Burcikova, Milada (2019) Mundane Fashion: Women, Clothes and Emotional Durability. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

This research investigates emotional durability of clothing through the lens of a designer-maker practice. The current discourse on fashion futures urgently recognizes that a deeper understanding of the behavioural drivers behind long-term use of clothing is critical in order to move beyond symptom based solutions to fashion and sustainability such as closed loop recycling and technological innovation. A considerable body of work exists on design strategies for emotional durability. However, empirical evidence that examines their relationship to users’ everyday experiences with clothing is missing.

I set to remedy this gap through my own designer-maker practice that investigated women’s routine relationships with the clothes in their wardrobes. Focusing specifically on what matters in everyday use, I examine the possible applications of emotionally durable design in fashion design and making. This approach challenges the imperative of disposability in fashion and foregrounds instead a long-term value-creation enabled through the continuous use of familiar clothes.

The thesis structure has three interrelated elements that outline the linear narrative of the research as well as the conceptual and methodological developments. The first part of the thesis outlines the global challenges in fashion production and consumption. The second part introduces and applies ethnographic methods to understanding the sensory wardrobe, and the third concluding stage includes the findings and practical application in the One Thing Collection. Conceptually, the thesis moves from comprehending the macro towards a practical application in the micro.

The methodology employs a combination of practical explorations through designer-maker practice with in-depth wardrobe conversations. Adopting methods from narrative enquiry and sensory ethnography, ten women aged between 29-69 were interviewed in their homes. Rich imagery of clothes in use and extended excerpts of wardrobe conversations are essential components of the thesis ethos, these became framed as individual portraits of each of the women. It is stressed that these portraits
are significant to the research findings presented in the thesis; the portraits are presented in the Appendices as the nature of sensory ethnography results in details of visual and textual data beyond the confines of the thesis.

The findings show that designable characteristics of garments such as shape, style, fit, colour, material, details, or easy care are all significant in contributing to a garment’s emotional durability. However, a truly long-lasting relationship with a piece of clothing results from a complex dynamic between its design, the mode of its acquisition, expectations, fluctuation of personal circumstances, and each woman’s perspective on the relationship between continuity and change. The key insights are articulated through the four themes identified in thematic cross-case analysis of the wardrobe conversations: (1) Enablers, (2) Sensory experiences, (3) Longing and Belonging, and lastly (4) Layering. Each theme is also interpreted through the process of making a corresponding everyday garment that captures the essence of the women’s narratives.

This research contributes to the current discourse on emotional durability in fashion design and making and provides new contextual data on user experience of clothing; [See Chapter 7.3 Contribution to knowledge summarized, p. 300]. The research demonstrates that fashion design for emotional durability requires an empathic approach that readily embraces the complexity of everyday life as an opportunity, rather than a hindrance to creative expression. These conclusions are also now embodied in my studio practice with future development of the One Thing Collection that resulted from this thesis.

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