Art Through Time: A Global View
Ceremony and Society Compare: How Can Dress Convey Power?
How can dress convey power?
Because a costume can imprint its wearer with signs of status, secular authority, and spiritual connectedness, dress often plays a major role in the expression of power. Headdresses, in particular, are part of the ceremonial attire of cultures around the world. Given the importance that so many diverse peoples attribute to the head as the seat of the mind or the soul, the adornment of this body part is especially meaningful. Both the feathered helmet of a Hawaiian chief and the beaded crown of a Yoruba king are worn ceremonially to convey the privileged positions of the leaders who wear them.
Questions to Consider
- Each of these headdresses is created with distinct materials and specific colors. What symbolic value do these elements carry? Do they carry any additional social, cultural, or political value? Do you think a general population would have understood these meanings?
- Ceremonial dress is often made to be seen and is certainly made to be used. Imagine that you are among those watching ceremonies in which each of these headdresses is worn. How would the item affect the appearance of the wearer? How might this, in turn, impact your attitude and behavior toward that individual?
- What are other examples of ceremonial headdresses with which you are familiar? How do these compare to the helmet and crown seen here? How do these compare to less formal headgear such as baseball caps? How might the context in which these items are worn change their significance?