ITAA conference and my paper

Wed night through Sat afternoon I’ll be at the International Textile and Apparel Association annual conference. One thing I’m doing there is presenting a paper on Thursday-so I thought I’d post our abstract, since it’ll be published in the proceedings. I think this was the final draft, but if not, it’s close enough. This paper was written with Minjeong Kang and Kim K.P. Johnson. This manuscript is currently under review with the Clothing and Textiles Research Journal. -Monica

Men at Work: Fashioning Identities

Contrary to the general belief about men’s lack of interest in dress, their interest in dress and fashion have been rapidly growing, and menswear sales have been swiftly increasing (Alexander, 2003; Bakewell et al., 2006; Frith & Gleeson, 2004; Lee 2004). Today, men’s dress in the workplace is more important than ever due to increased competition for jobs. More women in the workplace has created greater competition and many of these women enter the workforce with a polished appearance, which has been shown to help their role enactment at work (Bakewell et al., 2006). Thus, the purpose of this research is to investigate the role of dress in professional men’s work lives, particularly those new to the workforce.

To accomplish this research purpose, this study was guided by the following research questions:
R1. What meanings do young professional men associate with their appropriate work dress?
R2. Do young professional men use dress to construct and express their work identity?
R2A. How is the salience of work identity related to young professional men’s dress behavior?
R2B. How is the degree to which young professional men feel secure in their work identity related to dress behavior?
R3.What outcomes do young professional men expect with their work dress? R4. How do young professional men’s work identity relate to their dress consumption behavior?

Conceptual Foundation/Related Research.
Three theories or perspective were used to guide this study. First, according to identity theory, social meanings and expectations of external roles are internalized within an individual’s personal identity, which becomes a role identity (Stone, 1962; Stryker, 1980; Stryker & Burke, 2000). Therefore, for this study, work identity was defined as an individual’s internalized meanings and expectations of their role at work. In addition, the importance a person places on the role affects the salience of the role identity and subsequent behaviors. Salient identities in one’s self-definition were more likely to be activated and acted out as relevant behaviors. Second, symbolic interaction presents the idea that individuals establish, maintain, and alter their identities through social interactions in various social, physical, and biological settings and that dress has a power to announce identity through symbols and may be seen in social encounters even before other forms of communication can be initiated (Stone, 1962). Finally, symbolic self-completion theory (Wicklund & Gollwitzer, 1982) proposes that when individuals feel incomplete in their identity, they will obtain symbols associated with that identity, such as items of dress, to achieve a sense of completeness and to strengthen their association with the desired identity.

The subjects of this study were men under age 40 who work in professional occupations where a uniform is not worn. A total of thirty questions were developed to address the research questions. The questions were mainly open-ended and included a small number of multiple-choices. The survey was pilot tested by two individuals who met the qualifications. Their comments were used to revise the questionnaire for clarity and comprehensiveness. The survey was distributed via email attachment to a set of known men who met the criteria. Each participant was asked to forward the instrument to a convenience sample of other qualifying individuals. The snowball technique and email distribution were chosen to increase and diversify the sample base. Participants were offered no incentives to participate. The data was then comprehensively coded, reviewed, and analyzed to capture emerging themes. The results were then compared with the theories and previous literature. The researchers reviewed the material individually and together, comparing and contrasting their findings to determine conclusions.

The participants were 49 men who represented a variety of professions including financial services, creative/design services, education, law, retail, and mental health. They worked in their industries for an average of 4.5 years. The ages ranged from 23 to 37, with an average of 28.44 years old. In terms of education level, the majority of respondents completed a bachelor’s degree and five respondents completed a graduate degree.

Participants tied the appropriateness of work dress to various meanings which represent the following five themes, listed in order of frequency mentioned: 1)professionalism, 2)representation of company, 3)creativity, 4)confidence, and 5)competence. Participants tended to use appropriate dress to construct and express a work identity. However, there was no clear link between the level of work identity salience and dress behavior. A respondent who found his work identity to be a prominent part of his self did not necessarily report extra effort into using dress as a symbol to communicate his work identity. Participants’ sense of security in work identity, however, did appear to have a clear link to their dress behavior. All of the respondents who reported a strong work identity but felt insecure in this identity exerted extra effort in using and purchasing status symbolic dress to construct their work identity. In contrast, participants having salient work identity and who felt secure in their identity did not use status symbolic dress although this group still showed concern about having appropriate dress for work. The majority of participants indicated they expect certain outcomes from their work dress, which represented the following four themes, listed in order of frequency mentioned: 1)upward mobility, promotions, and success, 2)giving right impressions, 3)communication of identity, and 4)avoiding problems. In addition, participants’ efforts to use dress to communicate their work identity, expecting certain outcomes appeared to be acted out in their dress consumption behaviors in the marketplace. Participants were active consumers who used various media and retail aspects to decide what to wear to work, and made their own purchases for work dress.

Discussion and Implications.
The findings have a theoretical implication for dress and identity research as support of symbolic interaction and symbolic self-completion theory. All of participants possessed certain degrees of work identity and dress was used to construct and/or express their work identity through conveying the meanings that were imposed on one’s dress. That is, dress served to make intangible meanings more concrete and to communicate one’s work identity in an observable way. This supports symbolic interaction perspective. In addition, the findings also support symbolic self-completion theory by explaining how dress as one type of symbols is used to feel the sense of completeness in work identity.

This study also provides practical implications for retailers. Retailers need to consider men as active consumers wishing to purchase the appropriate products to communicate their work identity. Retailers could merchandise men’s products through various media and retail displays suggesting how to dress for work would be effective. Furthermore, that men look for dress that conveys meanings such as professionalism, representing their company, creativity, confidence, and competence implies that retailers could promote their products symbolically to communicate these meanings.

References Cited.
Alexander, S. (2003). Stylish hard bodies: Branded masculinity in “Men’s Health” magazine. Sociological
Perspectives, 46(4), 535-554.
Bakewell, C., Mitchell, V. W., & Rothwell, M. (2006). UK generation Y male fashion consciousness. Journal
of Fashion Marketing and Management, 10(2), 169-180.
Frith, H., & Gleeson, K. (2004). Clothing and embodiment: Men managing body image and appearance.
Psychology of Men and Masculinity, 5(1), 40-48.
Lee, H. (2004). Metrosexual formative beauty expressed in men’s fashion in the 21st century. International
Journal of Costume, 4(2), 18-29.
Stone, G. P. (1962). Appearance and the Self. In A. M. Rose (Ed.), Human Behavior and the Social
Processes: An Interactionist Approach. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
Stryker, S. (1980). Symbolic Interaction, a Social Structural Version. Menlo Park, CA: Benjamin Cummings.
Stryker, S., & Burke, P.J. (2000). The past, present, and future of an identity theory. Social Psychology
Quarterly, 63(4), 284-297.
Wicklund, R., & Gollwitzer, P. (1982). Symbolic Self-Completion. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

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