R E V I E W Open Access
Dress, body and self: research in the social
psychology of dress
, Sharron J Lennon
and Nancy Rudd
* Correspondence: email@example.com
University of Minnesota, 240
McNeal Hall, 1985 Buford Ave, St
Paul, MN, USA
Full list of author information is
available at the end of the article
The purpose of this research was to provide a critical review of key research areas
within the social psychology of dress. The review addresses published research in
two broad areas: (1) dress as a stimulus and its influence on (a) attributions by
others, attributions about self, and on one's behavior and (2) relationships between
dress, the body, and the self. We identify theoretical approaches used in conducting
research in these areas, provide an abbreviated background of research in these
areas highlighting key findings, and identify future research directions and
possibilities. The subject matter presented features developing topics within the
social psychology of dress and is useful for undergraduate students who want an
overview of the content area. It is also useful for graduate students (1) who want to
learn about the major scholars in these key areas of inquiry who have moved the
field forward, or (2) who are looking for ideas for their own thesis or dissertation
research. Finally, information in this paper is useful for professors who research or
teach the social psychology of dress.
Keywords: Body; Dress; Review; Self; Social psychology; Theories
A few social scientists in the 19
Century studied dress as related to culture, individ-
uals, and social groups, but it was not until the middle of the 20
Century that home
economists began to pursue a scholarly interest in social science aspects of dress
(Roach-Higgins 1993). Dress is defined as “an assemblage of modifications of the body
and/or supplements to the body”(Roach-Higgins & Eicher 1992, p. 1). Body modifica-
tions include cosmetic use, suntanning, piercing, tattooing, dieting, exercising, and
cosmetic surgery among others. Body supplements include, but are not limited to, ac-
cessories, clothing, hearing aids, and glasses. By the 1950s social science theories from
economics, psychology, social psychology, and sociology were being used to study
dress and human behavior (Rudd 1991, p. 24).
A range of topics might be included under the phrase social psychology of dress but
we use it to refer to research that attempts to answer questions concerned with how
an individual’s dress-related beliefs, attitudes, perceptions, feelings, and behaviors are
shaped by others and one’s self. The social psychology of dress is concerned with how
an individual’s dress affects the behavior of self as well as the behavior of others toward
the self (Johnson & Lennon 2014).
© 2014 Johnson et al.; licensee Springer. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons
Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any
medium, provided the original work is properly credited.
Johnson et al. Fashion and Textiles 2014, 1:20
Among several topics that could be included in a critical review of research address-
ing the social psychology of dress, we focused our work on a review of published re-
search in two broad areas: (1) dress as a stimulus and its influence on (a) attributions
by others, attributions about self, and on one’s own behavior and (2) relationships be-
tween dress, the body, and the self. Our goal was to identify theoretical approaches
used in conducting research in these areas, provide an abbreviated background of re-
search in these areas highlighting key findings, and to identify future research direc-
tions and possibilities. The content presented features developing topics within the
social psychology of dress and is useful for undergraduate students who want an over-
view of the content area. It is also useful for graduate students (1) who want to learn
about the major scholars in these key areas of inquiry who have moved the field for-
ward, or (2) who are looking for ideas for their own thesis or dissertation research. Fi-
nally, information in this paper is useful for professors who research or teach the social
psychology of dress.
Body supplements as stimulus variables
In studying the social psychology of dress, researchers have often focused on dress as a
stimulus variable; for example, the effects of dress on impression formation, attribu-
tions, and social perception (see Lennon & Davis 1989) or the effects of dress on be-
haviors (see Johnson et al. 2008). The context within which dress is perceived
(Damhorst 1984-85) as well as characteristics of perceivers of clothed individuals
(Burns & Lennon 1993) also has a profound effect on what is perceived about others.
In the remainder of this section we focus on three research streams that center on
dress (i.e., body supplements) as stimuli.
Provocative dress as stimuli
In the 1980s researchers were interested in women’s provocative (revealing, sexy) dress
and the extent to which men and women attributed the same meaning to it. For ex-
ample, both Edmonds and Cahoon (1986) and Cahoon and Edmonds (1987) found rat-
ings of women who wore provocative dress were more negative than ratings of women
who wore non-provocative dress. No specific theory was identified by these authors as
guiding their research. Overall, when wearing provocative dress a model was rated
more sexually appealing, more attractive, less faithful in marriage, more likely to engage
in sexual teasing, more likely to use sex for personal gain, more likely to be sexually ex-
perienced, and more likely to be raped than when wearing conservative dress. Cahoon
and Edmonds found that men and women made similar judgments, although men’s
were more extreme than women’s. Abbey et al. (1987) studied whether women’s sexual
intent and interest as conveyed by revealing dress was misinterpreted by men. The au-
thors developed two dress conditions: revealing (slit skirt, low cut blouse, high heeled
shoes) and non-revealing (skirt without a slit, blouse buttoned to neck, boots). Partici-
pants rated the stimulus person on a series of adjective traits. As compared to when
wearing the non-revealing clothing, when wearing the revealing clothing the stimulus
person was rated significantly more flirtatious, sexy, seductive, promiscuous, sophisti-
cated, assertive, and less sincere and considerate. This research was not guided by
Johnson et al. Fashion and Textiles 2014, 1:20 Page 2 of 24
Taking this research another step forward, in the 1990s dress researchers began to inves-
tigate how women’s provocative (revealing, sexy) dress was implicated in attributions of
responsibility for their own sexual assaults (Lewis & Johnson 1989; Workman & Freeburg
1999; Workman & Orr 1996) and sexual harassment (Johnson & Workman 1992, 1994;
Workman & Johnson 1991). These researchers tended to use attribution theories
(McLeod, 2010) to guide their research. Their results showed that provocative, skimpy,
see-through, or short items of dress, as well as use of heavy makeup (body modification),
were cues used to assign responsibility to women for their sexual assaults and experiences
of sexual harassment. For example, Johnson and Workman (1992) studied likelihood of
sexual harassment as a function of women’s provocative dress. A model was photographed
wearing a dark suit jacket, above-the-knee skirt, a low-cut blouse, dark hose, and high
heels (provocative condition) or wearing a dark suit jacket, below-the-knee skirt, high-cut
blouse, neutral hose, and moderate heels (non-provocative condition). As compared to
when wearing non-provocative dress, when wearing provocative dress the model was
rated as significantly more likely to provoke sexual harassment and to be sexually
Recently, researchers have resurrected the topic of provocative (revealing, sexy) dress.
However, their interest is in determining the extent to which women and girls are
depicted in provocative dress in the media (in magazines, in online retail stores) and
the potential consequences of those depictions, such as objectification. These re-
searchers have often used objectification theory to guide their research. According to
objectification theory (Fredrickson & Roberts 1997) women living in sexually satu-
rated cultures are looked at, evaluated, and potentially objectified and treated as objects
valued for their use by others. Objectification theory focuses on sexual objectification
as a function of objectifying gaze, which is experienced in actual social encounters,
media depictions of social encounters, and media depictions that focus on bodies and
body parts. The theory explains that objectifying gaze evokes an objectified state of
consciousness which influences self-perceptions. This objectified state of consciousness
has consequences such as habitual body and appearance monitoring and requires cog-
nitive effort that can result in difficulty with task performance (Szymanski et al. 2011).
In such an environment, women may perceive their bodies from a third-person per-
spective, treating themselves as objects to be looked at and evaluated.
Self-objectification occurs when people perceive and describe their bodies as a func-
tion of appearance instead of accomplishments (Harrison & Fredrickson 2003).
