Business Attire at LSU: Why Dressing Nice is Important
Kenneth St. Pierre, Don Hidalgo, Lakaysha Batiste, Henry Nedandovich
Business attire, a category of clothing typically associated with the workplace, has been a staple at Louisiana State University for years. Even though LSU has since moved away from dress codes, formal attire is still very prevalent today. How you dress is important. Not only does it change how others perceive you, but it also affects the perception you have of yourself. The purpose of this blog entry is to analyze business attire on campus and explain what kind of effects dressing this way can have; however, before we begin, we must first explain what we mean when we say business attire.
What exactly is Business attire? The answer to that question may differ depending on where you look. Moreover, there are different degrees of formality. Sylvie di Giusto, a professional image consultant, defines five levels of formality. For the purpose of this blog entry, we will be analyzing three of these. First, there is baseline casual. As figure 2 shows, this a more relaxed look.
Baseline casual consist of well-fitted t-shirts, elegant denim, and tasteful sneakers. Open toe shoes are also acceptable for women. This is also a look typically seen on campus. Next, as figure 3 shows, there is business casual.
Business casual is a much more polished look than baseline casual. Instead of t-shirts, business casual consist of dress shirts, sweaters, and cardigans. Jeans are replaced with slacks and skirts. This is a step up from baseline casual, but still less formal than the next level.
Lastly, there is boardroom attire, pictured in figure 4. This is by far the most formal level of dress. It is often reserved for special occasions—interviews, ceremonies, funerals, etc. It is a very high-end yet conservative look. You want to dress to impress, but you also do not want to offend (Feloni 2018). Overall, these three looks give students a multitude of options to dress for success. As you will see later, choosing the right outfit is entirely dependent on the situation. However, it is also important to understand that business attire fluctuates. What we consider now to be formal used to be the standard.
As you can see in figure 5, early LSU fashion was much more formal than it is today. Men frequently wore suits and ties, while women wore modest clothes that concealed their bodies (Gumbo 1950). Some of these trends can be attributed to football. Outdoor tailgating was not as popular as it is now. People often attended indoor parties where it made more sense to dress up. Unfortunately, some of these fashion trends disproportionately affected women. “We walked from the fraternity houses to the games in heels,” said Pam Vinci, a former LSU student from the 1960s. Many even used to wear fur coats, regardless of how hot it got. As time went on, students started to dress more casually. Younger people started dressing to distinguish themselves from their parent’s generation. This resulted in each age forming its own unique style. In the 1970s, LSU was slowly transitioning away from dress codes. This was the beginning of a big cultural shift, as students started being able express themselves. “The whole mood changed,” said former student Harry Heroman in reference to the rule changes (Brasted 2014). Nevertheless, the biggest change in business attire did not occur until the 1990s.
A big shift in formality occurred in the 1990s with the birth of business casual attire. Interestingly enough, this new trend first originated in Hawaii many years prior. In 1966, the Hawaiian Fashion Guild started encouraging companies to allow casual attire in the workplace. Although this was originally a marketing ploy to sell more Hawaiian shirts, the practice took off and eventually became known as Aloha Fridays. In 1992, Aloha Fridays started to spread to other places. Dockers, a popular brand of khakis, is often credited with bringing the practice over to North America and turning it into Casual Fridays. They did this by writing a set of fashion guidelines and mailing it to businesses across the country. Dockers’ Guide To Casual Business Wear shifted the belief that casual was synonymous with sloppy. Although many offices initially rejected the idea, most changed their mind once they realized the effect it had on morale. When employees are happy, they often perform better. In 1995, 42% of companies allowed their employees to dress casually at least once per week. This was over a 20% increase from 1992 (Dockers). Meanwhile, as you can see in figure 6, this new trend of casual attire had spread across LSU’s campus.
Today, it is estimated that 44% of companies allow casual attire every day of the week. More and more companies are seeing the benefits of a lax office dress code (2017 Employee Benefits). As for LSU, students are dressing more casually than ever.
As you can see in figure 7, it common to see LSU students wearing t-shirts, shorts, sneakers, or even a pair of flip-flops. It makes sense too. Louisiana is hot. Why should students sacrifice comfort just to look a little nicer? Their primary goal is to learn not impress. Does this mean that business formal on campus is dead? Of course not. It all depends on where you look.
