Dress for Success

Dress codes establish a social hierarchy.  Dating as far back as the 19th century, Americans have focused on fashion and clothing as a way to establish class structure in society.  Fashion has always been a way to establish structure in society making it easy to distinguish different groups.  Implementing a dress code enforces the idea that social mobility is not possible.  They are used as a way to control the movement of people into different classes.  Dress codes are enforced in schools, the workplace and other professional areas in order to distinguish power and instill the idea that assimilation is the norm.

Expectancy Violation Theory

Dress codes serve as an example of “Expectancy Violation Theory,” because it explains the effect clothing has on status and power.  According to the theory, “Clothing is an important aspect of communication that can influence the perceptions of wearers’ credibility and attractiveness as well as a variety of other judgments” (Dunbar and Segrin). Judgements are made about people based on their clothing.  If the clothes a person is wearing don’t align with the message they are trying to send about themselves, the perception of the person is often sqewed.

Power in a Dress Code

Dress codes are taught to children at a young age teaching them that this is the acceptable way to dress to achieve success and earn respect from others. “Virtually everyone has expectations for what types of dress will be worn in specific social contexts and violations of those norms may elicit a range of responses from onlookers” (Dunbar and Segrin). In schools, teachers are held to a higher standard than the students in the way they dress in order to establish their power over the students.  Teachers are typically not permitted to wear anything that sends the message that they are dressed casually.  When the teacher is dressed casually, it is expected that the students will not show the same respect they would for a teacher dressed more “appropriately.” The more “appropriate” the teacher is dressed, the more professional he/she will seem.  This sends a message to the students that professionals who are not dressed to follow this specific dress code are not deserving of their respect. Children grow up believing that the only professionals in society are the ones who are dressed in professional attire.  However, this is far from true in the real world says Steffen.  Many professionals are not expected to dress in professional attire and still deserve the same respect.

Clothes are a very unique way of communicating and a form of self expression.  Dress codes influence the way clothing communicates  by setting guidelines that distinguish power and hierarchy in addition to creating a certain expectation of someone just from the way they are dressed.


http://www.fresno.edu/news/11/11/2007/pros-and-cons-school-dress-code by Wayne Steffen

http://www.hindawi.com/journals/isrn/2012/140517/  Expectancy Violations Theory Norah E. Dunbar and Chris Segrin




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