Experimental research shows that self-objectification in women can be induced by re-
vealing clothing manipulations such as asking women to try on and evaluate the fit of a
swimsuit as compared to a bulky sweater (Fredrickson et al. 1998).
To examine changes in sexualizing (provocative) characteristics with which girls are
portrayed in the media, researchers have content analyzed girls’clothing in two maga-
zines (Graff et al. 2013). Clothing was coded as having sexualizing characteristics (e.g.,
tightness, bare midriffs, high-heeled shoes) and childlike characteristics (e.g., frills,
childlike print, pigtail hair styles). The researchers found an increase in sexualized as-
pects of dress in depictions of girls from 1971 through 2011. To determine the extent
of sexualization in girls’clothing, researchers have content analyzed girls’clothing avail-
able on 15 retailer websites (Goodin et al. 2011). Every girl’s clothing item on each of
the retailer websites was coded for sexualizing aspects; 4% was coded as definitely
Johnson et al. Fashion and Textiles 2014, 1:20 Page 3 of 24
sexualizing. Ambiguously sexualizing clothing (25%) had both sexualizing and childlike
characteristics. Abercrombie Kids’clothing had a higher percentage of sexualizing char-
acteristics than all the other stores (44% versus 4%). These two studies document that
girls are increasingly depicted in sexualizing clothing in U.S. media and that they are
offered sexualized clothing by major retailers via their websites.
Since girls are increasingly sexualized, to determine if sexualized dress affects how
girls are perceived by others Graff et al. (2012) designed an experiment wherein they
manipulated the sexualizing aspects of the clothing of a 5
grade girl. There were three
clothing conditions: childlike (a grey t-shirt, jeans, and black Mary Jane shoes), ambigu-
ously sexualized (leopard print dress of moderate length), highly sexualized (short
dress, leopard print cardigan, purse). In the definitely sexualized condition, undergra-
duate students rated the girl as less moral, self-respecting, capable, determined, com-
petent, and intelligent than when she was depicted in either the childlike or the
ambiguously sexualized conditions. Thus, wearing sexualized clothing can affect how
girls are perceived by others, so it is possible that sexualized clothing could lead to self-
objectification in girls just as in the case of women (Tiggemann & Andrew 2012).
Objectification theory has been useful in identifying probable processes underlying
the association between women’s provocative dress and negative inferences. In a study
using adult stimuli, Gurung and Chrouser (2007) presented photos of female Olympic
athletes in uniform and in provocative (defined as minimal) dress. College women rated
the photos and when provocatively dressed, as compared to the uniform condition, the
women were rated as more attractive, more feminine, more sexually experienced, more
desirable, but also less capable, less strong, less determined, less intelligent, and as hav-
ing less self-respect. These results are similar to what had previously been found by re-
searchers in the 1980s (Abbey et al. 1987; Cahoon & Edmonds 1987; Edmonds &
Cahoon 1986). This outcome is considered objectifying because the overall impression
is negative and sexist. Thus, this line of research does more than demonstrate that pro-
vocative dress evokes inferences, it suggests the process by which that occurs: provoca-
tive dress leads to objectification of the woman so dressed and it is the objectification
that leads to the inferences.
In a more direct assessment of the relationship between provocative dress and objectifi-
cation of others, Holland and Haslam (2013) manipulated the dress (provocative or plain
clothing) of two models (thin or overweight) who were rated equally attractive in facial at-
tractiveness. Since objectification involves inspecting the body, the authors measured par-
ticipants’attention to the models’bodies. Objectification also involves denying human
qualities to the objectified person. Two such qualities are perceived agency (e.g., ability to
think and form intentions) and moral agency (e.g., capacity to engage in moral or immoral
actions). Several findings are relevant to the research on provocative dress. As compared
to models wearing plain clothing, models wearing provocative clothing were attributed
less perceived agency (e.g., ability to reason, ability to choose) and less moral agency [e.g.,
“how intentional do you believe the woman’s behavior is?”(p. 463)]. Results showed that
more objectified gaze was directed toward the bodies of the models when they were
dressed in provocative clothing as compared to when dressed in plain clothing. This out-
come is considered objectifying because the models’bodies were inspected more when
wearing provocative dress, and because in that condition they were perceived as having
less of the qualities normally attributed to humans.
Johnson et al. Fashion and Textiles 2014, 1:20 Page 4 of 24
In an experimental study guided by objectification theory, Tiggemann and Andrew
(2012) studied the effects of clothing on self-perceptions of state self-objectification,
state body shame, state body dissatisfaction, and negative mood. However, unlike stud-
ies (e.g., Fredrickson et al. 1998) in which participants were asked to try on and evalu-
ate either a bathing suit or a sweater, Tiggemann and Andrew instructed their
participants to “imagine what you would be seeing, feeling, and thinking”(p. 648) in
scenarios. There were four scenarios: thinking about wearing a bathing suit in public,
thinking about wearing a bathing suit in a dressing room, thinking about wearing a
sweater in public, and thinking about wearing a sweater in a dressing room. The re-
searchers found main effects for clothing such that as compared to thinking about
wearing a sweater, thinking about wearing a bathing suit resulted in higher state self-
objectification, higher state body shame, higher state body dissatisfaction, and greater
negative mood. The fact that the manipulation only involved thinking about wearing
clothing, rather than actually wearing such clothing, demonstrates the power of reveal-
ing (provocative, sexy) dress in that we only have to think about wearing it to have it
affect our self-perceptions.
Taking extant research into account we encourage researchers to continue to investi-
gate the topic of provocative (sexy, revealing) dress for both men and women to repli-
cate the results for women and to determine if revealing dress for men might evoke the
kinds of inferences evoked by women wearing revealing dress. Furthermore, research
that delineates the role of objectification in the process by which this association be-
tween dress and inferences occurs would be useful. Although it would not be ethical to
use the experimental strategy used by previous researchers (Fredrickson et al. 1998)
with children, it is possible that researchers could devise correlational studies to investi-
gate the extent to which wearing and/or viewing sexualized clothing might lead to self-
and other-objectification in girls.
Research on red dress
Researchers who study the social psychology of dress have seldom focused on dress color.
However, in the 1980s and 1990s a few researchers investigated color in the context of re-
tail color analysis systems that focused on personal coloring (Abramov 1985; Francis &
Evans 1987; Hilliker & Rogers 1988; Radeloff 1991). For example, Francis and Evans
found that stimulus persons were actually perceived positively when not wearing their rec-
ommended personal colors. Hilliker and Rogers surveyed managers of apparel stores
about the use of color analysis systems and found some impact on the marketplace, but
disagreement among the managers on the value of the systems. Abramov critiqued color
analysis for being unclear, ambiguous, and for the inability to substantiate claims. Most of
these studies were not guided by a psychological theory of color.
Since the 1990s, researchers have developed a theory of color psychology (Elliot &
Maier 2007) called color-in-context theory. Like other variables that affect social percep-
tion, the theory explains that color also conveys meaning which varies as a function of the
context in which the color is perceived. Accordingly, the meanings of colors are learned
over time through repeated pairings with a particular experience or message (e.g., red stop
light and danger) or with biological tendencies to respond to color in certain contexts. For
example, female non-human primates display red on parts of their bodies when nearing
Johnson et al. Fashion and Textiles 2014, 1:20 Page 5 of 24
ovulation; hence red is associated with lust, fertility, and sexuality (Guéguen and Jacob
2013). As a function of these associations between colors and experiences, messages, or
biological tendencies, people either display approach responses or avoidance responses
but are largely unaware of how color affects them. In this section we review studies that
examine the effects of red in relational contexts such as interpersonal attraction. However,
there is evidence that red is detrimental in achievement (i.e., academic or hiring) contexts
(e.g., Maier et al. 2013) and that red signals dominance and affects outcomes in competi-
tive sporting contests (e.g., Feltman and Elliot 2011; Hagemann et al. 2008).
