Professor Susan Kaiser at the University of California, Davis, studies how and why people—including engineers—dress the way they do.
Present position: Chair of the Division of Textiles and Clothing and Professor of Women and Gender Studies at the University of California, Davis
Degrees: Ph.D. Textiles and Clothing, Minor in Sociology, Texas Woman's University
Area of research: Bridging social psychology and cultural studies in the areas of textiles and clothing
What exactly does that mean? I study how people express themselves and negotiate their identities in everyday life using clothing and appearance factors, and I explore the interface between material properties and social perceptions. Right now, for example, I'm working on an NSF project focusing on new medical textiles and how they might be perceived by the people who make decisions about them and use them.
Engineers practically invented the trend of business casual. What's been its impact? Our research suggests that casual dress provides comfort and utility to many workers, it helps them focus on their everyday projects. But workers also seem to have an ambivalent sense about what it might do for their upward mobility. The guys at the top often still wear suits.
So to get ahead, should engineers follow the old adage "dress like the boss?" It's always good to signal one is aspiring to be upwardly mobile, but don't go overboard.
Are stuffy suits coming back? There has been something of a turn toward more formal dressing. It's not likely that everyone will return to wearing business suits in the near term—especially technical people—but some attention to balancing and pulling off a professional look can be really helpful.
Fashion advice for engineers: Think strategically, creatively, and about what it is you want to say about yourself. Be careful about being pigeonholed because of your wardrobe.
Hawaiian shirts at work? Only in parts of California and, of course, Hawaii.