Fashion Talk at Intimacies, Families and Practices of Consumption

Last Friday, the 1st February 2013, I attended and presented at the British Sociological Association (BSA) conference Intimacies, Families and Practices of Consumption. It was a combined meeting of the British Sociological Association’s Families and Relationships and Leisure and Recreation study groups, neither of which I had been involved with before, but both of which I hope to be involved with in the future. I talked about my PhD work, focusing on my qualitative findings to date on the rationalisations of mothers buying second-hand baby things; how they balance the risks of buying used items with their pre-inscribed biographies, against the financial gain.

The presentations were diverse as everyone interpreted the theme in different ways, yet all were equally fascinating making for a highly stimulating day. I particularly enjoyed the papers which focused on social mobility and social capital, something which fascinates me in academia (and real life – indeed social capital IS real life) but is too complex to go into here. A couple of papers touched on fashion, one more explicitly than the other.

Sophie Woodward, University of Manchester, presented her paper ‘Cupboards, Lofts and Shelves: The Hidden Lives of Domestic Things’. Going into people’s homes and getting them to talk about their things, Sophie realised the distinction between things which are ‘unused’ and things which are ‘dormant’ or ‘at rest’. We might not use something for years, it isn’t useful in our daily lives, yet we hang onto it for its potential use. Sophie states that our belongings have three states: active, inactive and dormant. Dormant items have a value and place in the home, other than use. This is why we hang onto clothes we haven’t worn for years, because one day they might be wanted again. They have the potential to come back into fashion, to fit, to be loved once more.

Another particularly emotive paper was presented by Katherine Appleford, University of the Arts London, whose title was ‘Shop with Mother: Class Distinctions in Mother-Daughter Fashion Consumption and Fashion Tastes’. Now, I love my mum, and I love fashion, and the two together hold a number of memories. The trips to MK One as a child, the first high heels I bought and how mum thought they made me look too old but still let me wear them, the birthday outfits and Christmas outfits and matching outfits (we both had very similar sheep jumpers at one point).

Through ethnography and interviews, Katherine explored this relationship for her PhD project, using fashion as a route to consider deeper mother/daughter relationships, ties and tensions. Focusing on class differences, she found that working-class mothers work in a collaborative way and often share clothes, whilst middle-class mothers take on more of a gate-keepers role, being more deeply concerned with how their daughter’s are perceived in the world. She also touched upon issues to do with body confidence and hang-ups, putting the limelight on the fact that fashion is never just about clothes, but about identity, portrayal and self-assurance.

All in all a great day, followed by a trip to meet the Rtister team, but I’ll save that story for another day.

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