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The description and use of women's clothing in eighteenth-century England: With special reference to the counties of Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire

Spencer, Elizabeth (2017) The description and use of women's clothing in eighteenth-century England: With special reference to the counties of Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire. PhD thesis, University of York.

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Where was women’s clothing described in eighteenth-century England, and by whom? How was it described? And why? These are the questions at the heart of this thesis. Previous studies have already attempted to tackle some of them, focusing largely on the where and why. One of the key arguments which has emerged from this is that women used their clothing to engage in a form of feminine ‘sentimental’ consumption. Scholars argue that women described their clothing to express emotional meaning, which is betrayed in these ‘meticulous’ or ‘careful’ descriptions. I argue that these assumptions are long overdue a revision. The thesis is in two halves, and the first tackles where women’s clothing was described, by whom, and how. In chapters one and two, I identify a shared language of description across three sources – wills, newspaper advertisements, and account books. The description of clothing in these sources has been interpreted as emotional, but I argue that it cannot be read in this way; moreover, I outline a number of methodological issues with this approach. This has important implications for arguments about women and ‘sentimental’ consumption. The second half suggests some more productive approaches to description, as well as the study women and clothing in general. In chapters three and four, I respond to calls in the scholarship to focus on things in use; however, I argue that we also need to explore how and why clothing was being used in different sources. Looking at court records and correspondence, I demonstrate that clothing could be used as a powerful rhetorical tool in different contexts, which speaks to wider understandings of its role. I therefore make an original contribution in this thesis to the scholarship on women and consumption, as well as decisive interventions in the methodologies used for the study of it.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of York > History (York)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.745778
Depositing User: Ms Elizabeth Spencer
Date Deposited: 25 Jun 2018 10:01
Last Modified: 19 Feb 2020 13:07
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/20760

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