Graduates 2021: Kay Lawrance: Fashion and Dress History

My dissertation title is Office to Sofa, Workwear to Loungewear: Dressing for Success and Lockdown.  

Please tell us a bit about your work, your influences etc
My dissertation is a study of three women who normally dress reasonably formally for work and examines how they decided what to wear in lockdown. 2020 was a peculiar year.  The lockdown in March meant that many people were suddenly working from home with little time to plan how they were going to do it.
In 1959, sociologist Erving Goffman wrote The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life in which he described how people play different roles in different parts of their lives. Goffman used the concepts of front and back stage to define the regions people performed in.  Before lockdown the women interviewed for this study worked in a frontstage region, away from home, and they had formal clothes, a costume, suitable for this role just as they had casual clothes suitable for their backstage role at home.  In lockdown their backstage region became where they performed their front stage role.

The women were visible on video calls in lockdown and needed to choose clothes that would look professional but not be too formal for their home environment.  They had all started their careers at a similar time when a particular style of formal workwear was common; championed by John T. Molloy in his Dress for Success books.  The changes they needed to make in lockdown were part of a continuing pattern of wardrobe modifications they had made over their careers and the study also considered the factors which had influenced their clothing choices; and those of their contemporaries.

All the women found different ways of dressing in lockdown, choosing clothes that made them feel both physically and psychologically comfortable in their role.


 How have you found your course/time at Brighton?

I have loved my time at Brighton.  I am a (very) mature student and I applied on the spur of the moment, if I had stopped to think about it I would have talked myself out of it, and it has been a brilliant three years.  I don’t live in Brighton and have a long commute (three hours each way) but it has been worth it and I actually missed the journey in lockdown – I hadn’t realised how much I used that time for thinking and planning work.  The academic staff have all been so encouraging and I have particularly enjoyed the way we have been able to tailor the work for assessments around our own interests.
Thinking back – how did you choose your course – why did you choose to study this subject?
I had looked at the course on-line for several years before I applied, and it had always seemed impractical with the length of the journey but my youngest child (I have four) was starting university and it finally seemed like the right time.
I chose the subject because I have always been fascinated with what people wear.  Not just the clothes but why they chose them, what image they are trying to project and how their outfits make them feel.  A particular strength of this course are the history of art and design modules which trace the influences of art and design on fashion.
What are your plans after Graduation?
I am coming back to Brighton to join a Master’s course, History of Design and Material Culture.
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