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Ben Whyman

Published date
29 May 2019

How can a detailed material culture analysis of fashionable menswear wardrobes augment biographical and museological interpretations? A comparative analysis of three twentieth century menswear collections from the Victoria and Albert Museum

College: London College of Fashion
Supervisors: Professor Amy de la Haye, Professor Claire Wilcox, Alan Cannon-Jones


This research will critically evaluate three personal menswear collections housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), worn by Edward James, Kenneth Tynan and Mark Reed. The unique contribution to research includes:

  • conflating material culture analysis with life-writing methodology, visual culture and oral testimony
  • evaluating if and how a collection of artefacts of dress (including prosaic items such as shirts, belts, shoes) can augment an understanding of character and amplify the life stories of the men who wore them
  • questioning why the materiality of clothing is not embedded in most contemporary biographical research and, using three case studies, demonstrate how this can contribute to our understanding of lives lived
  • developing curatorial strategies for exhibiting men’s lives, using biographical resources including clothing as the means to tell a life story

Context and background

The transformative processes involved in considering material objects of dress will be considered in relation to the collecting practices of men. What will be analysed is the biography of one person’s clothing becoming significant when accessioned into a museum’s archive: from a utilitarian garment (a commodity) to adorn the body that was likely perceived differently by the wearer (immersed in a personal biography), to an artefact accessioned into a museum collection that, through this action, is imbued with cultural significance (subjectified) (Woodward, 2012: 29).

Museological, sociological, anthropological and visual culture theories will inform this study into the articulation of the notion of personal meaning imbued in an article of clothing. Insight gained into how these men perceive/d this meaning will enrich the development of biographical dialogues and curatorial and museological interventions concerning the materiality of objects.