Managing Identity Through Attire: A Theoretical Framework

Managing Identity Through Attire: A Theoretical Framework

Kanchan Tolani (Shri Ramdeobaba College of Engineering and Management, India), Sancheeta Pugalia (University of Technology Sydney, Australia) and Archana Shrivastava (Amity University, India)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9940-1.ch010

Abstract

Women experience gender stereotyping at the workplace not only by men but also by other women. Despite an increase in diversity and equality at the workplace, women in India still face gender bias and are represented less at boardroom level. According to an annual survey by Grant Thornton (2017), India ranks third lowest in the proportion of business leadership roles held by women. Though gender roles in India are changing, women in top positions are still facing various hindrances. The higher the position a woman holds in an organization, harsher are the judgments made if her clothing is perceived as inappropriate (Pine, 2014). Thus this chapter sheds light on how women managers on a daily basis use attire to manage their identities.
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Introduction

Women experience gender stereotyping at workplace not only by men but also by other women. Despite of increase in diversity and equality at workplace, women in India still face gender bias and are represented less at boardroom level. According to an annual survey by Grant Thornton (2017), India ranks third lowest in the proportion of business leadership roles held by women. Though gender roles in India are changing, women in top positions are still facing various hindrances. The higher the position a woman holds in an organization, harsher are the judgments made if her clothing is perceived as inappropriate (Pine, 2014). A study conducted by Peluchette et al. (2006) on postgraduate students revealed that women consider dress to be an important component for managing their appearance; they make more efforts while choosing their attire for work than men, predominantly when they are occupying managerial or executive positions. Thus our study sheds light on how women managers on a day to day basis use attire to manage their identities.

In the current business scenario, the factors contributing to the formation of an individual’s identity are not only confined to his/her performance and skills but also to the decisions about attire at work. Past published research supports the argument that individuals on a day to day basis use attire to manage their image. In this paper an attempt is made to understand how women managers use attire to manage their identities at workplace.

As compared to males, females are found to display stronger interest in clothes and place more importance on attire (Solomon and Scholper, 1982). Role of attire for employees is also based on their position in the hierarchy of the organization. According to Rafaeli and Dutton (1997), in organizations a clear distinctions exists in terms of what is considered to be appropriate for those in management positions as opposed to non-management positions.

Identity basically has two important components, a personal component (personality, physical and intellectual traits) and a social component (sex, race, class and nationality) (Ashforth and Mael, 1989). Berger and Luckmann (1966) states that identity is formed by social processes. Identity once formed, is maintained, altered or even reformed by social relations. Attire is a convenient way to represent numerous and even conflicting identities at workplace. A study by Hunt and Miller (1997) propose that choice of attire is a decided behavior designed to communicate information to others. It also aids engagement in social systems. On the same lines, an effort made by Goffman (1959) suggests that a lot of people use dress to deliberately communicate information that enables them to engage in social interaction and occupy a place in social systems. At workplace physical appearance impacts the impression formed by others. In a study conducted on college students, Walster (1972) found that an individual’s physical appearance is most noticeable in any social interaction.

A study by Kwon (1994) reveals that there is a direct correlation between an individual’s dressing and people’s perceptions about them. People who are appropriately dressed are perceived as more responsible, honest, knowledgeable, professional, competent, reliable, trustworthy, intelligent, efficient and hardworking than those who are not. Kanter (1977) observed that dress and appearance are more crucial for women as compared to men as women in male dominated organizational setups have greater need for rightfulness, acceptance and standing. In a study, Thornton (1943) tried to understand the relationship between appearance and perception formed by people; he focused on specific symbols, a pair of glasses. It was observed that people with glasses are perceived to be more intelligent.

In a research undertaken by Landry and Sigall (1974) on female college students, it was found that physical attractiveness also influences the perception of performance especially when the performance of a woman is poor and she is physically attractive.

Self-monitoring is considered an important factor affecting an individual’s sensitivity to the choice of dress. As people who are high self-monitors tend to behave in more socially acceptable ways (Peluchette et al., 2006). Thus self-monitoring is a personality trait due to which people use clothing or attire to manage their impression.

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