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Dressed to Present: Ratings of Classroom Presentations Vary With Attire

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Abstract

This study investigates the effects of formality of dress on ratings of classroom presentations. Participants (N = 65, 66% women) from a Midwestern university in the United States rated three female students giving a presentation designed for a health psychology class in one of four outfits: casual, party, business casual, or business formal. Participants rated the business formal–dressed presenters higher than both casual and party–dressed presenters on overall presentation quality but not higher than business casual–dressed participants. Our results provide strong empirical evidence that dressing formally not only influences presentation scores but also suggest that students do not completely recognize how clothing differs in appropriateness for presentations.
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Teaching of Psychology
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DOI: 10.1177/0098628314549710
published online 11 September 2014Teaching of Psychology
Regan A. R. Gurung, Laura Kempen, Kayla Klemm, Rebecca Senn and Rosie Wysocki
Dressed to Present: Ratings of Classroom Presentations Vary With Attire
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Article
Dressed to Present: Ratings of Classroom
Presentations Vary With Attire
Regan A. R. Gurung
1
, Laura Kempen
1
, Kayla Klemm
1
,
Rebecca Senn
1
, and Rosie Wysocki
1
Abstract
This study investigates the effects of formality of dress on ratings of classroom presentations. Participants (N¼65, 66% women)
from a Midwestern university in the United States rated three female students giving a presentation designed for a health psychology
class in one of four outfits: casual, party, business casual, or business formal. Participants rated the business formal–dressed pre-
senters higher than both casual and party–dressed presenters on overall presentation quality but not higher than business casual–
dressed participants. Our results provide strong empirical evidence that dressing formally not only influences presentation scores
but also suggest that students do not completely recognize how clothing differs in appropriateness for presentations.
Keywords
oral presentations, clothing, impression formation
Our clothing influences others’ perceptions of our intelligence,
competence, and professionalism (Cardon & Okoro, 2009;
Sunnafrank, 2004). Unfortunately, many students do not dress
professionally when giving classroom presentations. One has to
work hard to deliver an effective presentation. From the back-
ground research, to the layout and delivery, students invest a
great deal of time and effort in preparation. However, not all
students appear to consider how their clothing choices may
play a role in how they are perceived. In this study, we exam-
ined how a student’s appearance during a presentation influ-
ences how audiences rate her.
Clothing is a critical part of impression formation and can
influence perceptions of competence. For example, observers
rated female Olympic athletes in provocative clothing as pos-
sessing significantly lower competence (i.e., strength, determi-
nation, and intelligence) than when they were seen in normal
attire (Johnson & Gurung, 2011). In a similar study, Glick,
Larsen, Johnson, and Branstiter (2005) found that when a
woman in a high status position (i.e., manager) was dressed
provocatively (i.e., tight knee-length skirt, low-cut shirt with
a cardigan, and high-heeled shoes), she was judged to be less
intelligent and competent at her job than when she was dressed
conservatively (i.e., slacks, turtleneck, business jacket, and
flat-heeled shoes). Would clothing differences during a class
presentation also similarly lead to differences in perceptions
of perception quality? Although many college classes involve
student presentations, we could not find any research addres-
sing if clothing choice influenced presentation ratings.
Clothing and attire play important roles in perceptions of
competence in the workplace (Glick, Larsen, Johnson, &
Branstiter, 2005; Peluchette, Karl, & Rust, 2006) and the
college classroom (Gurung & Vespia, 2007; Morris, Gorham,
Cohen, & Huffman, 1996; Rahimi & Liston, 2009). In one
study, both students and professors rated others dressed in
‘artsy’’ or ‘‘dressy’’ styles as being higher in intelligence and
academic achievement (Behling & Williams, 1991). In another
study, students perceived professors dressed formally to be
more credible, intelligent, and competent but less likeable and
approachable (Carr, Davies, & Lavin, 2010). Although students
saw professors who wore less formal attire as friendlier, more
understanding, and more relatable, students felt professors who
dressed more professionally had higher intellects and deserved
their respect. Similarly, professional attire increases student
perceptions of the wearer’s competence, composure, and
knowledge (Morris et al., 1996).
