Least Wanted: Unsaleable Dress

Activity: External talk or presentationOral presentation


TV ‘tidying guru’ Marie Kondo currently advises her viewers to go through their wardrobes and dispose of items that do not ‘spark joy’. In such a process of ‘secondhandedness’, discarded items move through a series of ‘doors’ (Hetherington, 2004) to find new owners and – ideally - to spark joy elsewhere. This process of devaluing and revaluing can be a complex global process, where goods circulate through a wide range of sites and meanings, as researchers from Thompson (1979) and Gregson and Crewe (2003) to Palmer and Clark (2005) have shown. But what becomes of garments that spark joy in no-one? What of those abject articles at the end of the line that can’t be sold? What are the cultural characteristics of items of dress that cannot be given away?

There has been a recent flurry of interest among researchers seeking to understand the worn, dirty and distressed in design (see, for example, Fashion Unraveled: Memory, Wear and Imperfection in Dress, FIT, 2018). The pursuit of this paper is to look beyond the storied romance of secondhand garments’ patina effects and social biographies to examine the cultural values of clothes that have reached the end of their worn lives. To do this, the paper follows the microcosmic cycle of textile turnover in the space of a busy British house clearance company, whose high-speed modus operandi moves garments, in less than a week, out of wardrobes and into the domain of dealers and consumers, through the secondhand system and its declining scales of value, until garments are given away for free. What remains unwanted at the end of this process is culturally marked by many rejecting hands and constitutes the lowest ebb of utility and desirability, reduced to rubbish and rags.
Period5 Sept 20197 Sept 2019
Held atDesign History Society, United Kingdom
Degree of RecognitionInternational