Dress and Identity

by Joanne B. Eicher & Mary Ellen Roach-Higgins


Development of a theoretical framework for understanding linkages between identity and dress depends on careful selection and definition of terms and development of a broad, holistic view of Social Aspects of Dress. A comprehensive definition of dress includes both body modifications and supplements to the body. Properties of these modifications and supplements can be cross-classified with sensory responses they evoke. Because dress functions as an effective means of communication during social interaction, it influences peoples’ establishing identities of themselves and others. An individual’s self incorporates identities based on assigned and achieved positions within social structures, especially those that organize kinship, economic, religious, and political activities. Identities communicated by dress are also influenced by technology and society-wide moral and aesthetic standards for dress. Specific types and properties of dress that communicate identity may change through time in response to economic, demographic, and other societal changes.

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