‘What to wear?’: Clothing as an example of expression and intentionality


  • Ian W. King


Maurice Merleau‑Ponty, reversibility, dress, expression, intentionality, bodily communication, public audience


I will argue here that for many of us the act of dressing our bodies is evidence of intentional expression before different audiences. It is important to appreciate that intentionality enables us to understand how and why we act the way we do. The novel (and potentially significant) contribution this paper makes to this examination is employing clothing as a means of revealing the characteristics of intentionality. In that, it is rare to identify one exemplar that successfully captures the relationships between the cognitive and physical characteristics of its application. Nevertheless, this paper will not attempt to fully encompass the traditional approaches associated with this concept but instead employ both the early and later writings of French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty and his claim that our lived bodies are an expressive space from which we act intentionally. In other words (and this is critical for the approach of this paper), that the manner by which we dress our bodies is likely to offer a significant means of revealing the character of intentionality in everyday life and by this, claim that clothing can communicate. Accordingly, this first-person account closely examines both the cognitive and physical experience of a simple clothing example: ‘what to wear?’ and the experience of an everyday clothing purchase in a store and its subsequent impact when the item of clothing is worn for different audiences. The ensuing discussion systematically examines the significance of marrying Merleau-Ponty’s writings with this everyday example through private and public audiences and in abstract and public spaces.