Washing Clothes

Ingun Grimstad Klepp & Kirsi Laitala

Clothes must not only suit the user and the occasion but also be clean for us to be well dressed. The meaning of cleanliness and the methods to achieve this goal has changed throughout history, but it has been central in our clothing practices. In this chapter, we will show how the understanding of dirty and clean clothes and the work of keeping them clean has changed in the last 200 years. The starting point will be the laundry in Norway, but when we discuss the more current times, the global washing practices will be included. As important as these technical and aesthetic questions are the cultural aspect. How have the perceptions of what is clean and what is dirty changed, and what consequences does this have for being well-dressed and for the work with the laundry? We discuss the growth in the amount of laundry, and after the 1970s also the decline in finishing work, especially related to removing the wrinkles. The technical and aesthetic aspects are important, such as whiteness, stains, and not least, odors. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the environmental impacts of laundry, including consumption of water, chemicals, and energy, and spreading of microplastics.

Book chapter in The Routledge History of Fashion and Dress, 1800 to the Present (taylorfrancis.com)