Materialising memories: exploring the stories of people with dementia through dress


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In this article, we use clothes as a tool for exploring the life stories and narratives of people with dementia, eliciting memories through the sensory and material dimensions of dress. The article draws on an Economic and Social Research Council-funded study, ‘Dementia and Dress’, which explored everyday experiences of clothing for carers, care workers and people with dementia, using qualitative and ethnographic methods including: ‘wardrobe interviews’, observations, and visual and sensory approaches. In our analysis, we use three dimensions of dress as a device for exploring the experiences of people with dementia: kept clothes, as a way of retaining connections to memories and identity; discarded clothes, and their implications for understanding change and loss in relation to the ‘dementia journey’; and absent clothes, invoked through the sensory imagination, recalling images of former selves, and carrying identity forward into the context of care. The article contributes to understandings of narrative, identity and dementia, drawing attention to the potential of material objects for evoking narratives, and maintaining biographical continuity for both men and women. The paper has larger implications for understandings of ageing and care practice; as well as contributing to the wider Material Turn in gerontology, showing how cultural analyses can be applied even to frail older groups who are often excluded from such approaches.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1115-1135
Number of pages21
JournalAgeing and Society
Issue number6
Early online date11 May 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2016

Bibliographical note

© Cambridge University Press 2015


  • biographies
  • clothing
  • dementia
  • dress
  • material culture
  • narratives
  • objects

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