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Class, childhood and clothing: puritanism, pleasure and home production in professional families, 1900-1975

Class, childhood and clothing: puritanism, pleasure and home production in professional families, 1900-1975

Martin, Mary Clare Hewlett (2008) Class, childhood and clothing: puritanism, pleasure and home production in professional families, 1900-1975. In: Clothing childhood, fashioning society: children’s clothing in Britain in the 20th century, 16-17 Jan 2008, Foundling Museum, London, UK. (Unpublished)

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Abstract

Despite the increasing literature on children as consumers, little has been written on “cultures of clothing” in middle and upper class families in the twentieth century. This paper will examine the experiences of four generations of females from professional backgrounds, with limited spare cash, over the period 1900-1975. Its main focus will be on clothing acquired through gift exchange, or which was produced as part of the household economy, rather than through commercial retailing. A biographical approach will shed light on children’s own perceptions, or childhood memories, which are usually absent from current work. The protagonists were Peggy Kenyon (1894-1979), youngest daughter of a major-general, Mary (b. 1928) and Jocelyn Taylor (b. 1932), whose parents were doctors, Harriet and Margaret Thompson (b. 1955), children of an Anglican clergyman, and Indigo and Lucy Sparrow, whose parents were teachers and lecturers. The themes examined include “passed-on” and borrowed clothes, the sensory experience of textiles, including those used in home manufacture, the place of clothing in relationships with other household members and the peer group, and the life-cycle significance of items such as school uniforms, trousers and party clothes.

While some experiences remained remarkably similar over three generations, others were specific to fashion, demography and household composition. “Passed-on” or borrowed clothes could stimulate startlingly different reactions. Kenyon, whose father gave a large proportion of his income to charity, recalled having to wear “hideous, neutral colour, scratchy Jaeger combinations” from their cousins. Taylor wore her brother’s shorts for mountain-climbing, as she claimed trousers for girls were virtually unavailable in the 1940s. Thompson recalled the pleasure of receiving otherwise unaffordable clothes, notably denim jeans from a family of boy cousins.

This case-study will open up new fields of inquiry within twentieth-century upper-middle class household relationships and economies, and, in particular the place of clothing within the stages of childhood for female children.

Item Type: Conference or Conference Paper (Paper)
Uncontrolled Keywords: class, clothing, family, professions
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
Pre-2014 Departments: School of Education > Department of Education & Community Studies
School of Education
Related URLs:
Last Modified: 14 Oct 2016 09:09
Selected for GREAT 2016: None
Selected for GREAT 2017: None
Selected for GREAT 2018: None
URI: http://gala.gre.ac.uk/id/eprint/3387

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