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I have just started a new role as a workplace health and safety officer. Recently, I travelled to a different work location for an important safety meeting. In this meeting was a couple of my superiors and health and safety representatives (HSRs).

As I had not met any of these people before, my manager introduced me to the other workers as the new workplace health and safety officer. Once she walked away, one of the HSRs made a comment on the clothing I was wearing. I was wearing a long pair of checkered trousers.

He said "Oh, you're wearing your chef pants. Are you going to cook everyone lunch?"

I think it is important to note that I am a young female (24) and he is an older gentleman.

My question is, should I do anything about this? I am unsure if it was a poor joke or if it's something that should be addressed. I have spoken to my managers and they told me they believe it to be very inappropriate, and disrespectful in a professional manner. I do agree it was in poor taste, and did leave me feeling pretty uncomfortable afterwards.

I also asked for advice from my family who said it was just a silly comment and that I should leave it. What does everyone else think? Should I make a complaint to HR?

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    You tagged this "dress code". What is your dress code? Official and unofficial? Did you fit in with the crowd? Where you targeted or where your pants? Where other people wearing similar clothing to yours and did not get joked about?
    – nvoigt
    Dec 29, 2022 at 8:37
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    Although it is important that he is a gentlemen (albeit older), you still do not like him :) Not to mention the juxtaposition "young female" vs "older gentleman" :)
    – virolino
    Dec 29, 2022 at 8:52
  • Joke aside, I have some questions. Please use the "Edit" button on the question to answer. 1. How did you actually react when he made that comment? 2. How did you wanted to react after he made his statement? 3. What do you think now, in retrospect, about how you should have reacted on his joke? 4. Are checkered trousers commonly worn at workplaces in your area? What about the colors of the said pants, are they commonly used together?
    – virolino
    Dec 29, 2022 at 8:58
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    @JoeStrazzere exactly, jokes are part of the office environment. You should just poke back... unless it really bothers you then u should talk with the person head on... going behind somebody's back to HR without first trying to clear the air with the person is a straight line towards everybody avoiding you.
    – A.bakker
    Dec 29, 2022 at 12:38
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    What is your end goal resolution? Would contacting HR achieve this goal? Do you wish for this person to be fired? If not, would you be happy with that happening anyway? Your question comes off as being uneasy, but not that you're highly offended. HR is not your friend. Is this guy's comment/behavior worth spending social currency with HR?
    – David S
    Dec 29, 2022 at 18:05

8 Answers 8

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Checkered Trousers are called Chefspants, it (probably) has nothing to do with your age or gender, he was just making a joke, somebody else wearing those pants (be it male or female) would probably have heard it to.

Humor is often a big part of an office culture, if yo can't joke around now and then the mood will soon develop in to something rather unsocial. Sure you don't have to be friends with your co-workers but having fun with them in the office leaves to a much more friendly environment.

If a joke offends you, tell the person directly, going behind their back's to HR will get them in trouble over something harmless that was meant in a light hearted way.

This will cause:

A: resentment, not only from him but co-workers who are part of the same office culture as well because you have put yourself in the place of an opposition to their way of working

B: They will talk to you less (mainly on social but also proffesional fronts) because they feel they can't trust you/talk to you without risking getting reported over the smallest thing.

I usually wear a white blouse and my last name is Baker in Dutch, I get cooking jokes al the time and in my experience is to joke back... like I used to be a college teacher and one of my co-workers is 19 year old...if he makes a joke about me like that I make a joke about giving him detention. But a while ago he made a suicide joke towards me, seeing I have had a clinical depression a while ago this was a bit over the line in my taste...I confronted him directly and said those kind of jokes aren't appreciated due to personal reasons. No HR involved and we are on excellent terms with each other... now if I went to HR he would have gotten reprimanded and we would probably not be having lunch together anymore.

So in short: A joke is a joke, it's part of the office culture, it is best to talk to that person directly one on one to clear the air so he knows where u stand on it. But going to HR? then you will only escalate the situation and isolate yourself from your coworkers. HR should be consulted only AFTER the one on one didn't work. Because if he knows it bothers you and still goes on, it's no longer a joke but harassments.

