Sex Roles

, Volume 72, Issue 3–4, pp 105–116 | Cite as

Unbuttoned: The Interaction Between Provocativeness of Female Work Attire and Occupational Status

  • Neil HowlettEmail author
  • Karen J. Pine
  • Natassia Cahill
  • İsmail Orakçıoğlu
  • Ben (C) Fletcher
Original Article


Gender-biased standards in United Kingdom (UK) workplaces continue to exist. Women experience gender discrimination in judgements of competence, even by other women. Clothing cues can subtly influence professional perceptions of women. The aim of this study was to investigate how minor manipulations to female office clothing affect the judgements of competence of them by other UK females and to examine whether such effects differ with occupational status. One group of female university students (n = 54) and one group of employed females (n = 90), all from London and the East of England, rated images of faceless female targets, on a global competence measure derived from six competence ratings (of intelligence, confidence, trustworthiness, responsibility, authority, and organisation). The dress style was conservative but varied slightly by skirt length and the number of buttons unfastened on a blouse. The female targets were ascribed different occupational roles, varying by status (high – senior manager, or low - receptionist). Participants viewed the images for a maximum of 5 s before rating them. Overall participants rated the senior manager less favourably when her clothing was more provocative, but more favourably when dressed more conservatively (longer skirt, buttoned up blouse). This interaction between clothing and status was not present for the receptionist. Employed participants also rated females lower than did student participants. We conclude that even subtle changes to clothing style can contribute towards negative impressions of the competence of women who hold higher status positions in a UK cultural context.


Female workplace attire Occupational status Gender bias Female perceptions UK gender beliefs Competence 


