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Fashion and clothing: the construction and communication of gay identities

Schofield, Kate and Schmidt, Ruth A. (2005) Fashion and clothing: the construction and communication of gay identities. International journal of retail & distribution management, 33 (4). pp. 310-323. ISSN 0959-0552

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Abstract

Purpose – This paper explores the importance of clothes for gay males as semiotic markers for identity creation and communication in order to highlight the increasing fragmentation of this market and the role of consumption practices as cultural markers. Design/methodology/approach – The study is grounded in qualitative data from participant observation, diaries interviews and a focus group of Manchester-based respondents; findings are linked back to literature on postmodernism, image and identity. Findings – Findings point to communication of individual identity through clothes; firstly, on a community level, as a marker of “gayness”; secondly, on a neo-tribal level, indicating tribal allegiance and aiding inter-tribal communication; thirdly, on a situational level, where clothing facilitates acceptance and integration. The proactive use of clothing as a semiotic marker enables the fluid construction and linking of multiple identities. Findings indicate the existence of quite specific codes with (gay) culturally embedded meanings which gay men can choose to identify with and make use of, or not, in different situations. Thus fashion is an important means of differentiation and communication of personal and group identities and affiliations. Research limitations/implications – This is an in-depth study of a small sample of subjects located in Manchester only. Despite satisfactory respondent and ecological validity it would therefore be desirable to extend the study to a larger sample size and replicate it in other settings before making wider generalisations. Practical implications – Implications for marketers include the need to move away from treating this market as homogeneous as well as opportunities for “tribal marketing”. Originality/value – Through its in-depth qualitative approach the paper represents a rich picture of the UK gay fashion market which has a good degree of respondent validity and useful insights for marketers.

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