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Fashion in the Workplace 1 Running head: FASHION IN THE WORKPLACE

Fashion in the Workplace: Assignment Two Lavernia V. Boyd University of North Carolina Charlotte

Spring 2014

Is that What Youre Wearing? Yes, I am one of those people. I notice what everyone is wearing and quickly formulate an opinion. Wrong, perhaps but first impressions can mean the difference between a positive or negative experience. This is the case in everyday life. Think about it for a moment we all formulate opinions based on dress. For example, you go into a hospital. One doctor has on scrubs, a stethoscope around his neck and a clipboard in hand. The other doctor is wearing headphones and a football jersey. They both graduated from John Hopkins University. Who do you want to treat you and why? We both know it is the doctor who looks like a doctor and it is because perception is everything. Based on his attire he would seem to be the more professional of the two. This topic is of personal interest because I love fashion, but as I dug deeper I realized that there is a disconnection between what people think is workplace appropriate dress and what really is workplace appropriate dress. Often they miss the importance it plays in their careers, and how they are viewed based on dress. On a weekly basis, I feel like Im in two worlds, the government center my professional space, and UNCC campus my academic space. At work, we have the expectation that people are watching us based on the dress code. On campus it is pretty much come as you like just be in attendance. There is no standard for dress on campus, and I wonder if that is a cause for the struggle with the transition from college to work. The issue may seem trivial it is after all just clothes. However, when what you are wearing can impact your income or the opinions of those you need to see you as competent, then it takes on another level of importance. Let me relate a quick story. Once at work I wore a skirt, getting dress I looked myself over. I thought the skirt was fine it was one of my favorites. In my office there is a glass conference room. In order to use the restroom I have to pass the conference room. As I walked by the conference room there was a meeting in progress (mostly men), every head in the

conference room turned around as I walked by. I was so embarrassed, it meant my skirt was too tight not workplace appropriate. Now I could have said they are acting unprofessional or thats my body type. Instead I decided to evaluate my dress. I wanted to be perceived as professional. I got rid of the skirt and have been promoted three times at my current job. Unfortunately, the way people perceive things is the way you must navigate your professional life. Employers and customers perceive people who dress professional are professional. Is that true? Not necessarily, but you have to work within that thinking in order to be successful. My goal is to explore the issues of perception with regards dress code in the workplace. I want to pay special attention to face value judgments, how conforming to your organizations dress code is critical for success and finally what exactly is business casual or business professional attire. What the Experts Think: Literature Review Term: Business Casual A dress down version of traditional business dress (i.e. suit and tie). Business casual for men means no tie or jacket is necessary however, the requirement is neatly press slacks and shirt with polished shoes, a jacket is favorable. For women it can be a variety of items dresses, slacks, skirts, blouses and polished shoes. (See Figures 1 and 2) Business Casual What is business casual? The biggest fashion problem in the workplace is understanding the concept of business casual. For men it can mean anything from a sports coat with or without a tie, to pleated cotton slacks with a collared shirt, short sleeve polo shirt and loafers. For women, pant suits, dresses, suits and coordinated shirt and slack ensembles are acceptable (Confusion reigns in, 2003). The term of business casual can go even further, being so detailed as it relates to color, texture and patterns of clothing. Pastels, large floral prints and bright colors

are not viewed as favorably as neutrals colors such as; beige, taupe and brown (Chaney & Martin, 2007, p22). In industries that are heavy client based, there is a fine line between looking professional, relating to their clients and keeping employee morale high, the solution is business casual dress (Entzminger, 2005). Our society sees the need to prepare perspective employees on the appropriate dress in business. There are various programs that assist lowincome job seekers to define business casual dress. Surveying a group of low-income job seekers determined that they knew what traditional business dress was (suit and tie) but had problems when confronted with the idea of business casual (Saiki, 2013). Since business casual is a topic that is confusing among generational lines, a helpful way to convey the standards for business casual and its defined meaning is to put the dress code in writing. This way employees have a guideline to follow (Entzminger, 2005). In an actual workplace, business casual is important. You will find management level employees dress in that manner. It is an expected behavior; both Wanda and Olaf, upper level employees, from observation one were always dressed according to the standards of their workplace (Boyd, 2014). Changing Times Why Business Casual? The short answer is that the market place demands that style of dress. Recently, employers have noticed the trend of employees dressing better to keep their jobs. When observing a conference from one year to the next, the once slouchy dressed attendees were now dressed up with a suit and tie (Montagne, 2009). Dressing professionally is essential not only in getting a job but keeping it as well. The notion of moving away from Casual Friday is also on the table. Either Friday is a workday or it isnt (Montagne, 2009). Think getting rid of casual doesnt seem possible? In observation one on Friday, when a relaxed style of dress is acceptable, Wanda was still dressed in a business casual manner (Boyd, 2014).

