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Wearing in memory: Materiality and oral histories of dress

Slater, A (2014) Wearing in memory: Materiality and oral histories of dress. Critical Studies in Fashion & Beauty, 5. ISSN 2040-4417

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Abstract

This article considers materiality in relation to memories of dress and explores why women remember the materiality of clothes they no longer wear or even no longer own. The focus is on two historical case studies of specific garments collected through primary interviews undertaken as part of my doctoral research. One, a black silk-velvet dress, belonged to Mary who had kept the skirt of the garment, with its signs of wear and physical material traces of use. It was bound up with memories of her late brother, who paid for the dress before his death on active service in World War II, and her late husband and their early lives together. Doris’ sister made the other dress for her 21st birthday in 1942. Doris had not kept this cotton-organdie dress, but this decision was full of regret. In her case, retaining memories of the materiality of the garment and the occasion when it was first worn had become a substitute for the garment itself. Both oral histories reveal the significance of materiality at the time a garment is worn and in how dress wears in and on our memories.

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