The following is a paper I wrote for my Abnormal Psychology class here at the College of Wooster.

Drag Shopping: A look at how people react to abnormal dress in a grocery store.

I conducted my experiment to see how average people react to a cross-dressing man. I think that many people, especially in an area like Wooster, Ohio, would feel uncomfortable with such an unusual site. Although I have done no formal research, Wooster seems to be a rather conservative town, though it cannot be that narrow minded due to the college. I expected to receive several strange looks, stares, maybe some snide comments, and probably laughter as well. When I walked downstairs from my room in my house one of my fraternity brothers burst out laughing. I also figured that I might just be treated as an oddity, similar to a man walking down a city street holding a duck. I hypothesize that while it is no problem for a woman to cut her hair short, wear no makeup, and wear pants, it’s still tough on men who put on makeup and wear skirts or dresses or other things that would classify them as the male equivalent of a tom-boy.



The participants consisted of whoever was in Beuler’s at the time of my shopping. I have to estimate somewhere in between 30 to 50 people saw me, and I noticed the reactions of about 15-20 people. They ranged from young children, approximately 8 years old, to the elderly, approximately in their mid 70’s. The majority of people were females, ranging in age from early thirties to early fifties. This played a factor into my results, for I think women would be more likely to make silent remarks, such as glances or turning away, while men would be more vocal.

To conduct this experiment I barrowed a dress from a friend of mine, nothing too fancy, nothing that would stand out in a large crowd. I picked a long plain black dress that came down to above my ankles and was not low cut. I wanted to convey that I did this often, and it was not a big deal. I didn’t choose anything that was bright, frilly, or sequined for many people do not buy groceries in such outfits. I did not wear my hat, but wore the sandals I usually wear. I also did not put on any makeup, lipstick or anything else of the sort, nor did I spend a long time on my hair. I had it how I usually have it when I’m not wearing my hat, combed forward, with a little flip at the front. I also had on a sweater which I barrowed from the same girl. As she put it, I looked “cute.” To time the experiment I used the clock on the dashboard of my car. I checked it before I exited, and when I came back into my vehicle. I also had a black purse, which I had over my left shoulder. For my control I wore my own clothing. I wore sandals, long cargo pants, a white t-shirt and a button down shirt with the sleeves rolled up. I also had on my fraternity hat.


Both for my control and experiment, I parked my car in the parking lot, walked into the store, searched for the items I needed, paid and went back to my car. The only change in procedure between the control and the experiment were the items I bought. I tried to stick to normal items for both the experiment and control. For the control I went in and purchased milk, flour, butter, pancake mix and six apples. For the experiment I procured six bagels, cream cheese, cranberry juice, a box of instant oatmeal and some cookies. I purposefully tried to avoid any foods that could be used for purposes other than eating, such as whip cream, jelly and syrup. Both times I tried not to dawdle too long in the store, and I kept my mood cheery. I entered the store each time around 3:20 pm.

Results and Discussion

I noticed several differences in behavior between the experiment and control. During the control no one reacted adversely to my presence. In fact, I was a little bummed that no one really seemed to care about me. I was able to walk into the store, do my shopping, purchase the goods and leave with no hassle, nor any weird looks. The cashier didn’t make any chitchat, just ringed up my items, bagged them, gave me the change and receipt and said “have a good day,” the same thing they say to everyone else. However the experiment was different. I noticed one man, estimated about sixty years old, giving me strange glances before I even made it into the store. Once inside I noticed a few more odd glances. I noted no drastic responses such as people walking by and calling me a freak or other such offensive and harsh comments, thankfully. I shopped normally, and tried not to make it seem like I was studying them as most of them were obviously studying me. The oddest response I received was from the cashier, who, this time was a young blonde girl, approximately 16 years old. She chatted and even found it humorous that I was wearing a dress. I made some small talk with her while she rung up my purchases. I did not tell anyone that I was doing this for a class assignment, as I felt that would ruin or corrupt my data. I also noticed that some of the other employees gave me strange looks. One woman, while I was waiting in the checkout line did a double take, apparently unsure of the situation and how she should act/react. All in all, I feel that my hypothesis was supported. I expected people to act in the ways that they did. The only real surprise was the cashier, who seemed to not mind at all. If I did this study again I would have another person with me to do the observations, though I would not have them walk next to me as I shopped. I would have them act like another customer doing his or her own shopping, but follow me around to note reactions and other responses. I found it hard to study other people and not make it seem like I was, although many reactions were blatantly obvious. I didn’t feel too bad shopping in drag. I found the clothing rather comfortable and the responses were what I had expected. Having worn black throughout most of high school and being involved in the drama department there, I was used to odd glances and being stared at (it’s hard being on stage if you don’t like being looked at). I treated this as another performance, nothing that was that special.

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