Lockdown Clothing: Clare’s story

Today’s interview in the ‘Lockdown Clothing’ project is with Clare Rose. Clare is a fashion historian, trained as a museum curator, working as a Senior Lecturer in Fashion Theory, and lecturing at the V&A Museum. A wearer of vintage clothes since the 1970s, her research in the historic and contemporary practices of the garment industry has confirmed her desire to consume ethically.

1) Can you describe what your personal style was like before lockdown?

For me, my wardrobe is a form of embodied memory. Of course it contains some classic pieces – dark trousers, neutral polo necks and shirts, jewel toned cardigans – purchased from selected stores and worn for five years or more. But these are worn alongside items made by myself, bought from charity shops or from ethnographic textile dealers – or even inherited. Some of these one-offs are relatively low key, suitable for office wear (a Clothkits skirt with a photo album motif made when I was working on an archive project, a dress in indigo print brought back from South Africa) while others are statement pieces for gallery openings, or for weekends at music festivals. Statement pieces may only be worn once or twice a year – but over the 20 or 30 years I keep them that works out as a fair amount of use.

Putting on my ‘Mother Christmas’ dress (1960s emerald green wool with rabbit fur trim) or my ‘autumn’ blouse (brown Liberty print made to a 1970s pattern from my mother) is a ritual that marks the seasons. This wardrobe strategy cuts out the need for much shopping, but increases the amount of maintenance required – handwashing, mending and careful packing away of wool garments to preserve them from moths over the summer. There is also a careful calculation of weather or occasion merits shortening the life of a particularly delicate or precious piece (the silk gauze shirt worn by my grandfather in the 1920s; the flowered 1960s shirt dress I’ve had since the 1970s).

2) What types of clothing do you wear most often now?

In February 2020 I was semi-retired, lecturing on fashion history at the V&A – for which I wore ‘statement’ pieces, or at least statement accessories – and the rest of the time at home in leisure neutrals. I was enjoying a new heavy purple corduroy skirt made from a piece of fabric I found in the attic – fabric I had originally purchased to make a skirt in 1995, but for some reason with a good metre of excess, just enough to make a second garment. On cold days I would wear it with an Aran sweater knitted by my mother in the late 1960s. When lectures were cancelled in March there was no longer any need for professional clothes. The seasonal change from winter to spring wardrobe in April took on a valedictory quality; as I packed away wool skirts and sweaters I wondered when they would be needed next, and whether some old stalwarts might be ready for retirement.

3) What were the social situations that you routinely found yourself in before the quarantine? And how did you dress for them?

As the calendar of cancellations rolled forwards to May, June and July the dreadful realisation struck that there would be no music festivals this year. I was glad to have spent two months festival hopping last summer, travelling round France and Belgium by train with instrument and camping gear. Packing for this trip was a challenge – I refined my wardrobe down to two roll sacks and three pairs of shoes (plus extra garments brought along by my husband when we met up for a fortnight together). I needed pieces that would be cool enough for campsites at 30, for dancefloors at 35 – and pieces that would be warm enough for camping at 8. Pieces comfortable enough to dance in, but not too revealing. Pieces bright enough for a festival, but not too garish for visiting historic towns. And of course washable by hand in a campsite sink! Silk base layers, cotton and linen garments, (old) cashmere jumpers did the trick, in a palette of turquoise, pink and white.

4) What are the social situations you find yourself in now (even if remotely), and how do you dress for them?

I still have my festival clothes – but will I wear them for camping under the apple tree in my garden? Or for the online wedding of musician friends? Instead I’m turning to pieces that are comfortable but slightly offbeat – the indigo print Austrian dirndl found in a charity shop, the shalwar kameez my husband brought from India. For Zoom meetings I might put on a silk shirt, for dancing to livestreamed music a festival skirt, but otherwise my wardrobe is in limbo, waiting to see what new ways of living emerge from the crisis.

5) Is there anything you feel you can wear now that you couldn’t in ‘normal’ times? Why?

Since I drafted this piece the main garments preoccupying me have been scrubs – scrubs cut out of duvet covers on the spare room floor, scrubs stitched on the dining table, scrubs from other stitchers left on the doorstep, scrubs packaged up for local care homes in the hallway. After this is over, will we all wear scrubs?

If you’d like to take part in the project yourself, you can find all the information you need in the blog post entitled ‘Lockdown Clothing: a project documenting how we dress at home‘ dated 17th May 2020.

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