When asked their feelings about how they dress, women ascribe to two very different schools of thought. Nearly six in 10 female respondents told the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™ that they believe you can't judge a book by its cover; nearly four in 10 insist that you never get another chance at a first impression.

"I think that these two opinions reflect who we are as women today; we have differing but acceptable approaches to how we want to dress, whether it is for ourselves or for others, just as we have different lifestyle choices and options," offers Melissa Bastos, manager, market research in Supply Chain Planning for Cotton Incorporated. "The fact that the majority of women preferred a more laid-back approach to dressing mirrors today's more casual society."

The majority rule may also explain why younger women were more likely to say that they did not base impressions on wardrobe choices. 67 percent of female respondents aged 16 to 24 stated that they did not think that you could judge a book by its cover. For the most part, that sentiment appears to abate with age, as 58 percent of female respondents aged 25 to 34, 53 percent aged 35 to 55 and 55 percent aged 56 to 70 stated that they did not make judgement calls on clothing.

Women's Feelings About How They Dress
Can't judge a book by its cover.
Never get a second change to make a first impression.
Women over 35 were slightly more likely to state that you never get another chance at a good impression, possibly reflecting their coming of age when the "dress for success" philosophy reigned in the workplace and rules about dressing for social occasions were more defined and rigid. "First impressions do make a difference," asserts Jim Gregory, founder and CEO of CoreBrand, a global brand strategy and integrated communications firm headquartered in Stamford, Conn. "Clothing can make a statement; and for most women, they want that statement to convey confidence, authority and business savvy."

While a woman's opinion about dress may be influenced by her age, experience and lifestyle, it's more important for each woman to establish her own definition of appropriate attire today, says Linda Pugeau, senior design manager at L.L. Bean, the global retailer. "We have so much information available to us in today's day and age, and fashion is not a head-to-toe singular look anymore," she explains. "We can more easily pull it together, particularly given that women are pulling style ideas from different eras." She points to style stars from decades ago who have had a long lasting effect on fashion. "We had Jacqueline Kennedy and Audrey Hepburn in the sixties and Madonna in the eighties showing us new ways. While today's celebrities certainly influence fashion, very few endure for the long term, as these women have."

That is certainly true, as evidenced by Gap's Fall 2006 campaign, which pays homage to the late star of Breakfast at Tiffany's. "Audrey Hepburn will forever be remembered as a style icon for her timeless elegance, natural grace and innate chic. Gap was inspired by all of these qualities when we created the skinny black pant; it truly is a perfect wardrobe staple that every woman should own," affirms Sean Krebs, Gap style expert.

Classically-inspired garments can go a long way in building a wardrobe that will stand the test of time for women. Other must-have items include a good fitting jean, a white woven shirt, a v-neck sweater and a good cotton T-shirt, according to Pugeau. "When it comes to something like a tee, women definitely seek out natural fibers," she tells. "It really is that important."According to the Monitor, nearly one in two women checks labels to ensure she gets what she wants. 49.7 percent of female respondents stated that fabric content was an important consideration in her decision to purchase. 59 percent were willing to pay more for natural fibers, such as cotton.

Women also seek out a particular brand if they believe that it embodies the characteristics that they want to project. "There are many brands that women trust because of certain images and they are conscious of how they come across when they buy and wear that brand," Gregory, the brand strategist, observes.

There certainly is a power in dressing, but it really is about what comes from inside. "I am thinking of the popularity of makeover shows and how wardrobe changes can literally transform a woman and her attitude," Pugeau from L.L. Bean says, adding that subtle and traditional updates trump trendy and overdone styles in a woman's makeover. "If you can make it easy and direct a woman towards more classic and timeless pieces, versus some more outrageous items that don't really work for her, she will be more likely to embrace these new additions to her wardrobe."

While more women may say that you can't judge a book by its cover, it does appear that they are obeying one of fashion's most important edicts. "Being true to yourself and what works for you can not be underestimated," Bastos from Cotton Incorporated reminds. "If you are not comfortable with what you are wearing, that is going to stand out more than anything. Just remember to keep it simple and the rest is easy."

This story is one in a series of articles based on findings from Cotton Incorporated's Lifestyle Monitor™ tracking research. Each story will focus on a specific topic as it relates to the American consumer and her attitudes and behavior regarding clothing, appearance, fashion, fiber selection and many other timely, relevant subjects.

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