  1. Abbey, A., Cozzarelli, C., McLaughlin, K., & Harnish, R. J. (1987). The effects of clothing and dyad sex composition on perceptions of sexual intent: Do women and men evaluate these cues differently. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 17, 108–126. doi: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.1987.tb00304.x.
  2. Bakewell, J. W., & Berger, J. (1996). Gender, status, and behavior in task situations. Social Psychology Quarterly, 59, 273–283. doi: 10.2307/2787023.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barnard, M. (2002). Fashion as communication. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  4. Behling, D. U., & Williams, E. A. (1991). Influence of dress on perception of intelligence and expectations of scholastic achievement. Clothing and Textiles Research Journal, 9(4), 1–7. doi: 10.1177/0887302X9100900401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Biernat, M., & Fuegen, K. (2001). Shifting standards and the evaluation of competence: Complexity in gender-based judgment and decision-making. Journal of Social Issues, 57, 707–724. doi: 10.1111/0022-4537.00237.
  6. Biernat, M., Tocci, M. J., & Williams, J. C. (2012). The language of performance evaluations: Gender-based shifts in content and consistency of judgement. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3, 186–192. doi: 10.1177/1948550611415693.
  7. Brase, G. L., & Richmond, J. (2004). The white–coat effect: Physician attire and perceived authority, friendliness, and attractiveness. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 34, 2469–2481. doi: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2004.tb01987.x.
  8. Cahoon, D. D., & Edmonds, E. M. (1989). Male–female estimates of opposite-sex first impressions concerning females’ clothing styles. Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, 27, 280–281. doi: 10.3758/BF03334607.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Carli, L. L., & Eagly, A. H. (2001). Gender, hierarchy and leadership: An introduction. Journal of Social Issues, 57, 629–636. doi: 10.1111/0022-4537.00232.
  10. Caven, V., Lawley, S., & Baker, J. (2013). Performance, gender and sexualised work: Beyond management control, beyond legislation? A case study of work in a recruitment company. Equality Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal, 32, 475–490. doi: 10.1108/EDI-08-2011-0051.
  11. Chiao, J. Y., Bowman, N. E., & Gill, H. (2008). The political gender gap: Gender bias in facial inferences that predict voting behavior. PloS One, 3(10), e3666. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0003666.
  12. Deaux, K., Winton, W., Crowley, M., & Lewis, L. L. (1985). Level of categorization and content of gender stereotypes. Social Cognition, 3, 145–167. doi: 10.1521/soco.1985.3.2.145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Degelman, D., & Price, N. D. (2002). Tattoos and ratings of personal characteristics. Psychological Reports, 90, 507–514. doi: 10.2466/pr0.2002.90.2.507.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Eagly, A. H., & Karau, S. J. (2002). Role congruity theory of prejudice toward female leaders. Psychological Review, 109, 573–598. doi: 10.1037/0033 295X.109.3.573.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Eagly, A. H., Ashmore, R. D., Makhijani, M. G., & Longo, L. C. (1991). What is beautiful is good, but…: A meta-analytic review of research on the physical attractiveness stereotype. Psychological Bulletin, 110, 109–128. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.110.1.109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Esping-Andersen, G. (2009). The incomplete revolution: Adapting to women’s new roles. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  17. Etcoff, N. L., Stock, S., Haley, L. E., Vickery, S. A., & House, D. M. (2011). Cosmetics as a feature of the extended human phenotype: Modulation of the perception of biologically important facial signals. PloS One, 6(10), e25656. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0025656.CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Forsythe, S. (1990). Effect of applicant’s clothing on interviewer’s decision to hire. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 20, 1579–1595. doi: 10.1111/j.1559 1816.1990.tb01494.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fox, S., Bizman, A., & Herrmann, E. (1983). The halo effect: Is it a unitary concept? Journal of Occupational Psychology, 56, 289–296. doi: 10.1111/j.2044-8325.1983.tb00135.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fredrickson, B. L., & Roberts, T. A. (1997). Objectification theory: Toward understanding women’s lived experiences and mental health risks. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21, 173–206. doi: 10.1111/j.1471 6402.1997.tb00108.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Frith, K., Shaw, P., & Cheng, H. (2005). The construction of beauty: A cross-cultural analysis of women’s magazine advertising. Journal of Communication, 55(56), 70. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2005.tb02658.x.Google Scholar
  22. Gervais, S. J., Holland, A. M., & Dodd, D. M. (2013). My eyes are up here: The nature of the objectifying gaze toward women. Sex Roles, 69, 557–570. doi: 10.1007/s11199-013-0316-x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Glick, P., Larsen, S., Johnson, C., & Branstiter, H. (2005). Evaluations of sexy women in low- and high-status jobs. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 29, 389–395. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-6402.2005.00238.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gray, K., Knobe, J., Sheskin, M., Bloom, P., & Barrett, L. F. (2011). More than a body: Mind perception and the nature of objectification. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101, 1207–1220. doi: 10.1037/a0025883.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Gurung, R. A. R., & Chrouser, C. (2007). Predicting objectification: Do provocative clothing and observer characteristics matter? Sex Roles, 57, 91–99. doi: 10.1007/s11199-007-9219-z.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Heflick, N. A., & Goldenberg, J. L. (2009). Objectifying Sarah Palin: Evidence that objectification causes women to be perceived as less competent and less fully human. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45, 598–601. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2009.02.008.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Heilman, M. E., & Saruwatari, L. R. (1979). When beauty is beastly: The effects of appearance and sex on evaluations of job applicants for managerial and nonmanagerial jobs. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 23, 360–372. doi: 10.1016/0030-5073(79)90003-5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Heilman, M. E., Wallen, A. S., Fuchs, D., & Tamkins, M. M. (2004). Penalties for success: Reactions to women who succeed at male gender-typed tasks. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89, 416–427. doi: 10.1037/0021 9010.89.3.416.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Howlett, N., Pine, K. J., Orakçıoğlu, I., & Fletcher, B. (2013). The influence of clothing on first impressions: Rapid and positive responses to bespoke features in male attire. Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management, 17, 38–48. doi: 10.1108/13612021311305128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Isaac, C., Lee, B., & Carnes, M. (2009). Interventions that affect the gender bias in hiring: A systematic review. Academic Medicine, 84, 1440–1446. