Fiona Jane Candy
Department of Design, University of Central Lancashire
Today denim is ubiquitous: it provides a staple ingredient of everyday urban clothing for men, women and children in the UK; worn by the fashionable and the unfashionable across all social boundaries, and yet paradoxically, the popular perception of denim continues to be of personal qualities and of individuality.
Most people choose their clothes to stand out just enough so they can feel like individuals, but from within the safety of a group. Denim’s popularity appears to owe much to physical properties that allow it to mould to the idiosyncrasies of the human form, to reveal and define the body: the mass manufactured fabric becomes mysteriously human over time, gradually personalised until a garment appears to signify the life of its owner.
This project aimed to better understand the social and emotional affect of denim (supported by a Small Grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, ‘The Fabric of Society’, 2003-2004) and asked the following inter-related research questions:
- how does it feel to wear denim i.e. what is its actual appeal?
- what other kinds of meaning can be attributed to the wearing of denim beyond those referred to by the current paradigm of ‘fashion’?
- how do we see denim reflected in the eyes of others?
- what research methods are relevant for such an enquiry?
- how can a deeper understanding of denim as a sensory experience extend our knowledge of the design of industrially manufactured artefacts in general?
Project methodology included the use of video, photography, illustration and qualitative interviews:
Still taken from video interviews
Photo documentation of denim as a ‘taxonomy of the body’
Drawing on social stereotypes: the Body Dictionary
Stop frame digital video techniques used to capture ‘haptic gestures’ and the role that denim clothing plays in animating the body
In 2004 an exhibition called ‘Personal Uniform’, presented project themes to researchers and the public, by bringing together video, photography and style categorisation. It asked the audience to participate, and to supply their own opinions about the complex social meanings of a personal uniform. Venue: PR1 Gallery, Preston, UK. April–May 2004.
For more details about the research methodology and outcomes of this project refer to:
‘The Fabric of Society: using visual methods to investigate the experience of wearing denim clothing’ (2005) Candy, F. J. in Sociological Research Online, vol 10 (1).