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Does dressing affect people’s perceptions toward you?

We know about some of science behind how the way we dress may affect how people view us. Sometimes what we wear can inform passerby of our type of employment, as well as our ambitions, emotions and spending habits. This is what called ” Social psychology of dressing”. In order to clarify what we mean by this term, firstly, we need to define separately ” what is  social psychology” and ” what is dressing”.  The term dress has been defined by dress scholars Mary Ellen Roach and Joanne Eicher in 1992. By dressing they mean total arrangement of outwardly detectable body modifications and all material objects added to it in the form of body supplements. They divided body supplements into several groups, such as permanent ( teeth straitening) and temporary ( jewelry, deodorants, make up and so on). Body modifications and body supplements can affect one, several, or all human senses. (Calefato,2004). Thus, dress can change how body looks, tastes, smells, feels and sounds.(Aronson,2010). Accordingly, it can influence people’s attitude and perceptions as well. The way you dress can tell many things about you: your nationality, gender, age, social-economic status, interests and values. Your style sometimes may give a message or an information to your surrounding.

                                                                            Literature Review

As an extension of the research addressing the influence of clothing impressions of others is the study that examines the consequences of social perceptional impressions. In order to prove the argument that dressing significantly influences people’s perceptions toward each other which leads to several behaviors and attitudes a team of researchers and academicians as Kim K.P Johnson, Jeong-Ju Yoo and Minjeong Kim (2008) content analyzed ninety three research studies, published from 1955 to 2008. All these brief studies demonstrated that dressing significantly impacts perceptions of observers. For instance, Sharon Lennon and her research colleagues Leslie Davis (1984) found in two separate studies that the way customers dress in expensive stores influences the salespersons’ perceptions about them, that is why some of customers are not served quickly, because sellers think that they do not have this capacity to pay for such expensive good. Another source I have used for my paper is a research which had been made by Lawrence and Watson in 1991. They conducted an experiment in order to show the great impact of outfit on other people’s perception. During the public service challenge the same woman was  asking people to give money for the fund of struggle with thalassemia first in a nurse uniform, and then in an ordinary dress .However, she was not a doctor or a nurse. 83% of people gave money to the “nurse” telling that nurse was  more convincingly than the “other” lady.

Nepp M.Holl’s book “Nonverbal communication” also provided good information on functions of clothing, which I mentioned above. The book was helpful with several interesting experiments conducted on this topic, which helped me to do my own experiment.

A brief study by Bickman also investigates that clothing is the first thing in people that we all pay attention. It is the most important factor that influences people’s perception specially in making first impression. Most of the times  inappropriate dress is a reason for rejecting in job. The way we look determines our values, whether you are conservative or not , your profession and etc.

In 1990 researcher Mary Lynn Damhorst, in studying dress, conducted an analysis of 109 impression formation studies to determine the kind of information that was communicated by dress. She  found that in the more than 81% of studies the content of information messaged by dress was competence, power or intelligence and in 67% the messages were about personality, sociability and mood.  Similar example of this type of research is a brief study conducted by Dorothy Behling, who was a dress scholar and Elizabeth Williams, a high school teacher (1991). They investigated perceptions of intelligence and scholastic ability among high school students and teachers. The participants were presented by varied photographs of male and female students that were unknown to participants. The dressing styles of the students were different so that half of the students were wearing jeans and t-shirts and the other half of students were in a suit and tie. For both students and teachers, the dressing style worn affected the perceptions and impressions formed. So the result came out with a lower rate in intelligence and scholastic ability of students who wear cutoff jeans and t-shirts than the ones who are in suit.


Research questions and Hypothesis


The following questions will be answered in this paper:

1) Does dressing affect people’s perceptions toward you?

2) What kind of dress are most likely to influence people’s perceptions?



The way people dress significantly affects the other’s perceptions toward that person.



1) More loose dress in women brings out negative perceptions toward that person.

2)Regarding loose dress both women and men have similar perceptions.

3) Classy dress leads to such perceptions as this person is smart and has high income and good job.

4)Colors also make some perceptions in people’s head.

5)The fanciness and expense of dress is one of the reasons that impacts people’s perceptions toward you positively.



 Conceptualization / Operationalization


1) Dressing- items worn to cover body. ( skirts, shorts, T-shirts, shoes, accessories)

2) Affect-to influence or alter, to have an effect on or to make a difference.

3) Perception- the way in which something is regarded, understood or interpreted.