Recently researchers have used color-in-context theory to study the effects of red
dress (shirts, dresses) on impressions related to sexual intent, attractiveness, domin-
ance, and competence. Some of these studies were guided by color-in-context theory.
Guéguen (2012) studied men’s perceptions of women’s sexual intent and attractiveness
as a function of shirt color. Male participants viewed a photo of a woman wearing a t-
shirt that varied in color. When wearing a red t-shirt as compared to the other colors,
the woman was judged to be more attractive and to have greater sexual intent. Pazda
et al. (2014a, b) conducted an experiment designed to determine why men perceive
women who wear red to be more attractive than those who wear other colors. They ar-
gued that red is associated with sexual receptivity due to cultural pairings of red and fe-
male sexuality (e.g., red light district, sexy red lingerie). Men participated in an online
experiment in which they were exposed to a woman wearing either a red, black, or
white dress. When wearing the red dress the woman was rated as more sexually recep-
tive than when wearing either the white or the black dresses. The woman was also
rated on attractiveness and by performing a mediation analysis the researchers deter-
mined that when wearing the red dress, the ratings of her attractiveness as a function
of red were no longer significant; in other words, the reason she was rated as more at-
tractive when wearing the red dress was due to the fact that she was also perceived as
more sexually receptive.
Pazda et al. (2014a, b), interested in women’s perceptions of other women as a func-
tion of their clothing color, conducted a series of experiments. They reasoned that like
men, women would also make the connection between a woman’s red dress and her
sexual receptivity and perceive her to be a sexual competitor. In their first experiment
they found that women rated the stimulus woman as more sexually receptive when
wearing a red dress as compared to when she was wearing a white dress. In a second
experiment the woman wearing a red dress was not only rated more sexually receptive,
she was also derogated more since ratings of her sexual fidelity were lower when wear-
ing a red dress as compared to a white dress. Finally, in a third experiment the stimulus
woman was again rated more sexually receptive; this time when she wore a red shirt as
compared to when she wore a green shirt. The authors assessed the likelihood that
their respondents would introduce the stimulus person to their boyfriends and the like-
lihood that they would let their boyfriends spend time with the stimulus person. Partic-
ipants in the red shirt condition were more likely to keep their boyfriends from
interacting with the stimulus person than participants in the green shirt condition.
Thus, both men and women indicated women wearing red are sexually receptive.
Also interested in color, Roberts et al. (2010) were interested in determining whether
clothing color affects the wearer of the clothing (e.g., do women act provocatively when
wearing red clothing?) or does clothing color affect the perceiver of the person wearing
Johnson et al. Fashion and Textiles 2014, 1:20 Page 6 of 24
the colored clothing. To answer this question, they devised a complicated series of ex-
periments. In the first study, male and female models (ten of each) were photographed
wearing each of six different colors of t-shirts. Undergraduates of the opposite sex rated
the photographed models on attractiveness. Both male and female models were rated
most attractive when wearing red and black t-shirts. In study two the same photos were
used, but the t-shirts were masked by a gray rectangle. Compared to when they wore
white t-shirts, male models were judged to be more attractive by both men and women
when they wore the red t-shirts, even though the red color was not visible. In the third
study the t-shirt colors in the photos were digitally altered, so that images could be
compared in which red or white t-shirts were worn with those in which red had been
altered to white and white had been altered to red. Male models wearing red were rated
more attractive than male models wearing white that had been altered to appear red.
Also male models wearing red shirts digitally altered to appear white were rated more
attractive than male models actually photographed in white. These effects did not occur
for female models. The authors reasoned that if clothing color only affected perceivers,
then the results should be the same when a model is photographed in red as well as
when the model is photographed in white which is subsequently altered to appear red.
Since this did not happen, the authors concluded that clothing color affects both the
wearer and the perceiver.
In addition, the effects of red dress on impressions also extend to behaviors. Kayser
et al. (2010) conducted a series of experiments. For experiment one, a female stimulus
person was photographed in either a red t-shirt or a green one. Male participants were
shown a photo of the woman and given a list of questions from which to choose five to
ask her. Because women wearing red are perceived to be more sexually receptive and
to have greater sexual intent than when wearing other colors, the researchers expected
the men who saw the woman in the red dress to select intimate questions to ask and
this is what they found. In a second experiment, the female stimulus person wore either
a red or a blue t-shirt. After seeing her picture the male participants were told that they
would be interacting with her, where she would be sitting, and that they could place
their chairs wherever they wished to sit. The men expecting to interact with the red-
shirted woman placed their chairs significantly closer to her chair than when they ex-
pected to interact with a blue-shirted woman.
In a field experiment (Guéguen 2012), five female confederates wore t-shirts of red or
other colors and stood by the side of a road to hitchhike. The t-shirt color did not
affect women drivers, but significantly more men stopped to pick up the female confed-
erates when they wore the red t-shirts as compared to all the other colors. In a similar
study researchers (Guéguen & Jacob 2013) altered the color of a woman’s clothing on
an online meeting site so that the woman was shown wearing red or several other
colors. The women received significantly more contacts when her clothing had been al-
tered to be red than any of the other t-shirt colors.
Researchers should continue conducting research about the color of dress items
using color-in-context theory. One context important to consider in this research
stream is the cultural context within which the research is conducted. To begin, other
colors in addition to red should be studied for their meanings within and across cul-
tural contexts. Since red is associated with sexual receptivity, red clothing should be in-
vestigated in the context of the research on provocative dress. For example, would
Johnson et al. Fashion and Textiles 2014, 1:20 Page 7 of 24
women wearing red revealing dress be judged more provocative than women wearing
the same clothing in different colors? Also researchers interested in girls’and women’s
depictions in the media, could investigate the effects of red dress on perceptions of
sexual intent and objectification.
Effects of dress on the behavior of the wearer
Several researchers studying the social psychology of dress have reviewed the research
literature (Davis 1984; Lennon and Davis 1989) and some have analyzed that research
(see Damhorst 1990; Hutton 1984; Johnson et al. 2008 for reviews). In these reviews,
Damhorst and Hutton focused on the effect of dress on person perception or impres-
sion formation. Johnson et al., however, focused their analysis on behaviors evoked by
dress. An emerging line of research focuses on the effects of dress on the behavior of
the wearer (Adam and Galinsky 2012; Frank and Galinsky 1988; Fredrickson et al.
1998; Gino et al. 2010; Hebl et al. 2004; Kouchaki et al. 2014; Martins et al. 2007).
Fredrickson et al. (1998), Hebl et al. (2004), and Martins et al. (2007) all used object-
ification theory to guide experiments about women’s and men’s body image experience.
They were interested in the extent to which wearing revealing dress could trigger self-
objectification. The theory predicts that self-objectification manifests in performance
detriments on a task subsequent to a self-objectifying experience. Frederickson et al.
had participants complete a shopping task. They entered a dressing room, tried on ei-
ther a one piece swimsuit or a bulky sweater, and evaluated the fit in a mirror as they
would if buying the garment. Then they completed a math performance test. The
women who wore a swimsuit performed more poorly on the math test than women
wearing a sweater; no such effects were found for men. A few years later Hebl et al.
(2004) used the same procedure to study ethnic differences in self-objectification. Par-
ticipants were Caucasian, African American, Hispanic, and Asian American under-
graduate men and women. Participants completed the same shopping task and math
test. Participants who tried on the swimsuits performed worse on the math test than
participants who tried on the sweater and these results held for both men and women
of all ethnicities.
