Session 9(b): Dress Codes: Proper Attire

3rd Global Conference

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Thursday 22nd September – Sunday 25th September 2011
Mansfield College, Oxford, United Kingdom


Constructing the Visual Self: Dressing for Occasions
Renata Strashnaya
The Graduate School and University Center, CUNY, New York, USA

In this project I present research into the activity of dress, focusing on clothing the body as an everyday practice for young professional women. Clothes are defined as “expressions of identity, one of the perennial means whereby we signal to the social world who and what we are; they are part of our repertoire of social technology, a means whereby ideas of identity are grounded in the visual” (Twiggs 2007, pg. 291). To explore the ongoing process of self-presentation through clothes, semi-structured interviews and photographs are employed to study how women use clothes to visually construct multiple versions of themselves. Moreover, identifying the need to meet the demands of these women’s lifestyles and their ability to transition from one space to another adds a complexity to current research on women’s everyday lives. Based on the results of the study, I argue that identity is itself an activity of soft assembly—a performative act of adaptation to circumstances at hand in a solvable, yet unpredictable world. Disputing the notion of fixity and singularity, interaction of individual and lifestyle demands becomes key in exploring how young professional women soft assemble via clothing for the kind of lives they lead.

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Dressing Smart: Fashion, Femininity, and Feminism in Academic
Marianne Gueye
East Carolina University, USA

Academia and fashion seem to be two colliding worlds where the former can study the latter but never indulge in its practice. The image of the university professor is that of a balding middle-aged white man in old-fashioned suits, thick eyeglasses, and a heavy briefcase. It is as if to be judged as learned, one must look odd and detached from what is deemed beautiful, sensual, or even sexual. Because women entered the professorship later, their body image follows the same practice of “dressing smart”. In America, women academics refrain from showing femininity and dressing smart or “pretty” for fear of being judged as not knowledgeable enough because of their looks. Earning a Ph.D. and fulfilling all the scholarly requirements or their ranks is not enough to give them credibility. They must hide their bodies, forsake femininity, and bury themselves in ugly clothing. This presentation explores the ways in which fashion style is used as a marker of intelligence and superficiality for women in academia. Its main interest is how in a world where you are how you look, women professors who love to dress feminine and pretty are not taken seriously by their colleagues. For those who are proclaimed feminists, the other two “f” words (i.e. fashion, femininity) are almost taboos and embracing either is a sin that can result in questioning looks or even discrediting. To be a feminist, means to banish what is feminine and sexy thus separating the mind from the body.


Feminist Literary Writers and Fashion: The Case of Alice Walker
Esther Nangaya Mulusa
University of North Carolina Greensboro, USA

The question about how women should dress and for what purposes has preoccupied the minds of feminists and gender activists for a long time. There has been a disagreement on whether or not women should dress and adorn their bodies in order to appear sexy. Those who are opposed to this line of thinking front an argument that this makes women a plaything for men. Regardless of the point of views among them, literary feminist writers have not missed on commenting about fashion in their literary works. This even becomes more controversial when a literary writer comments about dress and adornment across cultures and continents. This paper examines how Alice Walker has handled the whole issue of fashion (dress and body adornment) in her texts and its implications to feminist and gender struggles. Walker is an African-American feminist literary writer who has dealt with issues of feminist concern affecting African-American and African women. She has generally addressed domestic violence among Blacks in America and female genital mutilation in Africa.


Fitting in When You Are Different: Work-Based Dress and Asperger’s Syndrome
Linda Shearer
Glasgow Caledonian University, Scotland

The significance of dress and work, as foundations for the formation, maintenance and enhancement of self-identity is compounded by their relationship in work-based dress. This case study examines the lived experience of a male professional with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS); a mild and higher functioning form of Autism thought to affect 1 in 250 people, and typified, amongst others, by social impairment, repetitive routines or rituals and non-verbal communication problems (Bauer, 1996). In a workplace environment without a formal dress code, there is an implicit expectation relating to dress which creates the potential for ambiguity and confusion regarding appropriate attire. Dress codes are developed through social experiences leading to a shared understanding. As a result of having AS the case subject does not have an intuitive sense of social cues and is able to behave in a ‘normal’ way at work, only through meticulous research and observation of the habits of other, ‘neuro-typical’ people. The resultant suppression of self-identity and individuality in creating this standardised work role image presents a challenge for people with AS who cannot adapt easily to different forms of dress, or to change in general.

The qualitative study uses diary, in-depth interview, vignette and photographic data to illustrate the personal constructs of the subject and to probe aspects of tension and dissonance relating to dress choice in the workplace. The findings provide insight into the conflicts between self identify and perceived work dress requirements, and examine the resultant strategies such as body modification and appropriations of dress, that are harnessed to enable social interaction and acceptance within an organisational context. The study offers an adjunct to dress research by exploring the lived experience and personal constructs of those out with the socially ‘normative’ spectrum.

Download Draft Conference Paper (pdf)