I’ve recently joined sociology and social policy at Leeds, and was previously working on a two year ESRC funded project called Dementia and Dress with Julia Twigg at Kent. This project explored the role of clothing in the daily lives of people with dementia, carers and care-workers, and implications for questions of embodiment, personhood, identity, and dignity.
We explored these issues using innovative qualitative methods including ‘wardrobe interviews’, and visual and sensory approaches which involved using fabrics, photograph albums, images and garments from different eras to prompt discussion. The project also utilised more traditional ethnography and qualitative interviews, in both care home and domestic settings.
We found that clothes can remain significant to people with dementia as part of their personal and social identities, and maintaining the ‘biographical self’. Small items of dress like handbags can be connected to memories and represent an ‘extension of the self’, or may be used to create a personal or private space within the context of the care home. However, the project also revealed tensions around dress, for instance, between types of clothing which maintain continuity of self, and those which are easier to manage in care settings.
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