Think of all the decisions you have to make at work. There are a bunch, right? Then there are the ones you have to make before you get to work — you may not even have thought about those. One of those decisions might be whether you wear sleeves or go sleeveless at work. Do you think about that? I do. I thought most businesswomen did. (If I’m wrong about that, I would love to hear from you. Here’s a link to vote.) Here’s why I’m thinking it’s pretty important to know whether or not image-conscious women today go sleeveless at work:
I recently spoke at a conference about success in business and what makes business people successful. I often incorporate the research that I read to support my ideas. I’m a student of persuasion, since that’s such a big part of sales, and I find that the same skills apply to successful people in business. Dr. Chris Segrin, of the University of Wisconsin, did some research on apparel. He found that in general “the more formal or high status the clothing, the greater the compliance rate obtained.” What that means is that formal attire has more influence and power, less formal has less influence and power.
That’s what I told this audience of women. If they wanted to be perceived to have more power and influence, they might consider wearing long sleeves if they were meeting with superiors. That’s more formal. Think about men in long-sleeved oxford shirts versus men in short-sleeved oxford shirts. Have you ever seen the president of the United States wearing a tie with a short-sleeved white shirt? Never. There’s a perception that more skin showing (as in sleeveless) means less power. Less skin showing implies more power. People who are in a position of authority tend to comply with these rules of dress.
I want to have every advantage in business. If I’m trying to persuade someone in business, I’m not showing up for the meeting in a sleeveless blouse. Would you?
After the program, a middle-aged woman came up to me. She vehemently disagreed with my recommendation against sleeveless tops. She said, “You know, your advice is dated. Michelle Obama wears sleeveless dresses.” I replied, “If your husband is the most powerful man in the world, you can, too.”
Then I had a discussion with a friend to ask her what she thought about this question. She was a senior executive in an international cosmetics company. The cosmetics industry is very image focused. They dress even for pool parties. (I attended one function and was shocked to see one woman wearing $300 shoes. You may wonder how I knew how much she paid. When she got them wet, she complained about that she just ruined a pair of $300 shoes.) I figured, this is an industry where they would know about sleeves.
My friend told me, “That woman at the conference may be right. It’s a generational thing. Young women today might not think anything about wearing sleeveless.” So, despite the research, I started to wonder if maybe I was wrong.
Please let me know. What have you experienced in business? Would you think nothing of going sleeveless at work?
What’s your position on slevelessness? Vote to let me know how you dress!.
Who knows. Maybe at my next meeting I’ll reconsider taking my suit jacket off. Thanks for your help!