Wardrobe Hack as an Educational Prompt

Author: Ana Neto, Lisbon, CIAUD, Research Centre for Architecture, Urbanism and Design, Lisbon School of Architecture, Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal

Aim of study

The use of wardrobe studies came up during my PhD project, which aimed to understand the relationships between wearers and their clothes, and how these can last for longer. Previous stages of the project pointed to the need of fashion designers to expand their design practice space to the territory of clothes in use, and therefore the goal of this study was to explore how fashion design students responded to the challenge of mediating wearer-clothing relationships, as an alternative role to the development of new products.

While the main aim of this exploratory study was educational, it prompted practical potential for behaviour-change, and qualitative insights that add to scientific knowledge on clothing use.

Photo of student work

Design as for long been pulled into the industrial machine of massification, losing sight of the particularities of each person’s needs. This study was developed as a way for students to understand how wearer-clothing relationships are idiosyncratic, raising their awareness to the importance of being attentive to the issues wearers are facing and which require tailored approaches. This counters the usual process where designers get a sense of generic design situations (or problems) and devise a one-size-fits-many solution, which in practice is often not that fitting (becoming, therefore, wasteful).

Influence on approach and use of the method

The main method is an adaptation of Whitty and McQuillan’s (2017) original Wardrobe Hack, here used as an assignment for students in their 1st year of the Fashion Design Master’s Degree at the Lisbon School of Architecture. Before launching the assignment, other methods were used as small in-class exercises to prompt discussions on wearer-clothing relationships and to raise students’ awareness on aspects that undermine or nurture these relationships.

Firstly, drawing from Martin and Hanington (2012) Love Letter/Breakup Letter method, students were asked to write a love letter to the last garment they acquired, and a break-up letter to the last garment they discarded from their wardrobe. Letters were then passed around so that everyone could get to know others’ experiences. Secondly, students answered a small questionnaire on their oldest garment still in use (adapted from Neto and Ferreira, 2021), and answers were discussed in class. By using these exercises to introduce my previous research, students’ tacit knowledge on being in a relationship with clothes was brought to the foreground and, collectively, the group increased their theoretical sensitivity on the topic.

Photo of student work

Finally, students were challenged to recruit a participant and conduct a wardrobe study (based on the original Wardrobe Hack), in order to identify issues their participant could be facing with any item or items in the wardrobe, and to develop an intervention (the hack) that could potentially improve one or more relationships between the participant and their clothes.

Data collected included notes from observations in class, project follow-up conversations with students, their presentations and the assignment outcomes handed in (a presentation poster + a report). Through thematic analysis, it was possible to distinguish the students’ findings on their participant’s issues, the kinds of hacks they came up with and the difficulties they faced, both in understanding their participant’s relationship with clothes, and implementing the hack.

Use of the results

Results were presented at a symposium on Fashion Design Education and will be published as a book chapter, and included in my PhD thesis. They can be useful for other educators seeking to introduce their students to wardrobe studies and a fashion design practice beyond product development. Even though the findings were written from an educational perspective, the examples it shares can also be useful for students just to increase their sensitivity to wearer-clothing relationships.

Insights generated by the method

Because this is a study that involves to levels of participation (students and their project participants), it generates different levels of insights, both theoretical and practical.

Photo of student work

Theoretically, the data generated relating to students (their journeys, struggles and achievements) is relevant to help educators devise future strategies to support and nurture the skills needed for this kind of design activity. Additionally, there is data related to participants (their relationship with clothes) as reported by the students. Through project presentations, each student contributes to the “pool” of empirical knowledge the class shares on the topic, and through other dissemination channels it can reach the wider research community.

From a more practical perspective, the exercise provides a different, hands-on experience for students as they learn to design for relationships (attentive to wearer, garments, their relationship and context), and an often positive experience for their participants who are challenged to think and articulate their relationship with their clothes, and who become aware of their power to improve their well-being as it relates to clothing.


Martin, B. and Hanington, B.M. (2012) Universal Methods of Design: 100 Ways to Research Complex problems, Develop Innovative ideas, and Design Effective Solutions. Beverly, Ma: Rockport Publishers.

Neto, A. and Ferreira, J. (2021) ‘“I Still Love Them and Wear Them”—Conflict Occurrence and Management in Wearer-Clothing Relationships’, Sustainability, 13(23), p. 13054. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3390/su132313054

Neto, A. and Ferreira, J. (2023) ‘Lasting Bonds: Understanding Wearer-Clothing Relationships through Interpersonal Love-Theory’, Fashion Theory, 27(5), pp. 677–707. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/1362704x.2023.2170706

Whitty, J. and McQuillan, H. (2017) ‘Wardrobe Hack’, in K. Fletcher and I.G. Klepp (eds) Opening up the Wardrobe: A Methods Book. Oslo: Novus Press, pp.128-130. Available at: https://omp.novus.no/index.php/novus/catalog/book/26

Link to work demonstrating the method:

Neto, A. and Forman, G. (forthcoming) ‘Mediating wearer-clothing relationships: a case study in Fashion Design Education’, in K. Scott, B. Curtis and C. Pajaczkowska (eds) The Future of Fashion Education: Speculation, Experiences and Collaboration, Routledge.