4) Loose dress- more open form of dressing, such as short skirts or dresses, or dresses with chest decolte, shorts. In this case as a short skirt I will take skirt in 20sm length or shorter.

5)Classy dress- formal dress, such as suits, shirts and tie in men, or a formal dress, which is designed according to dress code rules(length) in women.

6) Colors- different pigments used in our dressing such as white, black, red, green and so on.

7) Fanciness- ornamental, decorative, something very attractive. For example, the accessories we use can make the dressing fancy, or an unreal, not ordinary thing on our dress and so on.

8) Expense- how much it costs. By expensive I mean something more than 500Azn in cost. ( or outfit which belongs to famous brands).


This research is a exploratory study, because it is aimed to satisfy the researcher’s curiosity about this topic and desire for better understanding, test feasibility of previous studies on this issue and develop the methods employed before in this study.

The aim of research is to find out whether dressing affects people’s perceptions toward you and     in which cases this influence is more common.


Independent variable is dressing and dependent variable is people’s perception.

In order to analyze the effects of dress on perception formation, it is very useful to identify what specific dress cues to use in research. Hence another focus of many researchers has been to identify what kind of dress influences impressions and perceptions. Researchers were interested in determining whether it was the style of dress, the color, the way items was worn that leads to message or misperception. In my research, the style, fissionability and the attractiveness of dressing all came out to affect impressions and perceptions of people toward each other. Moreover, aspects of dress such as looseness, cosmetics, jewelry and tattoos also have been found to affect impressions and perceptions.


 Methods and Data Collection

              To find out whether dressing really affects people’s perceptions I have read many previously done researches. Also during initial stage I have reviewed relevant literature on my topic. At the second stage I have conducted self-administrated interviews among 20 people and survey in a form of online questionnaire. The survey was distributed among 142 people(both men and women). Another method used in my paper was participant observation in order to prove my arguments.




Due to time there are some weaknesses in my paper. I was planning to interview experts on this area. My plan was to conduct this survey among more than 600 people. Even though I had a large target group (men and women), still I do not consider 142 people as a number I wanted to get. In my questionnaire I mostly used open ended questions in order to find out the respondent’s own opinion. However, some of them instead of sincerely answering the questions wrote not relevant answers, which made my job harder. And also the conditions such as weather and Azerbaijani people’s behavior during my observations were one of the obstacles that made my life difficult during this research.These obstacles may negatively affect my validity of my research.


                                                                          Data analyses


During writing my paper I picked up articles published in relevant web-sites. They helped me to direct my own research. Previously made researches also gave me idea about in what way should I conduct my own experiment and observation. My target group was both men and women.


Furthermore I conducted face-to-face interviews with people of different sex, age and social status. I used randomization sampling in order to make sure that both genders are equally involved in topic. Some of them were involved in psychology, so I took into consideration that their opinion may help me. The questions during interviews were before prepared, however. they were open-ended, which gave them chance to tell their open opinion instead of choosing among options and let me to get more precise data. I interviewed psychologist Shahla Hilal-qizi, who is currently works in Petek Hospital in Nizami district. Her answers were according her patient’s opinion. She said that more than 70% of her women patients believe that loose dress is making women more attractive and may be considered one of the reasons that influences people’s perceptions negatively. She also pointed out that most of their husbands believe that way and already have these perceptions about women who dress short skirt, dress or shorts. I order to prove whether colors are also one of the reasons that impacts people’s perceptions I asked her several questions. She said that some of her patients who suffer from different kind of problems wear black considering black color as a sign of being not happy. Moreover, if to compare her answer to the answer to question ” Can you give an example of a color which can make a perception in you about someone else”, most of the people said that they consider black color as a symbol of being gothic. ( Goths- this is a name for a group of people, who consider themselves not happy and unsatisfied with their life and  always wear black color and do several things such highlighting their eyes with black eye make up). However, I can tell from my own experience that I have many friends who love  black dress and always prefer it. So do I, but none of us are Goths. Interviews were also conducted among younger students at ADAU in order to compare the answers of people different people of different age, sex and status to make sure that the research is not bias.