Research on student attire is limited. In an early study,
Jacobson (1945) found that clothing played an important role
in college students’ formation of first impressions of their
classmates. Attributes of clothing and grooming, such as har-
mony of outfit, suitability of attire, and cleanliness/neatness
of outfit, generated 45%of first impression comments. Intelli-
gent women commented more on their acquaintances’ clothing
than less intelligent women. In a more recent study, female
teachers formed perceptions about their female students’ sex-
ual activity from their students’ attire, correlating higher sexual
1
University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, WI, USA
Corresponding Author:
Regan A. R. Gurung, University of Wisconsin, 2420 Nicolet Drive,
MACH-C311, Green Bay, WI 54311, USA.
Email: gurungr@uwgb.edu
Teaching of Psychology
1-5
ªThe Author(s) 2014
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activity with more provocative or ‘‘sexy’’ clothing (Rahimi &
Liston, 2009).
University-level students do consider appearance important
in the workforce, especially in an interview setting and in pro-
motional considerations (Sweat, Kelley, Blouin, & Glee,
1981). Female students with career experience and students
who believed they would have consistent contact with clients
were more likely to view career attire as an important factor
(Sweat et al., 1981). We did not find evidence for similar con-
cerns about appearance in campus settings. It is likely that stu-
dents do not see college as a setting where they need to be
aware of self-presentation.
It is possible students do not know what looking ‘‘profes-
sional’’ really means. A number of studies help define profes-
sional clothing (Hymowitz, 2003). Participants rated business
dress as the most professional followed by ‘‘business casual’
(BC) and then casual (Ruetzler, Taylor, Reynolds, Baker, &
Killen, 2012). Business dress, or ‘‘business formal’’ (BF), for
women was defined as a suit, pencil skirt, blouse, pantyhose,
and low-heeled shoes. The color of the outfit can also make a
difference. Ruetzler et al. also found that darker shades such
as black, navy, and gray, are rated as being the most profes-
sional. A major contradiction in the findings of Ruetzler
et al. study suggests one reason why students may not dress
up appropriately for presentations: Students rated trendy
clothes as being most professional. It is likely that trendiness
within the categories overruled ratings between categories.
Much of the past research is tailored toward the workplace
or student perceptions of professors. Our study aimed to exam-
ine new and current definitions of professional dress. Together
with examining how clothing influences peers’ ratings of pre-
sentation elements including performance quality (defined by
previous research), we explored students’ perceptions of appro-
priateness of clothing. We hypothesized that participants would
rate professionally dressed presenters higher on presentation
quality than presenters dressed casually.
Method
Participants
Participants (N¼65) included undergraduate students at a pre-
dominantly White, mid-sized Midwestern university in the
United States (91%White, 36%men, 64%women). We
recruited respondents largely from introductory psychology
and human development courses using a department partici-
pant pool. Participants were first- (60%), second- (22%), third-
(12%), and fourth- (6%) year students ranging in age from 18 to
37, M¼19.97, SD ¼2.71. We compensated participants with
research credits that counted as a part of their grade in their
courses.
Materials
Visual stimuli. We recruited three women, students from campus
known to the research team, to serve as models. We selected
women who were similar in attractiveness, body shape, and
stature (although we did not pilot test the models to confirm the
similarity). We limited the study to female models only to keep
sex of presenters constant. We gave each woman a slide with a
summary of a research study related to health mirroring a class-
room assignment from the first author’s health psychology
class. We created three slides, one for each model, with similar
content (e.g., title, authors, and main finding) and visual look
(e.g., all had an image relating to the study). We told models
to bring in four outfits that fit our four conditions. For the
‘party’’ condition, we told models to bring in an outfit they
would wear to a party. For the BC condition, we told models
to bring in a blouse and dress pants or a skirt. For the BF con-
dition, we told models to bring in a suit of slacks and jacket. For
the ‘‘casual’’ condition, we told models to bring in jeans and a
sweatshirt (screen shots available on request). Models brought
in a number of clothing options for each condition and four stu-
dent members of the research team selected outfits for the
model for each condition that met the criteria for the given con-
dition. Each model gave her ‘‘presentation’’ 4 times, once in
each set of clothing. We asked the model to summarize the
study while we videotaped the first 20 s of the presentation;
both the model and PowerPoint slide behind her were visible
in the frame. We used the first 10 s of the presentation for the
study, given past research showing that thin slices of behavior
are enough for impression formation (Borkenau, Mauer, Rie-
mann, Spinath, & Angleitner, 2004).