Another reason business casual is the style of dress, is the decline of what was called the dot.com era. The influx of internet start-ups allowed workers to stay at home and not have to dress up unless meeting with perspective clients. With the return to the office the business expectation is business casual (Entzminger, 2005). Companies in the fortune 500 category want to take it a step further 56% of them maintain a business attire policy. The reasoning is executives feel it promotes a better image and productivity (Gardyn & Fetto, 2002). Just like business casual dress researchers have outlined what business professional dress means. Business professional dress suggests that employees stick to certain color suits such as; dark blue and gray keeping in line with a more classic traditional style. It typically would be higher end clothing, and has a lot less choices in regards to colors and prints (Chaney & Martin, 2007). (See figures 3 and 4) Company and Employee Image Society defines the meaning of appearance through clothing, accessories, grooming and hairstyles, all which communicate a powerful message. Employees are the frontline of what clients see and based on this a company can have a positive or negative impression in the minds of their clients. It is also determined that when employees are dressed professionally they feel professional and are more productive. A company lost a client after they made an office visit, the CEO of the client company mentioned that the final decision came down to the fact that the competitors employees dressed and acted more professional and had a business manner (Chaney & Martin, 2007). Dress matters, customers feel that when the employee is dressed well the service will be equal. The reverse is true, when dress inappropriate customers assume service would be substandard. Additionally, researchers have found that people form impressions of another individual based on the clothing worn by the individual (Yurchisin & Watchraveringkan, 2011). Human Resource professionals believe that their role is to help companies realize that

organizational culture is impacted by workplace attire and therefore, they should assist in determining the dress code. Organizations should look to hire individuals that can comfortably be brought into the company dress code (Peluchette and Karl, 2007). So what do the numbers say? Coming across professional is very important (Entzminger, 2005). According to the American Industry Dress Code Survey, comprised of senior level executives at companies which had revenue of over $500 million, this is how the senior executives felt about employees dressing in professional attire: a. Project a better image b. Are more likely to be noticed c. Tend to command more respect d. Feel more confident e. Appear more organized f. Are more likely to get promoted 70% 68% 60% 49% 46% 22% (Gardyn & Fetto, 2002)

Overall, companies are looking for individuals that will boost company image. Conformity Success and advancement are two words you want in your professional career. In the workplace, for that to happen, you must conform. Using the example of the TV show Ugly Betty, researchers try to show that conformity is not a bad word (Burgess-Wilkerson, & Thomas, 2009). Many of the students when viewing the episode felt Betty Suarez, was competent and her wardrobe was an extension of her individuality. Moreover, they felt that the way she dressed should not affect her chance at promotions or the way management viewed her, but focus on her ability (Burgess-Wilkerson, & Thomas, 2009). Is conformity necessary to succeed? Researcher Kiddie would disagree. Back in 1980, he was new to the job market and started his hunt for his

first job. He had two choices; IBM and Bell Labs he choose the latter due to the relaxed dress code. He continues by encouraging his business students to determine if the business they are considering matched their preferences for business attire. He states searching for clues by browsing the companys website, reviewing their annual report, or anything that would provide a clue as to the dress code and the companys interpretation of such code (Kiddie, 2009). Dressing appropriate for work is still important for workers who want to make a good impression and advance their careers (Confusion reigns in, 2003). Conforming to the dress code of your workplace is the expectation. When Matt Lauer, cohost of The Today Show, was interviewed on Larry King Live, Larry asked Matt whether he had changed is attire since being in his current position. Matt stated that he now wears a suit every day because he never knows when he will be called upon to interview someone of high rank, and that a suit gives him the visual credibility he needs (Chaney & Martin, 2007).

