|Abstract or Summary
- The purpose of this study was to explore the relationship of dress and queer women and how their sexual identity influences their appearance management behaviors. I answered the following research questions: (1) How is gender identity constructed and negotiated in different spaces for queer? (2) Does sexual identity influence dress choices of queer women? (3) Where do queer women look for fashion styles and trends? (4) What are queer women's experiences with shopping for clothing and accessories? (5) Do queer women feel anxiety, pressure, or discrimination from the fashion system and the appearance management behaviors in which they participate due to their sexual identity? To answer my research questions I conducted 20 in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 20 queer women living in the United States. After the first interview, each participant completed a short survey and took a picture of their outfit for 14 days. At the end of each week, the participants completed a follow-up interview. I coded the interviews in three phases and looked for emergent themes and patterns. Based on the results of this study I found that there is not one single way of being or becoming a queer women. Most women in the sample did not feel a strong connection to masculinity or femininity. Fourteen women explained they felt in-between or androgynous. Four of the women purposefully rejected the terms masculinity and femininity and claimed, "gender queer." Four women felt a strong connection to either the masculine or feminine identity. One of the women indicated a strong connection to or identification with the so-called femme-butch dichotomy. The 17 participants shifted back and forth in their portrayal of masculinity or femininity depending upon the anticipated future context. Ten participants indicated that they experienced stress or anxiety related to a fear of queer invisibility or being mistaken for straight by other members of the queer community. Four women in the sample related anecdotes about times when they felt discriminated against because of their appearance. Fifteen participants stated that they looked to family members, friends, or people around them for style ideas. Seven of the 15 participants indicated they specifically looked to other queer individuals for inspiration. Eight participants named queer or male celebrities and a ninth identified her father as her style icon. Many participants explained they looked to queer celebrities as style icons. Very few participants reported having ever seen fashion advertisements specifically targeted at queer women. Many of the participants had negative reactions to the queer imagery, or lack there of in media. Participants described a wide variety of shopping experiences trying to find garments that fit, searching for garments in different gendered sections, and interacting with sales associates on the sales floor and in the fitting room. When asked what garments are hardest to find, the participants most frequently responded that they felt frustrated finding any clothing that fit at all. Finding garments that fit is a common issue for many women, notably five of the 12 participants who had trouble finding garments that fit experienced this trouble because they often shopped in the men's department and it was hard to determine what size to try on and purchase. A total of 16 participants said that they experienced stress or anxiety when shopping. Sources of stress included body image and size, malls, determining which department to shop in, shopping in the men’s section, asking for different men's sizes, and unavailability of styles. Several participants experienced subtle acts of discrimination when shopping. When asked if the participant would be more likely to shop in a store that does not separate by gender but by body size and lifestyle, 17 said yes without hesitation; two participants said maybe and one said no. Many queer women in this sample fashioned their bodies by defying gender norms and pushing the boundaries of acceptable appearances in our society. The women in this sample worked each day to showcase their queer identity conspicuously through style and appearance choices or to hide their queer identity by adopting heteronormative styles. For many of the women, managing their queer appearance translated into defying traditional gender identities and expressions. Through this study I brought attention to the multitude of ways queer women experience and navigate the construction of their gender identity and the ways dress is used in this construction. I also highlighted the inequalities in our society for queer individuals and the stress or anxiety this may cause them.