Martins et al. (2007) used the same shopping task as Frederickson et al. (1998) and
Hebl et al. (2004), but employed a different behavioral measure. Their participants were
gay and heterosexual men and the garment they tried on was either Speedo men’s briefs
or a turtleneck sweater. After the shopping task the men were given the opportunity to
sample and evaluate a snack and the amount eaten was measured. Wearing the Speedo
affected eating for the gay men, but not the heterosexual men, such that gay men in
the Speedo condition ate significantly less of the snack than gay men in the sweater
condition. Taken together these studies demonstrate that a nominal clothing manipula-
tion can have effects on the behavior of the wearer.
In one of the first studies to demonstrate the effects of clothing on the wearer, Frank
and Gilovich (1988) noted that the color black is associated with evil and death in
many cultures. They studied the extent to which players wearing black uniforms were
judged more evil and aggressive than players wearing uniforms of other colors. They
analyzed penalties awarded for aggressive behavior in football and ice hockey players.
Players who wore black uniforms received more penalties for their aggressive behavior
Johnson et al. Fashion and Textiles 2014, 1:20 Page 8 of 24
than those who wore other uniform colors. Since the penalty results could be due to
biased refereeing, the authors videotaped a staged football game in which the defensive
team wore either black or white uniforms. The same events were depicted in each ver-
sion of the videotape. Participants watched short videos and rated the plays as more ag-
gressive when the team members wore black as compared to white uniforms. In
another part of the study, participants were assigned to wear either black or white uni-
form shirts. While wearing the shirts they were asked the type of games they would like
to play; the black-shirted participants selected more aggressive games than the white-
shirted participants. The authors interpreted the results of all the studies to mean that
players wearing black are aggressive. Yet, when the level of aggressiveness was held
constant in the staged football game, referees still perceived black-uniformed players to
be more aggressive than white-uniformed players. The authors concluded that the color
of the black uniform affects the wearer and the perceiver. This study’s results are simi-
lar to those of the researchers studying red dress who found that the color red is asso-
ciated with a cultural meaning that affects both the wearer and the perceiver of the red
dress (Roberts et al. 2010).
In a similar way, Adam and Galinsky (2012) determined that when clothing has sym-
bolic meaning for the wearer, it also affects the wearer’s behavior. The researchers
found that a white lab coat was associated with traits related to attentiveness. Then
they conducted an experiment in which one group wore a white lab coat described as a
painter’s coat and another group wore the same lab coat which was described as a med-
ical doctor’s lab coat. A third group saw, but did not wear, a lab coat described as a
medical doctor’s lab coat. Participants then performed an experimental task that re-
quired selective attention. The group that wore the coat described as a medical doctor’s
lab coat outperformed both of the other two groups.
Gino et al. (2010) studied the effects of wearing designer sunglasses that were de-
scribed either as counterfeit or authentic Chloe sunglasses on one’s own behaviors and
perceptions of others. Although counterfeits convey status to others, they also mean
that the wearers are pretending to be something they are not (i.e., wealthy enough to
purchase authentic sunglasses). Participants who thought they were wearing fake sun-
glasses cheated significantly more on two experimental tasks than those who thought
they were wearing authentic sunglasses. In a second experiment, the researchers
showed that participants who believed they were wearing counterfeit sunglasses per-
ceived others’behaviors as more dishonest, less truthful, and more likely to be uneth-
ical than those wearing authentic sunglasses. In a third experiment the researchers
showed that the effect for wearing counterfeit sunglasses on one’s own behavior was
due to the meaning of inauthenticity attributed to the counterfeit sunglasses. Consist-
ent with Adam and Galinsky (2012) and Frank and Gilovich (1988), in Gino et al. the
effect of dress on one’s own behavior was due to the meaning of the dress cue in a con-
text relevant to the meaning of that dress cue. While none of these three studies articu-
lated a specific theory to guide their research, Adams and Galinsky outlined an
enclothed cognition framework, which explained that dress affects wearers due to the
symbolic meaning of the dress and the physical experience of wearing that dress item.
To summarize the research on the effects of dress on the behavior of the wearer, each
of these studies reported research focused on a dress cue associated with cultural
meaning. Some of the researchers had to first determine that meaning. The
Johnson et al. Fashion and Textiles 2014, 1:20 Page 9 of 24
manipulations were designed so that the meaning of the dress cues was salient for the
context of the manipulation. For example, in the objectification studies the revealing-
ness of dress was varied in the context of a dressing room mirror where the revealing
nature of the cue would be relevant. So to extend the enclothed cognition framework,
we suggest that for dress to affect the wearer, the context of the experimental task
needs to be such that the meaning of the dress item is salient.
Future researchers may continue to pursue the effects of dress on the wearer. The ex-
tended enclothed cognition framework could be applied to school uniforms. A possible
research question could be that if school uniforms are associated with powerlessness
among schoolchildren, would wearing school uniforms affect the level of effort children
expend to solve homework problems or write papers?
It is interesting that previous researchers who examined the effect of school uniforms
on various tasks did not ask children what associations uniforms had for them (e.g.,
Behling 1994, 1995; Behling and Williams 1991). This question is clearly an avenue for
renewed research in this area. Another situation to which the extended enclothed cog-
nition framework might be investigated is in the context of professional sports. Since
wearing a sweatshirt or cap with a professional team’s logo is associated with being a
fan of that team, would people wearing those items evaluate that team’s performance
higher than people wearing another team’s logos? Would they provide more excuses
for their team than fans not wearing the team’s logos? We encourage researchers to
continue to investigate the effects of dress on one’s own behaviors utilizing a range of
dress cues (e.g., cosmetics, tattoos, and piercings).
Dress and the self
An ongoing area of research within the social psychology of dress is relationships be-
tween dress and the self. Although some researchers use the terms identity and self
interchangeably, it is our position that they are not the same concepts but are related.
We begin our discussion of the self with research on the body.
The physical body and the self
Whereas the first section of our review focused on body supplements (i.e., the clothed
body), this section focuses on body modifications or how the body is altered. Within
this discussion, the two research directions that we include are (1) body modifications
that carry some risk, as opposed to routine modifications that typically do not, and (2)
the influence of body talk and social comparison as variables influencing body image.
Body modifications that carry some risk
Societal standards of attractiveness in the Western world often focus on a thin appearance
for women and a mesomorphic but muscular appearance for men (Karazia et al. 2013).
Internalization of societal standards presented through various media outlets is widely rec-
ognized as a primary predictor of body dissatisfaction and risky appearance management
behaviors including eating pathology among women (Cafri et al. 2005a, b), muscle en-
hancement and disordered eating behaviors in men (Tylka 2011), tattooing among young
adults (Mun et al. 2012), and tanning among adolescents (Prior et al. 2014; Yoo & Kim,
2014). While there are several other risky appearance management behaviors in the early
Johnson et al. Fashion and Textiles 2014, 1:20 Page 10 of 24
stages of investigation (e.g., extreme body makeovers, cosmetic procedures on male and
female private parts, multiple cosmetic procedures), we isolate just a few behaviors to
illustrate the impact of changing standards of attractiveness on widespread appearance
management practices in the presentation of self.
