Miller, K.A. 1998. “Gender Comparisons Within Reenactment Costume.”

Miller, Kimberly A. 1998. “Gender Comparisons Within Reenactment Costume: Theoretical Interpretations.” Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal 27(1): 35-61.


  • Extends Stone’s theory of “adult fantastic socialization” — framework of dress as private, public, and secret.
  • Use of 200+ quantitative and qualitative surveys – checklist and open-ended questions.
  • “Females dress in costume primarily to assume another persona, whereas males dress in costume primarily because of their love of history” (35).
  • Dress defined as “an assemblage of body modifications and/or supplements to the body” (Roach-Higgins and Eicher 1992: 1, here 59)


Costuming as:

  • “the body supplements and modifications that indicate the ‘out-of-everyday’ social role or activity” (Roach-Higgins and Eicher 1992: 3, here 59).
  • Way to express private or secret aspects of self (Eicher 1981 and 1982)
  • Means of escapism, begun in childhood (Wilson and Barber 1983) – continues in adult costuming?
  • (Dress) as “a mode of creative expression” (Kaiser 1990, here 35) and “a tool for communication of the self” (Eicher 1981, here 35).


Mead (1934) as “father” of symbolic interactionism – however, focused on verbal communication as primary form of discourse. Built through Cooley (1902)’s looking glass self, Blumer (1969), and Goffman (1959)’s dramaturgy.


Stone (1965) – socialization via dress continues through the entirety of one’s life – in two forms: 1) anticipatory “dress for the job you want” and 2) fantastic: “the acting out of roles that can seldom, if ever, be adopted” (37) …. More private than the fantastic socialization of children


Eicher (1981) extends Stone’s work through dividing this self-development and –maintenance through dress into three forms: the public self – “the part that we let everyone know”- such as occupation sex, age —- aka “reality dress”; the private self – “the part that we let close friends and family know” – during times of relaxation or leisure; and the secret self – “the part that we may not let anyone or only intimates know (all here, 37).


Secret selves are communicated through use of fantasy dress. “Fantasy dress allows the individual to express his or her creative imagination” (37) – may or may not be communicated to others. Eicher (1981) proposes that women have more freedom to dress in the secret self than do men – supported by Davis (1988) – men’s dress as more restricted than women’s. However, research on costume has primarily focused on the use of Halloween costumes (see also Belk 1990, Hill and Relethford 1979, Miller 1990, Miller, Jasper, and Hill 1991 and 1993, Stone 1959) — and fewer studies involving reenactment….

*Does “fantasy dress” seem to evoke sexual undertones?


Gender and Costuming:

  • Miller, Jasper, and Hill (1991): female students on Halloween were less likely than males to disguise identities through costuming; females also less likely to believe they had taken on new identities while in Halloween costume.


Men’s Distancing Selves from Costuming through stereotypical claims on women and femininity, appeals to history and authenticity, self-expression


Women’s embrace of costuming, “dress-up,” demonstrating design and manufacturing skills, self-expression — as an everyday experience.



“In American culture, interest in dress and appearance is often coded as female behavior, whereas interest in functional dress is often coded as male behavior” (52). Claims to history and authenticity buffer men’s costuming from policing and emasculation; additionally, feelings of deindividualization: “a state of relative anonymity, in which the group member does not feel singled out or identifiable” (Festinger, Pepitone, and Newcomb 1952) – because they blend in, they aren’t singled out — and, escapism from rigid norms of dress – expressed greater concern with looking ‘out of place,’ as this study shows. “The restrictedness of adult men’s dress in American society (Davis, 1988) may be what encourages their need to seek out socially acceptable avenues for dressing in costume” (54). More so, men’s association of their costuming with their fantasy occupation also seems to divert attention from costuming – not ‘playing’ history, but ‘being’ and ‘doing’ history through functional wear.



Interesting follow-ups: Masculinity as rigid and policed, therefore escapism through costume is a welcome break. However, this same escapism is very closely monitored and gendered, reestablishing the power of mainstream codes of masculinity… is this really escapist, or another site of domination?


Is this increasing domination of the adult fantasy costume indicative of a growing (diffuse) discourse that restricts appropriate performances of masculinity? (Colonization of the Lifeworld, a la Habermas?!)



Belk, R.W. 1990. “Halloween: An Evolving American Consumption Ritual.” Pp. 508-517 in Advances in Consumer Research (17), edited by M.E. Goldberg, G. Gorn, R.W. Pollay.

Blumer, Herbert. 1969. Symbolic Interactionism: Perspective and Method: Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Cooley, C.H. 1902. Human Nature and the Social Order. New York: Scribner.

Davis, F. 1988. “Clothing, Fashion, and the Dialectic of Identity.” In Communication and Social Structure, edited by D.R. Maines and C.J. Couch. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.

Eicher, J.B. 1981. “Influences of Changing Resources on Clothing, Textiles, and the Quality of Life: Dressing for Reality, Fun, and Fantasy.” Combined Proceedings of the Eastern, Central, and Western Region Meetings of the Association of College Professors of Textiles and Clothing: 36-41.

Eicher, J.B. 1982. Future Dress and the Self (Monograph). Melbourne, Australia: Victoria College.

Festinger, L., A. Pepitone, and T. Newcomb. 1952. “Some Consequences of Deindividualization in a Group.” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 47:382-389.

Goffman, Erving. 1959. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Doubleday.

Hill, D.R., and J.H. Relethford. 1979. Halloween in a College Town. Unpublished manuscript, State University of New York at Oneonta.

Kaiser, S.B. 1990. The Social Psychology of Clothing: Symbolic Appearances in Context, 2nd edition. New York: Macmillan.

Mead, G.H. 1934. Mind, Self, and Society: From the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Miller, K.A. 1990. Dress as a Symbol of the Self and its Relationship to Selected Behaviors. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Miller, K.A., C.R. Jasper, and D.R. Hill. 1991. “Costume and the Perception of Identity and Role.” Perceptual and Motor Skills 72: 807-813.

Miller, K.A., C.R. Jasper, and D.R. Hill. 1993. “Dressing in Costume and the Use of Alcohol, Marijuana, and Other Drugs by College Students.” Adolescence 28: 189-198.

Roach-Higgins, M.E. and J.B. Eicher. 1992. “Dress and Identity.” Clothing and Textiles Research Journal 10: 1-8.

Stone, G. P. 1965. “Appearance and the Self.” Pp. 216-245 in Dress, Adornment and the Social Order, edited by M.E. Roach and J.B. Eicher. New York: John Wiley.

Stone, G.P. 1959. “Halloween and the Mass Child.” American Quarterly 2: 372-379.

Wilson, S.C. and T.X. Barber. 1983. “The Fantasy-Prone Personality: Implications for Understanding Imagery, Hypnosis, and Parapsychological Phenomena.” Pp. 340-390 in Imagery: Current Theory, edited by A.A. Sheikh. New York: John Wiley.


See Also:

Miller, K.A. 1997. “Dress: Private and Secret Self-Expression.” Clothing and Textiles Research Journal 15(4): 223-234.


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