“In a report in the journal Sex Roles”, we investigated a problem that women frequently report experiencing in the working environment—differential gender-biased standards and being commented as less skilled than men, even by other women. What job does clothe play in this?
We made minor manipulations to female office clothing to understand how this influenced first impressions of them. We also discovered whether the occupational role of the woman made any effect on these impressions. We tried this with 129 female participants who rated pictures of faceless (by pixilation) female models on six competence-based dimensions (intelligence, confidence, trustworthiness, responsibility, authority, and organisation). In all cases the clothing was conservative but then they started to have small changes such as skirt length and an extra button being unfastened on a blouse. The models were depicted as having different occupational roles, differing by status (high: senior manager, or low: receptionist). The images were displayed for a limit of five seconds.
The evaluation of the abilities we measured ought not to undoubtedly be influenced by these minor clothing manipulations? Surely people use proper evidence to make such judgments?
I am concerned that we discovered that the clothing did matter. People evaluated the senior manager less favourably when her dress style was more 'provocative', and more favourably when dressed more conservatively (longer skirt, buttoned-up blouse). I repeat that the dress in the 'provocative' condition was still extremely conservative in style and look—it was not a short skirt and a revealing blouse, but a skirt slightly above the knee and one button on the blouse undone.
The rating of the receptionist role was not influenced by these clothing manipulations, which suggests that there might be more room for some jobs than others.
So even subtle changes to clothing style can contribute toward negative impressions of the competence of women who hold higher status positions.
It is critical to pick our dress style cautiously since people will make a lot of assumptions and decisions about us without appropriate proof. We are probably not going to recognize what these assessments are, so it is very believable that our clothes uncover more than we thought.
In conclusion, what we wear says a lot in only a couple of moments. Dressing to impress truly is advantageous and could even be key to success.