Experimental research has demonstrated that exposure to social and cultural norms
for appearance (via idealized images) leads to greater dissatisfaction with the body in
general for both men and women (Blond 2008; Grabe et al. 2008); yet a meta-analysis
of eight research studies conducted in real life settings suggested that these appearance
norms were more rigid, narrowly defined, and prevalent for women than for men
(Buote et al. 2011). These researchers also noted that women reported frequent expos-
ure to social norms of appearance (i.e., considered bombardment by many women), the
norms themselves were unrealistic, yet the nature of the messages was that these norms
are perfectly attainable with enough time, money, and effort. Men, on the other hand,
indicated that they were exposed to flexible social norms of appearance, and therefore
report feeling less pressure to attain a particular standard in presenting their appear-
ance to others (Buote et al. 2011).
A recent stream of research related to individuals with eating disorders is concerned
with the practice of body checking (i.e., weighing, measuring or otherwise assessing
body parts through pinching, sucking in the abdomen, tapping it for flatness). Such
checking behaviors may morph into body avoidance (i.e., avoiding looking in mirrors or
windows at one’s reflection, avoiding gym locker rooms or situations involving showing
the body to others) (White & Warren 2011), the manifestation of eating disorders
(Haase et al. 2011), obsession with one’s weight or body shape, and a critical evaluation
of either aspect (Smeets et al. 2011). The propensity to engage in body checking
appears to be tied to ethnicity as White and Warren found, in their comparison of
Caucasian women and women of color (Asian American, African American, and Latin
American). They found significant differences in body checking and avoidance behav-
iors in Caucasian women and Asian American women over African American and
Latin American women. Across all the women, White and Warren found positive and
significant correlations between body checking and (1) avoidance behaviors and higher
body mass index, (2) internalization of a thin ideal appearance, (3) eating disturbances,
and (4) other clinical impairments such as debilitating negative thoughts.
Another characteristic of individuals with eating disorders is that they habitually
weigh themselves. Self-weighing behaviors and their connection to body modification
has been the focus of several researchers. Research teams have documented that self-
weighing led to weight loss maintenance (Butryn et al. 2007) and prevention of weight
gain (Levitsky et al. 2006). Other researchers found that self-weighing contributed to
risky weight control behaviors such as fasting (Neumark-Sztainer et al. 2006) and even
to weight gain (Needham et al. 2010). Lately, gender differences have also been investi-
gated relative to self-weighing. Klos et al. (2012) found self-weighing was related to a
strong investment in appearance, preoccupation with body shape, and higher weight
among women. However, among men self-weighing was related to body satisfaction, in-
vestment in health and fitness, and positive evaluation of health.
Johnson et al. Fashion and Textiles 2014, 1:20 Page 11 of 24
One interesting departure from weight as a generalized aspect of body concern
among women is the examination of wedding-related weight change. Considering the
enormous cost of weddings, estimated to average $20,000 in the United States (Wong
2005), and the number of wedding magazines, websites, and self-help books on wed-
dings (Villepigue et al. 2005), it is not surprising that many brides-to-be want to lose
weight for their special occasion. Researchers have shown that an average amount of
intended weight loss prior to a wedding is 20 pounds in both the U.S. and Australia
with between 12% and 33% of brides-to-be reporting that they had been advised by
someone else to lose weight (Prichard & Tiggemann 2009). About 50% of brides
hoped to achieve weight loss, yet most brides did not actually experience a change in
weight (Prichard & Tiggemann, 2014); however, when questioned about six months
after their weddings, brides indicated that they had gained about four pounds. Those
who were told to lose weight by significant others such as friends, family members, or
fiancé gained significantly more than those who were not told to do so, suggesting that
wedding-related weight change can have repercussions for post wedding body satisfac-
tion and eating behaviors. Regaining weight is typical, given that many people who lose
weight regain it with a year or so of losing it.
Drive for muscularity
Researchers have found that body modifications practiced by men are related more to
developing muscularity than to striving for a thin body (Cafri et al. 2005a, b) with par-
ticular emphasis placed on developing the upper body areas of chest and biceps
(Thompson & Cafri 2007). The means to achieve this body modification may include
risky behaviors such as excessive exercise and weight training, extreme dieting and de-
hydration to emphasize musculature, and use of appearance or performance enhancing
substances (Hildebrandt et al. 2010).
One possible explanation for men’s drive for muscularity may be objectification.
While objectification theory was originally proposed to address women’s objectification,
it has been extended to men (Hebl et al. 2004; Martins et al. 2007). These researchers
determined that like women, men are objectified in Western and westernized culture
and can be induced to self-objectify via revealing clothing manipulations.
Researchers have also examined how men are affected by media imagery that features
buff, well-muscled, thin, attractive male bodies as the aesthetic norm. Kolbe and Albanese
(1996) undertook a content analysis of men’s lifestyle magazines and found that most of
the advertised male bodies were not “ordinary,”but were strong and hard bodies, or as the
authors concluded, objectified and depersonalized. Pope et al. (2000) found that advertise-
ments for many types of products from cars to underwear utilized male models with
body-builder physiques (i.e., exaggerated “6pack”abdominal muscles, huge chests and
shoulders, yet lean); they suggested that men had become focused on muscularity as a cul-
tural symbol of masculinity because they perceived that women were usurping some of
their social standing in the workforce. Hellmich (2000) concurred and suggested that men
were overwhelmed with images of half-naked, muscular men and that they too were
targets of objectification. Other researchers (e.g., Elliott & Elliott 2005; Patterson &
England 2000) confirmed these findings –that most images in men’smagazinesfeatured
mesomorphic, strong, muscular, and hyper-masculine bodies.
Johnson et al. Fashion and Textiles 2014, 1:20 Page 12 of 24
How do men respond to such advertising images? Elliott and Elliott (2005) conducted
focus interviews with 40 male college students, ages 18-31, and showed them six differ-
ent advertisements in lifestyles magazines. They found six distinct types of response,
two negative, two neutral, and two positive. Negative responses were (1) homophobic
(those who saw the ads as stereotypically homosexual, bordering on pornography), per-
haps threatening their own perceived masculinity or (2) gender stereotyping (those who
saw the ads as depicting body consciousness or vanity, traits that they considered to be
feminine). Neutral responses were (3) legitimizing exploitation as a marketing tool
(those who recognized that naked chests or exaggerated body parts were shown and
sometimes with no heads, making them less than human, but recognizing that sex sells
products), and (4) disassociating oneself from the muscular body ideals shown in the
ads (recognizing that the images represented unattainable body types or shapes). Posi-
tive responses were (5) admiration of real or attainable “average”male bodies and (6)
appreciating some naked advertising images as art, rather than as sexual objects. The
researchers concluded that men do see their gender objectified in advertising, resulting
in different responses or perceived threats to self.
There is evidence that experiencing these objectified images of the male body is also
partially responsible for muscle dysmorphia, a condition in which men become
obsessed with achieving muscularity (Leit et al. 2002). Understanding contributors to
the development of muscle dysmorphia is important as the condition can lead to risky
appearance management behaviors such as extreme body-building, eating disorders,
and use of anabolic steroids to gain bulk (Bradley et al. 2014; Maida & Armstrong
2005). In an experiment, Maida and Armstrong exposed 82 undergraduate men to 30
slides of advertisements and then asked them to complete a body image perception test.
Men’s body satisfaction was affected by exposure to the images, such that they wanted
to be notably more muscular than they were.
Contemporary researchers have found that drive for muscularity is heightened among
men when there is a perceived threat to their masculinity such as performance on some
task (Steinfeldt et al. 2011) or perceiving that they hold some less masculine traits
(Blashill, 2011). Conversely, researchers have also suggested that body dissatisfaction
and drive for muscularity can be reduced by developing a mindfulness approach to the
body characterized by attention to present-moment experiences such as how one might
feel during a certain activity like yoga or riding a bicycle (Lavender et al. 2012). While
the investigation of mindfulness to mitigate negative body image and negative appear-
ance behaviors is relatively new, it is a promising area of investigation.
