Provocative = Productive, New Survey Says

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Need a confidence boost at work? A new study suggests that — if you’re a woman — a low-cut top and sky-high stilettos may help your cause. According to a survey conducted by UK recruitment website, many women feel that they perform better at work when they dress “sexy.”

The study, which polled close to 1,300 British professionals, found that 78 percent of respondents felt that the way they dressed was the most important factor in enhancing their work performance. Of the women who agreed that the way they dressed made them better workers, 53 percent responded that “dressing provocatively helped their productivity.”

Lisette Howlett, managing director of, tried to explain the correlation between provocative attire and improved work performance in a company press release. “I was curious as to why women feel productive when they dress more provocatively and having checked this out concluded that this is because it gives them a sense of empowerment which in turn makes them more confident in the office.  Indeed feeling confident and positive seem to be two key factors to high work performance, ” Howlett said.

Yet the number of women who feel that dressing provocatively can be equated with productivity seems unexpectedly high, especially given the recent case of Debrahlee Lorenzana — the curvaceous female banker who alleged that she was fired from Citibank for being “too sexy.”

After all, although Lorenzana made a case that the firing was unfair, the fact that her style of dress could be grounds for termination is, in itself, enough to spark a debate about whether dressing sexy at the office is worth the risk of losing your job.

And then there’s the argument that — while Lorenzana’s figure (whether enhanced or not) is decidedly not the concern of her male counterparts — it is still clear that she was viewed as a sex-symbol in her office; a  counterproductive stigma for a woman looking to climb the corporate ladder. It seems that, while feeling attractive may provide a short-term confidence boost, in the long-run exuding a sexy image can  have a negative impact on one’s career.

“Dressing provocatively will absolutely backfire on women who want to be taken seriously in the workforce,” says Lizandra Vega, author of “The Image of Success: Make a Great Impression and Land the Job You Want.”  “Women may think that it gives them a competitive edge over other ‘less sexy’ women, but dressing in a provocative manner will hinder a woman’s chances of competing for senior level, highly authoritative positions that their male counterparts are also vying to attain. Dressing provocatively is associated with being a bimbo rather than a smart executive who can make intelligent decisions. Women may be able to get away with provocative dressing for jobs that are support level jobs (to men), but it will definitely hinder crossing the line to senior level, executive positions,” she says.

Though provocative dressing may not be the best way to get ahead, that doesn’t mean that women should be relegated to baggy pantsuits and clogs at the office, for fear of being “too sexy.”

Indeed, says Vega, a happy medium can be determined. Below, she helps establish the line between clothes that flatter and clothes that flaunt, with these guidelines for looking pretty, polished and professional in the workplace:

  • Keep skirt hemlines right above the knee cap
  • Maintain shirt buttons closed just enough where cleavage is not showing
  • Wear comfortable pumps with a heel that is between 1/2″-2 3/4″ high.
  • Leave strappy sandals, peep toe shoes and slides for weekend wear not office wear.
  • Wear hosiery at all times.
  • Wear undergarments that adjust and maintain your body parts in their proper place rather than having them jiggle and bounce.

What do you think about provocative clothing and the workplace? Let us know in the comments section, below.

For more information on dressing for the job you want, check out “The Image of Success.”

  1. As a female business owner, being taken seriously by the male prospect was always a challenge in my early 30′s. In my opinion, provocative dressing only invites unwanted “sexual” gestures from others and diminishes the value of your expertise when selling a product or service. A polished appearance adds credibility and most likely assists in closing a sale that would potentially lead to a long lasting business relationship with respect and integrity. Obviously, you have to deliver what you’ve sold and deliver it well for repeat business.

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  3. Well I’m teaching a class of adult students and one of the female students who has a beautiful figure and big gorgeous breasts comes into class wearing tight skimpy tops and tight pants which emphasize her breasts and her figure. She often asks me over to her desk with a question. She’s friendly to me and comes up to my desk to ask something . Is she teasing me ?she must know that it really turns me on. Or is she just being friendly -is she deliberately trying to turn me on for fun- I don’t know why she dresses like that in my class. I’ve been very helpful and nice to her with her English studies and this is how she repays me -sexually teasing me-Ladies what do you think?