Heres What I Think As I researched fashion in the workplace I thought I would find that people just do not want to dress up, or that it takes too much effort. I realized that some are truly confused. There needs to be a clear cut plan. Employers need to establish a proper standard and help employees understand the importance. I propose a training class that would take participants through a fashion in the workplace boot-camp. It will help them clearly distinguish between what is appropriate and why. I see the class having various breakout sessions and topics such as: dressing for your workplace, perception vs reality and conformity. A guest speaker or two would also be helpful. The guest speakers should include current professionals in the workplace, perhaps a Human Resource representative and a Senior Executive of a notable firm. Those new

to the workforce seem to struggle with workplace appropriate; it could be because of four years of jeans and sneakers to class or working in retail jobs that require uniforms. Whatever the reason for their struggles, a section needs to be dedicated to change the mindset. Dressing for your Workplace 1 This section would consist of defining what the dress code policy is whether it is business casual* or business professional#. Outlining in full detail that business casual for men are pressed slacks, a collared shirt, a belt in good condition and polished shoes. For women it is any assortment of skirts (not too tight), blouses, dresses, pumps or flats (no stocking required), slacks and cardigans. On the other hand if the dress code is formal then for men it is suits in traditional colors (navy, black, grey and brown or beige), ties and polished shoes. For women working under a business professional policy it means a suit and blouse or pantsuit but either requires you to wear stockings and pumps, NO stilettoes. Also, cautioning the women about extreme jewelry. I would even prepare them further, what if the job they want does not have a dress code policy in writing? There are two solutions if in doubt go with a conservative look, or they can mirror the top level executives. To see if they have the concept of what both styles of dress mean I would introduce my first breakout session at this point Breakout Session- What would you wear? In this session I would include various clothing for men and woman. I would then request some volunteers to make a complete outfit (jewelry included) for business casual and business professional. Then discuss why they think each is appropriate. Which style of dress they prefer

*refer to figures 1 and 2 for visual of business casual for men and women. #refer to figures 3 and 4 for visual of business professional for men and women

and why? At this point, I would incorporate the research work of Kiddie, who explained why these trends are essential and how to determine if the company they are considering matches their preferences for business attire (Kiddie, 2009). Finally, I would make adjustments to each outfit as needed and move on to the next topic. Perception vs Reality I have heard people say dont dress for the job you have dress for the job you want. I hate that saying because what does it really mean? If I work in the mailroom and I want to move into management should I wear a suit to deliver the mail? What that statement really means is that it is all about perception. The reality is in most companies what you wear, especially if behind the scene does not affect what you do or how you do it. However, the perception will be that you dont care about your appearance and as an extension your work. If you want to advance in a company you should be adorned in the dress code policy. That statement holds more weight if you work with the public. Lets take a bank teller for example, do you want to come in the bank and your teller has on a hoodie or a slogan T-shirt? No, but neither effects their ability to count money or take deposits. Employers and customers perceive professionalism through dress initially, so in order to have a professional image you must dress in a professional manner. Both males and females have indicated that the appropriateness of their clothing affected the quality of their performance and their mood in the workplace. (Peluchette & Karl, 2007). This would be a good time for another breakout session with a guest speaker. Guest Speaker Senior Executive of a Notable Firm The speaker would start out with a quick bio so attendees can see why their opinion is important. Next the speaker will discuss what their impressions are of inappropriately dressed


employees. How this can negatively affect their career and chances for advancement. When it comes time for someone to represent their company, what are some of the factors that would disqualify an employee from being selected? They could also discuss which dress code is required at their place of business and why that decision was made. Perception vs Reality Part II The comments of the guest speaker will reinforce to employees that they are being watched. Even if there no written dress code policy, it goes to show there is an expectation. Research was done regarding hand-washing that will drive home the point about perception and reality. Bear with me, I know it may seem like a stretch but there is a point to be made. The research was conducted in two phases, one was a written survey and the second phase was actual observation and signage. When the students took the written survey 99% of woman and 93% of men stated they washed their hands. However, when they observed the hand-washing behavior of students 73% of women and 58% of men actually washed their hands. However, when a sign was put in a prominent place, the number of people who washed their hands increased (Nichols, 2014). So my point is this the reality is everyone does not wash their hands but the perception is that we know we should, because otherwise you are viewed in a negative light (i.e. nasty or unclean). The reality is you dont have to follow the dress code, but the perception is that you do in order to advance. Conformity I want to be an individual. My clothes make a statement about my personality. This is America right? How many agree with these statements? They are all true but when it comes to the workplace you are not an individual in the collective sense, you are an employee and lumped


