Research from the University of Hertfordshire, UK found that women who wear skirts in the workplace are more likely to be favourably perceived and get promoted says research leader Professor Karen Pine.
Pine, who is a developmental psychologist, said that this research endorsed the commonly held idea that people make rapid judgments of each other, based on clothing. And that this ‘weighing up’ occurs within the first few seconds of meeting.
Professor Pine said she found it quite surprising that in this most recent research, the skirt suit stimulated more favorable judgments than the trouser suit. Other studies that have been done over time have suggested that women who dress in a more masculine style were perceived as having higher professional status.
‘What we found suggests women can dress in a feminine way yet still be perceived as confident and successful. The skirt suit seems to balance professionalism with attractiveness,’ Professor Pine said.
The study revealed women who wear skirts with jackets are viewed as being more confident, higher-earning and more flexible than those opting for a trouser suit. While trouser suits were associated with ambition and success, a skirt suit was found to give a more positive first impression.
The study consisted of showing 300+ respondents a series of pictures of a man or a woman wearing suits and then asking them to rate them across a range of personality traits. Both skirt and trouser suits were included; all suits were navy in colour and made from the same fabric.
The faces of the men and women in the pictures were blurred to ensure respondents were only making judgments based on clothing and not their perceived ‘pleasing looks’.
Participants studied each picture for three seconds before rating the depicted women on five different criteria: confidence, success, trustworthiness, salary and flexibility.
Professor Pine said people appear to make judgments very instinctively and rapidly, and added that while women must maintain a professional appearance, ‘the skirt suit may achieve that balance without appearing provocative’.
Now, we must wait with bated breath to see what the effect is when professional women ’frock up’ – as is increasingly the case.