Why What We Wear At Work Matters

To begin the new workweek, here is our resident columnist Robin Paggi explaining why employees’ attire matters at work (Mark Zuckerberg not withstanding).

Why What We Wear At Work Matters

My favorite watering hole is Sandrini’s in downtown Bakersfield, CA mostly because of its “Cheers-like” atmosphere. It’s below street level, the affable non-drinking owner often tends bar, and its crowd when I’m there on Fridays between 5–6 p.m. is comprised of a regular group of colorful characters who mostly know each other’s names. It’s cozy and comfortable.

When Brian Sandrini opened his tavern eleven years ago, he wanted to create this kind of environment for his patrons and staff. However, a few months ago, the place began to look and feel a little too casual for his taste, so he decided to make some changes, which included implementing a dress code for his employees.

“I have always struggled with what my employees should wear,” said Sandrini. “At first, they wore uniforms, which our post 9:00 p.m. patrons hated because they felt the uniforms created a stuffy atmosphere. Then, I allowed the staff to choose their own clothing within certain parameters. But, it was becoming difficult for patrons to distinguish between my staff and other customers. So, during the summer, I implemented a dress code for my kitchen staff and noticed a positive change in attitude along with the improved appearance. I talked to my other employees and was surprised to find the majority of them favored having a dress code that would fit our updated image (we are moving from a restaurant to a classic pub atmosphere). The result has been overwhelmingly positive, as patrons have consistently complimented the staff’s new appearance.”

Sandrini and his staff experienced what researchers have been saying for years–that what we wear influences how we act and how others act toward us.

Clothes influence how we act? They do, according to a 2012 article in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. In a study, participants who wore a coat they believed belonged to a doctor were more focused in a series of tasks than those wearing street clothes. This phenomenon, known as embodied cognition, indicates our bodies (including what we wear) influence how we think and behave. In other words, dress professionally and you are more apt to behave professionally.

Clothes influence how others act toward us? We know we shouldn’t be judgmental; however, according to Dr. Carolyn Mair, Reader in Psychology at London College of Fashion, “many studies have found that we decide whether we like someone or not based only on their appearance in under one minute.” Generally, if people think you look like a thug, they’ll treat you like a thug.

Of course, there are exceptions. Take Mark Zuckerberg for example. In addition to his famous hoodies, the Facebook founder is usually dressed in jeans and a gray T-shirt. This billionaire reportedly wears this “uniform” every day so he can focus his attention on more important decisions than on what to wear. Because of what he’s accomplished, Zuckerberg is applauded instead of derided for his clothing choice.

However, most people can’t get away with dressing so casually at work because most employers are in business to make money, and how their employees look determines in part whether money is made. That’s why employers like Sandrini get lots of leeway in telling employees what they can wear

Do employers really need to tell grownups what to wear? Some do. Salary.com surveyed 4,600 people about workplace dress codes and reported that, “hundreds of people told us about employees wearing shirts displaying drugs, drinking and violence, skimpy mini-skirts, pajamas, revealing low-cut blouses and even some unorthodox body piercings.” That kind of attire might be appropriate in some lines of work, but not most.

What we wear to work matters. Dress accordingly.

Robin Paggi is the Training Coordinator at Worklogic HR.

She last wrote for us on Too Old To Wear Jeans,  Cultural Diversity Workshops and before that Managing Five Generations at Work, before that on Accommodating Religious Beliefs and before that on Politics and Work and before that on Emojis-A Workplace Communications Menace and before that on Alcoholism and the ADA in Employment. To read her previous columns, search Paggi in the search box at the top of this home page.



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