What does clothing communicate?
What does clothing communicate?


From sorority colors to religious garb to everyday clothes, our dress and style is a representation of our community, our values, and ourselves. Clothing is often used to show faith, to mark a rite of passage, or to indicate inclusion in a group. Drawing on her research into African American communities in seven cities, Diana N’Diaye asks: “How do we define and express our community through the clothing we wear?” Come with us as we delve into the nature of both community and self-expression.

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What does clothing communicate?Virtual Graphic Facilitation:

This session was illustrated in real time. Click the thumbnail image to the left for an illustrated summary of this session.


Diana Baird N’DiayeDiana Baird N’Diaye’s interdisciplinary training in anthropology, folklore, and visual studies—and her experience as a studio craft artist—support more than three decades of scholarly work, which focuses on expressive culture in Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States. N’Diaye has taught at Georgetown University, is currently a research associate at Michigan State University, and has served on innumerable advisory, policy, and funding panels. Her personal motto is the Guyanese saying “Hand wash hand make hand clean.” (Working together we reach our goals.)

  1. Pino Monaco
    7:02 pm on April 13th, 2010

    I was wondering how much economic factors, e.g., the fashion industry, influence communites of styles

  2. Maria Dolores Bolivar
    4:02 am on April 14th, 2010

    I would love to be able to see the sessions again. Are they posted somewhere for us to watch? It would be great if we could access them.
    Maria Bolivar

    Stevie Engelke Reply:

    All the sessions are archived, so they can be viewed any time. Just click on the “Access Archive” button that you’ll see beside the film reel icon just below the session description.

  3. Meena Reddy
    1:07 pm on April 14th, 2010

    I would like to participate in the discussions

  4. AnnaElizabeth Wooten
    9:45 pm on April 15th, 2010

    I would say clothing denotes how we feel about ourselves. if i miss the discussion it does ot matter to me, at least I am sharing my views someone will read this. How we dress is how we feel about ourselves, are we dressing for someone else or are we dressing for society. You have to wear this or that, I dress for the feelings I have if I am happy abd joyful it shows in my dress, If I feel down, I may mix my clothes and felel down. The picture above show how depressed people are to me. The styles are plain. Heads are down. They are probley wondering were their next meal is coming from. With their hats and style of dress it looks 20ish.

  5. Jeffrey Bingham Mead
    10:28 pm on April 15th, 2010

    My students learn that first impressions are very important. How we appear to others is intended to make an impact of some kind, too. This is all connected with body language as a communication tool (consciously or unconsciously) that can lead to success or to damage.

    The question asked, “How do we define and express our community through the clothing we wear?” We would have to define and clarify what is meant by “community.” Is it defined by ethnicity? By profession? Level of wealth and education? We identify ourselves with various roles and communities based on our circumstances, for example. As we tend to play multiple roles in our daily lives, and even originate our own style that defines us individually as we strive for uniqueness.

  6. David Alexander’s Blog » Blog Archive » Smithsonian Experts Solve the World
    5:33 pm on April 27th, 2010

    […] I love this – the Smithsonian is offering a free online conference called Problem Solving with Smithsonian Experts.  It’s all online and the audience can submit questions in real time from a computer or mobile, can respond to interactive polls or discuss online.  The line up of experts is pretty impressive as well.  And isn’t at all highbrow, in fact it’s pretty accessible for the average culture vulture with sessions like What does clothing communicate?. […]