The ancient Greeks apparently said that ‘apparel makes the man” ( sic). Shakespeare echoed the sentiment in his play Hamlet. The statement is often repeated in advertisements for men’s clothing.
The aphorism reflects the notion that what we wear affects how others see us. Psychology Today puts it this way:
It’s been well-established—in the scientific literature and real life—that what we wear affects how others perceive us. Women who wear more masculine clothes to an interview (such as a dress suit) are more likely to be hired. People dressed conservatively are perceived as self-controlled and reliable, while those wearing more daring clothing are viewed as more attractive and individualistic.
Experimental psychologists make more evidenced claims. Adam and Galinsky suggest that what we wear can profoundly affect the way in which we feel about ourselves. And the ways in which we act. They coined the term ‘enclothed cognition‘, a process which depends, they suggest, on both the symbolic meaning and the physical experience of wearing particular clothes. They argue that it’s the combination of these two – the symbolic and the experience – that accounts for the ‘strange power’ that clothes have over us.
Pop psychology makes strong dogmatic statements about the combination of person and their clothing. According to a recent article in The Readers’ Digest (!) what you wear can make you a better thinker, make you smarter, make you exercise more, help you to get your way, and make you honest. Wow. We’d better rush out and buy more stuff then, eh. We find all of this interesting, amusing even. However, it irritates us when the gendered dimensions of these claims are taken for granted and not held up to any kind of scrutiny.
As social scientists, we have a strong interest in the ways in which gendered, raced, able-bodied and aged social relations and practices produce and reproduce particular ways of being, becoming and acting. The material cultures of clothing – pun intended – do play out in life and in specific work situations. Like schools. Like leadership.
But how? We are very interested in exploring, through our own disciplinary resources drawn from education and cultural sociology, the part that wardrobe plays in producing and reproducing specifically situated social relations and relationships.
We hope that you will find our investigation and thinking about wardrobes, women and school leadership of interest. We will publish posts on our blog about our experiences, our reading and the progress of the research. We’d love to hear from you too and we really welcome other contributions to the wardrobe conversation. Do let us know if you’d like to talk by using the comments box below or emailing us.
And if you are an aspiring, serving or retired woman school leader and are interested in our research and would like to help right this minute, do complete our anonymous online survey. It takes about twenty minutes and we’ll be ever so pleased to have your views. Just click on the link above.