One story shared with me during my interviews caught my attention, so I decided to write it in my paper. Even though most of the answers of both men and women were in the same way, I still wanted to know why it is so and whether there are some factors influencing it, such as religion, tradition or the society where people raised. In order to come to a certain conclusion I decided to interview my cousin, who used to live in United States since he was 15  years old and is not religious or conservative at all.( personal communication: Narmin Hasanova, 2014) However, his answer to whether dressing affect people’s perceptions toward each other was “yes”. So, I this is the shared  story:

” I used to be a very sloppy dresser. I always believed that I do not deserve to wear a certain type of clothes just because of other’s perceptions. Then I experienced something else, that totally changed my opinion. I was on bus on my way to a friend’s house but I was not sure which bus stop should I get off. The gentleman who was sitting by me asked whether I need help. I asked him my question and he told me that I should get off on the second bus stop. I got off my seat, but then another man on the bus told me that I should get off the next station. I thanked him and hopped up exactly the same way he told me. He told me the wrong direction but I really wondered why I listened to him not to the guy who was sitting besides me. The guy sitting by me was dressed in jeans and sweater while the other man was dressed very sharply and well. He gave such an impression that he has a very well paid job. This was the difference between these two men. Here I understood that our dressing certainly gives messages to others. Just because of their dress how many assumptions and preconceived notions were made up in my head.”

More than 80% of my respondents claimed that dressing totally impacts people’s perceptions, even behavior towards you and it can give varied messages to others which can lead to several misperceptions and misunderstandings.




Then I decided to conduct online survey method in a form of questionnaire among men and women in order to get  more information and satisfaction. 142 replied to my survey. The survey was targeted to find out whether the dressing affects people’s perceptions. Again my target group was both men and women in Azerbaijan. The gender proportion was 56.52% / 43.48% ( women/men). 91.61% of respondents were 40-65 years old. 78.39% were from Baku. To my question whether dressing affects people’s perception toward you 75% of people said “yes”, while 25% said “no”. In order to get more information about in what cases it mostly impacts I asked the ones who said “yes” to specify their answer. Most of men showed the short dress and skirt case that can make negative perceptions. 70% of men respondents said that bright colors such as pink, red, yellow are not acceptable in men’s outfit. To the question whether we give any messages by our dressing more than 82.35% respondents said “yes”. In order to test my hypothesis I put a question if they ever faced a discrimination or misperception because of their dressing. The question was open ended and again i asked them to specify if the answer is “yes”, so respondents shared several cases in what they faced misperception. The cases were similar. More than 70% of respondents mentioned about the expenses of the dressing. That how they faced discrimination and misperception in expensive brand stores just because they were not fancy and well dresses, however most of them mentioned that they have good income and can provide themselves with good clothing, but they just prefer to get clothes from brand stores seldom. Approximately  65% of respondents in this question mentioned that loose dress leads to misperception because it is sin in religion, women should be covered up and so on.  In one of the questions I shared pictures of my 2 male and 1 female friends, but I made sure that they were unknown to my respondents and ask the respondents to share their assumptions or perceptions about these people of course if they have any. Among 142 respondents only 2 of them said that they do not judge people by their dressing, 140 of respondents shared their perceptions. One of the guys currently in working in governmental authorities in UK, however, I asked him to dress in shorts and a bright color t-shirt in order to find out whether people will misperceive them or not. The other guy is a student and I asked him to dress in a classy dress. My assumptions were right. More than 83.56% of male respondents said that the guy in shorts does not respect himself and he will never get any high position in life. About 30% of female respondents considered him stylish, while more than 70% of men shared the similar perceptions with men about this guy. The student-friend got lots of compliments from both male and female respondents such as he is smart, thinks of his future and has high income. In order to test my hypothesis about short dress I out one of my female friend’s photo, who is a pretty conservative girl. In the picture she was in a short dress. 83% of both male and female respondents called her a club-girl, or just said she is easy to go. In this case both men and women’s perceptions were similar.



Specially this part of my research methodology was the most enjoyable part because I will just share different stories from my own experience, which exactly made me to pick this topic as a research topic. My observations helped me to test my 1st 2nd and 5th hypothesizes.

November 12,2014. I had an appointment at French embassy to gave my documents for getting Visa to Belgium. Due to some problems I was late for almost half an hour. When I reached the embassy the security officer was yelling at  two men who were late and did not let them in. But I still decided to ask him to get in trying to explain the situation. I was wearing short skirt and high heels. He smiled at him and let me in and promised to help. After half an hour, when I gave my documents and were going to leave he followed me and very confidently gave me his cell phone number. I thanked him for help but said that I do not know him and won’t call. The guy’s answer was exactly this way : “Come on, don ‘t play me a nice girl, I can tell by your dressing who you are”. This situation  gave me a stimulus to observe different situation in order to prove my argument about loose dress.  I faced similar situations everywhere among both men and women who shared similar opinions. Of course, regarding loose dress most of the perceptions were negative, such as you are easy to go or sleep with, or you are not a serious person and so on.

