Class Blog · Psychology · Social Cognition

Why Do We Wear What We Wear?

This weekend I got invited to go to PBR (Professional Bull Riders) which is a rodeo that comes to the city once a year, and because I’ve lived here almost all my life I know that a lot of people in the area get quite excited about it. (Probably due to the fact that we are a city surrounded by field after field of farmers and ranchers..) And the one thing there is no shortage of, is western wear. Belt buckles, cowboy boots, hats, you name it, it doesn’t matter if you’re a real cowboy or not, almost everyone is embellished head to toe in plaid and denim. I can be the first to admit that I’ve never lived on a farm (we still have a few in the family) but I feel like it’s socially acceptable to “dress up” as and have some fun a community and in my opinion, it shows a form of solidarity and pride of our city that has a small town mentality.

In this week’s blog I want to explore why we choose what we wear in any aspect of life and how it contributes to social interaction. In the article I found, the authors talk about a few perspectives on why an individual would present themselves in a certain way, the first talks about the diffusion perspective. In the context of institutional theory it portrays how agents import “ready-to-wear” cultural accounts. In contrast, translation theory depicts how agents interpret and adapt cultural accounts as they fashion them into legitimating accounts for a local setting. These theories would be pertinent to the work place. For example, the policies or dress codes that are put in place and the hegemony that occurs between the institution and its employees. An alternative could theorize accounts that are neither strictly borrowed nor idiosyncratically tailored. The third perspective, draws on frame analysis as it is used in social movement theory. Framing theory attends to both the importance of cultural building blocks and the embedded ways in which agents relate to and shape systems of meaning, and mobilize collective action to change social arrangements. This would be applicable to the situation I explained earlier with the pride of adorning western wear but could also apply to scenarios of demonstration or protest. The authors found that legitimating accounts are intertwined with the construction of one’s social identities and without opposition there would be no legitimization at all (1).

Clothing can either help us conform to a group, or instead, make a statement that’s completely individual. It helps us present ourselves in a way we want to be seen but can also be controlled by many outside factors like what one is “expected” to wear to a certain occasion or something innate like dressing a certain way to catch the eye of that cute person you always see on the way to lecture. One could get more specific and start the conversation of tattoos and piercings, but I think that’s something I can get deeper into in their own blog post. Regardless of the reasons why we wear what we wear, it definitely seems like it will always have some kind of meaning within every culture or society.


(1) Creed, W. E., Scully, M. A., & Austin, J. R. (2002). Clothes Make the Person? The Tailoring of Legitimating Accounts and the Social Construction of Identity. Organization Science, 13(5), 475-496. doi:10.1287/orsc.13.5.475.7814

(Feature Image) Models On The Runway [Photograph found in WordPress]. (n.d.). Retrieved March 2, 2017, from


5 thoughts on “Why Do We Wear What We Wear?

  1. Very insightful post, Avery! I believe that clothing and identity are linked. Clothes display, express and shape identity, combining a directly material reality. According to Hristova (2014), The way we dress is a form of communication that best suits the Self. This is social identity formed by the cultural values that everyone possesses. Consciously or not, we use clothing as a means of identification to ourselves and others. Whether one wants to be outstanding in the society or isolate his/herself, in both cases, consciously or not, we distinguish ourselves. Clothing styles are used in forming impressions and making attributions about a social class and has great implications for understanding and challenging prejudice and discrimination. Choice in clothing can communicate responsibility, status, power and the ability to be successful. Initial judgment of people based on their clothing can lead to more negative impressions.


