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So the title sums it up, but let me provide an example so it has a bit of context. I am living and working in California in an accounting office, so lax business casual is the usual attire.

I am a young male working at employer with slightly lax dress code for women when compared to men and although I haven't seen this situation happen for any of the men due to this, that doesn't mean it's not possible. I'd like to make it clear I have no problem with this despite the situation mainly occurring with women, so let me explain the situation.

There have been cases where the attire unintentionally reveals maybe a bit more than is appropriate/desired at a workplace. In these cases as well as in polite society, it is hardly proper for me to say something along the lines of "You seem to have slipped out of your bra" or "Your crack is showing". This is not an isolated incident.

For an example, I was working on a project with a female coworker who was wearing a loose dress that had long cuts from the armholes down the sides. While at the projector informing me and a couple others what was being shown on the screen, she turned to fast and in doing so, her breast slipped out the side of the dress, and flashed the group. In this situation, it was handled by everyone averting their gaze and one of the women in the group going over and fixing her up, but I'd like to know how I can handle this sort of situation in the future.

Pointing it out would either label me as someone who is constantly staring at someone's personal areas or as the person who didn't point it out when they knew. Sending HR a message would possibly get them sent home for dress code with lost pay, and sending them a quick note could result in the results above. I am friendly with all of my coworkers, and would like to maintain that relationship at all possible, and having worked with them for as long as I have, I am confident they're not trying to show their parts intentionally and haven't noticed the mishap.

How can I tell someone that they might be revealing more than they want at a particular moment?

This is much more difficult from male-female than it is from female-female or male-male. If you could include both sides in any answer, that'd be the most helpful.

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    Just to be clear...do you feel the urge to tell them this for them or for you? That is, is it because you think this is something they'd want to know or because it bothers you? – scohe001 Jun 5 '18 at 21:15
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    @scohe001 Them, definitely. Pardon my language, but if I was a woman unintentionally exposing one of my breasts, I'd be mortified if I walked around all day like that. – Anoplexian Jun 5 '18 at 21:16
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    Ahh I see. In that case, related: interpersonal.stackexchange.com/q/13743/11811 – scohe001 Jun 5 '18 at 21:21
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    Can you be a little more specific? I doubt there's a one-sife-fits-all solution for the vast variety of wardrobe malfunctions that could lead to this sort of situation... – apaul Jun 5 '18 at 21:53
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    Specific how? I've seen breasts slip free and pants not go along for the ride when someone bends, not even mentioning those in which a bra was clearly not present and its cold out nor shirts that one thought wasn't sheer. I could edit something to add these, but from what I can tell, any answer would follow the same conventions and have the same result if mishandled. In all of these, most people wouldn't want to be revealing that sort of information about their bodies (especially in a workplace) regardless of the specific incident. If you feel it's too broad, I can add a specific example? – Anoplexian Jun 5 '18 at 21:57
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I've worked in office environments of varying dress codes, around both men and women, and it's a problem that has came up more times that I'd care to admit. The approaches have varied based on who well I know the other person.

If I'm friendly with the colleagues involved and they appear unaware of the wardrobe malfunction, I'd wait until the best opportunity to send them an email or instant message (and I'm confident they'd read it right away), just to say "Best I let you know before anyone else does; you might have popped a button" or "Just in case someone mentions it at the next meeting, I think there's a rip in your trousers". This way works because it draws their attention to the problem without sounding too accusatory, and it's obvious that you're trying to spare them some embarrassment. If they wave it off with a response like "Oh, that's just how it's designed", you can quietly laugh it off and say no more of it. Any actual dress code violations are now wholly their responsibility. If it happens to one person once in a blue moon, most people don't appear disturbed by having these things be pointed out (it will all happen to us at some point). A person's gaze will sometimes wander, and it's not typically their fault if something out-of-the-ordinary catches their attention. If it begins to happen with quite regularly, then it would be best to avoid pointing it out, lest the other person get the wrong opinion of you. In these situations, I've just had to hope the other person learns from before and keeps a closer eye on themselves. With 'repeat offenders', after the first or second time, it normally doesn't happen again.

If it's someone you are less familiar with, averting your gaze, at least in a US or UK workplace, seems to be a common response. This gesture alone is usually enough for the other person to realise something has happened. The rare times this has happened while I've been in the US, men have normally responded less angrily to being told of a wardrobe malfunction from a man than a woman and vice versa. I'm afraid you'd have to defer to your own judgement on how the other person would react, especially if they are in a position of superiority to you. Sometimes the embarrassment of being told about the problem can be worse than from the problem itself.

In situations where it is someone who you are less familiar with, but working with a lot, then it has been a little trickier to find a solution. If they are not technically breaking rules or customs regarding dress code or public decency, there isn't much you can do. I once briefly worked beside someone who regularly wore a top into work that showed way too much when viewed from the side. I thought it inappropriate to mention it directly to her, so I relayed it to my boss at our next catch-up. "I might be wrong, but thought I'd mention it in case one of our clients notices, but I think 'Alice' is unaware of how much she is showing sometimes." This way, you are again not being too aggressive, it's clear you're not out to embarrass or get anyone into trouble, but your boss now knows that if someone else mentions it, that it's a problem worth tackling. In this situation, the boss partially solved this by suggesting a slightly more formal dress code when meeting clients.

In short, people you know well will likely be thankful for you helping them avoid more embarrassment, but if it happens a lot, it's best to leave it to them to realise themselves. You're no more responsible for a colleague's dress code than you are for other aspects of their work.