Wardrobe Size (Volume of Clothing) and Shopping Practices in India  

Author: Richa Jha, India, Ambassador @RemakeOurWorld, Member @UCRF

Aim of the study

It was a fact-finding study to create awareness and behavioural change.

The objective of the study

The objective of the study was to find the shopping preferences and volume of clothes owned by an average Indian woman and a man.

What has influenced or inspired your approach?

I was influenced by the Wardrobe studies on this blog and particularly influenced by The Plastic Elephant Report, which said that poor fit and quality leads to wardrobe surplus and in-turn to over-consumption and over-production. Hence, I was curious to find similar statistics for India.


  • An online questionnaire was circulated to individuals from different cities and professions. The questionnaire was sent to over 400 individuals out of which 105 chose to answer voluntarily.
  • There were questions such as – How many clothing items they buy? How many times a year? How many clothing items they own by category such as t-shirts, trousers, sarees, etc.? How many items they discard? Do they opt for repair, why not?
  • The income class of the respondents was middle class and above, i.e. Rs 500,000 per year
  • 70% of the respondents were women and balance were men.
  • More than 56% were Gen X, another 31% millennials, and 12% Gen Z. More than 56% were from Metros, 36% from Non-metros and the balance 9% were living outside of India.
  • Calculation of average wardrobe size – In the questionnaire, respondents were asked to tick mark the count for each clothing type such as Trousers, Shirts, T-shirts, Coats, Indian Wears, among others. The ranges were 0-5, 6-10, and so on till more than 30. The wardrobe volume is calculated by adding the average numbers for each clothing type for each individual.

Link to questionnaire here.

Key findings of study

The majority of the respondents shop up to 10 items annually and the average discard rate is also 10 items per person per year.

The volume of clothing owned (by this group) ranges from 30 to 308 in case of women and 27 to 162 in case of men. The mean is 120 for women and 80 for men.  For millennial women, average is 110, on the other hand for Gen X it is 130.  This suggests that women’s collection grow as they age, over time, they tend to accumulate Indian traditional wear such as sarees.

1 in 4 respondents do not use more than 40% of their wardrobe. The reasons for not utilising the wardrobe fully were occasional wears, woollens, fit issues, out of fashion and lifestyle changes in that order.

Only 20% of the respondents do not opt for repairing their clothes, on the contrary only 13% opt for upcycling. Among those who do not repair or do not opt for professional repair, majority do not see any value in repair or feel that new clothes are available at affordable rates.

The utilisation of the garment is optimum as most people said that they wear the garment till it fades or is worn out. Only for occasional wear or in some cases for formal wears, the number of wears is less. Some respondents mention they prefer to give to charity rather than repairing or upcycling.

But 80% of the respondents are willing to get their clothes repaired through a professional service and are willing to pay 15-20% of the original cost of the dress.

What happened after the study/exercise? What did you do with the results? Did you meet your objectives? How? How were the data used?

The report was shared with all the respondents. It gives them an idea as to where they are as compared to the average and hence may lead to self-induced behavioural change. Link to the report here.

A discussion was held with Sustainable Fashion Advocates from RemakeOurWorld. It further brought out the “whys” from the data such as cultural reasons.

The findings are also used to create awareness campaign through social media.

How could this specific method be used by others (or is it used already)? What are other insights/results that this method can generate?

Quantitative surveys are the most commonly used data collection method in Market Research.

How could the results of your study/experience be used by others (or are they used already)? What is the most important experience you want to share with those who are new to wardrobe studies?

  • Need for bigger and scientifically chosen sample if conducting a quantitative study
  • In the count, have zero/none separately from lower counts, i.e. instead of having 0-5, have none, and 1-5

What insights does this method generate?

It gives quantitative data on the total volume of clothes owned and clothing type. Filling this survey itself was an eye-opener for many and for them to realise their ownership, usage and surplus. The questions on repair and upcycling will also lead to plausible solutions, such as repair, alter, resale, lend or rent to increase wardrobe utilisation.


The Plastic Elephant – access here.
How clothing affects climate change? – access here.
Nielsen Woolmark Study  – access here.

Appendix: Definitions of some terms

Metro – Metropolitan areas – Such as National Capital Region of Delhi, Mumbai, Bangaluru, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Pune and Jaipur

Non – Metro – All other Tier-2 and 3 Towns such as Indore, Dehradun, Rajkot, Bharuch, Coimbatore, Trivandrum, Ludhiana etc.