Not surprisingly, most business attire on campus can be found in the E. J. Ourso College of Business, pictured above in figure 8. This applies for both inside and outside the classroom. Presentations, job interviews, special events—the college provides multiple occasions for students to wear formal attire. In fact, it is often required. One of the college’s missions is to establish a learning environment that cultivates future business leaders (E.J. Ourso). A big factor in meeting this goal is making sure students look the part. This is why LSU places a strong emphasis on appearance when students meet potential employers. Their guidelines for business professional attire are as follows:
Men — A suit in a conservative color (e.g., black, navy or gray) made of wool, gabardine or wool blend. Long-sleeved dress shirt in white, ecru or light blue. Tie with subtle patterns and colors. Socks should match the pant color. Polished leather lace-up shoes in black, brown or burgundy that either match or are darker than the suit. Belt to match shoes.
Women — A traditional suit in a conservative color (e.g., black, navy or gray) made of wool, gabardine, rayon or a blend. Avoid trendy styles. A skirt suit is most conservative and formal. Skirts should be knee-length, and panty hose are a must. If uncomfortable in skirts, pant suits are acceptable. Blouses should be a conservative color (pastels). One-to-two-inch, closed-toe heel (pump or sling back) of a quality leather that is darker than the suit color (Dress for Success).
As you can see, these guidelines are consistent with di Giusto’s definition of boardroom attire. It is a strong look that is suitable for many different types of job interviews, especially those in the corporate world. First impressions are vital, and the clothing you wear can be seen as a reflection of yourself. That is why it is important for students to look appropriate when meeting a potential employer (Dress for Success).
How you dress changes other people’s perception of you. This is true regardless of the profession. One example of this occurs in the medical world. A recent study tested how a physician’s attire can affect patients’ perceptions. Figure 9 pictures the outfits worn in the study.
Results showed that patients strongly preferred doctors who wore a traditional white coat.
The study states this is most likely due to white coats being associated with authority and professionalism. Doctors have been wearing that attire for years and there is a certain level of expectation a patient might have. Deviating from those expectations, such as wearing the suit in the third picture, can reduce a patient’s confidence in the doctor. Nevertheless, the results of this study only applies to a specific scenario. The question of whether you should wear a suit obviously depends on the situation (Jennings 2016). In the business world, for example, formal attire is a major key to success. In 2014, Michael Kraus, a social psychologist from Yale, conducted a study analyzing how perceived social class affects job performance. The subjects in the study were put through a series of buyer-seller role-playing exercises. The buyers were divided into two groups based on clothing. The first group wore formal business attire—suits and dress shoes. The second group wore t-shirts and sweatpants. The results showed that the first group performed much better in the negotiations. They had higher profits than the second group and a lower number of concessions. Interestingly, the study tested the hormone levels of each group and found the second group had a significant reduction in Testosterone compared to the first. Why is this the case? Some studies have suggested that our perception of ourselves might be just as important (Kraus;Smith).
Not only can dressing nicer change how others perceive you, but it can also change how you perceive yourself. Joy Peluchette, a professor from the University of Southern Indiana, conducted a study examining the relationship between individual beliefs and workplace attire. The study found that people who dressed to impress others experienced a more positive view of themselves. Moreover, subjects who dressed nicer at work felt more competent at their jobs.
The study also suggest that individuals with higher self-perceptions perform more challenging tasks, give more effort, and recover faster from setbacks. If dressing nicer can lead to an increase in job performance, it is something businesses should consider (Peluchette). If all of this is true, why are the dress codes on campus so much more lax in comparison to the corporate world?
Multiple studies have suggested that students prefer instructors who wear formal attire. (Carr 2010;Chatelain 2015). Amber Chatelain, a professor at Eastern Kentucky University, conducted one of the most recent ones. Her study examined the effect that an instructor’s clothing had on their approachability and likability. The study analyzed casual, business casual, and professional attire. Results showed that instructors in casual attire were rated less likeable than instructors wearing professional attire or business casual attire (Chatelain 2015). These findings seem at odds with LSU’s lax dress codes (Administrative, Clerical And Professional Dress Code). Assuming all of these studies are accurate and students do actually like professors more if they dress nicer, then shouldn’t universities start applying stricter dress codes to faculty and staff? Maybe not. More importantly, the study found no significant difference in an instructor’s approachability based on their attire (Chatelain 2015). Approachability is arguably a much more important characteristic for a teacher to have than likability. Moreover, many places on campus have to consider other things besides just looks. Science departments, for example, value safety over looking professional (Department of Biological Sciences). As the study on physician attire showed us, context matters. Overall, dressing appropriately is what matters the most (Jennings 2016).
Given the way fashion has trended the last few decades, it seems likely that people are going to continue to dress more casually. Obviously, this is not a bad thing. It is great that students today can wear clothing that expresses themselves, especially considering this was not always the case. However, this does not mean formal attire is going away anytime soon. There is a time and a place for everything. Clothing choices can say a lot about a person. Somes times dressing a little nicer is all it takes to standout in a room full of job applicants.
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