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    Wardrobes and Soundtracks: Women’s Narratives of Youth, Experienced and Remembered through Dress and Music

    Jenkinson, Jo Kate (2023) Wardrobes and Soundtracks: Women’s Narratives of Youth, Experienced and Remembered through Dress and Music. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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    The thesis connects styled dress and music listening as youth cultural practices. It examines how dress and music act as memory resources, as conduits or companions to personal and collective experiences of youth. The study centred around women’s narratives of participation in youth culture, and the multi-sensory, cross-temporal experience of remembering youth in the present. Focused on the period 1950 to 2000, the research is framed as post-war and preinternet, when fashion and recorded music became widely available for young women, but before the spread of digital access. Youth was understood by the participants not as an age range, or a transition to adulthood, but as the time when they could access and participate in youth culture. The study transcended subcultural youth groupings, although some spectacular or alternative dress and music choices were included, to foreground everyday youth culture. In doing so, the female presence was made visible, questioning gender-biased assumptions about participation. Women were found to engage in both public (the dance hall, the café, the rally) and private spaces (family homes), extending the geographies of female youth culture. The reflexive methodology relied on creative, narrative methods. Ten female participants from Northern England each prepared a ‘memory toolkit’ including clothing, snapshots of styled dress and music playlists for a ‘Wardrobe and Soundtrack Interview’. This sensory interaction revealed how dress and music inhabit the body in material and imagined forms, capturing narratives of participation in youth culture, and the re-experiencing of youth through imaginative remembering. The mnemonic extension of the toolkit and the vivid memories of dress and music drawn upon in the mind, are conceptualised as the ‘memory wardrobe’ and ‘memory soundtrack’. These memory resources enabled the formation of the participants’ youth stories presented in the thesis. Dress and music, experienced and remembered, were found to support biographical consistency, acting as markers or connectors to specific events or life periods. The critical density of dress and music experiences in youth forge trans-temporal connections between past and present, providing personal affirmation or validation, as what I have called ‘tokens of youth’. Dress and music are both multi-temporal and cross the private and public sphere. As biographical objects that share our lives, they age themselves and reflect our own ageing over time. The research found that dress and music, as embodied youth practices, share the ability to connect emotion and memory. Creative remembering provided opportunities for the imagination to override facts to create new meanings and emotional resonance. The thesis contributes to academic fields that acknowledge dress or music as biographical markers and emerging youth literature that argues for a focus on postyouth but takes a new stance, with youth as a dynamic touchpoint to which we return though dress and music across time. The thesis synthesises dress, music, youth and memory studies to reveal how through dress and music – youth lives with us.

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