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Fleeting and Fragmentary: Things Fall Apart

Speakers: Professor Amy de la Haye and Professor Carolyn Steedman.

Chair: Professor Judith Clark

Dress, particularly fashion clothing, has become one of the most popular media within international museums.

Traditionally garments have been exhibited in pristine condition. Yet, many museums provide valuable storage space for perished items that may never be displayed.

Amy de la Haye will argue that these fragile items can possess a poignant beauty and offer tangible evidence of lives lived. She will also explore curatorial strategies to display and interpret items that are often dismissed as un-exhibitable within a museum or gallery context.

Carolyn Steedman will explore the paradox of durability and strength in the most fragile of archival objects by looking at women’s stays.

Stays, were designed to last. They were the least fragile of all clothing, worn by all women, from high to low. For labouring women they were work wear.

A woman could buy them on the second hand market, or construct her own. They were handed down to daughters and granddaughters. At the very end of their life they might go to the rag pickers, where the whalebone was be extracted for selling on.

As with most working-class clothing, very few workers’ stays have survived. Stays were worked (in) to death.