calculating the average of all 4 ratings for each measure.

calculating the average of all 4 ratings for each measure.

Personnet Management _ , . ^ _ , – . , . 42(3)452^70

City Employee Perceptions ©TheAuthor{s)2oi3 ^ _ _ _ ^ – Reprints and permissions:

OT the Impact of Dt*eSS 3,nCl ‘ DOI: 10.1177/0091026013495772

Appearance: You Are What p You Wear

Katherine A. Karl’, Leda Mclntyre HalP, and Joy V. Peluchette’

Abstract This study focuses on city employees and their perceptions regarding the innportance of dress and appearance in the public sector workplace. Using the impression management literature and self-presentation theory, v^e examine the Impact of mode of dress worn (casual, business casual, formal business) on their self-perceptions of creativity, productivity, trustworthiness, authoritativeness, friendliness, and competence. We also examine their beliefs regarding the impact of employee appearance on customer perceptions of service quality. Our results suggest that “you are what you wear.” Respondents felt more competent and authoritative when wearing either formal business or business casual, more trustworthy and productive when wearing business casual, and least friendly and creative when wearing formal business attire. Respondents also believed that uniforms had a positive impact on customer perceptions of overall service quality, and that tattoos, athletic wear, unconventional hairstyles or hair color, sweat pants, facial piercings, revealing clothing and clothing with tears, rips or holes had a negative impact. Implications and directions for future research are discussed.

Keywords workplace attire, dress code, impression management, service quality

‘University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, USA ^Indiana University South Bend, USA ^University of Wollongong, Australia

Corresponding Author: Katherine A. Karl, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, 615 McCallie Avenue, Chattanooga, TN 337403-2598, USA. Email:

Karl et al. 453


Significant shifts have occurred over the past decade in what is viewed as acceptable workplace attire. Although traditionally formal with suits and ties, workplace attire became more casual in the late 1990s with the boom of hi-tech and dotcom firms (Pames, 2001). Recently, many organizations have shifted back to a more professional standard of dress, with some even resorting to uniforms or corporate attire (Araneta, 2003; Lee, 2003; Lindeman, 2004; Munoz, 2001; Oleck & Prasso, 2001; Podmolik, 2003). There is still, however, widespread use of business casual or “dress casual” days, based on the notion that such attire contributes to higher employee morale and productivify (Hunsberger, 2005; Morand, 1998; Walter, 1996). In fact, according to a 2007 Benefits Survey by the Sociefy for Human Resource Management, 66% of human resource management professionals responded that their organizations offered casual dress days at least once a week, and 37% allowed casual dress every day (2007 Benefits, 2007).

Given that corporations see a link between workplace attire and other workplace outcomes that are tied to profitabilify, it is not surprising that much of the research on workplace attire has focused on the private sector. However, the same struggle to adopt dress and appearance guidelines that encourage employee productivify and pro- fessionalism has become an increasingly important issue in the public sector and some federal, state, and local offices have adopted policies to standardize attire for public employees (J. S. Bowman & Hooper, 1991; Gilbert, 2003). For example, the cify gov- ernment in Auburn, NY, recently banned the wearing of jeans on Fridays, a day tradi- tionally reserved for casual attire (Armour, 2007). Similarly, in an effort to eliminate its reputation for poor service and low employee morale, the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles went through a major turnaround in 2005 which included a new dress code of navy shirts and khakis (Smith, 2008). However, as baby boomers retire and govern- ment offices face problems in attracting and retaining younger workers, questions are being raised as to how strictly the line should be drawn on attire and other appearance factors in the public sector (Joyce, 2007).

To that end, this study focuses on cify employees and their perceptions regarding the importance of dress and appearance in the public sector workplace. More specifi- cally, using the impression management literature and self-presentation theory, we examine the impact of mode of dress worn (casual, business casual, formal business) on their self-perceptions of creativify, productivify, trustworthiness, authoritativeness, ftiendliness, and competence. We also examine their beliefs regarding the impact of employee appearance on customer perceptions of service qualify and finally, their preferences for several dress styles, including uniforms.

