Work clothes send signals

Outfits are noticed by colleagues and affect how we view ourselves

October 25, 2006|By Hanah Cho and Tyeesha Dixon | Hanah Cho and Tyeesha Dixon,Sun reporters

You dress up for job interviews and meetings with clients. That's a given.

But making a good first impression isn't the only way your fashion style comes into play. Colleagues size up your outfits to decide whether you're stodgy or fun, among other things.

That's according to a recent survey by, a job site for executives. More than 70 percent of respondents said that employees dressed in suits are seen as more senior-level, while 60 percent believe those workers are taken more seriously. The survey, with a margin of error of 2.08 percentage points, polled more than 2,200 executives.

Here's the downside: Twenty-seven percent of respondents see workers who are buttoned-up as rigid, while 16 percent said they are less creative.

"They are seen as uptight, holding on to traditional values," said Yuniya Kawamura, assistant professor of sociology at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and author of the book Fashion-ology. "Even if you're not, appearance does make a difference. It's like our second skin."

Regardless of what co-workers think, self-perception also can be affected by workplace dress. Seventy-six percent of working Americans believe dressing up for work makes them more productive, according to a survey from marketing company WorkPlace Media. The survey polled 1,242 employees at companies with 20 to 2,000 employees. The poll had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

Steven Adelsberg knows a thing or two about dressing for work. As a senior vice president for Tom James Co., a custom clothing manufacturer and retailer, Adelsberg dresses executives and professionals in the Baltimore region.

"To me, there is no such thing as being overdressed," Adelsberg said. "People always say, `Dress at the level you want to be at.'"

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