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What it Takes to Look Professional Uniforms at Work

Aug 17, 2007
A uniform creates a career presence. Uniforms are created for all different sectors of the workforce, from the workforce-in-training which we call students to the professional sports teams playing in our stadiums. And because of this, uniforms need to be instantly recognizable and, if possible, produce the desired effects through common techniques of identification such as badges, insignias, and logos. People everywhere wear uniforms, whether they think of them as uniforms or not. Our style of dress is a means of identifying our loyalties.

Nowadays, with so many people needing uniforms of one kind or another, it often takes ingenuity to create one that can really set it apart from the rest of the crowd. School uniforms usually bear the team colors identifying the school and include logos on the blouses for the girls and polo shirts for the boys. Business executives constrain themselves to wear business attire like blazers, skirts, slacks and long-sleeves shirts with a suit or sports-coat as their day-to-day uniforms. Medical uniforms, on the other hand, are more personalized with a logo identifying the hospital or clinic. While people in the military wear uniforms that show their rank and nationality with pride.

The uniform you wear is one of the things that people look at as a means of sizing you up when you are introduced to them. Since these uniforms reveal who you are and what you do, it is important that they are made of high quality fabric to stand up to the wear and tear of everyday use and cleaning. But this does not mean that expensive materials have to be used in order to look suitable; today's technology has reaped us space-age fabrics which feel as natural as fiber and yet have the improved durability that puts them decades beyond the fabrics of just ten years ago. Even if the uniform is made of less sophisticated materials, you can still look smart just by displaying self-confidence and knowing how to carry yourself.

Do clothes really make the professional? In certain instances, yes, they are perceived to. When you wear a uniform to play a certain role, that uniform evokes authority over others. People create impressions or even illusions of power with what they choose to wear. When you wear the right clothes for the situation, you can be persuasive without even speaking.

Think of the affect a police uniform has on the public. Could you imagine a police officer trying to clear a urban riot in street clothes? The officer in uniform will get immediate attention because we respond and respect uniforms through our cultural conditioning. Even clergy who wear their robes command more respect and are able to persuade and influence with higher efficiency than they can when sporting casual street clothes. We see a doctor in a white coat and automatically assume he is a medical professional who knows exactly what to do about our health problems. When a businessperson shows up in a high-class suit and polished shoes, we automatically assume his is in charge or is the decision maker. We know people treat us differently based on how we dress, and some social scientists have studied just how prominently the uniform affects people's reaction.

In one recently noted experiment, a man would stop pedestrians in New York City. The experimenter either had them pick up paper bags, move from where they were standing, or requested they give money to a perfect stranger. The experimenter would point to another man nearly fifty feet away, telling the test subjects that the man had over-parked and didn't have any change to pay the meter. He would then tell them to go provide the man with the necessary change. Researchers watched the test subjects to see how many people complied when the experimenter was dressed in normal street clothes versus when he was dressed as a typical security guard.

After giving the command, the experimenter would turn a corner so he was out of the pedestrian's sight so that their continued presence didn't affect the outcome. Incredibly, almost all of the pedestrians obeyed when he was dressed in the uniform, even after he was gone. When he was dressed in casual street clothes, less than half of the pedestrians complied with his request. In another study, it was found that individuals asking for charitable contributions to law enforcement and healthcare campaigns gathered more donations while wearing sheriffs' and nurses' uniforms than when they were in casual street clothes.

Uniforms are an essential part of establishing a professional identity, and continue to be a helpful element in today's business world. The kind of appearance can be determined by you if you are responsible for attiring your company's employees. Think carefully of your target market, being sure to appeal to it's demographic. You should aim for a company appearance that establishes the identity of your company and expresses your employees' professionalism.

But be careful not to over-dress. Making a company identity appear too stiff and formal can make your employees appear and act intimidating and unapproachable. For instance, a fast food restaurant attendant should appear more casual than a security guard. Any position that requires a degree should present a far more formal appearance than a mere service position.

Uniforms of all shapes and sizes are made to blend functionality with appearance. While the classic joke "Why does the fireman wear red suspenders?" reminds us that firemen were traditionally uniformed in red to establish their position with putting out fires, today's fireman is usually attired in yellow flame-retardant material with reflective trim. The function is to make the emergency worker highly visible under all conditions, which may be any kind of chaotic situation from floods to earthquakes during daytime, nighttime, and in heavy smoke. Similarly, Sporting referees are attired in highly visible patterned shirts, the better to stand out on a field where the players might be rushing around disoriented. Consider the boxing referee - I wonder how many referees got punched in the ring by mistake before they figured to wear the black-and-white striped shirts?
About the Author
Freelance writer for over eleven years.

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