This qualitative research used data collected during 35 free response interviews to
explore personal motivations of individuals who wear dress items that have text, images,
or symbols that state an opinion or affiliation with a cause. The review of literature
focused on researchers who had addressed issues of the self and symbolic interaction, the
printed t-shirt as a social dress object, identity creation and postmodern theory, the
impact of consumerism on identity creation, meaningful dress objects, and stylistic
messaging through dress. Five research questions developed out of the review of
literature that addressed concepts of self, validation strategies relative to wearing cause
representational dress, how individuals established boundaries around appropriate
opinions to voice through dress, and how individuals viewed the ability of mass produced
objects to relay meaningful messages. Transcribed interview text was analyzed to
identify recurring themes that were relevant to the posed research questions. Because of
the large volume of data collected, NVIVO 7™ was used to organize and manage
analysis. Themes, described as nodes in NVIVO 7™, were refined over time and
reviewed by a second party for validity. Themes that surfaced out of the data indicated
that the self is impacted by heightening an individual’s awareness of the relationship
between personal beliefs and the dress that he or she wears. The process of validation
was found to be situational and grounded in a participant’s ability to find dress that
accurately reflected his or her personal beliefs and concerns. Participants were
overwhelmingly concerned about offending others with derogatory sentiments
communicated through their dress. Additionally, participants exhibited a tendency to assess social situations ahead of time and gauge how others were likely to react to the
cause representational dress that they considered wearing. Finally, it was found that
individuals can find meaning in cause representational dress that is produced as a good,
but that the integrity of the dress item representing the cause does break down with mass
production and mass adoption by others.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. December 2008. Major: Design, Housing and Apparel. Advisor: Kim K. P. Johnson, Ph.D. 1 computer file (PDF), vi, 150 pages. appendices A-D.
McElvain, Jean Elizabeth.
Wearing a cause: personal motivations for expressing beliefs through dress.
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