed bra straps, flip flops (?), exposed feet that need a pedicure, slutty stuff. But, it’s their funeral. Women do have choices, and making lousy ones is their option.

Should women dress all bland and boring and buttoned-up so we don’t discombobulate the boys? Men, what say you?


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11 T/S Member Comments Called Out, 20 Total Comments
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  1. collapse expand

    In theory, it shouldn’t matter what women wear to the office, but in practice it means everything. No, we shouldn’t have to worry about whether we’re making the guys all hot and bothered. They should judge us on the content of our work product and our management skills. But that’s a bit like saying women shouldn’t have to worry about running alone in Central Park after dark; nice thought, but I wouldn’t want to test people’s better natures.

    Does it suck that we have to be thinking about this crap? Absolutely. But like anything else, impressions about who you are are often made on what you look like and how you dress, no matter how divergent those two things might be. If the banking and finance industry wasn’t such a boys’ club to begin with, perhaps this wouldn’t have caused such a dust-up.

  2. collapse expand

    Are there certain clothes or shoes you would never wear to work? She wore a clingy wrap-dress (redundant) and very high heels, neither of which would ever have been my choice. I hate drawing attention to myself physically in a professional environment, but also love great clothes. Men are lucky to wear boring suits, where there is little — pun intended — wiggle room.

    My default choice is usually a simple dress, opaque tights, flats or trousers. I get irritated and annoyed if men, at work, pay excessive attention to women’s appearance. It’s a time-suck and distraction and, I think, a way to make her uncomfortable.

    How to feel and look pretty without pushing it too far?

    • collapse expand

      I think the key to work wear for women is not showing too much skin. Form-fitting is okay as long as you’re not spilling out of your tops, showing too much cleavage, or wearing skirts that barely cover your ass. There’s a difference between looking attractive and well-groomed at the office and wearing something to work might wear on a date in which you were hoping to get lucky.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand

      I agree, Caitlin, and think that men also use comments on women’s looks as a way to put us down or to reinforce their superiority, as they view it. I just can’t imagine my boss saying to his boss “you look great today– love that suit!” But most of the men I work with think it’s still OK to say things like this to their female colleagues.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  3. collapse expand

    I’m not wild about form-fitting either. I once worked with a woman whose underwear tags you could practically see her clothes clung so tightly, even though she showed no skin.

    I think advertising your body is weird at work. You’re there for your brain.

  4. collapse expand

    If I remember this correctly though, she then went on to have the same issues at another job after this one. Call me crazy, but getting unwated attention at one job is certainly regrettable… but when it continues to happen, one has to wonder about her personal conduct as well as her manner of attire.

  5. collapse expand

    I didn’t know that…if true, I wonder what her motivation is. It seems counterproductive to dress or behave provocatively if it’s going to cause problems professionally. The question is why any woman wants more attention paid to what’s below her neck than to her intellect.

    I think it’s tough as I also see women in awful, boring, mannish clothing as they try to “fit in” and look lousy, certainly in male dominated industries. Women lawyers, when they are wellpaid and buy quality, non-boring stuff, seem to find good choices in this regard.

    Some women have more confidence in their looks than their intellect so try to work their strength, but find it backfires.

  6. collapse expand

    Ms. Kelly,

    There are principles and there are facts. What exactly was she wearing? The photographs in the linked article are hardly outlandish, they seem entirely normal business attire. The photo on the cover of the Village Voice likewise seems in no way out of the ordinary. If those are the clothes that she wore, it is very difficult to image anyone even raising an issue much less firing someone. Further, Citibank may be a bank but they are not stupid. They would have to know that they could not fire someone for wearing those clothes. There has to be more to this story than what is out there now.

  7. collapse expand

    I looked at the clothes she was wearing and they didn’t seem bizarre to me. The problem with lawsuit-based stories is that we’ll never hear all the details.

  8. collapse expand

    Caitlin… What is worse: This alleged injustice as it is put out in the press or Aawoman with nose that looks like a Jerusalem artichoke and ankles that resemble fence posts losing out in a job interview to a woman that fits a dress like this lady does? No law or cultural evolution can correct these wrongs (without burqas). The aggrieved compliments a pair of pumps well and has 5-star cans. But a productive,reliable, and cooperative co-worker trumps that in short order (IMHO).

  9. collapse expand

    Yeah, but if you had access to a productive, reliable and cooperative worker with 5-star cans (!), you’d be all over her. Maybe not literally, but…

    Here’s a problem I’ve run into; a boss who’s ugly (and married, as problematic) and wants me to be charming to him. Not flirt, per se, but puff up his ego. I don’t and the whole thing ends badly. There may be some of this. Guys hate it and get really ugly if you, if they think you’re hot, don’t return their attention. They think it’s pleasant to be the focus of their attention and you should be grateful for it.

    • collapse expand

      When I was a young single man,I was harassed by a slightly older married woman. She never had to go to classes, but I have. I work in a mostly female facility. The novelty of the lookers fades fast (at least for me). Maybe it because I married later and did enough chasing before hand.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  10. collapse expand

    That’s interesting. I have no doubt that women managers harrass as well. Sorry you experienced it — and too bad she didn’t get (or pass) her sensitivity training.

  11. collapse expand

    reba, I think it’s tricky…If the guy is someone who respects you professionally and you like, a sincere compliment doesn’t bother me. If he’s some weird lech, it does.

  12. collapse expand

    My first reaction to the outcome is disgust. Too many men, especially in business power positions can’t and don’t trust themselves around women. Why not? Because they practice the distasteful art of off-color-jokes, inappropriate glances, intentional sexual fly-bys, etc. It’s a very dangerous corporate game. So when somebody can’t handle himself, like some dogs around legs, they get rid of the female?! Hmmmm. Some business men just need to grow up and quit projecting their problem on another. Be professional in all matters at work.

