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Clothing as a Form of Nonverbal Communication

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 1717 words Published: 7th Aug 2018

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Researching this topic has been interesting and this essay will show that dress is a central form of communication, through the many studies around this topic. Different cultures use dress to represent values central to their faith. Children are dressed in uniforms to make them all the same and principals believe this helps them to behave. Different pieces of clothing can represent very unique things in various countries, showing that dress is a central form of communication.

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68% of patients said that they were more comfortable with their health professions dressing in a professional manner. (Lascher et al, 2006) This included a white coat in 96% of answers. (Lascher et al, 2006) This study suggests that patients feel more comfortable with doctors in profressional dress, this is just one example of how clothing can evoke trust in a non-verbal manner. I once saw a quote which says alot for this essay “We act the way we dress. Neglected and untidy clothes reflect a neglected and untidy mind” If we dress a certain way we attribute certain characteristics such as the professional and calm manner a doctor represents in his white coat, it makes him appear knowledgable and trustworthy.

In Ireland if a person were to wear a red bandana, not many would bat an eyelid, however if the same Irish person were to travel with their bandana they would evoke very different responses in different places. For example in Australia a red bandana would tell people that the person was an activist, or if the person wore their bandana in Indonesia they’d be considered a rebel fighter. (Maynard, 2005, p. 102) Clothing and dress can tell us many things about people. In the western world, men and women will often wear wedding rings when they are married, and women have an engagement ring to show their intent to marry. This however is specific to cultures, as in the hindu culture, a woman puts red powder on the parting of her hair to show she is married but in her culture also shows her husband is alive and well. (Barnes & Eicher, 1993, p. 207)

The Hindu culture is a good example of the non-verbal functions of dress. A man who is familiar with the hindu dress rules would know details such as when a woman is menstruating by the way she presents herself. (Barnes & Eicher, 1993, pp. 200-207) A hindu widow only wears garments which have not been dyed such as plain colours like white and cream. (Barnes & Eicher, 1993, pp. 204-6) Hinduism puts the appearance of a future child in direct association with how a wife dresses and acts. (Barnes & Eicher, 1993) If the women is menstruating and she brushes her hair the scriptures say her child will be bald. (Barnes & Eicher, 1993) Dress in clearly central in communication within the Hindu culture.

The islam religion also brings interesting dress styles to the public. The wearing of a burqa in the muslim tradition has been controversial in western society with Jacque Shiraq banning all students in France from wearing the burqa, he is now attempting to ban the burqa completely from France. Islam prefers women to be covered up completely so that she does not attract any attention to herself. (Al-Islamiyah) She is allowed dress to the taste that pleases her husband once they are behind closed doors, but outside her home she must cover up her whole body. (Al-Islamiyah) Western society criticises these dress rules as they appear to oppress the woman, however muslims argue that this protects the women and allows her be treated more like a human being than a sex object. (Al-Islamiyah) This source argues that western dress sense allows women be exploited and creates problems such as trying to stay young and beautiful enough so that you remain married.

This is one side to a story, a side which is neither right nor wrong but definietly illustrates that within the muslim culture dress is a central form of communication. Their dress sense to them shows others respect and illustrates loyalty and dignity, values similar to the values western patients put on their doctors when they wore a white coat. This shows us that we assign values and certain beliefs to people by what they wear. The muslim women who choose to wear the burqa are devoted to their religion, they are respectful of their family’s beliefs and their culture and they are loyal to their husband. (Al-Islamiyah) These values then portray ideas to the general public, such as the muslim women must be for example, dedicated in things she believes in, so if that women were to apply for a job associated with many hours the interviewer might give her a better chance knowing that she would be dedicated.

Western culture dress is very different from the muslim burqa. Here in Ireland the main arguments with regard to dress are uniforms in school, whether work places allow workers to wear smart casual or purely smart clothes. Is the act of wearing a uniform represent a deeper meaning? I think it does, for example all of the police forces around the world have uniforms to show the people who they are and also represent the power they have. This is true also for armed forces, if you even think to when children used to play games, if you put feathers in your hair you became an Indian, dressing can show us roles which helps in the processes of communication. People always say first impressions are important and a person makes up their mind whether to hire you in the first twenty seconds of meeting you so it is clear dress is a major part of communication. How much verbal communication can one show in twenty seconds? It must therefore be non-verbal so includes dress, body language and expressions. So we must learn to dress for occasions. Dress is even more important in everyday life in the western world. People meet their husbands and wives for the first time often by catching someones attention by their clothing. This is why fashion has become so important in Ireland today.

The issue of uniforms in school, is principals believe that children conform to rules better in a uniform way when dressed the same. Having experienced a no uniform day in a school on my placement I have witnessed the chaos children reek in the school yard in their own clothes. There have been studies done on uniforms and 85% of schools thought that dress-codes not uniforms help improve behaviour. (Lumsden & Miller, 2002) They also reported that there was less sexual harassment and it helped prepare the students for the working world they would be joining in a short few years. (Lumsden & Miller, 2002) What they wear on these non uniform days can tell their friends something about them, for example a girl wearing track-suit bottoms might illustrate she is a “tom-boy”. That girl wouldnt have to say she is a tomboy but just by wearing the outfit she would be showing her class that she thinks she has characteristics to that label.

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Children who have uniforms are also less likely to be bullied for the clothes they wear. (Clark, 2007) Children agree that wearing a uniform makes them less likely to behave badly outside of school as they would be easily identified. (Clark, 2007) This shows as well that uniforms can be a form of identity which is all part of communication. A person from a community might recognise a pupil from a school by their uniform and instantly form ideas about them based on this, so the uniform also adds to the first impression a person may get. The argument for uniforms is a part of this essay as many Irish schools have uniforms and thus we identify many children through this part of their clothing and the uniform becomes a central part of communication.

The way we dress in western society can also influence others opinions of us. If one dresses smart for an interview and looks clean, then what does the employer think? (Clodfelter) What one wears would tell an employer that the person is trustworthy, is professional and has a level of confidence needed for the job. (Clodfelter) The way we dress can tell others the social class we are in, the level of success we have enjoyed and the type of moral character we are. (Clodfelter) Dressing appropriately for interviews can also show your educational status, your economical level in society and the heritage you had. If first impressions can tell a person all of that information how can dress not be a central part of communication?

With regard to social care, it is clear although many agencys do not have uniforms such as scrubs, staff are expected to wear clothes which are suitable. In child care, student placements are often expected to wear either black trousers or jeans which fit properly, and tops which are not offensive to anyone and also cover all areas of the midrift, back and chest. (University of Heuston Child Care Centre) In some social care centres staff all wear the same top which makes them easily identifiable to service users and the public alike. It makes communication easier, for example if you are in a shop and need some assistance you would spot a member of staff quicker if they are dressed in a retail specific t-shirt.

In western society we dress to tell people we are a certain kind of person. Successful men dress in suits and formal attire to work, they wear ties. Trades men buy expensive work pants and expensive brands of tools to show they are on a high paid job. Many women buy themselves branded handbags thinking it makes them that bit classier than the next woman. Children beg for the expensive branded sneakers and clothes to show their friends that they are cool. Teenagers wear low cut tops on nights out to show that they are growing up, they wear short skirts to rebel against their parents. Young people get tattoos to show their support for something or someone or maybe just to fit in to society. The middle-aged sometimes wear clothes that make them appear slimmer, taller, better endowed, but why do we do all these seemingly crazy things? We do this to portray our feelings, to make ourselves feel a certain way, to show others a part of ourselves they may not have seen yet. These reasons are all showing that dress can be a central part of nonverbal communication.


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