Social Definition and Clothing: A Study of English and American Ballads and Spanish Romances

By Ana Martinez.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

There are four main social characters depicted in ballads and romances: the lady, the nobleman, the poor, and the servant. Usually, the mechanism by which the lady becomes socially prominent are her clothes, described as much richer and prettier than those of her companions. A similar mechanism is the use of a uniformed retinue, among which she will surely be the center of attention. On the other hand, she is almost always described as showing rich ornaments: hair accessories, golden pins, rings, ...
Those symbols of status are commonly associated with the beauty of the person wearing them. The nobleman is also described through his clothes, which leads us to believe that the concept of “conspicuous consumption” plays a very important role in the oral traditions at hand. At the same time, we may propose the psychological function of clothing. Thus, the uniformed retinue are forced, because of their clothes, to conform to the role they are given, losing their own individuality.
The poor, due to their appearance, are generally mistrusted.
As for the servants, the way they dress is entirely influenced by the social status of their master.
All in all, we may safely conclude that clothing has a symbolic value through which the individual asserts his or her power.

Keywords: Social Definition, Identity, Clothing, Oral Tradition, Ballads

International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp.115-126. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 628.151KB).

Ana Martinez

Doctoral Candidate, Miami, Florida, USA

I am currently working on my PhD, which I hope to read before the end of this academic term. The title of my research is “Los actos del vestir en los romances castellanos y las baladas anglonorteamericanas” (‘Clothing acts in Spanish romances and Angloamerican ballads’). Using a multidisciplinary approach, I analyze references to clothing and to acts related to getting dressed and undressed. I focus on the semiotics of these references in order to study their meaning and their relevance in a socio-cultural context. In some instances, I apply methods corresponding to cultural studies, with which I’ve found a connection in the field of cultural semiotics. By the end of the thesis, we arrive at the conclusion that our bodies are shaped by the way they are clothed, and that this also serves to articulate our own socio-cultural identity and, in a way, to shape the world around us.


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