Role of Attire in Impression Management

Impression management, also called self-presentation, is the process by which indi- viduals aftempt to control the impressions others form of them (Gofftnan, 1959; Jones, 1990; Rosenfeld, Edwards, & Thomas, 2005; Schlenker, 1980). The past

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decade has seen an explosion of books in the popular press providing advice on how individuals can manage other’s impressions through their dress (Bixler, 1997; Morem, 1997; Sabath, 2000; Waldrop, 1997). Pioneered by John T. Molloy’s New Dress for Success Book (Molloy, 1988), the common theme in these books is that clothing deci- sions can make a difference in how one is perceived by others and that clothing wear- ers can use their attire decisions to influence the impressions formed by others in the workplace. In support, studies have shown that the way a person dresses influences others’ impressions of their credibility (O’Neal & Lapitsky, 1991), sociability (Johnson, Nagasawa, & Peters, 1977), status (Mast & Hall, 2004; Sybers & Roach, 1962), professionalism, intelligence, competence, efficiency, honesty, and reliability (Y. Kwon, 1994b; Y. H. Kwon & Färber, 1992). Evidence also suggests that indi- viduals consciously use their attire to manage the impressions of others with formal business attire being used to enhance status and respect (Rucker, Anderson, & Kangas, 1999) and more casual dress to develop cotinections with others (Rafaeli, Dutton, Harquail, & Mackie-Lewis, 1997).

In a 1992 study, J. S. Bowman (1992) surveyed personnel officials from fotir agen- cies (the departments of administration, finance, and commerce and the executive office ofthe govemor in all 50 states) and found that 75% ofthe managers in their sample believe that employees who are well-dressed and groomed are perceived as more intelligent, hardworking, and socially acceptable than those with a more casual appearance. The author adds that most respondents believe that

dress establishes a level of respect and authority often necessary to get work done, and rests on the premise that certain kinds of clothes preclude certain types of behavior. Casually attired employees neither command nor show the respect they do when dressed according to agency norms. (J. S. Bowman, 1992, p. 39)

In stimmarizing the findings. Bowman concludes that “employees who have not mastered the simple art of presenting themselves are not likely to master the more complex skills needed to manage people, administer programs, and work with the public” (p. 47). This supports earlier arguments made by J. S. Bowman and Hooper, (1991) that “good dress and good grooming” in govemment agencies allow the wearer to reflect professional confidence and communicate credibility and responsibility.

Impact of Attire on Self-Perceptions

Research has shown that people perceive themselves differently based on the clothing they are wearing. That is, individuals tend to form their own mental models concem- ing proper modes of dress and the expected behaviors congment with those dress styles (Schneider, 1973). For example, Solomon and Schopler ( 1982) found that males and females indicated that the appropriateness of their clothing affected the quality of their performance and their mood in the workplace. Likewise, Y. Kwon (1994a) found that positive feelings about one’s clothing were found to enhance self-perceptions of one’s emotion, sociability, and occupational competency, whereas negative feelings

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about one’s clothes tended to reduce self-perceptions of these attributes. Another study found that those who described themselves as properly dressed believed that their attire made them look significantly more responsible, competent, knowledge- able, professional, honest, reliable, intelligent, trustworthy, hardworking, and efficient than when not so (Y. Kwon, 1994b).

Other research has moved beyond appropriate attire to examine the impact of spe- cific styles of clothing on self-perceptions. For example, a 1999 survey of more than a thousand human resource executives by national employment law firm Jackson and Lewis indicated that 44% reported an increase in tardiness and absenteeism and 30% reported a rise in fiirtatious behavior after the implementation of dress-down policies (Survey Finds Tardiness and Absenteeism Up at Workplaces That Dress Down, 2000). These findings suggest that casual dress may lead to a casual work ethic. Another study by Hannover and Kuehnen (2002) found that participants who were dressed formally used more formal adjectives to describe themselves (e.g., career oriented, ambitious, respectable, organized, determined, punctual). The opposite was found for those who were dressed more casually (e.g., casual, easygoing, playfiil, laid-back). Similarly, an examination of flight attendants revealed that they believed they acted less refined when working with passengers when wearing a casual versus formal uni- form and they also reported feeling more self-conscious, unconfident, embarrassed, and unprofessional (Adomaitis & Johnson, 2005). Finally, a study examining the impact of mode of dress worn on employee self-perceptions found that respondents felt most authoritative, trustworthy, and competent when wearing formal business attire, but friendliest when wearing casual (shorts, t-shirt, tetmis shoes), or business casual attire (Peluchette & Karl, 2007).

