Priorities, inclusions and exclusions: Non-elite twentieth-century clothing in museum dress collections
University of Brighton
Year of enrolment: 2019
Priorities, Inclusions and Exclusions: Non-Elite Twentieth-Century Clothing in Museum Dress CollectionsWhat can an examination of holdings of twentieth-century clothing within three key dress collections, along with the assessment of collecting policies and practices, reveal about the priorities, inclusions and exclusions of fashion collecting in museums? Buckley and Clark state that: ‘One of the outcomes of researching fashion in everyday life is to become keenly aware of the paucity of the ordinary not just in fashion’s historical discourses but also in museum collections.’ (2017, loc 656). This object-based research will test out and substantiate assertions that museums have tended to collect elite clothing neglecting wider dress practices. It will clarify the definition of elite and non-elite clothing in relation to social status, production and consumption. It aims to develop new knowledge for dress and design history as well as for museums and collecting theory and practice. The outcomes will inform collections management, development and policy.
The research will combine object-based case studies of individual garments with quantitative data from collection surveys, supported by other sources such as museum archives and minutes of meetings. Oral history interviews with past and present curators, volunteers and visitors will provide further qualitative data with which to explore institutional histories. Interviews will also seek to determine if there are personal, institutional and /or geographical biases in terms of what “should” and “should not” be collected. Consideration will be given to the practical, financial and historiographical issues faced by museums and the social, cultural and political context will be explored. Compiling data from three institutions with significant, but distinctive, dress collections and collecting policies will provide a bigger picture and will explore how policies and practices of collecting have led to differing priorities, inclusions and exclusions.