Memories, Moments & Mannequins: the changing world of Learning Disability

Rachel Forrester-Jones, Magali Barnoux, Julia Twigg

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Aims: Clothes embody our lived memories, reminding us of past lives and relationships. They are also triggers for memory. Dress is entwined with identity, expressing who and what we are (Crane 2000). Dress is also one of the ways in which social difference is made concrete and visible (Breward 2000). Work in sociology and social policy has explored this in relation to categories like class, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, and age (Twigg 2013). In general, the focus of Social Policy in relation to disability has been, not on expressing difference, but on obscuring it. This project aimed to give space to individuals to explore and reflect on, record and celebrate their lives and life changes through embodied memories of dress. The objective was to record the history of these changes through individuals’ stories and to disseminate these in a meaningful way to the local community.

Methods: Twenty three individuals consented to participate in the project which involved attending a series of workshops aimed at bringing items of clothing which were meaningful to individuals and talking about them in a group. Seven of the 23 participants were informal/family carers or paid staff and 16 were people with learning disabilities.
Results: Thematic analyses revealed four themes: fashion and clothes linked to past positive and negative memories; wider associations made from fashion and clothing (i.e., history and culture); fashion and clothing as an expression of personal identity; and the importance of personal choice of fashion and clothing.

Conclusion: The workshops were enjoyed by participants and evoked memories and personal heritage. Thinking about what to bring to the workshops, displaying certain items of clothing, talking about what these items of clothes were, and sharing the memories that they represented was clearly linked to personal identity. In this way, the project demonstrated how clothes and fashion (and therefore appearances) are important to how individuals with learning disabilities perceive themselves, and how quality of life issues such as choice and empowerment are bound up in tangible items such as clothes. Beyond this the project also showed how heritage as a concept and tangible practice is helpful for exploring the identities of people with learning disabilities and brings us one step further to understanding a largely marginalised group of individuals.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2016
EventSocial Policy Association Annual Conference - University of Ulster, Belfast, UK United Kingdom
Duration: 4 Jul 20166 Jul 2016


ConferenceSocial Policy Association Annual Conference
Country/TerritoryUK United Kingdom


  • Fashion
  • Learning disabilities


Dive into the research topics of 'Memories, Moments & Mannequins: the changing world of Learning Disability'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this