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Swimming Pool

Vivia Chen

July 6, 2011

436px-WomenSwimwearMid40s It's July, and the summer outing is looming. If you're working in New York, it will probably be at some partner's shingled palace in the Hamptons or his bucolic farmhouse in Connecticut, or maybe that stately country club on Long Island with the mind-blowing initiation fee. The invite reminds you to bring a batch of outfits for sports and the cocktail party on the terrace--and, oh, don't forget the bathing suit.

Bathing suit? Yikes. More terrifying than working for the most ogreish partner at the firm is having to don a swimsuit at a firm event.

But don't cook up some lame excuse ("Darn, I forgot my suit!") to dodge the situation. Remember, you don't want to be the sweaty nerd in T-shirt and slacks when everyone else is cooling themselves in the pool. And what if there's a water volleyball competition between the corporate and real estate departments? Can you really afford not to be a "team player"?

So what to wear when swimwear is the uniform of the day? FINS, the job site, says it's generally a good idea to avoid clothing that will be the talk of the office the next day. In other words, something forgetful might be the best course. Here's what FINS suggests:

For a company retreat where pool and beach time will be a must, experts suggest women stick to tankinis, one-pieces, or suits that cover the top of the thigh, and to bring a hat to cover up pool hair. Men should leave their Speedos at home, and stick to looser-fitting trunk-style suits. "Both men and women should choose bathing suits that don't overemphasize any body parts," says [etiquette expert Barbara] Pachter.

Of course, you shouldn't "overemphasize" body parts, though I've seen male associates wearing skimpy suits and no one seemed terribly scandalized. For women, however, the issue is more complicated.

Bikini One woman partner at an Am Law 100 firm in New York thinks it's a no-win situation for most women: "I don’t think anything good comes from parading in a bathing suit in front of one’s colleagues, and certainly would question the wisdom of wearing a bikini in a business social context--no matter how young or fit one may be." But if you must wear a swimsuit, she says, she'd opt for "a modest racing suit and a cover-up right to the water’s edge."

But the view from the other side of the country is a bit different. An entertainment lawyer in L.A. thinks it's silly to be so self-conscious: "If I was 29 and had a rocking bod, I wouldn't hesitate [about wearing a revealing suit]!" She doubts that looking "too good" is ever a career killer. "I think it depends on how you look in a bathing suit," she says. "If you look good, go for it; if not, cover up."

Readers, must women look de-sexed to maintain credibility? Is a bikini at a work outing strictly taboo?


Related posts: High-Powered Lawyers Wear Flip Flops.

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I agree you have to be careful in front of coworkers when it comes to any type of dressing outside of the office, especially swimsuits. I love the summer weather and swimming but not in front of people I work with!

Maybe Isolde's comment reveals what forced work socializing is really about - the opportunity for those in charge to judge and condemn anyone who isn't exactly like them - but still might be valuable employees. I like tattoos also, I've seen some very beautiful ones!
I agree with Bill. Everyone, including managers, should have their own social life outside of work.

As a young associate at a fairly snotty firm I donned a conservative one piece suit for a partner's pool party. While modest, the suit revealed that I have a small tattoo on my right hip, which I like very much, by the way. I was grateful for the looks of shock the partners' wives gave me, as they saved me a great deal of time wasted at a firm where I would have been miserable. I gave my notice in August and have never regretted it.

Law firm retreats, where partners or associates have to wear swim attire seems unprofessional to me in any case. Nothing good or productive ever comes from these "retreats", except attorneys trying to play on the side w/o their spouses. Get a life!...You should have places to go for this type of fun w/o including your work colleagues!

Viv writes, "I've seen male associates wearing skimpy suits and no one seemed terribly scandalized."

Sure. People are scandalized on a regular beach when a European or gay guy wears a tight Speedo - you expect us to believe that's acceptable attire at a firm function?

When I worked for a major company, a guy co-worker showed up at a picnic in a wife-beater, and he took a lot of heat for it.

As usual, Viv contocts the fantasy that only women have such issues to contend with.

Oh, and I forgot to answer the questions -- NO bikinis. There are still stories - be they urban legend or not -- about summer associates that wore tiny bikinis to retreats. You don't have to look completely "de-sexed" -- You can still look like a woman but stay away from overt sexy.

I also look pretty good in a swimsuit, depite being 45. However, I am very "well-endowed " and there is no swimsuit that is great for this. There is a catalog/store called Athleta that carries good "sport" swimsuits for all body types and I tend to get the swim shorts and then one of those rashguard shirts that surfers wear. The situation becomes harder for the woman attorney carrying a little extra weight. Many attorneys are notoriously like a bunch of frat boys and spend time over their beers discussing body shapes. (I overheard all of it when they thought I was sleeping at our partner retreat . . . ).

Skip the bikini, but don't skip the swim, especially at a partner's home. There were 12 summer associates in my class. All were invited to a pool party at a senior partner's home, and commanded to "bring your swimsuit." Only 2 of us obeyed the command and got in the water. Only two of us are still with the firm. 'Nuf said.

I look decent in a bikini, but I would never, ever, ever wear one to a work function with my firm. I have managed to dodge bathing suit-type outings as an associate, but it's harder as a summer. If I were forced to go one, I would have to go buy a special bathing suit (probably a tankini or one piece) that would never be worn again. It's a total double standard, but I wouldn't risk it.

That would be a yes. Strictly taboo.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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