Saree – a garment consisting of a length of cotton or silk elaborately draped around the body, traditionally worn by women from South Asia.

Lehenga – Lehenga is a three-piece ensemble consists of the actual lehenga, a long ankle-length skirt, a well-fitted blouse top known as the choli, and a scarf to drape around the outfit, known as the dupatta.

Gen X – 43 to 58 Years I Millennials – 27 to 42 Years I Gen Z – 18 to 26 Years

Identifying Good Practices of Use: Insights on the Consumption of Sustainable Fashion in Uruguay

Authors: Micaela Cazot and Lía Fernández, Montevideo, Uruguay. Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Design (Textile/Clothing Profile)

Original title: Identificando buenas prácticas de uso: reflexiones sobre el consumo de la moda sustentable en Uruguay.

Aim of the study/exercise: Educational, as the Final Degree Project for a Bachelor ‘s degree in Industrial Design – Textile/Clothing Profile, Universidad de la República (Montevideo, Uruguay).

What was the objective of the study?

To understand and analyze the clothing usage practices of a group of Uruguayan women who consider themselves sustainable in their way of dressing. The focus is on the users’ characteristics, circumstances, and life situations, seeking to identify good consumption practices based on the connection formed between individuals and their garments, as well as between garment and garment.

Context: Influence or inspiration

The choice of this topic arises from the motivation to visualize the role that design plays in generating good consumption practices. It is valuable to analyze the connection between consumers and their garments to recognize various factors in the purchase and use of clothing, aiming to raise awareness and contribute to the future of fashion by promoting more sustainable consumption.

An overview of every item that we analyzed with the participants during the method.

How was the method used?

This method consists of two parts:

  • an interview, with questions aiming to understand the participant’s relationship with sustainability and practices of acquisition, use and disposal of clothing.
  • a wardrobe visit, where they are asked to select an item of clothing for each of the following categories: the newest, the oldest, the most used, and the least used. We then proceed to take pictures of the items and ask questions related to each of these categories.

To carry out this method a characterization of the Uruguayan sustainable fashion consumer is made to search for participants, who ideally have different ways in which they experience sustainability. This search resulted in a selection of five women from five different generations residing in Montevideo which includes: leaders of sustainable fashion in Uruguay, design professors, a person from our close circle and a person involved in the second hand business.

After the method is carried out, the information is evaluated and reviewed by comparing the answer for each question and the garments in each category, looking for similarities and differences.

What happened after the study/exercise? What about the results and objectives?

As this study was produced for a final degree project, it was recorded thoroughly in a document that can be found in the institutional repository of the University.

How could this specific method be used by others? What are other insights/results that this method can generate?

As this method was only introduced to a small number of people in Montevideo, we believe it could be adapted to be used in other parts of Uruguay or in other parts of the world, and even with more people involved. Depending on the region where this method is applied, it will yield conclusions that reflect the culture and society that inhabits that place, from a sustainable point of view.

A collage of two items that were documented in the interviews and old analog photos the participants had of them wearing the items.

We believe that what matters the most is that, as designers, we must recognize the importance of understanding the complexities of clothing and feelings by addressing them in our creative work. Creating awareness about the emotional bonds and individual circumstances that influence consumption habits, and how these can be channels for fostering more sustainable practices in fashion.

What insights does this method generate?

Regarding the data provided by both parts, we can observe certain recurring patterns across interviews. For instance, all the garments we visualized with the users in their homes have stories beyond their materiality; they are not mere pieces of clothing but rather reflect nuanced aspects of the person who wears them and their emotional attachment with each item. Furthermore, we found that all of the participants have a relationship with sustainability that goes beyond responsible consumption of clothing and also encompasses other areas of their life such as their profession, their hobbies, their eating habits and their life experiences. All of them admit that they do not consume clothing in large quantities and no more than ten items of clothing a year enter their wardrobes. This indicates a strong inclination to consume less when one has a sustainable philosophy.

The habit of holding onto clothes that they do not wear for a long time is very present in these participants, because they believe that there is the possibility of using them again later on. They see the future potential of their clothing, rather than discarding it by not wearing it for a while. This generates an emotional connection with the garment, since it is seen as an opportunity instead of waste.

On the other hand, users who engaged in second-hand consumption expressed that accessing this market requires time and accessibility that not everyone possesses. There is a process behind the choice of second-hand garments, which sometimes becomes a matter of privilege. Similarly, garment repair as a tool to extend the lifespan of clothing is not available to all consumers due to lack of knowledge.

