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How much cleavage is too much cleavage for work?

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The question

How much cleavage is too much cleavage for work? Is there a hard and fast rule?

The answer

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In the most sartorially conservative offices – think corporate law or investment banking – there are few women, so being taken seriously is paramount. Essentially asexual, masculine business attire covers the body from neck to toe to wrist. Must women's be the same?

My friend Lori, who is a stylish investment adviser and former stockbroker, told me she didn't think women in her environment should dress like men, but neither should they expose any part of the breast (and no visible edge of bra or camisole either). She pointed to International Monetary Fund director Christine Lagarde as a model: "There's a feminine, stylish woman who is clearly taken seriously. One doesn't imagine that she ever showed off a lot of cleavage in her career."

I showed Lori a photo of the young NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau meeting a constituent in a suit jacket over a clingy top. The jacket was buttoned and revealed only a small triangle of top, no cleavage. Lori said nope, even that's a little low. She added: "The younger you are, the more you need to be aware of your image. Showing less is the right decision."

I must add that, as a guy, I am capable of admiring your feminine style and listening to you at the same time.

Russell Smith is a novelist. His recent memoir, Blindsided , is available as a Kobo e-book. Have a fashion question? E-mail style@globeandmail.com .

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