Dependent variables. We measured presentation quality using 10
descriptor words derived from previous research on presenta-
tions (Christie & Collyner, 2005; Garcia-Ros, 2011). The
descriptors represent items often seen on an instructor’s rubric
for rating presentations: engaging, professional, informative,
flowed well, speaker confidence, speaker clear, slide well
designed, speaker appropriately dressed, speaker credible, and
speaker knowledgeable. Participants rated each term on a 1
(strongly disagree)to5(strongly agree) Likert-type scale.
We summed variables in each category to create a composite
score. Internal reliability was high, Cronbach’s a¼.94.
To test if the manipulation of the independent variable was
successful, participants rated the extent to which the speaker’s
outfit would be likely to be considered casual, fit to go to a
party, BC, or BF using a 1 (very unlikely)to7(very likely)
Likert-type scale. At the end of the survey, we had participants
use the same scale to rate how appropriate wearing different
clothing items to school, would be (suit, jeans, jewelry, tights,
jeggings/meggings, cardigan, tank tops, button down shirts,
sheer clothing).
Procedure
We used a single factor independent/between-subjects design
with four levels of the factor ‘‘Clothing’’—casual, party, BC,
and BF. Participants completed the study online. We sent stu-
dent volunteers for the study a link to our survey. Participants
first saw a consent form, completed a few demographic ques-
tions, and then watched three presentations. We used three
2Teaching of Psychology
by guest on September 13, 2014top.sagepub.comDownloaded from
models and presentations to ensure that findings would not be
specific to one person/topic. We set the number of presenta-
tions to three, to prevent fatigue. Each presentation was 10 s
long and featured a different model and topic. Participants rated
each presentation and completed the other measures described
earlier. We used a software program (Qualtrics) to present the
visual stimuli, questionnaires, and directions. We randomly
assigned participants to conditions and counterbalanced the
order of models within condition. Each participant saw three
models deliver a presentation in one of the four outfits (e.g.,
participants saw three casually dressed presenters or three for-
mally dressed presenters).
Results
The means and standard deviations of the dependent variables
between the four experimental conditions for participants
appear in Table 1. A manipulation check confirmed partici-
pants rated the outfits differently across conditions. We con-
ducted four analyses of variance on the 4 items rating
clothing description (casual, party, BC, and BF). The tests were
all significant: casual, F(3, 63) ¼5.72, p¼.002, party, F(3, 63)
¼3.85, p¼.14, BC, F(3, 63) ¼10.30, p< .001, and BF, F(3,
63) ¼8.47, p< .001. Each condition was rated highest on the
related dependent variable (i.e., casual scores were highest in
the casual condition) in all conditions except for the BC vari-
able condition which was rated highest in the BF condition.
The results of post hoc Tukey tests and all means appear in
Table 1. Consistent with our expectations, student participants
did not demonstrate nuanced appraisal of outfits. The line
between BC and BF was blurry as was the line between casual
and party clothes. We explore this issue with additional analy-
ses subsequently.
To test our main research question, we first conducted an
analysis of variance (ANOVA) on each dependent variable.
Participants rated 4 of the 10 dependent variables differently
across conditions. Post hoc Tukey analyses showed participants
rated only some conditions differently from the others as shown
in Table 1. For a better analogy to how presentations are rated
in the classroom, we computed a composite Presentation Qual-
ity Score by summing the 10 dependent variables. We then
conducted a 2 (gender of participant) 4 (experimental condi-
tion) ANOVA on Presentation Quality. We found a significant
main effect for experimental condition, F(3, 57) ¼4.38, p¼
.008, Z
2
¼.19. Participant gender was not significant. Post hoc
Tukey analyses again suggest that the effect was due to the BF
condition where scores were significantly different from the
casual, p¼.032, and party, p¼.029, conditions but not the
BC condition.
