Look at how people are dressed at work. Does it seem as if "casual Friday" has gone over the top? Does your organization have a dress code with specific guidelines? Women are especially in need of workable guidelines. Workplace dress code is so ambiguous now it is easy to make mistakes.

Human behaviorist Desmond Morris wrote in Man Watching: A Field Guide to Human Behavior "It is impossible to wear clothes without transmitting social signals." Our dress conveys messages of how we want to be seen.

Fifty years of research that tells us you can change perceptions of a person by changing their clothes. There is no getting around it. Dress has persuasive value that influences the behavior of others. Clothing may influence the extent to which another person may consider us credible. It is often read as a sign of character.

For obvious reasons, women's attire has more potential for violation. Women's bodies and dress are more complex and complicated. And, unfortunately, we can blame Hollywood and celebrities for setting unreasonable and sometimes ridiculous standards that have no place at a Fortune 500 company. "Brittany Spears Phenomena" represents a formula of less clothing equals less credibility in the workplace. Sometimes women at work look more like they are dressing for access than success! One can ask, "Is she going to work at Hooters?

There is no dress rehearsal for a first impression. You hate to admit it, but don't underestimate it: we judge a book by its cover. Not fair? Nope. But it's human nature. We look at people and size them up. And women are judged more harshly and by a different yardstick than men. A woman's credibility can be on the line with her hemline. What a woman wears to work reflects and can be constructed as an indicator of her judgment. Linguist Deborah Tannen explains, "Because we are so much judged by our appearance, women don't take lightly any indication that our weight, our looks, or our clothes are less than perfect." Matters of our personal appearance and dress are lightning rods for most women. Culturally, women learn that they should care about how they look more than men do. The roots are in our social expectations of femininity. Just as a man can sprinkle a few profanities into his speech and get away with it, he can relax in his dress and not be judged harshly.

Looking at the men and women sitting at the table of a recent management team meeting, it was apparent that men don't have the range of choices and, consequently, potential dress code violations as women. That also means men don't have the same freedom women do to express their "uniqueness" or personality. So many men, so many drab blue and gray suits.

Sometimes we look at women and think, what was she thinking?

From my survey research of clients here are some of the worst violations they report:

Nightclub makeup
Bras that let your nipples show
Underwear that is visible when women bend over
Cleavage
"Whale tale" thong underwear popping up over pant waist line
Miniskirts or tight skirts
Sheer and slip style dresses
"Muffin tops" (a product of too-tight and too-short shirts)
Tank tops
Shirts that gap between buttons
Halter or tube tops
Sweatpants or athletic pants
Navel-exposing pants

Another phenomenon impacting the workplace dress code is the "pin cushion syndrome." Getting inked up and pierced is common among Gen X and Y.

Many employees also mistakenly believe that they have a right to show tattoos and body piercings in the workplace. While tattoos and piercings may be examples of employee self-expression, they generally are not recognized as indications of religious or racial expression and, therefore, are not protected under federal discrimination laws.  Accordingly, as with most personal appearance and grooming standards, you have wide latitude to set policy regarding tattoos and body piercings.

The psychology of dress and its lasting impact on the image of both the individual and the organization that allows dress for the club at Cancun as acceptable for the workplace is making a choice to question credibility and what kind of business is being conducted.

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