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Working w clients in poverty - what to wear?

(53 Posts)
lizzieoak Mon 12-Feb-18 18:50:35

One of the jobs I’ve applied for is with government, working with clients in poverty. Seeing what benefits they can get etc (& I’d be trying to see what they could have rather than what I could deny them).

A friend of mine works in the same department, though at another site. She’s not as into clothes as I am, is more conservative/casual. Dresses a bit old for her age to my taste (not that there’s anything wrong with that, just explaining the setting. And I don’t dress in anything revealing, ever, or youf, but have always liked clothes).

Anyway, my friend says that the Work culture is that you dress frumpy so as to not upset the clients. Her thinking being that they’re stressed about being poor so don’t want to see your cashmere jumper (that you got from the charity shop).

This sounds a bit patronizing, or something, to me. I have a shitload of clothes as I’m the same size I was at 20 so still have things from the 80’s (though I do not plan on wearing my orange paisley cords to work - I’m not mad and my taste has moved on). And I don’t want to dress like my mum at work!

What say you, mumsnet? Hide my light under a bushel? I can see not wearing my vintage hot pink and red paisley dress, but can’t I wear Gap office cigarette trousers and an angora jumper?

Fwiw, I live in Canada and the overall style is sporty and casual. The person who interviewed me was wearing a baggy tshirt and elastic waist bottoms.

Oh, and my friend also said that if your outfit looks too nice or interesting people will think you’re not focussed on your job, but on how you look. This sounds bonkers to me, but she swears it’s a thing.

ThePinkPanter Mon 12-Feb-18 18:58:14

Some people that are vulnerable/impoverished could be intimidated by too professional a dress. They may find it harder to form a connection with you if they feel on a different level. Much the same way as if you go on a night out and see someone gorgeous with perfect hair, teeth and makeup, you might feel self conscious in front of them.

JaneEyre70 Mon 12-Feb-18 19:00:52

I don't think you should lower your standards as such, but someone may have a hard time thinking you understand their situation when you're sat wearing a pair of shoes that cost more than their rent per month. Smart but casual is best, and just watch out for obvious labels especially shoes or bags.

lizzieoak Mon 12-Feb-18 19:03:56

Wouldn’t attitude be more important though? I like people and people who are not my boss like me (for whatever reason supervisors tend not to be keen, but I’m at the age where I’m done fawning at them).

If you were stressed about benefits, living conditions etc, wouldn’t you rather have the worker assigned who’s helpful, sees you as a person and is dressed nicely, than a crabby bugger in a jogging suit? Of course lovely people can be slobs at work but ... it just feels grim to think of having to wear slobby gear on purpose. I’m not planning on wearing power suits, just stuff I look good in that’s stylish. But you may be right Pink sad

Evelynismycatsformerspyname Mon 12-Feb-18 19:05:59

Can't you just go totally neutral - jeans and a black t shirt. Could have cost a fortune or next to nothing. T shirt long and not tucked in, no need to show a brand. You can look groomed and ageless/ classless/ as if you haven't thought about an "outfit" but still look good. Nobody will think about your clothes either way, you could be a millionaire or a benefit claimant in jeans and a long black t.

lizzieoak Mon 12-Feb-18 19:10:38

That makes sense Jane. Our bags would be locked away so no trouble there & most of my work shoes have heels (except in summer), which people here find somewhat shocking, but I’d leave the more ££ ones at home.

People are odd about clothes here, in general. When I’ve worked in offices with no clients, even ones where the muckety mucks are quite high up in government, other women will still look at my shoes and say “are they comfortable?” I tend to wear platforms or chunky heels, like a 1940’s style 4 inch Oxford, or a sexy high clog. I just grin and say that comfort is not that shoe’s job description, but to me it’s an odd question. I’m not going hiking in them, I’m sitting at a desk all day.

tabulahrasa Mon 12-Feb-18 19:14:32

It’s hard to answer really as you’re in Canada and different countries have different dress codes.

For a similar job here I’d say you want business casual, or smart casual -approachable but also professional.

Definitely not jeans, but not formal workwear either.

lizzieoak Mon 12-Feb-18 19:16:37

Evelyn, for sure, some days, but every day and I’d be so bored! (& we can only wear jeans on Fridays in most Govt offices). On a casual day I’ll wear Gap girlfriend fit khakis and a sheer navy blouse w white polka dots (& cami underneath) & Chelsea boots.

Honestly, I should have done different work but it’s too late and I do not visually creative work where dressing differently is frowned on.

It’s a silly thing to whinge about but it does bug me.

OliviaBenson Mon 12-Feb-18 21:39:54

I don't think it the right job for you if this issue about clothes is affecting you so much.

hennessythegreat Mon 12-Feb-18 22:04:29

There are at least two schools of thoughts on this. One, dress down to be less intimidating. Two, show respect by being smart and professional. I think you can combine the best of both by dressing, as pp suggested in a smart but neutral fashion. Some of the clients I've worked with in the past have been extremely smartly (not expensively) presented; I think once you meet them as individuals this won't seem an issue - people on benefits are, after all, just people - diverse as any other group.

