Business women's appearance management, career development and sexual harassment

Kimle, Patricia
Major Professor
Mary Lynn Damhorst
Committee Member
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Research Projects
Organizational Units
Journal Issue
Textiles and Clothing

Recent changes in women's business dress presented an opportunity to explore the social meanings conveyed by dress in a specific context. Combining qualitative methods of observation with interpretive and grounded theory analyses, this study contributes to our understanding of dress. The applicability of various theories of product symbolism and social behavior to women's business dress was explored;The purpose of this study was to examine meanings of the perceived ideal image and actual image for women in business. It explored women's experiences with and feelings about the use of dress as part of their development as professionals. The study sought to facilitate insight into the dynamics of appearance in personal interactions, specifically among men and women at work. Perceptions of dress in cases of sexual harassment were explored;Long interviews were conducted with 24 women in a variety of business positions. The interviews focused on women's experiences with appearance management, career development, and gender relations at work. The analysis explored the socially constructed ideal images for working women. The data was analyzed through grounded theory and interpretive methods;A dynamic, multi-dimensional conceptual model of the meaning components women communicate in order to approach what they perceive as the "ideal" image was proposed. The six meaning components identified were Conservatism, Fashion, Masculinity, Femininity/Sexuality, Creativity, and Conformity. Each of the meanings must be consciously balanced by business women. Exhibiting too much of an individual meaning may endanger the image and destroy the individual's credibility. The state of balance of meaning components is mediated by several contextual factors--the particular field in which a woman is employed, the position she holds, and her personal values. Attention to matters of personal attractiveness was an overall requirement of the ideal image which did not require balance with other components. Other findings explored general career development issues, the perceived origins of the ideal image, business dress concerns during maternity, and the relation between dress and sexual harassment.