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I just spent 15 minutes talking in the hallway at work with a male coworker (I'm female) about the recent arrival of their second child. I spent the last five minutes of that chat trying to decide if I should tell him his zipper was unzipped.

I don't generally have an issue telling other women this and I have no problems telling my spouse XYZPDQ (examine your zipper pretty darn quick) but I'm tentative about this with a friend/coworker (technically, he's my husband's coworker, but we all work in the same office) because it's awkward and (sort of) implies that you were looking in that general direction. It's doubly awkward because we were in a public space where others could overhear us.

In this situation (different genders, public space, coworkers/friends) is it appropriate to tell someone that their fly is down and (if so) how should I do this such that it will minimize the awkwardness of the statement? He's a nice guy and I'd certainly not want to make him feel uncomfortable around me.

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I believe, if done discreetly and respectfully it is always polite to notify anyone of a wardrobe issue. I have had some massively embarrassing things happen and sometimes people told me, sometimes I figured it out myself. If you feel embarrassed when someone tells you (and you might) you can at least take some comfort that the situation is corrected and they saved you from more people seeing the issue.

Most people have had this happen. Perhaps someone out there is so good at double checking they haven't had it, but I would guess nearly all people have. So while it is awkward, it's common and generally I treat it as minor and not a big deal.

I have accidentally had a breast out at least several times either answering my door or in public because I was in the middle of nursing a baby and something interrupted me and I actually totally forgot that step of putting the breast away or only half tucked and thought I got it, but missed the mark. (I chalk that up to sleep deprivation, as it happened when my babies were small & life was a little overly hectic and blurry still). It is incredibly embarrassing in the moment, but it passes. I'd much rather have a zipper down, because in my several or so decades of seeing people have this mistake, I've never once seen anything, other than a zipper down. I am sure something could get exposed, but I'd say it's rare and it's more of a minor aesthetic clothing issue the vast majority of the time, hence I said treating it like no big deal. I'd treat it in tone like an untied shoe, but I'd make more of a point to be discreet in saying it simply because we all find a zipper down to feel a little weird but most adults have had it happen to them on occasion.

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I'm not sure how others would want to be notified of it, but I'd like to avoid bigger embarrassments, always.

I'd prefer to be notified as quickly as possible. I'd welcome being notified in the form of a quick "please check your zipper" leaning in closer, if a colleague or friend were to notice this.

I'd expect there's no need for making it more awkward by beating around the bush, sort of.

I've not had to notify others too many times, and I've not had such an error on my part many times either. So I'm not sure how well others will agree with my expectations.

I recall, maybe one or two at most. I'm under 30. Forgetfulness in these matters hasn't been a major issue yet. I have simply acted upon the prompt, did my zipper and carried on with the conversation as usual. With friends, that is. Never happened in an office setting yet.

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Yes it may be a little awkward, but I would rather be told quickly than not. Ever notice that your own zipper was down and mentally traced your steps back to figure out how long you were walking around like that?

If you're worried about him wondering why you were glancing in that direction, it's easy enough to create a plausible reason that you were looking down. Just act like you're checking your watch or phone for the time, and hold your phone/watch around your own waist height. When you glance downward...

Oh, um... Looks like it's time for me to get back to work.

Lean in slightly, and lower your voice:

Sorry, but Xyz* man.

Then promptly turn away and carry on like it's not a big deal.

*XYZ is short for eXamine Your Zipper in the US.

3

If what you're trying to avoid is the awkward feeling or just plain not trying to let them think you were looking there in the first place, you could do these 2 things

  1. Try to compliment his pants in ("oh i really like your pants. but i think your fly is open"). Be creative. you can also tell him about his fly by joking and hope he catches on ;)
  2. Or you could try and compliment his shoes when you both make eye contact and slowly lower your sight to his shoes then repeat #1 on telling him on his open fly.

1 and 2 are pretty much the same. What should vary would be how you tell him about his open fly as people might react differently. These suggestions only make it seem that you weren't looking there on purpose.

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    about point #1, you can use : pants/shoes/belt/necktie. Or pinpoint a possible stain/spot on this particular piece of wear (Is it a stain on your shirt/necktie?) and then the man will look at it and may notice the zip... – OldPadawan Sep 6 '17 at 8:21
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    "Try to compliment his pants in ("oh i really like your pants. but i think your fly is open")." I'm not quite sure why complementing someone's pants would make this easier. – user288 Sep 6 '17 at 19:12
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    it doesnt make it easier. just avoid giving the person the thought that you were looking near his crotch in the first place and didnt intend to see his open fly. – Gokigooooks Sep 7 '17 at 6:54
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Speed is usually of the essence.

The longer the OP waits, the more likelihood of it being more embarrassing for both parties. If the OP waits longer than ten minutes, the guy might think to himself:

What!? (BrEng) How long have my flies been unopened? OR (AmEng) How long was my fly open? We've been talking fifteen minutes, and "now" she tells me!

Next time, a polite harrumph (a clearing of the throat) and a pointed fleeting glance at the gentlemen's buckle area should suffice. One could even quickly point at that area. The sooner this is done the better. Done with a smile is always nicer too.


