An Exploratory Study of Dress within the LGBTQ+ Community.

Primary Author: Lauren Summers

Faculty Sponsor: Jihyeong Son


Primary College/Unit: Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences

Category: Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences

Campus: Pullman




Dress is the lens for identity classification of gender/sexual orientation, religion, tribe, profession etc. A study on dress identification scheme used by the LGBTQ+ group is scant, and the complexity within the community regarding gender identity speculation needs to be investigated. The purpose of this study was to understand how LGBTQ+ people use dress as a symbol to communicate their identity within the community. The symbolic interaction theory introduced by Cooley (1902) and Mead (1934)explains the formation of communicative symbols and the interactivity of social members of society. The qualitative research method was used in order to gather a holistic understanding of the community’s use of dress as a symbol and appearance management. Five participants were interviewed face to face or via phone call. The interview data were transcribed and thematic analysis revealed that members of the LGBTQ+ use certain dress techniques such as belt loops, piercings, hairstyles/cuts, and rainbow pins as symbols of their gender identity and identifying others who are a part of their LGBTQ+ community. The study also revealed that members are influenced by the symbols used in their interaction with each other and depending on what symbol is being used it can either positively or negatively affect how those in the community interact with each other. However, the participants expressed that the symbolic use of dress by the community is non-discriminatory and felt no pressure to conform within the community.