  2. A paper by Davis and Lennon (1988) discusses four cognitive processes that are used to describe the effect of clothing on perception. First, they discuss social perception theory. Social perception theory takes the approach that clothing acts as a nonverbal cue. These nonverbal cues allow people to make assumptions about individuals based on the social situation and context. Second, the authors discuss. Attribution theory. Attribution theory suggests that we use certain cues to allow us to attribute behaviors to individuals. With regards to clothing, attribution theory allows us to make assumptions about why a person is wearing inappropriate clothing for the situation. The author also discuss a study that attribution theory affects individual’s self-perception. This study found that people believed they scored higher on an IQ test when wearing eyeglasses compared to when not wearing eyeglasses. The third cognitive process the authors use is impression formation. In impression formation people use diverse information and use that as their general impression. If something you’re wearing appears to stand out as different from the norm, you as a person may be labeled as different. And finally, the researchers used the process of categorization to explain the effect of clothing on perception. People naturally categorize objects, therefore clothing acts as one way to categorize individuals. By categorizing individuals, we feel we may be able to make assumptions about how they will behave. However, categorization may distort our perceptions of other people. It’s quite interesting how all of these processes occur without our knowledge, we can just look at someone and make assumptions about who they are and how they will act.

    Davis, L. L., & Lennon, S. J. (1988). Social cognition and the study of clothing and human behaviour. Social Behavior & Personality: An International Journal, 16(2), 175-186.


  3. As previously mentioned clothing can indicate social status and other attributes. I found research suggesting that clothing choice can be influenced by social comparison, social anxiety, and the reluctance to be embarrassed socially. Which results in conforming of clothing choices. This idea brings to mind this quote: “the nail that sticks out gets hammered”. So, when the rodeo comes to town many people may opt to dress for the occasion, or conform, so that they do not stick out in the crowd.


  4. Interesting topic Avery! Honestly I was so close to choosing a topic related to this topic for my blog this week, but I decided to switch. This is the main point that I was curious about:

    One thing I have always wondered in regards to clothing is why are there such things as brand names and why do people spend a significant amount more on something just for the brand name. Sometime it may be related to quality of the clothing, but most of the time I feel like it is most likely the attribution of the social status when you wear some of these more ‘higher end’ clothes.

    When I was in high school I remember everyone in my social group always had to show off their new clothes. Whether it was Hollister, American Eagle, Roxy, or whatever was in at the time, it always seemed like a competition. Today I am not too concerned about brand names compared to how I was in high school. The only really big brand name that I can’t stop buying is Lululemon as it is addictive, but I am not buying these clothes for the social status as much as the comfort, but many people still do.

    Interestingly enough, “The preference for more expensive over cheaper yet functionally equivalent goods has been famously referred to as conspicuous consumption by Thorstein Veblen (1899/1994). Psychological research has confirmed that the desire for status is an important force driving the market for luxury goods ( Dreze and Nunez, 2009, Griskevicius et al., 2007, Haselton et al., 2007, Mandel et al., 2006, Rucker and Galinsky, 2008 and Rucker and Galinsky, 2009)” (1). So our need to show off these brands is all about status, and thus we are willing to spend a lot of money on these brands for this sole reason. Interesting enough in this article, it also mentions that people who are low-income actually still spend money on these luxury items compared to food and water sometimes. “From an evolutionary perspective, it has been argued that the human preference for luxury consumption originates from a universal tendency for signaling traits that might increase status ( Cummins, 2005, Miller, 2009 and Saad, 2007), a tendency shared by other social primates (e.g., de Waal, 1982)” (1).

    The experiments Nelissen and Meijers (2011) looked at several experiments, and found that displays of luxury — manipulated through brand labels on clothes — elicited different kinds of preferential treatment, which even resulted in financial benefits to people who engaged in conspicuous consumption. These studies were done both in the lab and the the field.

    1) Nelissen, R. M., & Meijers, M. H. (2011). Social benefits of luxury brands as costly signals of wealth and status. Evolution and Human Behavior, 32(5), 343-355.


  5. This is a topic I think everyone can relate with. Clothing in many ways exhibits independence, status, and one’s personality. An article I found examines the relationship between hospital patients and wearing hospital gowns or pajamas. The clothing they wear serves as a reminder that they are a patient. While the clothing they wear may seem to be a minute detail, it is the first of many steps that could potentially lead to the loss of healthy functioning and independence. Ability to wear clothing of ones choice may play a role in promoting dignity and independence for patients. Clothing plays a significant role in making a person, and I find it incredibly interesting how much can come from the ability to dress as one wishes.


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