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Clothing as Communication

by Sandra Macke-Piper, MSC, LPC

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression” has been attributed to several famous people—Oscar Wilde, Will Rogers, Andrew Grant and so on. However, it may actually have been the brainchild of some brilliant ad executive who coined the slogan for a 1966 Botany Suits print ad. It cleverly conveys something known centuries—what someone is wearing gives the observer a lot of information.

Or does it?

This sartorial form of communication, like every other type of human communication, can be easily misunderstood. The wearer may think they are saying one thing while the observer is getting an entirely different message. Clothing is art, expression, form and function. It is also a calling card.

Researchers McCracken and Roth (1989) talk about the messaging of clothing relying on a ‘code’. This code is dependent upon social and cultural norms shared by a community or group. The more people who understand the code, the better the communication (Howlett et al., 2013).

A few years ago, a foot of mine started misbehaving. It became clear, after days (or a year) of pain, my high-heeled shoe addiction needed to meet a timely demise. But my foot problem meant throwing out the sky-high beauties living in my closet, something my podiatrist said should have been ages before.

Not wishing to retire to black orthotics, the hunt for attractive, flatter shoes commenced. The new shoe closet occupants included low-heeled shoes, fancy tennis shoes, sparkly flats, etc. Along the way it was necessary to carefully curate outfits so as