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Clothes at Rest: Elements for a Sociology of the Wardrobe Saulo B. Cwerner

Clothes at Rest: Elements for a Sociology of the Wardrobe Saulo B. Cwerner

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07/14/2010

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79
Clothes at Rest: Elements for a Sociology of the Wardrobe
Fashion Theory 
, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp.79–92Reprints available directly from the Publishers.Photocopying permitted by licence only.©2001 Berg. Printed in the United Kingdom.
Clothes at Rest:Elements for aSociology of theWardrobe
There is a noticeable and significant gap in the vast literature on fashionand clothing across the social sciences and the humanities. Whatever theanalytical focus or theoretical perspective employed, it is almost invariablytaken for granted that clothes are being worn: they are viewed as existingoutside, in the open, and
in movement 
. However, for most of their usefullives, clothes are stored away, unseen, even forgotten: in short, clothes“spend” most of their time
at rest 
. They are left in particular places, eitherreadily available, at hand, or lost in the deep recesses of the wardrobe.This article endeavors to redress this situation to some degree by look-ing closely at the wardrobe. The word “wardrobe” has two separate,although interrelated, meanings: it refers to the total set of clothes that
Saulo B. Cwerner
Saulo B. Cwerner was born inBrazil where he studied SocialSciences at the University of São Paulo. He has an MA inCultural Studies and a Ph.D. inSociology from the Universityof Lancaster, England, wherehe is currently a part-time tutor.With published articles on thesubjects of time, migration,and cosmopolitanism, he hasalso been writing on fashion,consumption, identity, andmaterial culture.
IMAGE AVAILABLEONHARDCOPY 
 
80
Saulo B. Cwerner
an individual person (group or organization) has, as well as to theconstructed physical space where clothes are stored. I am chiefly concernedwith the latter meaning here. Storage units for clothes and bodilyaccessories do come in various forms, shapes and sizes: dressing rooms,fitted or free-standing wardrobes, chests of drawers, ottoman chests,storage boxes, tables, etc. For the sake of simplicity, however, I will usethe term
wardrobe
to refer to such diversity. However, although thewardrobe is more readily understood as a definite object, I wish to arguethat it also commands a set of distinctive and identifiable
spatial practices
:forms of structuring, delimiting, and organizing clothes, as well as thesocial meanings and identities articulated by these forms. Therefore,singular wardrobes or wardrobe spaces will be understood as elementsin a complex web of 
wardrobe practices
that I wish to analyze. It is mycontention that these practices should form a fundamental dimension of dress and fashion theories, one that has received scant attention so far.
1
This article provides a tentative theoretical formulation about themeanings and spaces of wardrobes
 
in everyday dress practices. I wish toshow that the storage habits and procedures associated with clothes areintimately related to the meanings, functions, and identities activatedby dress and fashion. The wardrobe articulates, both spatially andtemporally, a set of material and symbolic practices that are fundamentalfor the constitution of selfhood, identity, and well-being.
Clothes Behind Doors
In this section, I spell out some of the reasons why the wardrobe has beenneglected by dress and fashion theories, and why we should take this mostinconspicuous object seriously. In his analyses of the presentation of the self in public situations, Goffman spoke of 
identity kits.
These,according to him, consist in various objects such as clothes and make-upequipment, but also
an accessible, secure place to store these suppliesand tools
(Goffman 1965: 246). This insightful proposition, that theaccoutrements of the self include spaces and objects that are not necessarilyon display for others, has remained largely undeveloped in social andcultural theory. Identity, we are so frequently told, is what one carriesaround; it is related to what one
appears
to be. But many, if not most,objects and signs that people use in order to express social meaning andidentities (individuality, social class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, sub-culture, age, and so on)
have
to be stored away somehow when they arenot in use. Indeed, we live in an era when social and cultural identitieshave become complex, multiple, dynamic and, to some extent, strategic(Hall 1990). In such a context, people need a safely stored
 pool 
of identitytokens to choose from in their weekly, daily, and even hourly changes of self-presentation. Clothes and other body adornments, of course, are atthe center of this pool.
 
81
Clothes at Rest: Elements for a Sociology of the Wardrobe
The conceptual invisibility of wardrobes is best revealed by the factthat theories of fashion have focused almost exclusively on
why
peopledress the way they do, while very little has been said about
how
theymanage to get dressed in the first place. To put it in other words, theemphasis has been on the communicative aspect of clothes, with a veil of silence thrown over the taken-for-granted spatial practices that underpinthe sartorial system. How people acquire clothes is a theme that hasoccasionally been discussed: shopping in department stores or second-hand bazaars, for instance, has a lot to do with people
s identities andsocial positions. However, the relationship between fashion as a codesystem and the provision and circulation of clothes through variousmarket-places, social networks, and individual households is still to befully documented and theorized.Theories of fashion have also insisted on the intimate relationshipbetween body and dress. Craik, for instance, has written that
codes of dress are technical devices which articulate the relationship between aparticular body and its lived milieu, the space occupied by bodies andconstituted by bodily actions
(Craik 1994: 4). And Calefato has simplyargued that fashion is nothing less than
the body
s appearing in theworld
(Calefato 1997: 71). But it is generally assumed that bodies arealways already clothed, and that clothes only exist in so far as they arebeing donned. Craik
s lived milieu is conspicuous by the absence of thewardrobe.And yet, wardrobe practices coalesce at those particular times duringwhich individuals are typically not engaged in social interaction. Theemphasis of fashion theory on the display of clothes has made it overlookvarious rhythms and times that determine people
s dressing
and 
undress-ing practices. To be sure, many theories have highlighted the temporalityof fashion: its ephemerality (Lipovetsky 1994), transience, and obso-lescence. Indeed, fashion has often been theorized
as
process (Sproles1985), and Wargnier has more recently examined the various temporalaspects of strategies developed by fashion leaders (Wargnier 1995). How-ever, the time-scales that have found their way into fashion studies areusually those of the fashion system taken as a whole: changes in styles,materials, practices over months, years, decades or generations. What isrelatively forgotten is the daily routine and the intimate duration of choosing, changing, caring for, and disposing of one
s own, and otherpeople
s, clothes. This is one of the main reasons why we should focuson the wardrobe as a set of 
spatio-temporal 
practices that condition ourrelationship with clothes. Indeed, the modern wardrobe not only testifiesto the ephemeral character of fashion codes, but also articulates, inthe living space of the home, some of the commanding principles (orideologies) of fashion: choice, diversity, individuality, experimentation,
bricolage
.To sum up, the emphasis on (almost obsession with) display, appear-ance, presentation, communication and movement has created a certain

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