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Clothing for Social and Cultural Identities


Clothing and appearance are factors that might significantly shape the individual and cultural identity. This influence is particularly noticeable in a bicultural setting, which is a common environment for foreign people coming to the USA. The dissertation by Maria Gracia Inglessis emphasizes the value of clothing as a method to represent social and cultural identities among Hispanic women of varying levels of acculturation. The author conducts ten thorough interviews to comprehend perceptions and beliefs of the target group concerning the significance of clothing. The current essay analyzes Inglessis’ dissertation and answers several questions regarding the topic.

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Selection of Clothing

According to Inglessis, there is a large variety of factors affecting the choice of clothing among Hispanic women. The reasons include basic functions of garments, social environment, psychological characteristics, gender identity, and need for differentiation (Inglessis, 2008). Consequently, each of these groups has several sub-categories; for instance, protection, modesty, and adornment belong to the class of basic functions (Inglessis, 2008). On the other hand, differentiation, social affiliation (e.g., prestige, gender, and age), and societal status are considered social-psychological factors (Inglessis, 2008). Additionally, industry reasons, such as the brand, contemporary fashion, and trends, might influence the wardrobe selection (Inglessis, 2008). Ultimately, there is a large number of factors affecting the choice of clothes among the target group.

Subjectively, the three of the most significant markers are protection, differentiation, and cultural identity. Protection is the most basic function of clothing, and the choice of garments varies heavily depending on the culture, geography, and traditions. Furthermore, Inglessis (2008) states that some accessories might act as a means of spiritual protection and are highly significant in certain cultures. Consequently, differentiation in clothing is relevant for most people and is the method of conveying individuality (Inglessis, 2008). For instance, a unique selection of garments might transparently distinguish the person from the crowd. At the same time, according to the interviewees, the demonstration of skin and curves of a female body is a method to emphasize femininity (Inglessis, 2008). Lastly, the need for cultural identity might significantly affect the choice of clothing, particularly in a bicultural setting. Hispanic women coming to the USA encounter the barrier of the dominant culture, and one of the ways to underline the cultural identity is via garments (Inglessis, 2008). Therefore, this factor is highly relevant in the framework of Hispanic culture.

Clothing Code

In general, the clothing code refers to the symbolic meaning of garments, such as the communication of social or cultural identity. The author connects this term with the concept of femininity and demonstrates how clothes could be used to emphasize gender identification (Inglessis, 2008). First, as mentioned briefly before, several interviewees underline the importance of showing the skin and curves of a female body (Inglessis, 2008). Based on the same assumptions, some women demonstrate distaste for tight clothes on men since, in that case, they look feminine. For instance, one of the subjects mentions, “I hate the fitted t-shirts and pants for men, that looks feminine to me” (Inglessis, 2008, p. 116). As a result, the interviewed women demonstrate a relatively traditional perspective on gender roles, which is prominent in Hispanic culture.

The second interpretation of femininity via clothing code is the importance of details and accessories for the overall appearance. Several respondents mention how features, such as prints, absence of pockets, 3/4 sleeves, and lower cleavage, might emphasize femininity (Inglessis, 2008). Consequently, the third factor is the need for constant change of the wardrobe. One of the respondents has demonstrated particular confidence that wearing the same clothes and accessories every day is highly masculine and should be avoided. Another source of femininity concerns one specific accessory – earrings. While it may not be as significant in the dominant American culture, earrings are highly important to Hispanic women. Some of the respondents mention “feeling naked” or “feeling that something is missing” if they do not wear the accessory (Inglessis, 2008, p. 214). Ultimately, the said four factors of clothing code differentiate between femininity and masculinity.

Lastly, it is essential to note that not all respondents agree on the exclusivity of physical traits. For instance, two interviewees advocate that femininity means “feeling comfortable with being a woman” and “femininity has to do with being proud about your own abilities” (Inglessis, 2008, p.116). Therefore, self-empowerment and confidence, while not directly relevant to the clothing code, are highly significant for many women to feel feminine.


One of the conclusions in Inglessis’ dissertation is the utmost significance of clothing for individual, social, and cultural identity. Most respondents demonstrate a preference for traditionally feminine clothes and accessories while showing distaste for “male” categories (Inglessis, 2008). These findings transparently indicate that the interviewees wish to establish a clear differentiation between femininity and masculinity to underline their identities. Therefore, the majority of respondents in this study deny the concept of gender equality in clothing and appearance. Nevertheless, several Hispanic women indicate the importance of education and self-empowerment to underline femininity regardless of physical characteristics (Inglessis, 2008). Furthermore, the emphasis on details in clothing as femininity traits might direct Hispanic women to misleading conclusions. For instance, the author states, “women holding traditional views about gender appearance might mistakenly categorize other women who do not wear earrings as lesbians” (Inglessis, 2008, p. 219). As a result, while clothing is one of the most transparent ways to show one’s identity, some traditional perspectives may be misleading when encountering a different culture.

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Inglessis, M. G. (2008). Communicating through clothing: The meaning of clothes among Hispanic women of different levels of acculturation. Web.

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