Graduate Show 2019: Eleanor Medhurst: Fashion and Dress History

I see Fashion and Dress History as a way to study society. Clothing can mean so many things, and it is an amazing lens with which we can view history.

My area of interest, solidified throughout my time at the University of Brighton, is of LGBTQ history and the various ways in which these stories can be told through clothes. I have spent my degree absorbing myself in a variety of topics, but this has by far become the focus. A huge reason for this is the work that I did in 2018 with Brighton Museum putting together the Queer Looks display, which is a display of around 20 outfits from the LGBTQ community in Brighton and Sussex commemorating the 50 year anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK. Being part of the young project team and an events coordinator for Queer Looks meant conducting oral history interviews with members of the local LGBTQ community, helping to set up the display itself and organising promotional events. I immersed myself in this project, and it made me realise that the thing I am most passionate about is showcasing queer history, something that is so often erased.

Eleanor with her dissitation

Please tell us about your final year project

My final year dissertation sprung from the things I am the most interested in, and had been wanting to write about for a while; queer stories, and the colour pink. As a lesbian woman who wears pink every day, my dissertation Subverting Pink: Queer Reclamations of Hyper-Feminine Dress is a piece of work that I put my entire heart into writing and researching. It assesses a phenomenon I had seen in myself and people around me – especially online – of the colour pink, a symbol of the most stereotypical form heterosexual femininity, being claimed and owned by queer women and non-binary individuals. I wanted to find out what this could mean; through interviews with 6 such people, analysing outfits that they’ve worn and linking these to theories by the likes of Luce Irigaray, Michel Foucault and Dick Hebdige, I believe I have achieved this.

How have you found studying at Brighton?

I have found studying Fashion and Dress History at the University of Brighton incredibly enriching. I have learnt so much about history, about politics, about fashion. I have been supported by my tutors every step of the way. Especially in my final year, my dissertation tutor Dr. Annebella Pollen consistently encouraged me with my final project, encouraging me to apply to academic conferences with abstracts informed by my dissertation research. I was accepted to both of the conferences that I applied to. The Lesbian Lives conference in March was a phenomenal experience, and I hope that the Gayness in Queer Times conference in June is the same.

What are your plans after graduating?

I intend to return to the University of Brighton next year to study on the History of Design and Material Culture MA course. I have loved being able to learn and write and discover, and I am thrilled that this will allow me to continue to do so. After that, the dream is to keep creating spaces for LGBTQ history in the museum world – but who knows what could happen?

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