A Grounded Theory Model of the Ideal Business Image for Women


Patricia A. Kimle, 3222 Lettie Street, Ames, IA 50014.

Mary Lynn Damhorst, 1052 LeBaron Hall, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011–1120.


Recent changes in women's business identities present an opportunity to explore the social meanings conveyed by dress in a specific and changing context. Using a grounded theory approach, interview data from twenty-four business women were analyzed for recurrent themes. These women felt they could choose from a variety of dress images in order to express appropriate or socially acceptable meanings, including credibility and competence in business. A dynamic, multi-dimensional model of the meanings comprising an “ideal” image for business women is proposed. These meanings include conservatism, fashion, masculinity, femininity/sexuality, creativity, and conformity. The meanings are conceptualized as approximately opposing forces causing tensions, thus requiring conscious balancing by business women. Each meaning has an extreme which can endanger the credibility of the wearer. The balance of meanings is mediated by several contextual factors.