I was chatting about fashion psychology yesterday with a friend who works at a very prestigious university, when suddenly her face lit up.
“We’ve just made an appointment,” she said “and now it’s struck me that we appointed the best dressed candidate.”
Each applicant had to give a presentation to a panel and an audience of peers.
The first candidate, she said, had obviously borrowed his suit. It was at least three sizes too big, the sleeves hung down over his hands and the jacket almost reached his knees.
“It swamped him,” my friend told me, “and now I realise he seemed diminished by it in so many ways, he came across as completely powerless.”
The next candidate, a woman, was smartly dressed except her blouse didn’t quite meet the top of her trousers.
“We were seated right at mid-rift level, the woman was standing up and her bare belly was in our eye-line. I’m afraid it detracted from what she was saying…could we really work with someone who had exposed so much flesh at our first encounter?”
Apparently the third candidate matched the first two on experience and credentials, plus he was also dressed appropriately; good fitting suit, clean shoes, open-necked shirt.
It’s so easy to overlook sartorial turn-offs like these. No one ever mentions them in the rejection letter ("We're very sorry but.... that suit... what were you thinking???")
Anyway the impression is mostly subliminal, exerting its effect unconsciously.
Yet recent research I’ve been involved in is showing just how much these things matter in the job market.
Shabby suits on men spell failure, not success (see earlier blog)
Exposing too much flesh marks a woman out for a low status job and scuppers her chances of reaching the top, as we've reported here previously.
In 2009 Wookey et al found that a provocatively dressed female Chief Executive Officer was rated as less competent than a professionally dressed CEO, a professionally dressed office assistant and a provocatively dressed office assistant.
They conclude that: “…sexiness is associated with social ability in low-status jobs, but when a woman is in a position of power, sexiness may be viewed as dysfunctional and inappropriate."
Wookey, M. L., Graves, N. A., & Butler, J. C. (2009). Effects of a sexy appearance on perceived competence of women. The Journal of Social Psychology, 149, 116-118.