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  • Writer's pictureNiels Strohkirch

The Shirt Unbuttoned

Watch out!

Opening one too many buttons on your blouse will make you less trustworthy and less intelligent!

At least, that is how others may judge you.

I know, it sounds ridiculous. What has it got to do with job competence and/or business competence whether the female Senior Manager is buttoning up her blouse fully or unbutton just one? Especially, when in both cases absolutely nothing further is revealed and we are still talking about a very professional and conservatively dressed female Senior Manager?

While it is quite hard to change your body shape or your facial expressions, changing your clothes is comparably simple. But when you do so, it is better to not only look for the ‘big picture’ of how you dress but also to make sure you give a lot of thoughts into details. Read this article and I am sure you will change your opinion and take it into consideration before you start your next office day.

Following the latest research by Howlett, Pine, Cahill, Orakçıoğlu, Fletcher (2015), smallest details make a huge difference for the Senior Manager in how they are rated by others in terms of Intelligence, Responsibility, Confidence, Trustworthiness, Authoritative, and Organization. The study had the goal to understand better how small differences in dressing options (whether more or less provocative) in a conservative global work environment affects how women are judged and how the status of the women Senior Manager (higher occupational status) or receptionist (lower occupational status) affects others in their judgement.

Mixed gender participants from the US, France, Saudi Arabia, Philippines and Pakistan were asked to rate pictures based on the business trades mentioned above. The pictures varied in only very minor manipulations with the clothing; e.g. in the pictures one model was wearing either a higher buttoned blouse with one button open or a lower buttoned blouse with 2 buttons opened and a business skirt while one was just close over knee length and one was just stopping at the knee. Hence, far off from being considered a short skirt. To avoid a bias in attractiveness and/or facial impressions the models faces were pixelated. The pictures were only shown for 5 seconds and the models were given 2 different occupational titles as either ‘Senior Manager’ or ‘Receptionist’.

In short, the higher status female were judged significantly more negative while appearing in more revealing clothes than wearing more conservative clothes. Let me stress again that both times the pictures show a lady in conservative business dressing. Surprisingly, the participants were much more lenient with the ‘Receptionist’ while wearing the exact same clothes than the ‘Senior Manager’ did. As the ‘Receptionist’ did not lose out here as much as the ‘Senior Manager’ indicates that a higher status comes with a harder and harsher judgment by others. Actually, the judgement given to the ‘Receptionist’ had no difference whether she was wearing more or less revealing clothes.


The next time you are out shopping for your office wears think twice about what you want to buy. The higher your occupational status is, the more people will look at you and base their judgement on your competence and intelligence on what you wear and how you wear it rather than what they should do, which is to base it on achievements and competence. It takes years to build all the competence and achievements, but others do not know that; and it takes less than 5 seconds for a person to judge you differently based on small adjustments in your dressing.

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