Dress, Masculinities and Age

 

Questions of dress are not confined to women, and I am planning to undertake further work that will explore the role of clothing in the lives of older men.

This will address the changing negotiation of masculinities in later years, using the concrete materiality of clothing to explore gender and age as day-to-day embodied practices.

It is sometimes assumed that men are not interested in clothes. Under the label of fashion this may be true; and there are systematic cultural inhibitions in this area. Focussing on clothing however enables us to recognise how dress is an everyday body practice engaged in by all, allowing the exploration of aspects of embodied masculinity that are often overlooked. Clothes mediate between the body and the social world. They are part of how notions of identity are grounded in the visual. They are thus a means whereby social expectations in relation to age act upon and are made manifest at the level of the body. The study explores these processes in relation to older men, focussing on how they negotiate changes in the body and self through the medium of dress, examining the intersection of bodily change and cultural meanings.

Men have until recently been neglected in social gerontology. This partly reflects the demographic bias in the older population, but it also arises from the way new theorising and forms of analysis have largely focused on the lives of women, often through the lens of feminist theorising. Many of the new subject areas opened up by cultural gerontology - art, emotion, embodiment, appearance - are regarded as feminised. The study offers an opportunity to extend these new approaches into the lives of older men also.

Men have also been neglected in debates on fashion. What literature there is focuses heavily on a relatively narrow sets of debates around gay masculinity and sub-cultural styles. This has reinforced the tendency in fashion studies to neglect the mainstream and the ordinary, though in reality these make up the bulk of the clothing system, forming what is a multi billion global business. This new work on age and masculinities will help reconnect dress studies with this industrial reality, bringing sociological insights to bear on mainstream practice.

The study will include work with retailers and designers.

It will also involve use of secondary data analysis on clothing purchases drawing on the UK Family Expenditure Survey from 1960s to the current period. This work will be undertaken in collaboration with Professor Majima from Gakushuin University. It will parallel the earlier analysis of purchasing by older women, reported in the Consumption, Babyboomer and Later Life page of this website.