Tattooing is not necessarily a risky behavior in and of itself, as most tattoo parlors take
health precautions with the use of sterile instruments and clean environments. How-
ever, research has focused on other risk-taking behaviors that tattooed individuals may
engage in, including drinking, smoking, shoplifting, and drug use (Deschesnes et al.
2006) as well as and early and risky sexual activity (Koch, Roberts, Armstrong, & Owen,
2007). Tattoos have also been studied as a bodily expression of uniqueness (Mun et al.
2012; Tiggemann & Hopkins 2011) but not necessarily reflecting a stronger investment
in appearance (Tiggemann & Hopkins 2011).
Johnson et al. Fashion and Textiles 2014, 1:20 Page 13 of 24
Tanning behaviors are strongly associated with skin cancer, just as smoking is associated
with lung cancer. In fact, the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World
Health Organization has classified ultraviolet radiation from the sun and tanning devices
that emit ultraviolet light as group 1 carcinogens, placing ultraviolet radiation in the same
category as tobacco use (World Health Organization, 2012). Yet, tanning behaviors are
prevalent among many young adults and adolescents causing them to be at increased risk
of skin cancer, particularly with indoor tanning devices (Boniol et al. 2012; Lostritto et al.
2012). Studies of motives for tanning among these populations suggest that greater tan-
ning behavior, for both genders, is correlated with high investment in appearance, media
influences, and the influence of friends and significant others (Prior et al. 2014). Frequent
tanning behaviors in adolescent boys have been related to extreme weight control, sub-
stance use, and victimization (Blashill 2013). Among young adults, Yoo and Kim (2014)
identified three attitudes toward tanning that were related to tanning behaviors. The atti-
tude that tanning was a pleasurable activity influenced indoor and outdoor tanning behav-
iors. The attitude that a tan enhances physical attractiveness influenced use of tanning
beds and sunless tanning products. The attitude that tanning is a healthy behavior influ-
enced outdoor tanning. They advised that tanning behaviors could be studied further par-
ticularly in relation to other risky behaviors.
Body talk and the self
A relatively recent line of investigation concerns the impact of talk about the body on
perceptions of self. One would think that communication among friends would typic-
ally strengthen feelings of self-esteem and psychological well-being (Knickmeyer et al.
2002). Yet, certain types of communication, such as complaining about one’s body or
appearance, may negatively impact feelings about the self (Tucker et al. 2007), particu-
larly in the case of “fat talk”or disparaging comments about body size, weight, and fear
of becoming fat (Ousley et al. 2008; Warren et al. 2012). Such fat talk has become nor-
mative behavior among women and, according to one study, occurs in over 90% of
women (Salk & Engeln-Maddox 2011) and, according to another study, occurs in
women of all ages and body sizes (Martz et al. 2009) because women feel pressure to
be self-critical about their bodies. More women than men reported exposure to fat talk
in their circle of friends and acquaintances and greater pressure to engage in it (Salk &
Engeln-Maddox). Thus, fat talk extends body dissatisfaction into interpersonal relation-
ships (Arroyo & Harwood 2012).
Sladek et al. (2014) reported a series of studies that elaborated on the investigation of
body talk among men, concluding that men’s body talk has two distinct aspects, one re-
lated to weight and the other to muscularity. After developing a scale that showed
strong test-retest reliability among college men, they found that body talk about mus-
cularity was associated with dissatisfaction with the upper body, strong drive for mus-
cularity, symptoms of muscle dysmorphia, and investment in appearance. Body talk
about weight was associated with upper body dissatisfaction, symptoms of muscle dys-
morphia, and disordered eating attitudes and behaviors. They suggest future research
in body talk conversations among men and boys of all ages, from different cultural
backgrounds, and in different contexts.
Johnson et al. Fashion and Textiles 2014, 1:20 Page 14 of 24
Negative body talk among men appears to be less straightforward than that among
women (Engeln et al. 2013). These researchers reported that men’s body talk included
both positive elements and negative elements, while that of women tended to focus on
the negative, perhaps reflecting an accepting body culture among men in which they
can praise one another as well as commiserate with other men on issues regarding
muscularity and weight. Yet, both muscle talk and fat talk were found to decrease state
appearance self-esteem and to increase state body dissatisfaction among men.
While the fat talk literature clearly establishes the normative occurrence of this type
of communication, as well as establishes the negative impact on the self, the literature
has not delved into theoretical explanations for its existence. Arroyo (2014) has posited
a relationship between fat talk and three body image theories (self-discrepancy, social
comparison, and objectification), and suggested that degree of body dissatisfaction
could serve as a mediating mechanism. Self-discrepancy theory suggests that the dis-
crepancy between one’s actual self and one’s ideal self on any variable, such as weight
or attractiveness, motivates people to try to achieve that ideal ( Jacobi & Cash 1994).
Social comparison theory (Festinger 1954) explains that we compare ourselves to others
on some variable of comparison. When we compare ourselves to others who we believe
to be better than ourselves (upward comparison) on this variable (say, for example,
thinner or more attractive), we may feel worse about ourselves and engage in both
non-risky and risky behaviors such as extreme weight control to try to meet those ex-
pectations (Ridolfi et al. 2011; Rudd & Lennon 1994). Objectification theory, as men-
tioned earlier in this paper, states that bodies are treated as objects to be evaluated and
perceived by others (Szymanski et al. 2011); self-objectification occurs when individuals
look upon themselves as objects to be evaluated by others.
Arroyo (2014) surveyed 201 college women to see what effect weight discrepancy,
upward comparison, and objectified body consciousness had on fat talk; a mediating
variable of body dissatisfaction was investigated. She found that how satisfied or dissat-
isfied the women did indeed impact how they felt about each variable. Each of the three
predictor variables was positively associated with body dissatisfaction and higher body
dissatisfaction predicted fat talk. She concluded that fat talk is more insidious than
other social behaviors; it is a type of communication that perpetuates negative percep-
tions among women as well as the attitude that women should be dissatisfied with their
bodies. Future research suggestions included examining the impact of downward social
comparisons (in which the individual assumes they fare better than peers on the vari-
ables of comparison, such as weight), and examining all three phenomena of self-
discrepancy, social comparison, and objectification together to determine their cumula-
tive impact on self-disparaging talk.
Negative body talk or fat talk is related to perceptions about the self and to
appearance-management behaviors in presenting the self to others. In a sample of 203
young adult women, negative body talk was related to body dissatisfaction and poor
self-esteem, and was associated with stronger investment in appearance, distorted
thoughts about the body, disordered eating behavior, and depression (Rudiger &
Winstead 2013). Positive body talk was related to fewer cognitive distortions of the
body, high body satisfaction, high self-esteem, and friendship quality. Another form of
body talk, co-rumination or the mutual sharing between friends of negative thoughts
and feelings, is thought to intensify the impact of body talk. In this same study,
Johnson et al. Fashion and Textiles 2014, 1:20 Page 15 of 24
co-rumination was related to frequent cognitive distortions of the body as well as disor-
dered eating behaviors, but to high perceived friendship quality. Thus, negative body
talk achieved no positive outcomes, yet co-rumination achieved negative outcomes for
the self, but positive outcomes for quality of friendship. Thus, future research could
tease apart the specific components of the social phenomenon of co-rumination in rela-
tion to self-perceptions and appearance management behaviors.