To further explore the possibility that students are not suffi-
ciently aware of appropriateness of different clothing for
school in general, we gave participants a list of clothing items
and asked them to what extent they thought each item was
appropriate for school. The participants completed this section
after rating the presentations. Participants rated sheer clothing
as least appropriate (M¼3.55) followed by suits (M¼3.71),
tank tops (M¼4.98), tights (M¼5.02), jeggings/meggings (M
¼5.10), button down shirts (M¼5.68), cardigans (M¼5.78),
jewelry (M¼6.02), and jeans (M¼6.22).
Discussion
Higher education is supposed to provide students with the
knowledge and skills to be successful in the world and in their
lives. Together with content knowledge, college classes are
also places to learn key skills. One skill is communicating well.
Table 1. Means and Standard Deviations of the Major Dependent Variables by Condition (N ¼65).
Variable
Causal (16) Party (15) Buss. Casual (16) B. Formal (18)
Mean (SD) Mean (SD) Mean (SD) Mean (SD)
Engaging 3.17 (.92) 3.02 (.89) 3.10 (.86) 3.43 (.86)
Professional* 3.29 (.91)
a
3.28 (.82) 3.69 (.69) 4.08 (1.02)
b
Informative 3.85 (.91) 3.73 (.76) 3.79 (.73) 4.17 (.93)
Flowed 3.85 (.83) 3.42 (.66) 3.60 (.73) 3.85 (.83)
Confidence** 3.31 (.62) 3.09 (.71)
a
3.49 (.79) 3.95 (.18)
b
Clarity 3.67 (.61) 3.58 (.80) 3.60 (.88) 4.02 (.62)
Well designed 4.10 (.62) 3.90 (.87) 4.08 (1.02) 4.29 (.65)
Appropriately dressed*** 2.93 (.92)
a
3.64 (.82)
b
4.24 (.93)
b,c
4.82 (.83)
c
Credible** 3.17 (.84)
a
3.16 (.83)
a,c
3.82 (.84)
a,b
3.99 (.86)
Knowledgeable 3.43 (.89) 3.59 (1.03) 3.65 (.89) 4.04 (.85)
Presentation quality* 34.35 (553)
a
34.16 (7.00)
a
35.34 (10.08)
a,c
40.65 (6.60)
b,c
MC_casual** 5.81 (1.38)
a
5.29 (1.20) 4.13 (1.78)
b
3.78 (1.93)
b
MC_party* 4.00 (1.60) 4.50 (1.61)
a
2.53 (1.46)
b
3.50 (1.82)
MC_buss. casual*** 2.69 (1.74)
a
4.21 (1.48)
c
4.76 (1.82)
b,c
5.56 (1.04)
b,c
MC_buss. formal*** 2.25 (2.05)
a,c
2.86 (1.61)
c
4.44 (1.75)
b
5.06 (1.87)
b
Note. buss. ¼business; MC ¼manipulation check. Means with different superscripts signify conditions are statistically different from each other. Means with no
superscripts are not statistically different from any other means. Means with similar superscripts are not statistically different from each other but may be different
from other means with a different superscript if more than one superscript is present. Presentation quality is a composite of the 10 individual variables.
*p< .05, **p< .01, ***p< .001.
Gurung et al. 3
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Part and parcel of communicating well is dressing profession-
ally (Hall & Berardino, 2006), but in our experience students
do not always dress as well as they should. Our results provide
direct empirical evidence that clothing can be related to peer
presentation ratings. Student participants rated presentations
made by fellow students higher when the presenter was for-
mally dressed. This evidence for the power of dressing well
is consistent with a wealth of research assessing the role of
clothing in business settings (Glick et al., 2005). Participant rat-
ings of appropriateness of different clothing items and minimal
differentiation of clothing type (i.e., the post hoc analyses of
our manipulation check) suggest that students may not be com-
pletely clear on what BC clothing or BF clothing really is and
are unaware of the importance of clothing in impression forma-
tion. Although instructors may often stress the importance of
dressing up for a class presentation, students may be unclear
on what ‘‘dressing up’’ really means. Clothing is clearly an
important part of impression formation and instructors should
be more specific when instructing students on how to present
themselves for presentations. Students may also underestimate
the role of dressing up for presentations. Although past
research suggests students seem to realize they should dress
professionally for a job interview or for their jobs, students may
not believe they should dress up for college presentations.
