Research

My main research focus is on the socio-psychological aspects of dress. I also do research in consumer behavior and merchandising, as well as the scholarship of learning and teaching. One of my overarching interests is concerned with how dress and dress-related concerns manifest themselves online. The virtual world has become just as much a part of life as the physical world. Dress in the online world is a fairly new area of academic study, and much of my work to date has been exploratory.

One of the great benefits of participatory media platforms like YouTube, blogs, and Tumblr is that these media can and do give voice to individuals belonging to otherwise underrepresented or stigmatized groups. For my dissertation, I explore women at the intersection of social media and the size-acceptance movement. Specifically, I am interested in studying plus-size YouTube vloggers who focus on fashion and beauty. I suggest that these women not only work to destigmatize fat and fatness in society, but they often serve as examples of fashion opinion leaders and entrepreneurs. As the average American woman now wears a plus size, these content creators could become quite influential. The study, entitled #fatshion: Stigma Resistance and Fashion Opinion Leadership among Plus-Size Vloggers, will couple interviews of some of these women along with content analysis of a selection of vlogs.

A continuing area of inquiry in my research program is concerned with gamers, dress and avatars in massively multiplayer online games (MMOs). I tend to focus on women in these games, and I do this for two reasons. Although women now make up about half of videogamers overall, inside MMOs, they still are a minority, typically comprising between 15-25% of an MMO’s population. In addition, qualitative research specifically on female gamers to date has been minimal. I have conducted semi-structured interviews with women MMO players in the game Lord of the Rings Online, which was presented at the 2015 International Textiles and Apparel Association (ITAA) annual meeting. Dress impacted gameplay in several ways, especially through role play and crafting. Dress-related activities were usually interwoven with social relationships, and some respondents used it to explore questions of identity, such as gender and sexuality concerns. Future gaming research will expand to include women gamers who play other MMOs, such as World of Warcraft. In addition, I also plan to investigate the prominence of role play and creativity among women MMO players in greater depth. A related research project currently underway is a phenomenological investigation into what expertise looks like in an MMO.

One segment of contemporary society that has grown in the last few decades is sneaker culture. Informed by sports and hip hop culture, the sneaker community is mostly composed of men who are passionate about buying, collecting, and wearing rare and one of a kind sneaker releases, and this community is well represented online with sneaker blogs and vlogs. Although sneakerheads have been profiled in popular media, they have not been studied in depth in the academic literature. A collaborative research project on this topic will be presented at the 2016 International Textiles and Apparel Association (ITAA) annual meeting.

I am also interested in design research, specifically focusing on knitting and crochet. Recent research work is available here. Similarly, one future research topic will focus on online communities related to dress and textiles, such as Ravelry, a website for knitters and crocheters. Ravelry has over 4 million members and is a major player in this niche culture. Why it is so popular and what features of the site are most used by members has not been researched, however.

The study of dress’s role in virtual lives should take on increasingly greater prominence in the future. As human beings move more of their lives online, they do not leave their interest in and passions for appearance and dressing in the offline world.

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