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    @gnasher729 maybe it's a cultural thing...but here in the Netherlands it would be considered a VERY MILD joke.... and just because a people feels it, doesn't make it true. and sometimes the "victim" just does lack a sense of humor... because if this is considered bullying? then every show on comedy central should be cancelled :|
    – A.bakker
    Dec 29, 2022 at 15:00
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    @gnasher729 also how do u know if nobody was laughing, i kinda found it funny in a dad-joke way. Now if he made the joke solely based on her being female...then yes it would have been sexist and unfunny..but the joke is based on the name of the type of pants she was wearing... the only one that should be offended are the pants...and pants don't have feelings
    – A.bakker
    Dec 29, 2022 at 15:02
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    If a "joke" leaves someone "feeling pretty uncomfortable afterwards" then it's not a good joke, especially in a workplace. It's not right to pressure people into going along with something they find to be uncomfortable in a place where they have to be. It's a fairly minor instance, but the OP has the right to not be made to feel uncomfortable at work, they're not in the front row of a comedy gig.
    – Tom
    Dec 30, 2022 at 0:07
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    @Tom I work at a large company, and used to be i had 3 different offices i worked in each week... each group has their own dynamic and it's either adapt or be left out.... if she makes a HR complaint she would not alienate herself from him, but everybody who is friends with him which usually is the entire office. Best is to clear it out one on one....because then she will be seen as a buzzkill but still respected...going down the HR route she will be seen as a snitch and won't be able to rely on office friendlynish.
    – A.bakker
    Dec 30, 2022 at 9:54
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    @gnasher729 where i work we all make jokes about each other, hell a few weeks ago i made a fossil joke about my manager and still got a great review,why? Because a part of professionalism is adapting to the work culture and be able to have both a (limited) personal and a professional relationship with your coworkers. Being able to joke about each other is a sign of respect (at least in my country), because if they don't it kinda means you are not considered part of the group. And if a joke bothers somebody? just say it politely that it made u feel uncomfortable no such joke wil be made again.
    – A.bakker
    Dec 30, 2022 at 9:58
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Even tough that joke might have been out of line, the reaction to the joke might have been too strong too. I was not there, so I cannot really judge either.

I learned that being (kind of) neutral is the best way usually (even though I cannot always remain neutral myself). Otherwise, things can escalate, with unpredictable results.

Occasionally, I am the target of such jokes, on different subjects (usually not related to clothes). So, in this kind of situation, I would have been a lot more relaxed. I might have just said:

"Ha, ha! But today I will not cook for anyone."

and I would give the silent treatment for any eventual further attempts to continue the joke. Pretty much like in the saying: "The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference".


I remember an experience just a few years ago. I met with a colleague from a different office on the hallway at work, and the colleague exclaimed (in the presence of another one):

Wow! Today you wear a shirt! What is the event.

The thing is that, as far as I can remember, I never went to work wearing just a t-shirt. Of course I kind of felt offended by the suggestion that my attire is usually inappropriate, so I controlled myself and just exclaimed (smiling, surprised, not angry):

What do you mean?! You hurt my feelings!! I never came to work wearing just a t-shirt!

Everyone laughed (that was one of my intended purposes, to deflate the situation), and no one ever said anything about my clothes.

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  • +1 I like that your immediate response was basically just honest feedback. You said what you felt in that moment without drawing it out or making a fuss. If the other person is well meaning, it gives them the best chance to learn how to get along with you.
    – Clumsy cat
    Dec 30, 2022 at 10:35
  • I agree. No, these comments don't belong in the workplace, and sometimes this is just another hurdle women face. FWIW at my workplace comments on clothes are prevalent regardless of sex, and I hate it. But we are not all perfect Twitter people, and real life includes stupid situations like this. Be honest without burning bridges or drawing the situation out for too long.
    – ribs2spare
    Jan 11, 2023 at 18:37
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Don't make this more complicated than it needs to be. Tell the person that said the thing that made you uncomfortable the effect it had on you. For example, say "I know you didn't mean it, but joking about what I'm wearing makes me uncomfortable." You don't have to justify what you are wearing, or why getting teased by a work acquaintance makes you uncomfortable. You may want to practice confrontations like this and how you'll respond with a friend (or the mirror) until you're comfortable responding in a polite but firm way.

If it was just a bad joke, they'll apologize and, hopefully, be more careful in the future. If it was intended to make you uncomfortable, they will likely say something that will confirm that and you have the information you need to better manage interactions with them in the future.

You can be professional and still have feelings. It's never inappropriate to politely tell someone that what they're doing is making you uncomfortable, although you may need to pick an appropriate time and place to tell them.

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Without knowing the manager and absent any additional context - it seems it was an attempt at a joke (albeit a bad one).

However, even if we presume that the intent was pure, light-hearted and banter, as a general rule, commenting on people's appearance is Unprofessional. Obvious caveats being if someone is out of dress code or otherwise not suitably dressed for work.

Here is how I would handle it:

If it's just a one-off, leave it be, it's likely he went for the joke, swing and a miss and realized the error. No point in punishing someone for an innocent mistake they've corrected.

