Signs of Wear: Encountering Memory in the Worn Materiality of a Museum Fashion Collection

Bethan Bide

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Historical clothes are more than just examples of how past societies dressed—they are imbued with small details of individual lives in their marks of wear. This article explores how these marks evoke memories, and how setting up interactions between personal memories and the materiality of fashion objects creates opportunities for new perspectives in the field of fashion history. The article opens by considering how historians might draw on the methodologies of material culture and archival co-authorship to bring memories into collections research. In order to illustrate these ideas, the article then presents objects from the Museum of London’s fashion collection alongside the author’s own family photographs and stories to show how integrating her grandmother’s memories into her material culture research disrupted the conventional narratives of 1940s austerity fashion. The article concludes by considering how the application of memory to collections research might inform the way that fashion objects are displayed in museums. It suggests that, by focusing on the relationship between visitor memories and the small details of how a garment has been worn and used, museums could create displays which disrupt historical orthodoxies and reveal how echoes of the past continue to shape contemporary fashion cultures.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)449-476
Number of pages28
JournalFashion Theory. The Journal of Dress, Body and Culture
Issue number4
Early online date21 Feb 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Fashion
  • London
  • Memory
  • Materiality
  • museum

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