What Not to Wear

Perceptions of office dress differ widely around the world

By Bill Leonard Aug 23, 2010

Clothes, apparently, do make the man—or woman. So, a new global survey says, depending on wh​ere an employee lives in the world, it’s best to put a best foot forward—at least at work.

According to a global survey, attitudes about proper attire in the workplace differ from country to country, which leads to some interesting attitudes about perceived workplace “slackers” and “achievers.”

A recent survey conducted by Ispos/Reuters of more than 12,500 workers from 24 countries revealed that Europeans have the most casual attitude when it comes to work clothes. The survey found that only 27 percent of Europeans reported that they wore traditional business clothes to work (coats and ties for men, and dress suits for women). People in Hungary might be the most casually dressed workers in the world, the survey found. Only 12 percent of Hungarians reported that they wore “business clothes” to work, while 46 percent said they thought short pants were appropriate office attire. Workers in India might be the best dressed, with nearly 60 percent of the survey respondents from India reporting that they wore business clothes to work.

The researchers for Ispos discovered that many workers worldwide don’t equate dressing well for work with success. Approximately 40 percent of the respondents to the survey reported that they wore casual clothes to work. However the same percentage of respondents said that people who wore casual business clothes in the office would probably not be hired or promoted into senior management positions. Additionally, 66 percent of respondents worldwide said that senior managers always should be better dressed than their employees.

“It’s clear from the survey results that around the world dressing to your place in the hierarchy is more often the case than dressing to the elements,” said John Wright, a senior vice president for Ipsos.

According to the survey results, workers in India held the harshest views for people who wear casual clothes to work. Nearly 60 percent of survey respondents in India described casual business dressers as “slackers,” and 64 percent said that casual dressers would never reach senior management positions.

Swedes appear to have the most lenient attitudes when it comes to their bosses wearing casual clothes in the office. Only 27 percent of Swedish respondents reported that they believe that casual clothing would hinder workers from attaining high-level jobs.

The survey researchers interviewed 12,690 employed people ages 16 to 64. The countries included in the survey were Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Bill Leonard is senior writer for SHRM.


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