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3181b6ba00.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Jenner, E. A., Fletcher, B. C., Watson, P., Jones, F., Millar, L., & Scott, G. M. (2006). Discrepancy between self-reported and observed hand hygiene behaviour in healthcare professionals. Journal of Hospital Infection, 63, 418–422. doi: 10.1016/j.jhin.2006.03.012.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Johnson, V., & Gurung, R. A. R. (2011). Defusing the objectification of women by other women: The role of competence. Sex Roles, 65, 177–188. doi: 10.1007/s11199-011-0006-5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kaplan, R. M. (1978). Is beauty talent? Sex interaction in the attractiveness halo effect. Sex Roles, 4, 195–204. doi: 10.1007/F00287500.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kawakami, K., Dovidio, J. F., & Van Kamp, S. (2005). Kicking the habit: Effects of nonstereotypic association training and correction processes on hiring decisions. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 41, 68–75. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2004.05.004.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kawakami, K., Dovidio, J. F., & van Kamp, S. (2007). The impact of counterstereotypic training and related correction processes on the application of stereotype. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, 10, 139–156. doi: 10.1177/1368430207074725.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kulich, C., Trojanowski, G., Ryan, M. K., Haslam, S. A., & Renneboog, L. D. R. (2011). Who gets the carrot and who gets the stick? Evidence of gender disparities in executive renumeration. Strategic Management Journal, 32, 301–321. doi: 10.1002/smj.878.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Langlois, J. H., Kalakanis, L., Rubenstein, A. J., Larson, A., Hallam, M., & Smoot, M. (2000). Maxims or myths of beauty? A meta-analytic and theoretic review. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 390–423. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.126.3.390.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Marlowe, C. M., Schneider, S. L., & Nelson, C. E. (1996). Gender and attractiveness biases in hiring decisions: Are more experienced managers less biased? Journal of Applied Psychology, 81, 11–21. doi: 10.1037/0021-9010.81.1.11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Miller, C. F., Lurye, L. E., Zosuls, K. M., & Ruble, D. N. (2009). Accessibility of gender stereotype domains: Developmental and gender differences in children. Sex Roles, 60, 870–881. doi: 10.1007/s11199-009-9584-x.CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Park, A., Bryson, C., Clery, E., Curtice, J., & Phillips, M. (Eds.). (2013). British social attitudes: The 30th report. London: NatCen Social Research. Retrieved from Scholar
  41. Peluchette, J. V., & Karl, K. (2007). The impact of workplace attire on employee self perceptions. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 18, 345–360. doi: 10.1002/hrdq.1208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Peluchette, J. V., Karl, K., & Rust, K. (2006). Dressing to impress: Beliefs and attitudes regarding workplace attire. Journal of Business and Psychology, 21, 45–63. doi: 10.1007/s10869-005-9022-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Pine, K. J. (2014). Mind what you wear: The psychology of fashion [Kindle Edition]. Retrieved from
  44. Rake, K., & Lewis, R. (2009). Just below the surface: Gender stereotyping, the silent barrier to equality in the modern workplace? A Fawcett society think piece for the gender equality forum. London: Gender Equality Forum.Google Scholar
  45. Ridgeway, C. L., Backor, K., Li, Y. E., Tinkler, J. E., & Erickson, K. J. (2009). How easily does a social difference become a status distinction? Gender matters. American Sociological Review, 74, 44–62. doi: 10.1177/000312240907400103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Rudman, L. A., & Glick, P. (2001). Prescriptive gender stereotypes and backlash toward agentic women. Journal of Social Issues, 57, 743–762. doi: 10.1111/0022-4537.00239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Ruetzler, T., Taylor, J., Reynolds, D., Baker, W., & Killen, C. (2012). What is professional attire today? A conjoint analysis of personal presentation attributes. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 31, 937–943. doi: 10.1016/j.ijhm.2011.11.001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Schein, V. E. (2001). A global look at psychological barriers to women’s progress in management. Journal of Social Issues, 57, 675–688. doi: 10.1111/0022 4537.00235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Shore, L. M., Cleveland, J. N., & Goldberg, C. B. (2003). Work attitudes and decisions as a function of manager age and employee age. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88, 529–537. doi: 10.1037/0021-9010.88.3.529.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. Smith, P. A., & Midlarsky, E. (1985). Empirically derived conceptions of femaleness and maleness: A current view. Sex Roles, 12, 313–328. doi: 10.1007/BF00287598.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Spence, J. T., & Helmreich, R. (1972). The attitudes toward women scale: An objective instrument to measure attitudes toward the rights and roles of women in contemporary society. JSAS Catalog of Selected Documents in Psychology, 2, 667–668.Google Scholar
  52. Todorov, A., & Uleman, J. S. (2003). The efficiency of binding spontaneous trait inferences to actors’ faces. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 39, 549–562. doi: 10.1016/S0022-1031(03)00059-3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Vaes, J., Paladino, P., & Puvia, E. (2011). Are sexualized women complete human beings? Why men and women dehumanize sexually objectified women. European Journal of Social Psychology, 41, 774–785. doi: 10.1002/ejsp.824.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Villiers, C. (2010). Achieving gender balance in the boardroom: Is it time for legislative action in the UK? Legal Studies, 30, 533–557. doi: 10.1111/j.1748121X.2010.00174.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Warhurst, C., & Nickson, D. (2009). ‘Who’s got the look’? Emotional, aesthetic and sexualised labour in interactive services. Gender Work & Organization, 16, 385–404. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-0432.2009.00450.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Williams, J., Foley, B., & Newton, B. (2013). Research into under-representation, by gender and ethnicity, in apprenticeships. Brighton: Institute for Employment Studies.Google Scholar
  57. Willis, J., & Todorov, A. (2006). First impressions: Making up your mind after a 100-ms exposure to a face. Psychological Science, 17, 592–598. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01750.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  58. 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. doi: 10.3200/SOCP. 149.1.116-118.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Neil Howlett
    • 1
    Email author
  • Karen J. Pine
    • 1
  • Natassia Cahill
    • 1
  • İsmail Orakçıoğlu
    • 2
  • Ben (C) Fletcher
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of HertfordshireHatfieldUK
  2. 2.School of Applied SciencesIstanbul Bilgi UniversityIstanbulTurkey

Personalised recommendations