4

The situation you've described has an important factor to consider: She's the center of attention in a room full of her peers (or worse: superiors).

Imagine yourself at the front of a room, giving a presentation to a group of people you expect are looking for any way to attack you personally and/or ruin your career, barely hiding the fact you're one of those people for whom public speaking is a fear worse than death, when you suddenly feel your pants split open in back.

How well could you hide your mortification? Could you finish the presentation gracefully? Would it still be a success? Unless you happen to be an amazingly confident speaker, chances are you'd be so flustered and spend so long trying to recover from the embarrassment that the whole thing would be a huge failure.

The cure may be worse than the disease.

Weigh the situation first:

  • Is it likely to happen (again)?
  • Is/was the exposure significant?
  • Did/will a lot of people see?
  • Will it significantly harm her odds of success if not addressed immediately?

An intervention is probably unnecessary

Unless the situation is pretty serious, it's best to just ignore it and focus on the presentation instead. Treat it like any other presentation mishap and try to be as forgiving as possible. Even if it is serious, it might be best to forgive anyway unless you're an unusually tactful person or know them personally.

After the presentation, wait until she's finished fielding questions from other attendees, then briefly mention it in private.

Hey, I just wanted to let you know your shirt is a bit revealing when you turn quickly, in case that was something you didn't intend.

While the situation will still be embarrassing, it'll lack the extra potency of occurring in front of a crowd.

She'll likely just thank you for letting her know. If so, just say something like "No problem" and change the subject. Ask a follow up question or compliment her on part of the presentation you liked to show her that you've moved on and forgotten about it. People prefer their embarrassing situations forgotten, so she'll likely be relieved that you've essentially already done so and be happy to change the subject.

If she gets defensive instead, apologize and promise not to bring it up again.

Okay, I understand. I'm sorry I upset you. I won't mention it again.

Then finish up the conversation and leave.

If an intervention is deemed necessary

Use extreme caution and only do this as a last resort. You've effectively decided (for her, without her input) that risking her public humiliation and the ruination of her presentation is a good idea. You'd better have an exceptionally good reason to do so.

First, briefly glance at your phone or laptop if available and act somewhat surprised or anxious. Approach her briskly (a fast walk, maybe slow jog). She'll most likely notice your approach. Try to approach from the direction she's looking to ensure this, if possible. Be discreet, if possible. Once near her, very quietly inform her what's wrong. An appropriate volume is just enough for her to hear, and ideally quiet enough that nobody else can. Be brief.

Your shirt isn't covering you when you turn quickly.

Give her a short moment to respond if she wants to. If you get an angry or defensive response, apologize quickly:

Okay, sorry I mentioned it.

Then go back to your seat and don't talk any more. You can try to apologize again later in private if you're feeling brave, but it's probably best to just leave her be.

If you get a neutral or positive response though, go back to your seat and pretend like the interruption never happened. If anyone asks, deflect with a vague comment:

Something important came up.

The glance at your phone or laptop earlier should help defend the position if anybody was paying attention to you.

If she excuses herself to fix the problem and it seems necessary, apologize to the group and/or reassure them she'll be right back. When she gets back, ask something cryptic that she can quickly answer yes to, like

Is it all right now?

Act relieved at her response and apologize.

Okay, good. Sorry about that.

Support any excuse she provides, if necessary.

It's generally hard to resume a presentation gracefully after this kind of interruption, so be ready to help her there too. If she doesn't just pick up right where she left off, don't leave her stranded. Ask her an easy question to help her get back on track. Something she already said recently might work well.

You may have said this already, but why are there so many samples near the bottom left of this scatter plot in particular?

Then try to relate it to what she was saying just before you interrupted her so she can move back into her planned presentation.

Oh, so is that why the process keeps failing so often?

After the presentation, approach her as part of the after-presentation group and compliment her on something she did well. Be specific: Mention how well informed she was, thank her for being so good about answering your questions, mention something surprising or useful she said, tell her she was an engaging speaker, etc.

I just had to say I'm impressed you already found out the samples were biased. I thought for sure it'd take weeks to do that. How did you find out so quickly?

Try to do it while other people are still there, if possible, to reduce feelings of being threatened and hopefully induce others to say nice things too. It should also discourage her from bringing up the embarrassing event again, and you should act as much as possible like you've already forgotten. If all goes well, she'll assume everyone forgot, remember it as a minor hiccup in a generally well-received presentation, and go home happy.

And intervention or not

Never, ever mention it again.

3

If you don't know her well enough, don't tell her. Let someone who knows her better handle it. If you do though, just tell her so that no one else can hear it. And please don't "approach her briskly", that just sounds weird. Just walk to her normally and tell her.

The reason as to why you might now want to tell her at all if you don't know her well is that this situation can be embarrassing for both of you. It would be way less embarrassing for her if a friend of her told her. She could then hope that no one else saw it. It's simple: you're less embarrassed in front of people you know well than people you don't know. As an alternative you could, if possible, tell someone that fairly well knows both of you, so they can tell her.

I think that you should tell her without someone else hearing it should be self-explanatory for again, this situation should be handled as discreetly as possible.

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    Hi Chris. Could you please expand your answer and explain the pros and cons, why it would work and help OP... This stack asks for answers to be backed up, please take the tour and read the help center/meta, that will improve your posts in the future ;) Thanks. – OldPadawan Jun 6 '18 at 8:01

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