Q: I know it’s important to look my best in a “traditionally male” job, like a doctor or manager. But what if I work a job that’s not really traditionally seen as masculine? Does it even matter what I wear?
A: More and more men are working jobs that were not traditionally seen as “male.” However, evidence shows that traditional attire still gives men some advantages in non-traditionally male occupations.
A group of researchers at the University of Windsor wanted to know whether men wearing “traditional” or “non-traditional” business attire changed people’s perceptions of their job performance, even in a non-traditional job (a job that men didn’t tend to work in the past).
Their findings were published in a journal called Psychology of Men & Masculinity in 2011.
They noted previous research that points out that men are now working jobs that were not traditionally seen as “masculine.”
On the one hand, we know that what we wear matters.
On the other hand, maybe since there are different expectations and perceptions of men in nontraditional jobs, maybe what they wear doesn’t matter as much.
For instance, in the past, nursing was seen as a woman’s job. However, more and more men are finding that they have an important role to play in the nursing profession and they can make a great living doing so!
The researchers also noted past research that suggests that what men wear in the workplace matters. It changes how they’re perceived and it changes how people evaluate their job performance.
Put those two facts together and we get an interesting question: if a man is working a “nontraditional” job, like nursing or school teaching, does it still matter what he wears?
The researchers made three hypotheses:
- Hypothesis 1: Maybe men will be perceived as having a higher salary if they dress better, no matter what job they have (traditional vs. non-traditional).
- Hypothesis 2: Maybe traditionally-dressed men will be perceived as better suited for traditional occupations, and non-traditionally-dressed men will be better suited for non-traditional occupations.
- Hypothesis 3: Maybe non-traditionally dressed men will be expected to face discrimination in their jobs, while traditionally-dressed men will be expected to get promotions and climb the ladder of success in their jobs.
The researchers recruited 91 undergraduate students to be judges of various pictures of men.
Two photograph cards were created featuring the head and upper body of a man in two different forms of attire. The man was generally attractive, physically fit, in his 20s or early 30s, clean shaven, and had short hair. The two different cards featured the following changes:
- On one card, the man was wearing a European-cut beige suit, with a matching collar shirt unbuttoned at the top, a neck scarf, and a single earring in his right ear. This was considered non-traditional attire.
- On the other card, the man was wearing a more traditional navy suit, white shirt, and dark tie. This man had no earring. This was considered traditional attire.
The researchers randomly showed one of the cards to each of the judges.
Then, the researchers showed a list of 10 occupations and asked the 91 judges to rate the man on the card by judging how well-suited he is for each of the 10 occupations. The jobs included traditionally “male” jobs (in red) and traditionally “female” jobs (in green). The jobs were:
- Elementary Teacher
- Social Worker
The judges were also asked whether the man would be hired for each of the jobs, what the man’s salary would likely be, what the man’s ability for the job would be, whether the man’s personality is suited for the job, whether the man will face harassment or discrimination on the job, and the likelihood that the man would be promoted quickly in that job.
- The researchers tested their hypotheses through statistical analysis.
Hypothesis 1: Those with non-traditional attire would be judged to have a lower salary no matter what job they had.
- Results: CONFIRMED. Even in jobs that are not seen as traditionally male, such as librarian and nurse, traditional attire was perceived as associated with a higher average salary.
Hypothesis 2: Traditional attire would be seen as more suitable for traditionally male occupations, and vice versa.
- Results: PARTIALLY CONFIRMED. The researchers found an effect here but it wasn’t incredibly strong. Traditional attire was more associated with traditional jobs and vice versa, but there wasn’t a significant judgment in ability between the two. In other words, the attire didn’t significantly change judgments of a man’s ability to do a particular job.
Hypothesis 3: Non-traditional attire would cause judges to expect the man to face discrimination or harassment, while traditional attire would be associated with promotions and achievement.
- Results: CONFIRMED. The man in non-traditional attire was expected to face more workplace harassment and discrimination than the man in traditional attire. The man in traditional attire was judged to be more likely to be promoted quickly than the man in non-traditional attire.
Likelihood of Hire:
- The researchers also asked judges whether they thought the man would be hired for a particular job.
- In traditionally male occupations, judges rated the traditionally-dressed man as more likely to be hired than those who saw the non-traditionally-dressed man.
- In non-traditionally male occupations, the attire did not matter significantly.
- There seem to be positive associations with wearing traditional business attire, even in jobs in which men are not traditionally associated, such as librarian, nurse, and elementary school teacher.
- Men who wear traditional attire in non-traditionally male jobs are still expected to have higher salaries, face less discrimination, and be promoted quickly than those who wear non-traditional attire.
- Interestingly, neither style of attire was associated with significantly higher judgments of ability – just judgments of likelihood of making money and getting ahead.
- As one might expect, wearing non-traditional attire was associated with a higher likelihood of discrimination and lower salary, even in non-traditionally male jobs. However, non-traditional attire did not affect people’s expectations of hiring in non-traditional professions.
Kwantes, C. T., Lin, I. Y., Gidak, N., & Schmidt, K. (2011). The effect of attire on expected occupational outcomes for male employees. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 12(2), 166-180. Link: http://www.researchgate.net/publication/232467939_The_Effect_of_Attire_on_Expected_Occupational_Outcomes_for_Male_Employees