Dress is a powerful means of communication that makes statements about the gender role of an individual from birth. The concept of clothing as a principal vehicle of social and personal information presupposes a common level of understanding among the audience to whom the communication is intended. It makes dramatic statements about social categories and changes from one social category to another as regulated by place, occasion, age, status, as well as values that reflect the social hierarchy of a community. It is in light of this perceived capacity for dress to ‘speak’ — or what has been termed the ‘pregnant’ nature of dress — that Justine Cordwell and Ronald Schwartz urge readers to learn to read and grasp dress as ‘signs in the same way we learn to read and understand language’, that they might more fully comprehend the complexities of cultural representation (1).



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