study shows workplace fashion confusion
summary report pdf
been inappropriately dressed at work or a business function?
If you answered "yes," you are not alone; if you answered
"no," you may be wrong.
According to a study completed by California State University, Sacramento,
marketing professor Dennis Tootelian, nearly two-thirds of Americans
have felt inappropriately dressed at a business or a social function
and more than two-thirds are uncertain about the differences among
business attire, business casual and casual dress in the workplace.
Nearly one in three report that it is harder to know what is acceptable
to wear to the office today than it was 10 years ago.
"There is a lot of confusion over just what is appropriate,"
said Tootelian, director of the CSUS Center for Small Business.
His study, commissioned by Mervyn's department stores, surveyed
500 people in Mervyn's 14-state region on their perceptions about
appropriate work clothing and their employer's dress policies.
He found that 62 percent of those surveyed said that they had been
inappropriately dressed at a business or social function, with slightly
more men than women taking note of their fashion faux pas (64 percent
to 61 percent). More than 68 percent expressed uncertainty over
the differences among business attire, business casual, and casual
dress in the workplace, with 47 percent saying that knowing the
difference was "somewhat difficult" or "very difficult."
Thirty percent said it was harder today to determine what was acceptable
attire in the workplace than it was 10 years ago, with more women
than men (32 percent vs. 27 percent) citing difficulty. Overwhelmingly-89
percent-those surveyed said that dress codes in their workplaces
have become less formal in the last 10 years.
According to Tootelian, the biggest fashion problem for workers
today is the concept of "business casual."
"'Business casual' is a term that needs to be better defined,"
he said. "People don't know what it is."
For men, Tootelian said, the standard for business attire has been
a suit and tie with shined, matching shoes. Business casual could
mean anything from a sports coat with or without a tie to pleated
cotton slacks with a collared short-sleeve polo shirt and loafers.
For women, business attire already offers them a choice of pant
suits, suits, dresses and coordinated skirt and slack ensembles
and the notion of business casual may be more subtle, with factors
such as pattern, color, texture and material playing a role.
"Unfortunately," Tootelian said, "business casual
may not help women as much as it does men."
His study also found divisions along generational lines, with younger
respondents having a different, more casual, perception of what
constitutes business attire.
"For them, the concept of a coat and a tie isn't even on their
radar screen," he said.
Moving beyond his study, Tootelian said that dressing appropriately
for work and business functions-as well as displaying good manners
and a sense of etiquette-is still important for workers who want
to make a good impression and advance their careers.
"Those who don't dress appropriately can put a ceiling on their
careers really quick," he said.
Still, Tootelian said he does not expect American businesses to
make a sudden u-turn to more formal dress codes: "I would expect
the changes are here for a while."
For more information on the study, contact Tootelian at (916) 278-6203.
The full summary of his findings is attached to the press release
at www.csus.edu/news. For
media assistance, call CSUS public affairs (916) 278-6156.