By: Micki Burdick

“It will be messy and confusing at times; but, ultimately, when we find out more about what makes people wear what they do, we can discover more of ourselves, and in turn, try to understand those around us on a deeper level.” ~Micki Burdick, PhD Candidate, Rhetoric & Public Advocacy, University of Iowa

We all have one thing in common: we all wear clothes. No matter what our age, education level, race, or life experience, we all participate in some type of dress. In fact, there is not one culture that does not participate in dress. But what does what we jump, slide, or shimmy into in the morning say about who we are and how others see us on a daily basis?

According to The Meanings of Dress (2nd Edition), dress is “any intentional modification of appearance.” Dress is not only what we wear, but is also a part of our culture and society. Because of this, how we dress tells us a lot about what we think of ourselves and what others will eventually perceive of us as well.

Dress is a type of non-verbal communication. According to the Berg Fashion Library, there are two basic functions that dress provides for people. Dress acts as a way to modify the body and is also a medium for communication. The way that dress can be used as non-verbal communication is especially interesting because we all communicate something about who we are when we dress ourselves every single day. We come into contact with different people, and we learn to dress accordingly. You will dress much differently when meeting up with friends for a night out than you will going to a job interview. The difference may be in your attitude, level of confidence, or environment; but it ultimately comes out in the way you choose to use the available clothing around you.

Dress is used to make inferences about the way we think about others, but can be used to manage how others perceive and frame us as well. Think about the time you spend pulling clothes out of your closet, trying to find just the right outfit for the occasion. It really matters to you what someone else will think when you put on that shirt, vest, hat, or piece of jewelry. People care a lot about what others look like, and will make assumptions sometimes solely on the type of clothing you choose to wear. For this reason alone, it is important that people study the psychology of dress.

While the psychology of dress might seem like an abstract concept void of any concrete evidence, there are specific theories that have been found to explain this phenomenon of people caring about, living through, and making decisions with clothing. While these theories are usually simple psychological principles, there are many studies that have been done to prove that what we wear communicates a great deal to the outside world.

One example of this comes from a study done by dress researcher Sharron Lennon. The Berg Fashion Library explains how, in two separate studies, Lennon found that even the way customers dress when they come into retail stores determines how fast they will be served by the employees in the store. Dress is important, no matter what the context.

This is what The Empty Hanger aims to find out about dress, clothing, fashion, and style. Considering all of these aspects of our lives have important effects on who we are, how we feel about ourselves, and how others perceive us, we should probably try to discover why that is and what goes into this formula. It will be messy and confusing at times; but, ultimately, when we find out more about what makes people wear what they do, we can discover more of ourselves, and in turn, try to understand those around us on a deeper level.

So what does dress communicate to you?

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