Damhorst, M.L. “Dress as Nonverbal Communication” in MOD

Damhorst, Mary Lynn. 1999. “Dress as Nonverbal Communication.” Pp. 78-89 in The Meanings of Dress, edited by Mary Lynn Damhorst, Kimberly A. Miller, and Susan O. Michelman. New York: Fairchild Publications.

Dress as a backdrop for other forms of communication – facial expression, physical gesture and movement, body position, distance between people, tone of voice, etc. As dress serves as factor of communication, it also may be understood as interactive process between two or more communicators – sending messages and eliciting feedback in a dynamic exchange where meanings are created to build common understandings.

Fiske (1990): dress is “the production and exchange of meanings (2, here 80).

Eco (1962) – the meanings of dress in late 20th century are frequently vague – complicated by the quick shifts in fashion and changes in dress – “undercoding”.  Thus, meanings of dress are often general, imprecise, and debated.

“Postmodern appearances are eclectic in that consumers often mix-and-match a diverse array of styles and influences in any one appearance or throughout a wardrobe. […] Consumers and designers borrow fabrics, hairstyles, jewelry, and diverse symbols across cultures, making the market or clothing very globally inspired.  Postmodern consumers are prone to mix diverse brands and designers in one appearance and buy parts and pieces of an ensemble at an array of price levels. […] Consumers mix-and-match not just to save money but to have more freedom in putting unique looks together” (86).


Eco, U. 1962. A Theory of Semiotics. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Fiske, J. 1990. Introduction to Communication Studies. London: Routledge.


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