Today’s interview for the ‘Lockdown Clothing’ project is with Felice McDowell. Felice is an Associate Lecturer in Fashion History and Theory at Central Saint Martins, and in Cultural and Historical Studies at London College of Fashion, UAL. She lives in North London with her husband and sister. Currently she is researching and writing her forthcoming monograph Fashioning the Model Girl of 1960s Britain: Histories, Narratives, Lives and Memories (Bloomsbury 2021). You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.
1) Thinking back through what you have worn since you’ve been staying at home, what has been your favourite item of clothing and why?
As I write this, the UK has been in ‘official’ lockdown for just over 8 weeks now, and associated restrictions were slightly altered in mid-May. This passage of time has seen me go through different phases of dressing and ‘favourite’ items of clothing. There were the comfortable yoga pants I wore incessantly for the first three or four weeks. When it was chilly I clung to my black boiled wool wrapover cardigan like a comfort blanket. And as I grew more used to the routine pattern of living in ‘Lockdown’ Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons have become regular slots of time in which I feel confident to venture into the more ‘showy’, and therefore for me exciting and exacting, parts of my wardrobe. Yet, thinking back over this period the item of adornment that has been most consistent, even though not always on ‘show’, has been the nail varnish I have worn on my toenails, specifically Chanel ‘Rouge Noir’ nail polish.
2) Has your approach to fashion and style changed as a result of the current situation?
I find that my approach, as such, has not greatly changed, rather, and perhaps somewhat oddly, I have been able to explore further aspects that already informed elements of my personal style and preferences in fashion, including practices that likely come under the term ‘Beauty’. For example I already have short hair, but long desired to experiment with a buzz cut, which I now have thanks to my sister and a handy pair of clippers. Boredom, a sense of enduring limbo, and overwhelming restlessness tends to incite a ‘devil may care’ attitude in me. At the same time I have become more willing to routinely take care of parts of my self and body, such as my feet and toes, which under other circumstances, I can ignore for months on end.
3) What were the social situations that you routinely found yourself in before the quarantine? And how did you dress for them?
Social situations, for which I would make an effort in terms of dressing, are mostly concerned with ‘work’ or with ‘pleasure’. As a lecturer and academic working within the arena of fashion history and theory there is an inevitable awareness concerning apparel of dress and, personally, I enjoy expressing aspects of my identity through different kinds of apparel. More pleasurable scenarios involve dressing for occasions with friends, family, and colleagues, which more often than not will take place in public settings. That being said over the years I have also become accustomed to the relative ‘feast and famine’ of social situations that organise the yearly academic calendar. Thus I usually begin to voluntary ‘self-isolate’ at the beginning of late Spring and into the Summer in terms of working mainly from home on research projects and writing and so in a sense I am also used to the extended periods of dressing for, and working from, home.
4) What are the social situations you find yourself in now (even if remotely), and how do you dress for them?
Despite my yearly experience of ‘scholarly’ self-imposed self-isolation ‘Lockdown’ is tangibly different. I am a member of a local Yoga Studio and previously I had not really appreciated the benefits, aside from the physical, that this form of regular contact with a community of sorts brings. Practicing both Yoga and Barre involves a lot of looking at one’s own feet and hands and I strongly suspect that my desire to wear nail colour on my toes is greatly informed by this! The Studio began streaming live Zoom classes a few weeks into the ‘Lockdown’, and working with a laptop that continually shifts its position throughout a session often means seeing ones feet and toes at a variety of new angles via the inbuilt webcam. Thus I find that aside from taking care of my feet I am also concerned with adorning them in a certain way, with certain shades and colours, that I can then see in both the private space of my own room and then online, reflected back to me in a digital mirror that others can also see.
5) How much does the space you are in influence your choice of clothes? Do some clothes feel “unnatural” to wear at home because they require, say, a bigger space, or is this not a consideration at all?
In many ways ‘space’ evidently does inform one’s choice of clothes, particularly if we are thinking about differences between what we, the wearers of clothes, perceive to be ‘private’ or ‘public’ space; the activities and practices we are doing within these spaces; who is there to see us; and what we want to communicate about ourselves via the medium of dress and other items of adornment, such as makeup and nail polish. However, as time continues to pass at this strange pace, I have become more aware of how, indeed, ‘time’ and ‘space’ are often co-constructive in our choice of clothes. In ‘Lockdown’ we are all developing new and adapted routines of living and dressing, and sometimes these routines are punctuated with ‘events’, both, from outside and within. It is now nearing the end of May and my birthday is in June and I am wondering what can I wear in order to celebrate this particular, and personal, passing of time at a time when a sense of self and individual identity can seem sometimes so overwhelmingly insignificant, yet, also remains ever so important, all at once.
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.