Dresses on gameday

Mardi Schmeichel, Chris Linder and Stacey Kerr gave a lecture on the performance of femininity at SEC games in the latest addition to the Women's Studies Friday Speaker Series. (Photo/Garrett Leffelman)

Three speakers delivered Friday afternoon's Women’s Studies Speakers Series lecture, titled “Y'all Wear Dresses to Football Games? The Performance of Femininity on Game Day in the SEC,” on why women at universities in the South dress up for football games.

Mardi Schmeichel, an assistant professor in the University of Georgia Department of Educational Theory and Practice, Chris Linder, an assistant professor in the Department of Counseling and Human Development Services, and Stacey Kerr, a doctoral candidate and graduate teaching assistant in the College of Education, all attended universities outside of the South for their undergraduate degrees. And all agreed the culture of football gamedays is different above the Mason-Dixon Line.

“The fact that all of us are not from the South was an integral part of what led us to this project,” Schmeichel said. “While football is central to the culture at the University of Nebraska and there are many aspects of being an undergraduate there that are similar to the University of Georgia, as well as at the University of Miami, one of the big distinctions is what women were wearing [on game day].”

Through case studies in which they collected and analyzed pictures from Instagram and focus group interviews with female students from UGA, Schmeichel, Linder and Kerr developed the theory that there was both a pleasure and a duty to dressing up for football games that was distinct to southern universities.

“The gender dynamics here are formed by histories that are specific to southern culture,” Schmeichel said. “One speaker [in the interviews] referenced the southern lady and her desire to emulate the southern lady. This was found as desirable across the focus groups.”

The lecturers also addressed that the participants thought dressing up for football games had a correlation to the presence of men and masculinity on gamedays.

“There is an incredible pressure that some young women feel about the competition for relationships,” Kerr said. “Some women feel as if there is a market for relationships and there is a need to feel competitive and stand out.”

Another idea the speakers presented was that dressing up for football games is important for students' representations of themselves and of their schools. Many of the interviews suggested dressing up for gameday was a way to put a best foot forward and support the football team as well as the university, Kerr said.

“The women and the participants talked about the idea of representation and that they are not only representing themselves in this practice but also the university,” she said. “This is really interesting because what this demonstrates is that they have this choice, and acknowledge that they have this choice, but they refer to it as a duty that they have to perform as well.”

The speakers said they believe the idea of dressing up as a duty for gameday has connections to larger themes in southern tradition and UGA culture which explain why it was considered a responsibility by many students in the study.

“I thought it was really interesting about how we dress up and the mentality behind it,” said Rachel Bartlett, a junior biology and psychology major and one of the lecture's attendees. “It makes me reconsider my personal reasons on why I dress up because I have always just done it.”

The speakers said this is the beginning of their research into the football gameday culture of SEC universities and that there are more factors at play in southern tradition.

“I would think that they might want to do a little bit more probing about the feelings that the young women really have about doing it,” said Peggy Kreshel, an associate professor of advertising in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. “Are the girls really having fun when they [dress up] and when they are at the game or is it just a duty or obligation to them?”