"In my research, I'm very influenced by sociological theory that people are really actors playing different roles--and, of course, you need costumes," says Michael Solomon, assistant professor of marketing and associate director of the Institute of Retail Management at the graduate school of business at New York University.

Here are some of Solomon's scenarios on some common "costumes."

Woman in a black suit, white blouse and red bow tie: You know she has graduated in the last five years. She is not the vice president wearing what she wants to wear (vice presidents don't need all those external cues to tell who they are; they've already gone through the period of self-definition). Senior executives aren't going to be as rigid, because they can get away with it.

Man who never takes off his jacket: That might mean that he has been reading too many dress-for-success books. They tell you never to take your jacket off and never to wear short sleeves.

Woman who wears a lot of jewelry to lunch: A high desire for self-enhancement. Some jewelry has more symbolic significance. The wedding ring is a communication, as opposed to ornamentation. A lot of jewelry could be an expression of lack of self-confidence, covering yourself up and distracting attention from face and neck. Clothes can be used as distractors or props, like drinks and cigarettes at a party.

Man wearing gold chains around the neck and an open shirt: I just moved from Brooklyn, and that's basically the dominant species in Brooklyn.

Anyone in a tie: A tie makes you more inhibited. It's a constant reminder that pressure is there--to be on your best behavior. One negative thing clothing can do is to stifle creativity.

Man in a black collar: You are not going to start telling him bawdy jokes.

Man in a three-piece suit: That's symbolic of authority, and of course the colors might influence that. The gray suit usually symbolizes a very conservative outlook. The banker's suit symbolizes continuity: It's a smooth look and inspires a lot of trust. Bankers don't wear sport coats.

Woman in a black, slinky dress: Obviously types a woman as a sex symbol. A woman wearing sexy clothes to the office may be saying, "I'm not going to compromise my feminity." I think women would like to wear a gray jacket and tie, and a skirt with a slit up the side, so that when they sit at their desk they look official, but not when they go out to lunch.