Take a look at what you are wearing right now. Go ahead—I'll wait. Now ask yourself what you are trying to communicate with this ensemble. Although we dress ourselves every day, we often do not stop to think about the communicative aspects of clothing. Through our clothing choices we often communicate subtle (and not so subtle) cues of race, class, and gender. All of these can be viewed under the umbrella idea of culture.
It is useful to think of human interaction from a dramatistic perspective and consider how people continually perform roles. As with any drama, costumes are an integral part of the performance. This is often apparent when someone goes against commonly held views of how one should present him or herself. For example, my students are often surprised by how I dress because I do not look like a stereotypical professor. When I teach I wear a button down shirt and shorts. I do this for two reasons. The first reason is for comfort. The second reason is to decrease the psychological distance between me and my students. I teach courses that grapple with material that is often difficult for students to understand. By dressing in a way that is more relaxed, I attempt to foster an environment in which experimentation and mistakes are tolerated. I also recognize that there is a difference of power between me and my students that I wish to diminish.
There are other ways that people dress strategically. For example, when applying for my position, I wore a suit and tie because I had to look the part of a job applicant. When my students go out on Friday night, they are dressed to look as attractive as possible, accentuating certain desirable features while downplaying others. Yet in all of these situations, there are unspoken constraints of what is acceptable to wear in each situation. Examining these assumptions can illuminate deeply-held, often invisible cultural norms.