    • Ross,

      Women wear what makes them feel pretty and confident, and that has nothing to do with you. If she is flirting, looking at you with ‘bedroom eyes,’ or trying to chat with you about non-school issues, then maybe you could conclude that she has a crush on you. Did it ever occur to you that she might have a crush on someone in the class and she is dressing to get their attention, not yours?

      If all the evidence you have is that she is wearing sexy clothes, then you really need to get over it, and focus on being a professional in a world that happens to have beautiful women in it.

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  20. Helen, I think you are absolutely right about looking polished. It get’s the job done and sets the right tone for professional relationships.

    Plus, let’s be honest, it can be much sexier than something more overt. Subtly is dangerously underrated in our society. Wearing something flattering that is not overly provocative is empowering without inviting the type of confusion that Ross is experiencing.

    Of course, I say confusion but I suspect this student is well aware of how attractive she is to him. She may even be enjoying the attention and tension that ensues. It’s possible she feels that dressing this way gives her advantages and she’s right.

    That said, I really don’t think there’s anything terribly surprising about her behavior. That Ross is confused is natural too. I believe it boils down to ethics. Your neighbor may leave the door ajar but that is still not an invitation to enter, much less make yourself at home.

    Certainly, there are some folks who are oblivious to the effect their appearance has on others but I think most will have some understanding of that by the time they leave high school. I believe what is missing is some dialogue about what constitutes appropriate ethical behavior socially as well as professionally.

    It is rarely ever appropriate to tease and yet we laugh about it so often. Flirting is commonly used as a social lubricant but at what point does it cross lines? Right now, everyone has to decide that for themselves but developing some level of consensus would be empowering for our society as a whole.

    Lastly, the only thing I really take issue with in the above article is the idea that we women must wear hosiery to appear professional. Maybe it adds to the finished polished image but it’s also confining, unnatural and often uncomfortable. I would hate to think that after a certain amount of working with colleagues my unhosed legs could undermine my professional persona.

    Unless someone is actively oggling me below the waist, at what point would they even notice such a thing? I can see how low cut tops or tighter skirts/pants could be distracting but the same argument is hard to make for a knee or an ankle. Afterall, we left those notions behind about a hundred years ago, didn’t we??

    • I agree with all of the suggestions about appropriate dress for women in the workplace, including hosiery. I am a female attorney, and I hear what the male attorneys — and judges — say about the young female attorneys who come into court bare-legged. It’s not about the knee or ankle — it’s about a leg that is uncovered up to and beyond the hem of a skirt. Not only is it considered provocative by most men over 40 (and just who do you think is sitting on the bench??), it is also considered unprofessional. Look at the men you are competing against and working with. The only uncovered parts of their bodies are their hands and their faces. Suits are cut to draw the eye up and to the face, not to distract from it with detail, color, etc. I wear many suits, dresses, skirts, and jackets, in many colors. But I am always aware that the men in the room, who always outnumber me, are wearing armour; how many layers of clothing are there between men’s bodies and the open air? Think about it.
      My attire needs to make me feel confident, look professional, and make the most of my natural assets without overtly drawing attention to them. My best assets are my legs — I always show them, but in hosiery.

    • I worked in an industrial inside sales position for 20 years and was pulled aside and warned by the GM to tone down my style of dress for our annual sales rep meeting. Truth was, I dressed no differently than any of the other women except that they weighed 30-200 lbs. more than me. I have worked out hard for my physique and admittedly take pride in it. I, therefore, wear clothes that fit well – not short, not tight, not low cut but fitted. I informed the GM that his comments were discriminating and needed to be made to all
      the females in the office, some of whom were all but busting out of their seams. Discrimination can work both ways.

    • If whatever below the waist doesnt matter,can men wear shorts,or not-so-full length pants?Why must it always be assumed that men have no issues with their standard attire while women need to bargain over it?Cos ive no prob with women wearing the exact same business suit as a man.

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  23. Hi Nadia
    you said that me being confused was natural- do you think that the sexy dressed female student in my class was aware that she was turning me on – does she not realize that she is making it difficult for me to teach.


    • Beautiful women are not worried about how their looks affect you, so no she does not know or care that her looks are “making it hard for you to teach.” She’s not at work, she in class, so she is not expected to wear “professional” and conservative clothing. There are plenty of sexy women in America, and you just need to learn how to deal with that.

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