Real Bodies pp 133-150 | Cite as

The Dressed Body

  • Joanne Entwistle


Dress has an intimate relationship to the body. The materials we hang at the margins of our body — fabric, jewellery, paint or feathers — enjoy a close proximity to the flesh, outlining, emphasizing, obscuring or extending the body. Choosing leather as opposed to silk, Lycra as opposed to cotton, denim rather than wool, will affect the way the body looks and feels. Umberto Eco captures this close relationship between dress and the bodyvery well when he describes wearing jeans, which are still too tight after losing some weight. He describes how the jeans feel on his body, how they pinch and restrict his movement, how they make him aware of the lower half of his body; indeed, how they come to constitute what he calls an ‘epidermic self-awareness’ which he had not felt before:

As a result, I lived in the knowledge that I had jeans on, whereas normally we live forgetting that we’re wearing undershorts or trousers. I lived for my jeans and as a result I assumed an exterior behaviour of one who wears jeans. In any case, I assumed a demeanor … Not only did the garment impose a demeanor on me; by focusing my attention on demeanor it obliged me to live towards the exterior world (Eco, 1986, pp. 192–4).


Social Order Social World Female Body Moral Order Professional Woman 
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Further reading

  1. Breward, C. The Culture of Fashion: A History of Fashionable Dress (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995).Google Scholar
  2. This gives a very good comprehensive history of fashion from its beginnings in the fourteenth century.Google Scholar
  3. Davis, F. Fashion, Culture and Identity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994).Google Scholar
  4. This book offers a good analysis of the relationship between fashion and identity within contemporary culture.Google Scholar
  5. Entwistle, J. The Fashioned Body (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000).Google Scholar
  6. This book offers a comprehensive overview of theories of fashion and dress from a sociological perspective, as well as connecting these with theories about the body and identity in modern society.Google Scholar
  7. Steele, V. Paris Fashion: A Cultural History (Oxford: Berg, 1998).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. A book that offers a very full account of the emergence of the fashion system within nineteenth-and twentieth-century modernity, focusing on the historical ‘centre’ of modern fashion, Paris.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Joanne Entwistle 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joanne Entwistle

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