Friday, July 16, 2010

Why do Women Keep Clothes They No Longer Wear?

 Photo by Ingrid Mida 2010

The most interesting part of the book Through the Wardrobe, Women's Relationships with Their Clothes was the chapter called "Discontinued Selves: Why do Women Keep Clothes They No Longer Wear?" by Maura Banim and Ali Guy.

Like many women, I have clothes at the back of my closet that I no longer wear but simply cannot yet part with. These items embody special memories for me. That is why I read Chapter 12 of Through the Wardrobe first, before going back to reread the rest of the book.

In their introduction to the chapter, Banim and Guy mention that the relationships that women have with clothes they keep but no longer wear is one aspect of clothing "that has received little attention in the literature and when it has been mentioned it has often been in disparaging terms".

In their research they gathered and interpreted data from 15 women who:
1. provided a personal account that reflected their interest in clothes
2. kept a clothing diary for 2 weeks
3. participated in an interview alongside their wardrobes

Some notable quotes from the women participating in this research included the following:

"They've got histories to them...and that makes them more difficult to get rid of." Pam

"Really I don't wear these clothes - I just kind of keep them". Julie

"There's nothing really wrong with it - it just isn't me." Jill

"I've got one item at the moment that I absolutely hate and I can't bring myself to throw it out because I've only recently bought it." Helen

"I keep thinking that's a lovely dress but I'll never wear it." Sheila

"I have enjoyed wearing it but the colour's not right at the moment, it's out of fashion but I can see myself coming back to it." Wendy

"I have two hideous nighties which I never wear. I keep them in case I have to go to the hospital." Deborah

"This drawer is full of things my mother has knitted. I'm quite ashamed of all the things I don't wear. Where do you put things that your mother knit but you didn't wear?" Sheila

These particular quotes highlight some of the reasons that women keep clothes they no longer wear:
* memories or association with a particular event, person, or identity;
* the cost or quality of the item;
* the chance that the item might come back in style or be appropriate in presenting a particular image.

In their conclusion, Banim and Guy state:
"Kept clothes are not only tangible reminders of past identities but, more importantly, they provide a set of symbolic links across women's past, present and future identities. Women's decisions about keeping these clothes and the status of these clothes are often ambiguous as the meanings associated with them are often complex....We found that kept clothes can enable a woman to remember who she was, who she could be, and who she wants to continue being. Some of these items also help her establish who she isn't or who she doesn't want to be". (page 216)

The researchers suggested that this a field ripe for more study. They wondered if "throwing out these clothes represent a woman's decision to let go of part of herself". 

Please share your thoughts on this subject by participating in the blog poll or leaving a comment.

This post also gives me a chance to remind readers about my Memories of a Dress project . I am attempting to collect memories associated with a special dress or outfit worn by yourself or a female relative. To participate, please leave a comment or email me at

And if you are ready to let go of your special items and are looking for a good home, please consider donating them to Seneca College Fashion Resource Centre in Toronto. For more information, please see my post Hidden Treasures or contact Dale Peers, Coordinator at