Roach-Higgins, M.E. and J.B. Eicher. 1992/1995. “Dress and Identity.”

Roach-Higgins, Mary Ellen and Joanne B. Eicher.  1995. “Dress and Identity.” Pp.  7-18 in Dress and Identity, edited by Mary Ellen Roach-Higgins, Joanne B. Eicher, and Kim K.P. Johnson. New York: Fairchild Publications.

Originally printed as: Roach-Higgins, Mary Ellen and Joanne B. Eicher.  1992. “Dress and Identity.” Clothing and Textiles Research Journal 10(4): 1-8.

Dress as supplements to or modifications of the body (Eicher and Roach-Higgins 1992) – “as the total repertoire of body modifications and supplements that a particular social group makes available to its members […] or as a particular display of body modifications and supplements that a specific individual assembles from an available repertoire for a particular time and place” (9). Dress as less than appearance (as appearance notes color/shape etc. of undressed body), but also dress is more than appearance, as dress can be sensed through a variety of means other than visual assessment.

Dress is not adornment or ornament, as these terms press assessments of aesthetic value (thus imposes cultural biases). Dress is not clothing OR apparel, as clothing is usually supplemental – ignores the myriad of work that goes into non-clothing-based modifications. Additionally, clothing is presumed to be positive, and imbues a lack of clothing with pejoration – immodesty or lewdness (kx^ I get where they’re coming from here, but….). Dress is not costume – costume reserved for out of the ordinary incorporation of modifications/supplements; fashion extends far beyond clothing – “it refers to many different kinds of material and non-material cultural products” (10) – infers value judgments  – not all dress is subject to sociocultural change.

“Ultimately the meanings communicated by the objectively discernable types and properties of dress depend on each person’s subjective interpretations of them. Further, meanings that a person attributes to various outward characteristics of dress are based on his/her socialization within a particular cultural context as well as on the improvisations the person exercises when applying learned meanings of dress within specific social situations” (11).

Stone (1962): expands communication of discourse to include communication through clothing (in addition to gesture/location), as clothing may act as an initial means to convey/read identity, even prior to conversation.  Program (communication of self/meaning) vs review (others’ assessment/interpretation of these meanings).

Though unique and framed by individualized and fragmented experiences and socioculturally-situated contexts, dress “announces social positions of wearer to both wearer and observers within a particular interaction situation” (12) – helps to assert the multiplicity of identities/selves that establish communities/difference with others.

“An individual’s self and the identities this self incorporates are linked to positions the individual is assigned to or achieves within social structures {…] Dress confers identities on individuals as it communicates positions within these structures” (13) – these social structures (and variations in natural/social/cultural contexts) may prompt change within systems/practices of dress.


Eicher, J.B. and M.E. Roach-Higgins. 1992. “Definition and Classification of Dress.”  In Dress and Gender: Making and Meaning in Cultural Context, edited by R. Barnes and J.B. Eicher. Oxford, England: Berg.

Stone, G.P. 1962. “Appearance and the Self.” Pp. 86-118 in Human Behavior and the Social Processes: An Interactionist Approach, edited by A.M. Rose. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

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