Put simply, hair and clothing make a difference. To phrase the matter another way, the presence of these material and visual forms, or alternatively their absence from the human body, embodies potent cultural meanings and has concrete effects in the social world. To be sure, more-hidden body parts may lurk below the surface that signal our membership in certain social categories—gender, to give a prime example. In practical terms, however, when we see strangers walking toward us from a distance, we are in the habit of assuming they are a man or a woman not because we have observed their genitalia (it would be strange indeed if that were the case) but rather because we recognize and extract meaning from a more readily visible set of identity markers—primarily clothing-related (sartorial) and hair-related (tonsorial)—whose semiotic rules must be learned culturally and which vary across space and time.

You do not currently have access to this content.