Styling Identities Through Dress: A Grounded Theory Analysis of Jamaican Dance-Hall Dress by Shelley-Ann Morgan

Dress as material culture allows the body to act as a platform upon which culture is performed both individually and collectively. Dress is the canvas upon which its wearer tells his/her story. Dance-hall dress is no exception. Dress stories told by dance-hall participants have the potential to provide narratives that explain the process involved in the creation of the phenomenon, dance-hall dress. Current scholarship engaging dance-hall dress has not made use of the dress stories of the dance-hall participants. Rather, meanings have been ascribed to dance-hall dress without significant input from its wearers’.

This study’s primary purpose was to understand the process involved in the construction of dance-hall dress through the dress stories told by dance-hall participants in Kingston, Jamaica. The following questions guided this study: (a) what is the process involved in the construct of dance-hall dress?; (b) is there a dance-hall dress system? (c) is there a dance-hall dress cycle?; and (d) what are the critical influences on the dance-hall dress process?

Employing the qualitative analytical methodology of grounded theory, data was generated via in-depth interviews with 23 dance-hall participants in Kingston’s dance-hall spaces. Grounded theory allowed for the development of the relationships between conceptual categories. One core category and seven key categories emerged. The study’s detailed core category was called styling identities through dress. The key categories were: change and dress, dress leadership, music and dress, dress cycles and systems, money and dress, family and dress, and creativity and dress. Dance-hall dress constructed by the participants in this study depended on their interpretation of some, or all, of the key categories identified.

The findings in the study included an exploratory framework based on the participants in the study and had implications for the Jamaica’s fashion industry policies and future dress studies.

Keywords: Shelley-Ann Morgan, grounded theory, dress, dress story, dance-hall, styling, Kingston, Jamaican identity.

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