Dress and self as distinct from others
Shifting attention from relationships between the body and self, we move to a discus-
sion of relationships between dress and that aspect of the self that is concerned with
answering questions about who we are as distinct and unique individuals (e.g., what
type of person am I?). Earlier we shared research about how wearing certain article of
dress might impact one’s own physical behaviors. We shift now to sharing research ad-
dressing the role dress might play in thinking about oneself as a unique and distinct in-
dividual (i.e., self-perceptions). Researchers addressing this topic have utilized Bem’s
(1972) self-perception theory. Bem proposed that similar to the processes we use in
forming inferences about others, we can form inferences about ourselves. Bem argues
that people’s understanding of their own traits was, in some circumstances, an assess-
ment of their own behaviors. This process was proposed to be particularly relevant to
individuals who were responsive to self-produced cues (i.e., cues that arise from an in-
dividual’s own behavior or characteristics).
In the 1980s, Kellerman and Laird (1982) utilized self-perception theory to see
whether wearing a specific item of dress (e.g., eye glasses) would influence peoples’rat-
ings of their own skills and abilities. They conducted an experiment with undergraduate
students having them rate themselves on an array of traits when wearing and when not
wearing glasses and to complete a hidden figures test. Although there were no signifi-
cant differences in their performance on the test, the participants’ratings of their com-
petence and intelligence was higher when wearing glasses than when not. In related
research, Solomon and Schopler (1982) found that both men and women indicated that
the appropriateness of their clothing affected their mood.
Studying dress specifically within a workplace context, in the 1990s Kwon (1994) did
not have her participants actually wear different clothing styles but asked them to project
how they might think about themselves if they were to wear appropriate versus inappro-
priate clothing to work. Participants indicated they would feel more competent and re-
sponsible if they wore appropriate rather than inappropriate clothing. Similarly, Rafaeli
et al. (1997)
found that employees indicated a link between self-perception and clothing
associating psychological discomfort with wearing inappropriate dress for work and in-
creased social self-confidence with appropriate attire. Nearly ten years later, Adomaitis
and Johnson (2005) in a study of flight attendants found that the attendants linked wear-
ing casual uniforms for work (e.g., t-shirt, shorts) with negative self-perceptions (e.g., non-
authoritative, embarrassment, unconfident, unprofessional). Likewise, Peluchette and Karl
(2007) investigating the impact of formal versus casual attire in the workplace found that
their participants viewed themselves as most authoritative, trustworthy, productive and
competent when wearing formal business attire but as friendliest when wearing casual or
business casual attire. Continuing this line of research with individuals employed in the
Johnson et al. Fashion and Textiles 2014, 1:20 Page 16 of 24
public sector, Karl et al. (2013) reported participants indicated they felt more competent
and authoritative when in formal business or business casual attire and least creative and
friendly when wearing casual dress.
As workplace dress has become casual, it would be useful for researchers to uncover
any distinctions in casualness that make individuals feel more or less competent,
respected, or authoritative. Another aspect of clothing that could be investigated is fit
as it might impact self-perceptions or use of makeup.
Guy and Banim (2000) were interested in how clothing was used as means of self-
presentation in everyday life. They implemented three strategies to meet their research
objective of investigating women’s relationships to their clothing: a personal account, a
clothing diary, and a wardrobe interview. The personal account was a written or tape
recorded response to the question “what clothing means to me.”The clothing diary
was a daily log kept for two weeks. The wardrobe interview was centered on partici-
pants’current collection of clothing. Participants were undergraduates and professional
women representing several age cohorts. The researchers identified three distinct per-
spectives of self relative to the women’s clothing. The first was labeled “the woman I
want to be”. This category of responses revealed that the women used clothing to for-
mulate positive self-projections. Favorite items of clothing in particular were identified
as useful in bridging the gap between “self as you would like it to be”and the image ac-
tually achieved with the clothing. The second category of responses was labeled “the
woman I fear I could be”. This category of responses reflected experiences where cloth-
ing had failed to achieve a desired look or resulted in a negative self-presentation. Con-
cern here was choosing to wear clothing with unintentional effects such as highlighting
parts of the body that were unflattering or concern about losing the ability to know
how to dress to convey a positive image. The last category, “the woman I am most of
the time”contained comments indicating the women had a “relationship with clothes
was ongoing and dynamic and that a major source of enjoyment for them was to use
clothes to realize different aspects of themselves”(p. 321).
Interested in how the self shaped clothing consumption and use, Ogle et al. (2013)
utilized Guy and Banim’s (2000) views of self to explore how consumption of maternity
dress might shape the self during a liminal life stage (i.e., pregnancy). Interviews with
women expecting their first child revealed concerns that available maternity dress lim-
ited their ability to express their true selves. Some expressed concern that the maternity
clothing that was available to them in the marketplace symbolized someone that they
did not want to associate with (i.e., the woman I fear I could be). Several women noted
they borrowed or purchased used clothing from a variety of sources for this time in
their life. This decision resulted in dissatisfaction because the items were not reflective
of their selves and if worn resulted in their projecting a self that they also did not want
to be. In addition, the women shared that they used dress to confirm their selves as
pregnant and as NOT overweight. While some of the participants did experience a dis-
rupted sense of self during pregnancy, others shared that they were able to locate items
of dress that symbolized a self-consistent with “the woman I am most of the time”.
Continuing in this line of research, researchers may want to explore these three as-
pects of self with others who struggle with self-presentation via dress as a result of a
lack of fashionable and trendy clothing in the marketplace. Plus-sized women fre-
quently report that they are ignored by the fashion industry and existing offerings fail
Johnson et al. Fashion and Textiles 2014, 1:20 Page 17 of 24
to meet their need to be fashionable. A recent article in the Huffington Post (“Plus-sized
clothing”, 2013) noted that retailers do not typically carry plus sizes perhaps due to the
misconception that plus-sized women are not trendy shoppers or the idea that these
sizes will not sell well. Thus, it may well be that the relationship between dress and self
for plus-sized women is frustrating as they are prevented from being able to make
clothing choices indicative of their selves “as they would like them to be”.
Priming and self-perception
While several researchers have confirmed that clothing worn impacts thoughts about
the self, Hannover and Kühnen (2002) were interested in uncovering processes that
would explain why clothing could have this effect. They began with examining what
role priming might have in explaining how clothing impacts self-perceptions. Using
findings from social cognition, they argued that clothing styles might prime specific
mental categories about one’s self such that those categories that are most easily
accessed in a given situation would be more likely to be applied to oneself than categor-
ies of information that are difficult to access. Thus, if clothing can be used to prime
specific self-knowledge it should impact self-descriptions such that, a person wearing
“casual”clothing (e.g., jeans, sweatshirt) should be more apt to describe him or herself
using casual terms (e.g., laid-back, uses slang). The researchers had each participant
stand in front of a mirror and indicate whether or not specific traits were descriptive of
him or herself when wearing either casual or formal clothing (e.g., business attire). The
researchers found that when a participant wore casual clothing he or she rated the cas-
ual traits as more valid self-descriptions than the formal traits. The reverse was also
true. They concluded that the clothing worn primed specific categories of self-
knowledge. However, the researchers did not ask participants to what extent they
intentionally considered their own clothing when determining whether or not a trait
should be applied to them. Yet, as previously noted, Adam and Galinsky (2012) demon-
strated that clothing impacted a specific behavior (attention) only in circumstances
where the clothing was worn and the clothing’s meaning was clear. Thus, researchers
could test if clothing serves as an unrecognized priming source and if its impact on im-
pression formation is less intentional than typically assumed.