into a group with your co-workers. Conforming to the dress code of your workplace is the expectation. In our previous example of Matt Lauer, he realized dressing appropriately for work is important, once promoted he wears a suit daily for credibility (Chaney & Martin, 2007). I personally love the example of TV character Betty Suarez. She appeals to the younger generation because she is the poster child of non-conformity. Her character shows how not conforming affects ones chances of promotion or being taken seriously (Burgess-Wilkerson, & Thomas, 2009). While I have previously established that dress and ability are separate, conforming demonstrates you are willing to play within the rules. To show your willingness to conform starts when you begin your job search. This is why dressing appropriately for an interview speaks volumes. It says to your potential employer I know what is expected and Im willing to play within the rules. At this point I would add the final breakout session; a Human Resource professional guest speaker. Guest Speaker Human Resource Professional Talking points for the HR professional would be based off of the following questions: 1. How much does dress factors in on the interview process? 2. Two identical candidates from an experience standpoint what determines the selection? 3. What is their role in helping their organization develop the dress code policy 4. What are some of the repercussions of not following the dress code? Why Should You Care? Well lets consider what happens if you dont care. If you show up for an interview dressed unprofessionally what are the chances of getting a job offer? In todays competitive job


market, and as we slowly move out of the recession good jobs are at a premium, you need something to get your foot in the door. Being well dressed is a start. Dont misunderstand you need to have skills to back the visual presentation, but first impressions are everything. Take it a step further: you get the job; there is a promotion available at your place of employment. Who do you think they will look to promote? If you and another employee have a similar skill set what will cause your name to get mentioned over another? Yes, it is dress and grooming. So dressing appropriately for work has a direct impact on your earning potential within your company. Conformity sounds like such a bad word in our society. Everyone wants to be recognized as an individual, however in the workplace you conform to dress and stand out as an individual through your talents. As stated previously, those already working are dressing better to keep their jobs (Montagne, 2009). This means your competition realizes the importance of appropriate dress in the workplace. To get to the next level and be ready for opportunity conformity is necessary. Consider all the research we reviewed, employers are; 1. Expecting employees to be in compliance with the dress code policy. 2. They believe that you are more productive when dressed professional. 3. Conscience that their customers feel you are more capable when dress professional. 4. Aware that you are a direct reflection of the organization and represent them. So you have to ask yourself how important is success in the workplace? Once you answer that question you will make sure you are taking the necessary steps to be dressed appropriately in the workplace. Overall, I found that business casual and professional dress is highly important to major companies. Most companies have a dress code; whether it is in writing or an unspoken one, there is an expectation of proper dress in the workplace. Employers expect people to come through the door knowing that and if you dont they will move on to the next candidate.


Conforming is necessary to make advancement and there is a true definition for business casual which looks different for the genders. My hope is that this training session enlightens the workforce on what fashion in the workplace should look like, and how it plays a significant role in their future career goals.
Figure No.1 Business Casual for Men Figure No. 2 Business Casual for Women

Figure No. 3 Business Professional for Women

Figure No. 4. Business Professional for Men


References Boyd, L., (2014) Assignment One, Fashion in the Workplace, English 1102 Burgess Wilkerson, B., & Thomas, J. (2009). Lessons from ugly betty: business attire as a conformity strategy. Business Communication Quarterly, 72(3), 365-368. Chaney, L., & Martin, J. (2007). Business dress and grooming. In The Essential Guide to Business Etiquette (pp. 13-24). Westport, CT: Praeger.

Confusion reigns in workplace fashion. (2003, May). USA Today Magazine, 131(2696), 6. Entzminger, A. (2005). Briefing: dress down or up? banking dress codes continue to evolve. ABA Banking Journal, 97(10), 7.

Gardyn, R., & Fetto, J. (2002) Dress code American Demographics, 24(5), 13. Kiddie, T. (2009). Recent trends in business casual attire and their effects on student job seekers Business Communication Quarterly, 72(3), 350-354. doi:10.1177/1080569909340681.

Montagne, R. (Narrator). (2009, June 24). Workers dressing better to hold on to jobs [Radio broadcast episode]. In M. Sikka (Producer), Morning Edition. Washington DC: National Public Radio. Nichols, A. (2014) Actual vs. Reported Behavior Increasing Handwashing in Public Restrooms. Swiss Journal of Psychology, 73(1), 41-46 doi:10.1024/1421-0185/a000119 Peluchette, J., & Karl, K. (2007). The impact of workplace attire on employee self-perceptions. Human Resources Development Quarterly, 18(3), 345-357. doi: 10.1002/hrdg.1208 Saiki, D. (2013). Identification of workplace dress by low-income job seekers. Journal of Employment Counseling, 50(2), 50-57. doi:10.1002/j.2161-1920.2013.00024.x Yan, R., Yurchisin, J., & Watchravesringkan, K. (2011). Does formality matter? effects of employee clothing formality on consumers' service quality expectations and store image perceptions. International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, 39(5), 346-362. doi: 101109/09590551111130775