Less is known about how attire impacts employee self-perceptions in the public sec- tor, although anecdotal data suggests that employees in the federal sector do not feel comfortable unless they dress “to fit the part” (Joyce, 2007). As public sector organiza- tions face increasing pressure to enhance productivity and to attract and retain talent with limited resotirces, aspects of the workplace are coming under greater scrutiny as a means of accomplishing these objectives (Benest, 2008; Leuenberger & Klüver, 2005-2006). Oppermann (2007) argues that development of dress codes in the public sector need to consider employee concerns for comfort, but also strive to maintain productivity and a professional image. The mission and culture of a particular agency would dictate how these are weighed. Given the private sector findings and the anecdotal evidence from the public seetor, we predict that mode of dress affects self-perceptions such that:

Hypothesis 1 Employees will report feeling more competent, authoritative, trustwor- thy and productive when wearing formal attire than when wearing casual attire.

Hypothesis 2: Employees will report feeling friendlier and more creative in casual or business casual attire than formal attire.

Managing Customer Impressions of Service Quality

Rafaeli and Pratt (1993) suggested that what employees wear while at work and how they appear while interacting with customers can infiuence customers’ behaviors and

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expectations about the organization and the service that it provides. In support, find- ings from a study of human resource managers employed in a variety of service orga- nizations (e.g., consultants, health care and human services, hotel and restaurants, financial, employment agencies) indicate that the appearance of professional service employees plays a significant role in the way clients or customers evaluate their com- pany’s services (Easterling & Leslie, 1992). Workman and Johnson (1989) also found that inferences about others, based on their clothing, go beyond personal characteris- tics to include extended inferences about the company for which the individual works.

There is evidence that the link between employee clothing and perceptions of ser- vice quality is also being recognized in the public sector. In a 1992 survey of public managers, J. S. Bowman (1992) found that more than 85% agreed that an employee’s appearance is important to the organization and its image. In a study of university clerical and administrative staff, employees indicated that appropriate attire allowed them to establish better rapport with key constituencies and deliver better-quality ser- vice (Rafaeli et al., 1997). Likewise, a more recent survey by Smith (2008) found 44% of managers thought dress codes created a more professional atmosphere and 33% thought it created a better public image for the agency.

The employee image issue has become even more complicated for organizations as less-conventional aspects of appearance have gained popularity in society. Today, about 24% of Americans have a tattoo and about 14% have a body piercing some- where other than their earlobe (Laumann & Derick, 2006). These numbers are even higher among young people (Tattoo, Bling Craze Raises Hiring Issues, 2006). As body art becomes increasingly part of the mainstream, some employers have taken a more flexible stance on such trends or are dealing with it on a case-by-case basis (B. Bowman, 2005). Org (2003) states that a number of major corporations, such as Boeing and Ford Motor Company, have adopted relaxed attitudes toward tattoos and body piercings in hopes of attracting younger workers. Some state and federal govem- ment agencies may be relaxing their standards too. For example, a recmiter for a defense and national security placement firm recently indicated that a woman showed up for an interview with a nose stud, but actually got the job with the govemment agency (Joyce, 2007). Medici (2012) suggests that relaxed dress codes are due in part to the preferences of younger generations entering the workforce who believe more in the value ofthe work they do than the image they present.

However, employers are aware that there is a stigma associated with unconven- tional appearance factors which could have implications for customer perceptions. Studies show that individuals with tattoos or body piercings are generally viewed as less credible (Seiter & Hatch, 2005) and are perceived less favorably by coworkers (Chen, 2007; Miller, Niçois, & Eure, 2009). In response, most employers have a nega- tive view of such physical decorations. For example. Acor (2001) found that employ- ers negatively rated applicants with eyebrow piercings, seeing them as unacceptable regardless ofthe size and type of business. A study of employers found that 72% were repelled by body piercings, 69% by visible tattoos, 73% by unusual hair color, and 64% by unusual hairstyles (How Companies Are Dealing With Workplace Body Art Issues, 2004). Many employers have conservative clients and they want to portray a professional image. For example, Joyce (2007) argues that govemment employers

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generally see these new types of piercings as offending clients or making them feel uncomfortable. As in the private sector, customer perceptions in the public sector are likely to be influenced by the attire worn by direct service employees or those in regu- lar contact with the public. More specifically, we predict that:

Hypothesis 3: Employees will agree that more casual attire, unconventional hair- styles or color, facial piercings, and revealing clothing will have a negative impact on customer perceptions of service quality.


This section outlines the characteristics of our sample, the various measures used for our study, and procedures used for data analyses.
calculating the average of all 4 ratings for each measure.



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