In order to test my 4th hypothesis I decided to wear different colors and see people’s perceptions about myself. I tried it on myself and on my guy-friend. Every time when I was dressed in a red coat, I was facing such assumptions by people: ” Crazy people wear red” ( Dəli qırmızı geyinər” or ” Red suits you very well”( Sana kirmizi chok yakishiyor – this is turkish song and some guys use the words of this song in order to tease girls). I observed the same in my guy friend. Whenever he was wearing something black, many people were throwing words, such as “gay”, ” bambili”( a slang for not serious people in Azeri).

What comes to my last sub-hypothesis, I actually did not observed on purpose whether my preference of brand in my everyday dressing influences people’s perceptions about me. However, my own experience, survey and interview results proved that it does. Several times I was told by people that they assume I come from a very rich family and so on. Therefore, I can say that  expensive and fancy dressing definitely leads to certain perceptions. I also conducted an observation among ADAU students in order to be more sure about the validity of my research results. Students were provided with 4 teacher models. All these teachers were my High school teachers, but the participants didn’t have information about them. The purpose of test was to examine the influence of teacher’s clothing on students’ perceptions of teacher characteristics, such as intelligence, respect, approachability and acceptability. They were asked to mach each of 16 statements with one photo. The results came out similar with the survey and observation results. Most of the answers were based on the way the teacher was dressed.

                                                         Discussion. Hypothesizes tested             

Given all above mentioned data analysis, I can test my hypothesizes formulated at the beginning of my research  paper. If to take into consideration my survey, interview and observation results, I can come to a certain conclusion that dressing affects people’s perceptions.

                                                           Ethical Issues        

             Every respondent and informant in my research participated voluntarily. None of them faced any personal or material damage. Everybody was informed about my background and the aim of my study.

                                                          Conclusion and advice

             In conclusion, the results of my research study prove my hypothesis and sub-hypothesizes and show that there is a positive correlation between dressing and people’s perceptions. I tested all above mentioned hypothesizes and came to conclusion that more loose the dress, more negative are the perceptions about you.  Specially in open-ended questions of survey the were clearly mentioned by both men and women. The results of observations were the same. The colors also influence people’s perceptions about you. As I mentioned, specially in men bright colors, such as pink, yellow are considered of being not serious or gay. Such claims were mentioned during my interviews and in open-ended questions of survey. What comes to expensive and fancy clothes make several perceptions in people too, such as coming from a rich or socially high background, being well-paid and so on. According to the answers of most respondents, classy dress is mostly perceived as being smart or working in a good place.


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  • Behling, D., & Williams, E.A.(1991). Influence of dress on Perception of Intelligence and expectations of scholastic achievements. Clothing and Textiles Journal, 9(4), 1-7.
  • Calefato H., “The clothed body”, 2004. – Retrieved November27,2014 from        http://www.scribd.com/mobile/doc/55714663
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  • Johnson, K.K.P., Hegland, J.E., & Schofield, N.A(1999). Survivors of Rape: Functions and Implications of dress in a context of coercive power. In K. K.P. Johnson & S.J. Lennon (Eds), Appearance and Power(pp. 11-32). Oxford: Berg. DOI: http://dx.doiorg/10.2752/978184787221/AANDPOWER0005



Survey Questions:









3)Please write your assumptions or perceptions about people( if you have any) on  the photos A, B and C according to their outfit.

4)Do you think that people give message by their dressing?

Yes        No

If Yes, please specify

5)Do you think that the way we dress influences people’s perceptions towards us?

Yes     No

6) Have you ever faced discrimination or misperception because of your dressing?

Yes No

If Yes, please specify the case.

7) Do you think the colors you choose in your outfit can lead to several perceptions in other people?

Yes No

If Yes, please specify

8)  Are expensive clothes  the sign of being rich?

Yes No

If Yes, please specify.

Note: In questions 3 and 6 I put a text box, in order to get wider answers, not just a concrete Yes or No answer. So, the percentage calculations given in my data analysis part are made by myself not online.


By: Gunay Hasanova



About Gunay Hasanova