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Clothing and Memory

detail/button from a Regency frock coat - Worthing museum store

“The physicist William Tiller has demonstrated that thoughts can change the chemical nature of things and the space surrounding them. It is very likely then, that our clothing contains a record of our feelings, our greatest happiness’s and our saddest moments".

This tiny extract is from an article I came across on, titled Fashion and Memory, written by an author who calls herself just Christine.

I'm fascinated by the idea that our clothes absorb our memories; as if the latter became woven into the former, thread forming the warp of the fabric of a garment and memory its weft. It's an idea that informs my work and all the Pieces produced by the House of Embroidered Paper (HoEP).

When I was in my mid twenties I was lucky enough to be able to live for a year in a rented flat in the very beautiful Palmeria square, Hove. In the bedroom of this flat there were some very small built in cupboards and an area of hanging space. The latter was about 40cms wide! Really it was a very strange sort of a wardrobe, too narrow to be of any real use. The double futon bed I had at the time took up most of the available floor space so introducing another piece of furniture was out of the question. In the end I came up with the idea of hammering picture hooks into the walls, roughly evenly spaced, in a horizontal line around the room. From these I proceeded to hang my clothes (on hangers). It's true that I concentrated on making sure I hung up the most attractive garments in my wardrobe, those that need the most care taken of them, those likely to crease. This meant that what I had to look at from bed were those pieces more likely to have been worn to memorable life-events, parties, evenings out, seasonal celebrations, or on dates for example; everyday pieces tending to have been left in a pile or over a chair. Nevertheless I would sometimes wake in the half dark, look at the silhouettes around me and feel as if I'd been asleep at the centre of a party of twenty-something skinny women; who each had something of me about them. Only something of me, that is, because their various appearances meant that on the occasions I'd worn each I'd have been making a particular type of impression; usually subtly, but just occasionally radically, changing the impression of myself I was presenting to the world as I moved through it in that moment.

The memory of that bedroom, of sleeping as if inside my wardrobe, surrounded by it, has something of the quality of a scene from A Midsumers Night Dream about it in my head now, looking back/remembering; as if I'd been sleeping in a glade. It's as if ephemeral embodied/disembodied impressions of a person, versions of myself, surrounded me each night as I lay there, overlaying and overlapping each other on the walls of my mind as they had over time on the surface of my skin.

In her article Christine goes on to say: "In the future it may be possible to reconstruct the emotions and lifestyle of a person from their clothing. DNA can already be extracted from blood, skin and hair follicles – soon it may be possible to sample hormones, pheromones even amino acids from the analysis of sweat embedded within the fibres of a garment to recreate the emotions, character and intentions of the owner of a piece of clothing. More subtle technology may reveal what perfume you were wearing and what road you travelled along. Clothing and personal possessions may be the focus and inspiration of the museums of the future. The three dimensional archives of the emotional ephemera of our past creating a multi sensory virtual history tour of the future. Churchill’s cigar butt would perhaps recount witty anecdotes on vital decisions of World War II, Florence Nightingale’s bonnet would evoke the stench and horror of the Crimean War, teddy bears would speak of years of love and generations of cuddles and I’m not even going to mention lingerie. Anyway I’m off to spend happy moments with my favourite party frock...”

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