Modern Professional Attire:
Grooming and Clothing vs. Tattoos and Piercings
Q: I’ve heard that the modern world is changing and people are becoming more accepting of trendy attire and things like tattoos and piercings. What is considered “professional attire” in the current world? Are people more concerned with how you dress and groom, or will they still judge me if I have piercings and tattoos?
A: One study showed that grooming and attire are the most important factors in appearing professional. Piercings and tattoos were seen as less favorable, but the effect was smaller.
A group of hospitality industry researchers at a few universities in the United States sought out to determine what exactly makes up “professional attire” in the modern world. They studied a number of different factors that may influence how people are perceived:
- Overall physical attractiveness
- Neatness and grooming
- Clothing color
- Conservative vs. trendy attire
- Professional vs. casual attire
- Body modification (tattoos and piercings)
These researchers published their findings in 2012 in the International Journal of Hospitality Management.
The researchers attended the 2010 National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago. It’s the largest exhibition of its type (2000 booths with 70,000 participants).
- A number of universities display booths with their hospitality and culinary programs.
- Some participants were also gathered at the 2010 International Council of Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Educators conference.
Experimental participants were recruited randomly as they walked around the show, sat at booths, or approached the researchers’ booth.
Overall, they got 108 participants.
The researchers created hypothetical student descriptions on cards, with photos of the hypothetical students. They tried to make the cards generic and standardized, with a diverse mixture of race, body type, and age.
- The cards had different combinations of attractiveness, clothing, accessories, and body modifications.
Participants were asked to imagine that they were HR managers for a hospitality management company and they were hiring a new employee. They had to rank 16 of the hypothetical candidate cards in order of who they think is most desirable.
Then, participants recorded some of their own characteristics (education, industry, experience, etc.) on a different form.
Since there was such a large combination of different factors for the hypothetical candidates, their analysis was somewhat complicated.
However, here are their hypotheses and whether those hypotheses were supported.
HYPOTHESIS 1: Attractiveness is a desirable attribute of job candidates.
Result: TRUE! More attractive candidates tended to be ranked more highly.
HYPOTHESIS 2: Neatness is a desirable attribute of job candidates.
Result: TRUE! Neatly-groomed candidates tended to be ranked more highly.
HYPOTHESIS 3: Dark-colored clothing is favored as more “professional.”
Result: NOT REALLY! Dark clothing was slightly favored over light clothing, especially among very experienced judges. But the effect wasn’t very strong.
HYPOTHESIS 4: Conservative attire is preferred over trendy attire.
Result: MIXED! Among faculty members, conservative attire was more highly ranked. Among students, trendy attire was more highly ranked. Trendiness had the edge overall, but it highly depended on the judge.
HYPOTHESIS 5: Business dress attire is a desirable attribute of job candidates.
Result: TRUE! Business dress attire resulted in the highest rankings. Business casual was less highly ranked, and casual was least of all.
HYPOTHESIS 6: Having visible tattoos is an undesirable attribute of job candidates.
Result: TRUE! Having visible tattoos resulted in lower rankings.
HYPOTHESIS 7: Non-conservative piercing is an undesirable attribute of job candidates.
Result: TRUE! Having non-conservative piercings resulted in lower rankings.
What were the MOST IMPORTANT factors in rankings (the factors that affected rankings more strongly)?
- Neat grooming
- Business dress attire
- Does this mean that piercings and tattoos will doom you to a life in the unemployment line? Not necessarily. Here are some factors to consider:
- Neat grooming and dress attire were the most important considerations. If you have those, then that gives you the biggest edge.
- Tattoos were visible in the pictures. If you have a tattoo on your chest or arm under your sleeve, then nobody will even know you have it.
- Additionally, it means you need to know your audience. Younger judges tended to like more trendy attire. Older judges were obviously more conservative.
Ruetzler, T., Taylor, J., Reynolds, D., Baker, W., & Killen, C. (2012). What is professional attire today? A conjoint analysis of personal presentation attributes. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 31, 937-943. Link: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278431911001770