If it happens again, however, I would politely, but firmly say words to the effect:

"In future, you are not to comment about my appearance or choice of clothing. I find it unprofessional and a violation of our company policy XYZ"

For reference - I've had this conversation with a GM, although male, I have long hair and a large beard (I'm an avid metal aficionado, go figure) and I was told "If you cut your hair and shave your beard, I'll give you a promotion on the spot".

I replied "That is never going to happen and do not ask me to do that ever again".

I still ended up getting that promotion in the near future.

Still have the hair and the beard (well, the hair that time is allowing me to have).

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  • Thank you. I think this is the way I was wanting to go - I just have been receiving a lot of pressure from my managers to proceed. The person in question has acted this way to other people before and can be quite hard to work with. I think perhaps they are wanting me to make a complaint so they have action they can take against them. Can be a bit hard to know what to do in a workplace when you haven't been there long - plus previously being ignored from superiors on matters like these
    – abbey.h
    Dec 29, 2022 at 4:36
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    The spirit of the answer is good, but the tone of the proposed statement is downright violent - quite far from the desirable "polite, but firm". No one is very fond of "workplace health and safety officers", and with that statement, with that tone, she will very rapidly go from "funny dressed" to "freako".
    – virolino
    Dec 29, 2022 at 8:47
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    @virolino Disagree. You are setting a clear boundary that is non-negotiable and is inviolable. Such a boundary has to be backed up by a fiat of force, otherwise it is impotent and will be ignored. Polite but firm has the implication of violence if the issue is pushed. Dec 29, 2022 at 17:56
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    @TheDemonLord: Setting a boundary is very OK. HOW one sets the boundary, is a matter of choice. In my answer, I presented a very "friendly" boundary setting. The other extreme is throwing a hard fist towards one's face. Both ways set very clear boundaries, but the final outcomes are totally different. The tone I mentioned earlier (used in the answer) is somewhere in between, towards fist throwing.
    – virolino
    Dec 30, 2022 at 6:05
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I'd suggest it was probably just a bad attempt at a joke, and should be written off as such, although it may also have been thinking out loud and a sign that the person found what they were looking at to be remarkable.

If the joke has made you uncomfortable or embarrassed because somehow its an observation about the style that rings true, my advice would be to choose a style of clothing that you aren't afraid to defend in future.

The way men typically handle these sorts of situations is either to retort wittily in kind, to simply laugh off observations, or (if your clothes are unconventional but you don't in fact want to draw attention to yourself) to wear different clothes next time.

Certainly anything that can be described as "chequered chef pants" is an extremely bold pattern for a workplace, and it would normally be a sign of a person with supreme confidence and ego (perhaps for the worse overall, but with enough self-assurance that neither opinions nor remarks would alter their clothing style).

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This was rude, possibly sexist, and definitely unfunny.

A good answer would be: "I think I didn't quite understand you. Can you say that again?" After this reply, they can walk away with their tail between their legs, or just apologise.

Or they have to really up the ante and go full on confrontational. Without any possible excuse of a misunderstanding. With everyone hearing clearly what they are saying. With everyone present knowing clearly that you didn't think it was a joke. Which makes it a career threatening move for them.

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    checkered trousers are called Chef pants, making a joke about somebody making food wearing literal "chef pants" isn't sexist and it's a bit of a "dad joke"... guy meant nothing by it and if a other guy would have worn such pants he would probably have done the same.
    – A.bakker
    Dec 29, 2022 at 12:17
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    That's why it's a joke... and your reply would cause an unnecessary conflict about a probably well-meaning joke... if she would do in my office what u just suggested my manager would probably have a talk with her about her behavior and not his. Best its to make a joke of the same level back... like if it's an older man as she said "Sorry the early bird special is already over" or if it really bothers you to just be upright with him that u don't like those jokes...
    – A.bakker
    Dec 29, 2022 at 12:42
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    Reacting to a joke by being confrontational is only career threatining to the jokster, if the others agree with her. If the others only saw it as a lame, maybe unfunny attempt at a joke, such a reaction would be a career limiting move for her.
    – nvoigt
    Dec 29, 2022 at 12:47
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    What exactly is "sexist" when joking about someone literally wearing "chef pants" being the "chef"? A joke isn't sexist just because it was made by a man about a woman. It does need an actual sexist component in the joke and I cannot make one out.
    – nvoigt
    Dec 29, 2022 at 17:21
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    But the joke wasn't how she was a woman therefor the expectation is to cook, the joke was that the person in chef pants might be the chef. Asking the woman to make coffee because she is a woman is sexist, but if she wore a Starbucks shirt, asking her if she is the barista is something I would consider a normal lame old man's joke. Not sexist at all. If you must find an -ism, I guess it's shirtist? Pantist? Not everything a woman does not like is sexist. Maybe inappropriate. Maybe against company rules. But crying wolf when there is no wolf is certainly a career limiting move.
    – nvoigt
    Dec 30, 2022 at 11:31
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This was a rib, because you were wearing Chef's pants (checkered pants). Not because you are a women. The older Gentleman was treating you like "one of the guys". Most likely, it is possible that the comment was indeed sexist. But unlikely as if the comment was because you were a women, he wouldn't have called you a chef, but rather a cook, or lunch lady.. Something that doesn't imply power/authority (Chefs are historically men, and it is a position of authority with many underlings).