    My experience as a CEO tells me that sometimes both women and men dress inappropriately at work and intervention is needed. It is isn’t because the men can’t “handle” a scantily clad female coworker, or that a woman can’t handle a buff, dressed-down, body-builder; it’s simply matter of dressing for the occasion or audience. I cannot recall a time when the person dressed inappropriately didn’t respond well to intervention and advise on dress. Outside of work, to each his or her own. Personally, outside of work, cargos and flip flops are my preferred attire pretty much all the time.

  13. collapse expand

    I have no opinion on the merits of Ms. Lorenzana’s legal case, because I have no knowledge of what all of the facts on both sides may have been. There may well be more to both sides of this story than the people involved have been willing to acknowledge or the media have been willing to cover thus far.

    I have read the other comments here, including one to the effect that the outfits Ms. Lorenzana was depicted wearing in photos in the Village Voice looked like normal business clothes. Out of curiosity, I looked at the same photos. My personal and admittedly subjective reaction was that roughly half the outfits shown were rather marginal although at least arguably within bounds, but roughly half were clearly outside the boundaries of what I would consider appropriate clothing for wear in a business environment.

    Most business organizations have dress standards applicable to both male and female employees. The purpose is not to harass or subjugate either men or women, but to set clear expectations for personnel to establish a businesslike and professional atmosphere while interacting with clients, customers and professional colleagues. What one wears to an office is quite different than what one might wear out on Saturday night while having a good time with a spouse or partner, or looking to meet someone; or what one might wear while relaxing at home.

    Standards for such things may vary. What is considered suitable business attire in Miami or LA might well be considered far too casual, unprofessional and even sleazy in New York or DC, for example, just as what is considered professional in New York or DC might be considered hopelessly stodgy, unfashionable and uptight in Miami or LA. The assumptions of people from different age or socioeconomic groups about the boundaries between appropriate and unacceptable office attire might differ as well.

    While there is clearly a difference between subjective individual standards on such matters and objective standards which courts are prepared to allow business organizations to enforce for their personnel, the notion that the legal standard for such things is fixed, clear, and readily and universally understood by men and women at all different levels in all business organizations, or uniformly and predictably administered by federal and state courts, is risible.

    My own subjective reaction to Ms. Lorenzana’s wardrobe, as depicted in the photos published by the Village Voice, is that while it might be nice to see someone dressed like that walk into a restaurant on a Saturday night, I wouldn’t want to see any professional colleague dressed like that in any office I ever worked in. At least half the clothing portrayed in those photos was grossly unprofessional and inappropriate for an office environment — far too tightly fitted, skimpy and provocative for anyone holding a professional position to wear to work and still maintain the respect of colleagues.

    If I saw someone dressed like that walk into an office I worked in, I would be prepared to work with her, see how she handled her responsibilities, and treat her fairly as I would any other colleague, but that would require conscious effort. Based on her wardrobe, I would suspect that her professional skills were questionable at best because she was devoting far too much effort to directing people’s attention to other things. I would also suspect that she was not to be trusted because she appeared to rely upon manipulating other people’s reactions. If I had to meet a client, I would feel embarrassed to be seen with her, because her clothing didn’t project anything even remotely close to a professional image. If I had to interact with her frequently as a colleague, I would consider it annoying to have to put up with the constant visual provocation. My gut reaction would be that I didn’t trust her and wanted to have as little to do with her as possible. Basically, I would consider her a nuisance to be around, and hope that she got assigned to work with other people instead of me, although I would make every effort to treat her properly if I had no choice but to work with her.

    My reaction in that regard would not be based on her gender, ethnicity or innate physical appearance, but rather on how she chose to present herself to her coworkers and clients through her choice of clothing. Sky-high heels, plunging necklines and high hemlines, skirts and turtlenecks so tight that they look as though they were applied with a spray gun rather than taken off a hanger — they might be great for Saturday night, but they just don’t belong in a business office. Somebody who dresses like that communicates to her coworkers that she is not serious about working as hard as she can to do the best job she can, and instead wants to manipulate the men she encounters in order to minimize her responsibilities and workload.

    One doesn’t expect female colleagues to be prudes, or to dress like nuns or North Korean prison guards, and there is nothing wrong with going beyond presentable to being stylish and attractive. It does seem reasonable and appropriate, however, to expect women in professional positions, no less than men in the same positions, to dress for the office in such a way as to reflect a serious and professional approach to their work responsibilities. What they wear on their own time is entirely their own affair, but what they wear to the office reflects publicly on their employer and their colleagues. It appears appropriate to expect them to exercise the same balanced judgment about that as they do about carrying out their professional responsibilities.

  14. collapse expand

    Interesting. I agree entirely that whatever you wear to work 1) represents you (i.e. how I want to be perceived) 2) your firm 3) your industry. I do think it’s tougher for women because what’s “tacky” can be subjective while a suit is a suit. It’s hard for a man to look slutty in a suit.

    And, yes, dress does vary widely. A woman wearing frills or purple or peep-toe shoes might look great in Miami or the South in a professional setting but not in NYC.

    In journalism, too many dress very badly, to the point I’ve found it embarrassing. The people we meet and interview dress professionally, and so should we.

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    Former reporter and feature writer for the Globe and Mail, Montreal Gazette and the New York Daily News. Winner of a Canadian National Magazine Award (humor) about -- what else -- my divorce. I've been writing frequently for The New York Times since 1990 on almost any subject you can think of -- yup, I'm a generalist. Author of "Blown Away: American Women and Guns" (Pocket Books 2004). Canadian born, raised and formally educated, I've lived in New York since 1989.

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