Does Appearance Matter?

Emyli Thompson, Social Media Manager, Reviews/Club Features

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  There are many employers and schools that have different views on dress code, from having to wear a specific suit to wearing pretty much anything as long as you’re wearing something. What is the meaning behind some of these strict rules? Does the dress code really matter when it comes to productivity and the image of the company or school? Your appearance may mean something more than just your image.


In 2017, 61% of unemployed people said that they would have a negative perception of a company with a strict dress code. Why? The way someone dresses is a form of self-identification and has more meaning to the wearer themselves. However, there is more psychological reasoning for dress code. According to Dr. Karen Pine, professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire and fashion psychologist, “When we put on an item of clothing it is common for the wearer to adopt the characteristics associated with that garment. A lot of clothing has symbolic meaning for us, whether it’s ‘professional work attire’ or ‘relaxing weekend wear’, so when we put it on we prime the brain to behave in ways consistent with that meaning.” A study at Northwestern University took place introducing subjects to a white coat. One-half of the people were told it was a doctor’s coat and felt more confident and professional, with higher production rates than the other half, who was told it was a painter’s coat. 


Professionalism is crucial, especially in regards to treating people with respect, qualifications, and character. Another common “violation” of the dress is tattoos, piercings and unnaturally colored hair. As found by FOX, 61% of adults in America have tattoos, and 97% wouldn’t change their shopping habits if employees have visible tattoos, piercings or dyed hair. “The myth that people with tattoos and piercings are automatically less qualified, irresponsible, delinquents, or not prompt is simply inaccurate. We could find 1,000’s of tattooed and pierced workers that fit an old stereotype, and we could also find 1,000’s of tattooed and pierced workers that are the opposite of old stereotypes.” Some workplaces already have an enforced dress code, such as law firms where you have to wear suits. One law firm has even said, “You can still dress to impress while having tattoos and piercings. If everyone in the business wears specific business professional attire there should be no exceptions made.” What directly affects all employees, modified or not, is action and character.


Schools also commonly run into issues with dress codes. When I was in 5th grade, I went to a uniformed school in Las Vegas. I got pulled out of class for 2 hours to wait for my parents to wash a new shirt and bring it to school because I wore a grey polo shirt instead of a white or blue one. Now, of course, this was enforced across the whole school, however, whenever you look at dress codes, usually terms are often gendered. For example, “girls must not wear spaghetti straps or show cleavage.” According to Nikki Belsham, “My girl was dress coded for two days in a row. It’s impossible to find shorts that are remotely fashionable and below her fingertips. She’s tall with long arms and fingers.” While strict dress codes like these occur and question girls about how they dress, no one would ever question the length of a boy’s shorts. The reasoning for the restrictions is because this “distracts students,” specifically males. Another thing that seems to direct dress code is race. A 2018 study by the National Women’s Law Center found that Black girls in District of Columbia schools are singled out by unfair dress codes. A student named Maddie Reeser in a DC school noticed that her black friends got dress coded more than her white friends. She brought the issue up to an administrator whose response allegedly was, “because white girls don’t have much to show.” These dress codes not only ruin a girl’s perception by thinking that her appearance means more than her education, but it also ruins people’s class time and education. Schools are allowed to pull students out of class for how they are dressed, even for some of the smallest things.


The dress may only be one piece of culture, but it shows the mindset of the company or school. Although there is no scientific evidence that dress affects productivity, it still helps to dress in “work mode” to set the tone of the business. However, this can still be done while still dressing casually, whether it’s wearing a button-up with jeans, or a blouse with shorts. Many schools are even changing their dress codes with the help of student input and gender-neutral phrases. So while dress can affect your own productivity, it does not define your character, pay the bills or get the paperwork done.