When it comes to office fashion, is it better to skirt around the issue?
According to a new study at the U.K.’s University of Hertfordshire, pants on women aren’t as favored in the office as skirts. While previous research reportedly suggested women should dress more like men, a new poll reveals “skirts give a better first impression.”
(Could it be this season’s popular midi-length style?)
In the study, 300 participants (males and females aged from 14 to 67) were asked to provide snap judgments of images featuring women in various office outfits — skirts and pantsuits made in the same exact fabric and color — with the faces blurred. They then gave feedback based on five factors: confidence, success, trustworthiness, salary and flexibility. In just three seconds, they were able to determine they far preferred the more feminine options.
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“Women generally have a wider choice of dress style for work than men, but still have to maintain an identity that balances professionalism with attractiveness and the skirt suit may achieve that balance without appearing provocative,” wrote professor Karen Pine, who co-led the study. “First impressions are formed rapidly and are often highly accurate.”
Meredith Lepore, editor of women’s career site TheGrindstone.com, agrees: “First impressions are everything, and if a woman in a skirt is perceived to be more confident and trustworthy, then you are going to have to work that much harder if your pantsuit doesn't convey those things automatically.”
While Lepore says there isn’t a “huge difference” between the two styles, there is still a difference. Whereas women once thought a more masculine outfit might help them be taken more seriously, wearing a skirt might just signal that she’s confident not to have to rely on slacks.
For business, Lepore looks to IMF director Christine Lagarde, who wears bright outfits with classic, personal touches like a French scarf or jewelry, or Vogue editor Anna Wintour, who maintains feminine yet not-overly fashionable looks that are still authoritative and powerful.
That doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t rock the Hillary Clinton look, says Lepore. “I think you can work past a snap judgment, but it is hard.”
© 2012 MSNBC Interactive. Reprints