Dress and self in interaction with others
Another area of research within dress and the self involves experience with others and
the establishment of meaning. Questions that these researchers are interested in an-
swering include what is the meaning of an item of dress or a way of appearing? Early
researchers working in this area have utilized symbolic interactionism as a framework
for their research (Blumer 1969; Mead 1934; Stone 1962). The foundational question of
symbolic interaction is: “What common set of symbols and understandings has
emerged to give meaning to people’s interactions?”(Patton 2002, p. 112).
There are three basic premises central to symbolic interactionism (Blumer 1969). The
first premise is that our behavior toward things (e.g., physical objects, other people) is
shaped by the meaning that those things have for us. Applied to dress and appearance,
this premise means that our behavior relative to another person is influenced by that
person’s dress (Kaiser 1997) and the meaning that we assign to that dress. The second
Johnson et al. Fashion and Textiles 2014, 1:20 Page 18 of 24
premise of symbolic interaction is that the meaning of things is derived from social
interaction with others (Blumer). This premise indicates that meanings are not inherent
in objects, must be shared between individuals, and that meanings are learned. The
third premise is that meanings are modified by a continuous interpretative process in
which the actor interacts with himself (Blumer). As applied to clothing, this premise
suggests that the wearer of an outfit or item of clothing is active in determining the
meaning of an item along with the viewer of that item.
Symbolic interactionism posits that the self is a social construction established, main-
tained, and altered through interpersonal communication with others. While initial
work focused on investigating verbal communication as key to the construction of the
self, Stone extended communication to include appearance and maintained that “ap-
pearance is at least as important in establishment and maintenance of the self”as verbal
communication (1962, p. 87).
Stone (1962) discussed a process of establishing the self in interaction with others.
This process included selecting items of dress to communicate a desired aspect of self
(i.e., identity) as well as to convey that desired aspect to others. One stage in this
process is an individual’s review of his/her own appearance. This evaluation and re-
sponse to one’s own appearance is called program. One might experience a program by
looking in the mirror to assess whether the intended identity expressed through dress
is the one that is actually achieved. After this evaluation of one’s appearance, the next
stage involves others reacting to an individual’s appearance. This is called a review.
Stone contends that when “programs and reviews coincide, the self of the one who ap-
pears is validated or established”(p. 92). However, when programs and reviews do not
coincide, the announced identity is challenged and “conduct may be expected to move
in the direction of some redefinition of the challenged self”(p. 92).
Researchers using this approach in their investigations of dress have used Stone’s
(1962) ideas and applied the concept of review to the experiences of sorority women.
Hunt and Miller (1997) interviewed sorority members about their experiences with
using dress to communicate their membership and how members, via their reviews,
shaped their sorority appearances. Members reported using several techniques in the
review of the appearance of other members as well as in response to their own appear-
ance (i.e., programs). Thus, the researcher’s results supported Stone’s ideas concerning
establishment of an identity (as an aspect of self) as a process of program and review.
In an investigation of the meaning of dress, in this instance the meaning of a specific
body modification—a tattoo, Mun et al. (2012) interviewed women of various ages who
had tattoos to assess meanings, changes in self-perceptions as a result of the tattoo, and
any changes in the women’s behavior as an outcome of being tattooed. To guide their
inquiry, the researchers used Goffman’s(1959)discussionoftheconceptofself-
presentation from his seminal work The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. According
to Goffman, on a regular basis people make inferences about the motivations that underlie
other people’s behaviors. To make these inferences they use everyday details. Because
most people make these inferences, Goffman believed that individuals could purposely
control the content of those inferences by controlling their behavior. Included in this be-
havior was an individual’s dress. These researchers found support for Goffman’s reasoning.
Participants shared that their tattoo(s) had meaning and were expressive of their selves,
their personal values and interests, important life events (e.g., marriage), and religious/
Johnson et al. Fashion and Textiles 2014, 1:20 Page 19 of 24
sacred beliefs. The meaning of a tattoo was also dynamic for several participants rather
than static. Participants’self-perceptions were impacted as a result of being tattooed with
several participants sharing increases to their confidence and to their perceived empower-
ment. Individuals who shared a change in behavior primarily noted that they controlled
the visibility of their tattoos to others as a method to control how others might respond to
them having a tattoo especially within the workplace.
Sinceanarrayofbodymodifications(e.g.,piercings, gauging, scarification) are be-
ing adopted cross-culturally, investigations of people’s experiences with any of these
modifications is fertile area for future researchers interested in the meaning(s) of
dress and how dress impacts the self through interaction with others. Researchers
may want to investigate men’s experiences with piercing/gauging as well as women’s
experiences with body building and other developing forms of body modification.
Extreme forms of body piercings (e.g., piercings that simulate corset lacings) and
underlying motivations for these body modifications would add to our understanding
of relationships between dress and self. The meanings of facial hair to men or body
hair removal (partial, total) for both men and women are additional aspects of dress
that could be investigated.
Dress and self as influence on consumption
In the aforementioned research by Ogle et al. (2013), the researchers found that a pri-
mary reason their participants were disappointed by the maternity clothing offered
through the marketplace was due to a lack of fit between their selves and the clothing
styles made available. Thus, it is clear that ideas about the self impact clothing selection
and purchase. Sirgy (1982) proposed self-image product-image congruity theory to de-
scribe the process of how people applied ideas concerning the self to their purchasing.
The basic assumption of the theory is that through marketing and branding, products
gain associated images. The premise of the theory is that products people are motivated
to purchase are products with images that are congruent with or symbolic of how they
see themselves (i.e., actual self-image) or with how they would like to be (i.e., ideal self-
image). They also will avoid those products that symbolize images that are inconsistent
with either of these self-images.
Rhee and Johnson (2012) found support for the self-image product-image congruity
relationship with male and female adolescents. These researchers investigated the ado-
lescents’purchase and use of clothing brands. Participants indicated their favorite ap-
parel brand was most similar to their actual self (i.e., this brand reflects who I am),
followed by their social self (i.e., this brand reflects who I want others to think I am),
and their desired self (i.e., this brand reflects who I want to be).
Earlier, Banister and Hogg (2004) conducted research investigating the idea that
consumers will actively reject or avoid products with negative symbolic meanings. The
researchers conducted group interviews with adult consumers. Their participants ac-
knowledged that clothing items could symbolize more than one meaning depending on
who was interpreting the meaning. They also acknowledged that the consumers they
interviewed appeared to be more concerned with avoiding consumption of products
with negative symbolic images than with consuming products with the goal of achiev-
ing a positive image. One participant noted that while attempts to achieve a positive
Johnson et al. Fashion and Textiles 2014, 1:20 Page 20 of 24
image via clothing consumption may be sub-conscious, the desire to avoid a negative
image when shopping was conscious.
It is clear from our review that interest in the topic of the social psychology of dress is
on-going and provides a fruitful area of research that addresses both basic and applied
research questions. Although we provided an overview of several key research areas
within the topic of the social psychology of dress we were unable to include all of the
interesting topics being investigated. There are other important areas of research in-
cluding relationships between dress and specific social and cultural identities, answer-
ing questions about how dress functions within social groups, how we learn to attach
meanings to dress, and changing attitudes concerning dress among others. Regardless,
we hope that this review inspires both colleagues and students to continue to investi-
gate and document the important influence dress exerts in everyday life.
These researchers used role theory to frame their investigation.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
KJ, SL, and NR drafted the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final draft of the manuscript.
University of Minnesota, 240 McNeal Hall, 1985 Buford Ave, St Paul, MN, USA.
Indiana University, 1021 East 3rd Street,
Bloomington, IN 47405, USA.
The Ohio State University, 2330 Hartsdale Dr, Powell, OH 43065-9213, USA.
Received: 1 October 2014 Accepted: 28 October 2014
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Textiles 2014 1:20.
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