The Meaning within Clothing
This exhibit will work to describe and analyze how people in the Muhlenberg Community and beyond represented themselves at the Women's March on January 21, 2017 through their choices in clothing. They were able to use their clothing to send a message because clothing reflects the wearer’s identity. “The clothes we wear send powerful signals to our peers and strangers, projecting the self image of us that we want to display” (Waude). When someone makes a decision about what to wear, they are often making a choice about what they want to say about themselves, consciously or unconsciously. A person’s appearance is the first thing that others will notice, so it informs their opinion about who that person is. “Clothing is a significant social symbol used by individuals in identity definition because (a) clothing is used in daily activity, (b) clothes constitute a frequent display, and (c) clothing choice is an easily manipulatable symbol” (Feinberg, et al. 18). Feinberg, Mataro, and Burroughs conducted a study to explore their hypothesis that “a significant correlation exists between the meaning of clothing and an individual’s identity when the clothing is selected to represent the individual” (19). In this study, a group of twenty people respond to photos of another 18 people wearing an outfit that reflected their personality. When comparing the descriptive words that the observers picked for each outfit to the ones chosen by the wearer of that outfit, there was a statistically significant agreement between the choices (20). The observers were able to pick up on the personality cues that the wearer thought their outfit represented. This study is one example of how a person can choose to dress in a way that directly represent their personality.
Since clothing can represent facets of a person’s identity, it can be used to promote the wearer’s political views. Clothing can “[identify] the individual’s membership in various groups (political, religious, occupational, etc.)” which serves as a “badge of membership” (Solomon and Schopler 509). The most common form of protest clothing is a shirt. It is easy to purchase or make a shirt with a slogan on it, so they can be “just as significant as the chants and signs that are vital components to political demonstrations” (King). Whether the slogans on protest clothing are hand drawn with markers or are purchased from a company or organization, they can unite protesters. The fact that demonstrators have their personal views on their body is a visual way to show what is being protested. Even without talking to someone or hearing a chant, the shirt helps to show observers what side of the issue the protesters stand on (Kurtzleben). The protesters become united through their clothing’s message. “The way protesters dress is visually powerful not only for on-lookers, the media, and the target of their demonstrations, but also internally to unite the group and amplify their voices before they even utter a single chant” (King). Even if the clothing does not look the same, it acts as a uniform, merging the crowd into a unified mass, all pushing for the same changes. Sometimes the “uniform” can mask individuality, but it can also just unify people as individuals (Waude). Protesters are meant to be visible and heard, so adding the visual medium of protest clothing adds to the impact of the message.
Through research, analysis, and a look at the personal decisions that went into picking an outfit for the march, the rest of this exhibit shows how different people decided to portray themselves at the 2017 Women's March