Our results are qualified by a number of limitations.
Although the lack of complete separation of our four experi-
mental conditions supports our expectation that students do not
differentiate well between clothing types, we could have had
instituted stronger control on the operationalization of our inde-
pendent variable by limiting the variance in what the models
could wear in each condition. For example, although all our
models wore formal outfits for the ‘‘formal’’ condition, the pre-
cise articles of clothing that comprised ‘‘formal’’ varied across
models. We also realize that our study was a laboratory analogy
of the classroom and only used female presenters. The extent to
which attire may influence peer ratings may differ for male ver-
sus female models (and potentially that difference may depend
on the gender of the raters). No grades were at stake. In addition
to perceptions of the presenter, dressing well may influence the
performance of the presenter as well. Research on enclothed
cognition focusing on both the symbolic meaning of the clothes
and the physical experience of wearing them shows that what
one wears can change one’s own behavior (Adam & Galinsky,
2012). For example, participants physically wearing a lab coat
demonstrated more selective attention compared to participants
not wearing a lab coat. We did not assess the possibility that our
models, when formally dressed, actually did perform better.
These limitations notwithstanding, our results suggest stu-
dents should pay more attention to what they wear for class pre-
sentations. If their peers in a lab study rate the presentations
better when the presenters are professionally dressed it is,
likely that instructors (and later, employers) will as well. Hav-
ing faculty rate these presentations such as this is a potential
future research direction.
Our results provide instructors with empirical data to share
with their students demonstrating the effect clothing style has
on perceptions together with also evoking many issues that
relate to introductory and social psychology classes. Our
study taps into factors such as impression formation, how thin
slices of behavior influence perceptions, and the role of impli-
cit factors. We also hope that faculty will share our results
with students to help students get a better sense of what is
expected of them when a professor asks them to dress profes-
sionally for a presentation. Our data clearly show outfits that
may contribute to lower presentations while highlight that BF
outfits are associated with high ratings. Our findings can help
students understand how their attire potentially is related to
their performance, their grades, and the impressions formed
of them by their classmates.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The authors declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to
the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
Funding
The authors received no financial support for the research, authorship,
and/or publication of this article.
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... The role of formal clothing in reducing racial bias shows promise potentially activating positive schemas versus negative race-based schemas (Clemans & Graber, 2016). Formally dressed individuals are rated well especially in evaluative situations (Gurung et al., 2014). For example, college students rated people wearing business attire as more authoritative, credible, responsible, competent, knowledgeable, reliable, intelligent, trustworthy, willing to work hard, efficient, approachable, courteous, friendly, and business-like than models wearing semi-formal or informal clothing (Kwon & Johnson-Hillery, 1998). ...
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... Clothes make the man and Fine feathers make fine birds are proverbs pointing out the importance of clothing for human impression formation and experience. Studies on human clothing show, for example, that psychotherapists wearing more formal attire receive higher ratings on expertise, knowledge, credibility, trustworthiness, sympathy, attractiveness and friendliness [4]; that formally dressed presenters are rated higher on presentation quality [8]; that more formally dressed students are judged higher for their intelligence and academic achievement by teachers and fellow students [3]; that patients rate doctors in formal attire with a white coat as being more knowledgeable, trustworthy, caring, approachable and comfortable than doctors in scrubs or more casual clothing [15]. Even small differences matter: men wearing a bespoke versus an off-the-peg suit are rated higher in success and confidence by other men and women [10]. ...
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Does the appearance of an instructor and the format of the class influence student grades and learning? We tested this question with 861 undergraduate students who completed an online questionnaire rating their instructors. Students were equally spread across class year and were from different majors. We used multiple regression analyses and found that likable, good-looking, well-dressed, and approachable teachers had students who said they learned more, had higher grades, and liked the class better.
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