Lawdoc Mon 12-Feb-18 22:10:32

I don't see the big fuss. I have worked in similar positions. You just wear smart but not over the top clothes.
I wore a blouse and trousers.

Its only an issue if you are say in head to toe designer clothes. As said above some clients will have trouble relating to you if you are sat in designer everything.

lizzieoak Tue 13-Feb-18 00:32:04

Olivia - I was bullied at my last two jobs so I’m just freelance worrying.

I never wear designer clothes - they don’t tend to show up at vintage and charity shops where I live. So it sounds like what is thinking of wearing is okay.

Maybe my friend is worried I’ll make the wrong impression and it’ll look bad on her if people realize we’re mates?

Thanks all flowers

Evelynismycatsformerspyname Tue 13-Feb-18 04:34:26

You'd be bored?

Appreciate you can't wear jeans every day (assumed you could as you were interviewed by someone dressed even more informally - plenty of people can wear tidy jeans to work) but you can do the neutral smart but plain and understated look every day.

Save your detailed outfits for outside work.

Planning your casual Friday outfit in such detail as in your 19:16 post before even getting the job takes an interest in clothes to a very unusual level... View neutral work dressing as a challenge to meet maybe? I wouldn't have thought sheer tops with challenging clients, but I don't know what your client base is obviously!

BedtimeTea Tue 13-Feb-18 05:20:05

Will you be doing any home visits, or will clients see you at work?

Ivebeenaroundtheblock Tue 13-Feb-18 05:44:40

Safety first, shoes that allow you to walk run away as necessary. No necklaces. No tight necks. No dress/skirt.
Yes, I’m in Canada and worked with vulnerable seniors.

Lovesagin Tue 13-Feb-18 06:01:40

You sound way too concerned about clothes tbh op, dropping in brands etc when talking about working with people in poverty.

Are you sure this is the right role for you?

TheButterflyOfTheStorms Tue 13-Feb-18 06:10:33

Where in Canada? It makes a massive difference! Ontario is a hell of a lot smarter than B.C.

whiteroseredrose Tue 13-Feb-18 06:15:30

I'm also bemused that you'd be bored at work because of your clothes. Surely your job is either interesting or not regardless of what you're wearing.

slashdragon Tue 13-Feb-18 06:24:31

I work in similar and we are mostly casual but sports wear would be frowned upon.

You can wear Converse but not sport trainers etc.

FrancisCrawford Tue 13-Feb-18 06:34:32

Your clothes are not important in this job

Plain tshirts, plus cardie for colder weather plus trousers and as said above, shoes with low heels/flats

Forget about sheer polka dot blouses - that’s not a dress down outfit but it is inappropriate for work, even with a cami.

newdaylight Tue 13-Feb-18 06:35:08

I maybe work in similar too, trainers would be fine in mine.

My advice ous don't worry about it and just wear what you'd normally wear to work. Only don't wear anything that screams flashy wealth, but nice clothes is not a problem

DarthNigel Tue 13-Feb-18 07:18:06

I do just such a job and usually wear either smart jeans and a shirt or smartish jumper, or a casual shirt and jumper/top. Never anything remotely revealing. Almost always with flats (chelsea boots or ballet pumps) but that's because I go into some fairly rough areas at times and I need to be able to leg it with ease should the need arise (which is has).

AnchorDownDeepBreath Tue 13-Feb-18 07:23:55

I'm with your friend. Your outfits sound good; they're beautifully thought through, but not for this job. They would risk alienating people the you are supposed to want to help. You might see it is as neutral but well dressed; they might see it as you being unapproachable.

If you'd still rather wear your preferred outfits instead of non distinct trousers and a black tshirt, as suggested above, I don't think this is the job for you.

WhoWants2Know Tue 13-Feb-18 07:31:53

It makes a big difference where you will be seeing the clients. If it's in an office, then the clothes should be appropriate for an office setting, but plain enough to not intimidate the clients.

If it's in the home, then you wear simple clothes that allow freedom of movement, and that you won't mind being damaged. Be ready for dogs, cats, cigarette smoke, houses with messy toddlers or no heating. And wear shoes that allow you to run if necessary.

lizzieoak Tue 13-Feb-18 09:59:11

It’s in an office not in people’s homes.

Why on earth would a sheer shirt not be appropriate for (other) office jobs? Did you miss the bit about cami underneath? Loads of women’s dressy shirts and sheer.

I am low income (according to government stats so qualify for various low income benefits myself). I don’t have posh label clothes as these don’t turn up in charity shops.

I didn’t mean I’d be bored by the job if I had to dress down, I meant I’d be bored by my clothes! I’m a bit confused by the thought that I’d be able to think about clothes for 7.5 hours a day while working!

I’m just stressed about having to fit in in a new place & have had quite a few interviews lately, two with this ministry. I tend to worry about everything and so my friend set off a train of worry about what to wear.

Sounds like the overall consensus is to dress down though, with a few votes for slightly more business wear. If I get placed there I’ll definitely try to watch what the others wear.

Being bullied at work has turned me into a nervous wreck!

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