Wendy Ward Researcher Blog: A Fashion For Keeping

A photo showing a section of a used shirt with comments handwritten written on in sharpie pen. The words visible include cosy, versatile, snuggly, unique, and 'my grandad's jacket'.

CCRI PhD candidate Wendy Ward has recently had two opportunities to engage the public with her developing early PhD work around clothing longevity. She shares them with us here.

About the Author

Wendy Ward is a PhD candidate at Sheffield Hallam University in Art & Design researching sustainability in fashion through the lens of people’s relationships with their clothes, and the potential for using these relationships to lengthen the time that people keep their clothes.


Do You Love Your Clothes?

At the end of last year I was invited by another Hallam student Sacha Gray to take part in Re-Fashion Fare in Doncaster, an event to celebrate ideas and skills around slower fashion. My work draws on the use of ‘wardrobe methods’, a methodological approach to studying everyday garments and garment practices*, and I decided to use the event to trial a method for finding out more about people’s loved clothes.

Related news: 7 Dec 2022 Re-Fashion Fare in Doncaster

In the chilly church hall I hung up a used shirt with the message

“Do you love your clothes?”

spelled out on the shirt’s back in black felt, set out a long roll of paper on a table with another used shirt laid beside it along with a Sharpie pen and a simple invitation:

Tell me about your favourite / most-loved garment.

Then, I waited. Would people engage with me? Would they be willing to tell me about their clothes? Would they even understand the question?

As the first few visitors arrived, people started to drift in my direction looking curious. I began to chat with people; telling them why I was there and what I was trying to do before asking:

“What’s your favourite or most-loved piece of clothing?”

That was all it took. Everyone had something to say; some wanted to chat, some just wanted to pick up the pens and write. None needed much persuasion.

I kept my questions deliberately simple and deliberately open, I wanted each individual to decide how much or how little they shared and what sort of information; the material qualities of the garment, how it makes them feel, the experiences embodied within it or the memories that it evokes. I offered people two ways to contribute:

  • by writing a paragraph about their garment on the roll of paper, or
  • by describing their garment in three words written directly onto the accompanying shirt.

‘Loved Clothes’ image from Re-Fashion Fare in Doncaster

In reality I hoped people would do both and most did.

It was encouraging to see such a broad range of people taking part: men; women; children; old and young; and I was surprised by the depth of information that people were willing to share with me (a complete stranger). I heard about special people, life-changing events, personal insecurities and troubled times. Occasionally friends wrote together about garments that were familiar to each other and had shared histories. At times it felt like these conversations were about mutual friends, not clothes.

A photo showing a section of a used shirt with comments handwritten written on in sharpie pen. The words visible include chic, queer, impractical, mum's nighty, my grandad's jacket, cosy, versatile and snuggly.

‘Loved Clothes’ image from Re-Fashion Fare in Doncaster

I think all the people I spoke to that day walked away with smiles on their faces, some saying things such as “oh it’s been so nice to think about that [garment or time] again” or “I haven’t thought about that in years” and “I’m going to get that [garment] out when I get home”.

‘Loved Clothes’ image from Re-Fashion Fare in Doncaster

I too left the event with a smile on my face, asking myself what had made it such a positive and successful experience? Was it because I was asking about favourite garments, did they immediately evoke positive feelings in people? Is it something to do with the mundane, everyday nature of clothes, that asking a question about favourites is one that almost everyone could probably answer? Were people reminded of fond memories through telling me about them? All questions that will feed back into my research as I begin to analyse the stories people shared.

Wear Your Adventure on Your Sleeve

I brought similar questions to those raised in Doncaster to Sheffield Adventure Film Festival at the beginning of March. Alongside the film festival, Joanna Rucklidge (Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design & Illustration at Hallam) organised an art and photography exhibition and asked me to take part.

The theme for this year’s festival being ‘sustainable adventuring’, I had the perfect project in mind. My faithful 14 year old North Face jacket has been used as an example of a well-worn, well-loved garment before and for this event I decided to honour it further by making a life-sized drawing of it, warts and all. My intention being to celebrate the adventures embodied in its wear, damage and repairs, using them to tell the story of my jacket.

My rationale in making a life-sized drawing of the jacket was inspired by the ethereal drawings of John Ruskin’s clothes by artist Sarah Casey, drawings which, through their making, revealed previously unknown details about some of the garments.

As this was to be a drawing of my own garment, with which I’m already intimately familiar, I set out to make a drawing as a means of communication and story-telling, and an invitation to viewers to look and think about their own outdoor garments in more details and from a different perspective.

The final drawing seems to be best described as a ‘garment-scape’: a kind of tactile textile landscape formed by a garment through its experiences. Its scale has impact as a whole, but when studied closely it reveals more detail and tells the story of a garment in the environment. It has collected the material evidence of what it and its wearer (me) have experienced. It tells a story of a relationship: me with the jacket, the jacket with its surroundings, and me with my surroundings.

The process of making the drawing felt like time travel. Working my way around the garment-scape of my jacket, my pen marked its borders. Then, using a continuous line technique and frottage to fill in the details, my eye and hand meandered over, through and along the jacket’s hills, valleys and cloughs by way of folds, creases and tucks, reliving the detail of our shared history.

My everyday experience of this jacket has become one of ambivalence: taking for granted my appreciation of the fit and functionality, paying little attention to why or how it manages to achieve this. I automatically reach for it to take the dog for a walk; knowing it will keep me warm and dry, enjoying the ease with which I can pull up the strip of leather which replaced the broken zip pull even while wearing gloves, getting annoyed at the broken pocket zip and chastising myself for not fixing it.

In stark contrast to this everyday embodied experience of my jacket, the drawing provided a very material experience of almost forensic observation. To view this familiar jacket as an object in its own right, laid out on the floor for me to examine, it felt as if I was performing a kind of autopsy. I began to notice even more detail such as the recurrent red fibres trapped in the velcro – I recognised them as being from a burgundy red jumper that I used to wear for walking but hadn’t worn in a long time. I have since dug that jumper out from the depths of my wardrobe and enjoyed wearing it again.


I am left wondering if this method of life-size detailed drawing could be a tool to reconnect wearers to their clothes? To help rebuild our material knowledge from which we have become so disenfranchised through capitalism and consumerism? Could the scale of this drawing be a way to communicate visually, materially, physically, both the vast scale of the problem that fashion faces at the same time as the intimacy of our own personal connections (or lack of) to our clothes?

It is certainly confronting and hard to ignore. I am imagining what might happen if I made a drawing on this scale of every garment I own, or every ‘broken’ garment with which I want to part?

Notes & References

For ‘Wardrobe methods’, see:

Fletcher, K., Klepp, I. G., (2017), Opening Up The Wardrobe: A Methods Book, Novus Press, Oslo.
Skjold, E., (2014), The Daily Selection, PhD thesis, Copenhagen Business School (CBS), Frederiksberg.
Woodward, S., (2007), Why Women Wear What They Wear, Berg.