EDIT Sept 08 2017

The downvotes have mainly objected to the wording of "flies" which is British English and not specific to the US. However, my answer consists of non-verbal gestures and eye contact. Hard to believe that this solution is inapplicable in the Western world.

A British journalist relates an anecdote which illustrates that simple words and a commonly used phrase on both sides of the Atlantic You are flying low can be equally, if not more so, effective.

An entire article, pertinent to the OP's dilemma, is found in the Huffington Post (UK edition).

“Your Flies Are Undone!” - Social Howlers and How to Deal With Them

A while back, I was having afternoon tea, of all things, with some ladies and an elderly gent. […] In the manner of these grand old silverbacks, (the gentleman) his knees were spread wide. I happened to glance down and nearly spat my tea out - he wasn’t just flying low, his under-carriage was practically out on the chair. The ladies had already spotted this wardrobe malfunction; they didn’t know where to look.

I leant over to the old gent - “Hey!” I hissed into his ear. “Your flies are undone!”

“What? What?”

“Your fly buttons are undone!”

“What was that?”

“You. Are. Flying. Low!”

“Ohh. Oh! Oh dear me!”
The undercarriage is retracted. The ladies shuffle awkwardly. I busy myself with another sandwich. Later, over a Tio Pepe sherry, the old buffer explained to me how, in starchier times, Brits had a ton of euphemisms for all these social faux-pas. I like them. I like them a lot.

I didn't believe this needed mentioning at all but I am also a woman, consequently, I do relate to the OP's embarrassment.

I just spent 15 minutes talking in the hallway at work with a male coworker (I'm female) […]
I'm tentative about this with a friend/coworker (technically, he's my husband's coworker, but we all work in the same office) because it's awkward and (sort of) implies that you were looking in that general direction.

Therefore, I would still opt for the harrumph, (a discreet cough) a nod and a telling glance at the gentlemen's buckle area. I think it is more polite, potentially less embarrassing than saying "Your fly is open" and (added bonus) you don't have to stumble around thinking of a witty way of saying to a gentleman, "You forgot to zip up your pants."

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    The question is marked clearly as being for the US, not the UK, so I'm not sure why 60% of your answer is defending something that's used in the UK but not in the US. – Catija Sep 6 '17 at 15:48
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    @Catija because men forgetting to fasten their pants is pretty much universal? It also happens in Italy too, you know. As for my answer, clearing one's throat is never done in the US? And what difference does it make whether I write "flies" or "fly"? It's still a zip/zipper. – user3114 Sep 6 '17 at 17:15
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    "Next time, a polite harrumph and a pointed fleeting glance at the gentlemen's buckle area should suffice. The sooner the better. Done with a smile is always nicer too." As someone who lives in the USA, I would find it extremely bizarre if someone tried to communicate that my zipper was unzipped with a "harrumph". And in my experience, pointed glances never work, because it's actually someone difficult to tell what exactly people are looking at from their facial expression. – user288 Sep 6 '17 at 19:15
  • @Hamlet Not everyone is good at understanding facial clues but I would hypothesize that the majority of men, both in the US and in the UK would understand. My answer relies on diplomacy, a tacit and silent agreement between the observer and the potentially embarrassed gentleman. – user3114 Sep 6 '17 at 19:21
  • @Mari-LouA that makes no sense. There is no tacit and silent agreement: one person knows that the other person's fly is down, the other person doesn't. Hinting or glancing might work, but most of the time it doesn't. – user288 Sep 6 '17 at 19:22
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My answer could be unpopular around here with people who have a disproportionate interest in being "nice" rather than having interpersonal skills (shown by the fact that most answers assume you already decided to tell him, and I can't blame them because your question sounds close to a "what should I do" type), still, here goes my answer.

I'm not telling you what to do or what not to do because you didn't ask that.

The straight literal answer to your question would be:

It's certainly not inappropriate, but it might get complicated depending on your cultural context and the receiving end's cultural context

As you didn't provide the the cultural context besides the work environment setup, in this case we have to deduce by your profile and your language usage, that it's an USA office and your language hints at British cultural influence.

You have to weight the importance of staying safe vs being a nice person.
Being nice to your friends with this sort of issue will almost always be welcomed and if doubt arise, you have the opportunity to explain because you are friends and are used to talk about diverse topics.
Being nice to a stranger who happens to work with your husband presents high degrees of unpredictability (different genders, public space, coworkers/friends) and that is why most other answers are so elaborate and deviate from what you actually asked.

Why You won't be able to elaborate to explain the science that justifies why looking at his crotch area is absolutely harmless or not.

Then, if you do tell him, you are sort of tossing a coin on yourself on whether he will think it is appropriate or inappropriate, and it also becomes unpredictable whether he will get any ideas or if he would be telling the anecdote (involving you) to anyone (his best pals? his wife?), and bringing more unpredictability to what they will think about the event and how will that reflect on what they think of your husband and you.

It's is not my intention to sound exaggerated, in the US is usually not a big deal, usually.

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