I personally believe that it is best to assume ignorance/stupidity instead of malice.

You have 4 options when a guy ribs you.

  1. Take offense at the joke. Report him to HR. And be branded as an outsider with that group because you have 'thin skin'. And then they will treat you as an inferior, and never make fun of you. As it is rude to punch down. (TLDR: Guys rib people they consider equals/superiors

  2. Rib him back. Make a comment about his advancing years, or clothes in a similar vein. Alternatively go with the joke something along the lines of "yes, I was told you were to come with me, they mentioned roast dinosaur..." (said with a smile, in a joking tone). Remember physical appearance, and/or intelligence are always off the table unless you are really good friends. Then more offensive ribbing is expected. This will get you accepted pretty quickly into the group. You are an equal you give as good as you get, perhaps a little better.

  3. If you cannot think of a good quip in response. give it a head shake and possibly a groan. Works almost as well. As a good quip.

  4. In the moment tell him that you didn't find the comment particularly funny. This will let him know that the fell flat on his face, and he should avoid quips of a similar nature. This won't get you labeled as thin skinned. Because you didn't run to HR to tell on someone. And still allows you the chance of being accepted as an equal in the group. That being said, if your response to every single quip/rib is "that wasn't funny" you stand the chance of being labeled as "humorless". And will remain in the grey zone of not quite accepted, but not rejected either.

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Since this is a westerners heavy site what I am going to say may hurt some feelings.

Women Working With Men Have To Get Used To How Men Treat Each Other

Its just common sense. Men are at workplace working with other men since a long, long time, an order or more of magnitude larger than women are introduced to workplace. There are more men working with men even today than women working with men.

Men treat each other in a different way than women treat each other. Men do make such jokes, pass some comments and are thick-skinned to think nothing of it.

Before labeling something sexist make sure are you in any way discriminated. How do the guy treat other men? Is he equally snarky to them? If he is treating them politely and you harshly then yes you are discriminated against and you should never tolerate it. Even if its a minor incident as long as you feel strongly about it do report it. Bring it in record.

I am strong supporter of women getting paid same as men, as long as they are doing the same job. Same skills required, same workload given, same output delivered.

If you are expected to be treated differently just because you are of a different sex, color or nationality then its you who are doing the discrimination.

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    There's many things wrong with this answer including broad generalisations about communication styles, everyone is different. But to pick one major issue out, why is it the responsibility of women to adapt to the way that men communicate? Why shouldn't men adapt to how women communicate?
    – Tom
    Dec 30, 2022 at 11:49
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    And what do men working with women need to get used to? Maybe behaving like a professional when you’re at work is something that people should do regardless of their sex.
    – ColleenV
    Dec 30, 2022 at 11:49
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    @ColleenV, the problem is that men and women, and different subsets of men and women, often have different ideas about what is "professional" - which is really just a synonym for what they consider appropriate. Certainly there are few men who would consider open jokes about bold clothing styles to be unprofessional, and most men avoid sartorial excess unless they relish running the gauntlet of what public remarks may be made. Women, on the other hand, may be more accustomed to receiving compliments, and of critical remarks being made only quietly.
    – Steve
    Dec 30, 2022 at 12:36
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    @Steve Nonsense. We know what professional behavior looks like for our culture. We excuse unprofessional behavior because we excuse the intent behind it, or because we don’t want to be the ‘bad guy’ holding people to a higher standard. The biggest obstacle I had to overcome as a young woman engineer was thinking I had to tolerant either being treated like one of the guys or like someone’s mom/daughter. After I got that sorted out, miraculously almost everyone I worked with suddenly knew how to treat me respectfully, because I told them when I was uncomfortable. You get what you tolerate.
    – ColleenV
    Dec 30, 2022 at 12:46
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    @ColleenV, honestly, there's nothing "unprofessional" about the situation described, amongst most men. The idea that only one idea of professional behaviour exists is, I'm afraid, something that exists only in your imagination. Perhaps either because you don't really spend any time amongst men, or because you do spend time amongst them, but write off all their actual normal behaviour amongst themselves as "unprofessional". (1/2)
    – Steve
    Dec 30, 2022 at 15:19

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