Conversely, some participants opt to make adjustments to their garments through modifications, repairs, or redesigns. Others enhance their wardrobe creativity by borrowing clothes from friends and family, finding enjoyment in mixing their own clothing with others’, thereby strengthening their individual fashion perception by exploring new dressing styles.

This more conscious approach to dressing reflects a trend towards sustainable fashion and a deeper connection with personal expression through clothing. Consequently, these users discard clothing less frequently.

In summary, the diversity in the responses obtained highlights the complexity and richness of the experiences, providing a profound and contextualized insight.


  1. Armstrong, C., Lang, C. (2018) “The Clothing Style Confidence Mindset in a Circular Economy” Aalto University, DOI: 10.1002/cb.1739.
  2. Bjerck, M., Klepp, I. (2014) “A methodological approach to the materiality of clothing: Wardrobe studies”, International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 17:4, 373-386, DOI:  10.1080/13645579.2012.737148.
  3. De León, L., Haugrønning, V., Maldini, I. (2023) “Studying clothing consumption volumes through wardrobe studies: a methodological reflection” The 5th Product Lifetimes and the Environment (PLATE) Conference, Espoo: Aalto University, pp. 610-616.
  4. Fletcher, K., Klepp, G. (2017) “Opening up the Wardrobe: a methods book”. Novus Press, Oslo: Noruega.

An Arts Practice Approach to Wardrobe Audits

Author: Wendy Ward, PhD Candidate, Sheffield Hallam University, UK.

Aim & Research Questions

My practice-based PhD titled “Enduring Fashion: Building Sustainable Clothing Practices Through Wearer-Garment Relationships”, uses art and design practice to explore people’s relationships with their clothes. The aim of the study is to investigate how these wearer-garment relationships might be leveraged to reduce the mass over-consumption and under-use that are currently prevalent in fashion.

The work is being guided by the following research questions:

  1. How often do people acquire and discard clothes, how many clothes do they own and how frequently are they used?
  2. What existing relationships do people have with their clothes?
  3. Can people be encouraged to develop an enduring relationship with their clothes?
  4. How do wearer-garment relationships impact clothing longevity and consumption?


Fashion’s impact on people and planet has been known for the last three decades, but we seem to have become immune to the scale of our actions even when presented with the evidence and if anything things are getting worse, not better (Coscieme et al., 2022). It is clear that a change in approach is needed towards something more hopeful, relatable and empowering (UNEP, 2023).

Sustainability in fashion is reliant on individual behaviour and there is little point in designing a low impact, durable, recyclable garment if nobody wants to wear, keep and love it. This connection and relationship between people and clothes, which motivates the want to wear, keep and love is at the core of my work and I believe could be key to driving sustainable clothing practices.

I am inspired by the work of Richardson et al. (2015) on Nature Connectedness to inform my ideas about interactions with, and connections to, clothing and am using data visualization techniques to incorporate this into my creative practice.  My work is grounded in a grass-roots approach to sustainability in fashion described by Alice Payne as “rewilding” (Payne, 2019), and a particular influence on my approach is Amy Twigger Holroyd’s Fashion Fictions research project that offered participants the chance to speculate on new social and cultural norms in clothing practices through deep material engagements with clothes.


I am at the start of my research: one third into a part-time programme of study so the ‘method-in-progress’ I will describe has so far only been practiced on myself.

The Wardrobe Audit has been used successfully in academic research and described in detail in the original Opening Up the Wardrobe book. This practice is beginning to be adopted by the wider public, perhaps thanks to recent developments in AI and the growing use of self-tracking in all aspects of our lives leading to a growing interest in wardrobe logging and tracking apps. In my work I explore the possibilities of using a more analogue and creative approach to the Wardrobe Audit.

Wardrobe Audit Visualisation. Photo: Wendy Ward

I began by auditing my own wardrobe and recording the results on a spreadsheet.

I found that the Information on a spreadsheet was too easy to ignore (especially when involved in daily clothing rituals of getting dressed and acquiring/disposing of clothes).  I decided to represent the data in my spreadsheet in a more visual, but abstract way using needle and thread directly onto a garment. The resulting data visualization is a surface decoration which appears abstract to viewers and whose true meaning is known only to me.

I update my original audit at the end of each season and create a fresh visualization of the data.  This led me to develop a similar method for logging and tracking my ongoing daily wearing habits. This method involves adding a stitch to garments from my wardrobe on each day that they are worn. Over time stitches gather on well-worn garments and are absent or minimal on less or never worn garments, resulting in a very visible and tangible way for me to confront my daily wearing habits over time.

Analogue Wear Tracking – Stitched direct onto garment. Photo: Wendy Ward

My study has been ethically approved and I am currently recruiting participants for the collaborative phase.  Informed by recent reports from WRAP and the Hot or Cool Institute identifying which demographic has the biggest impact on the planet in terms of fashion consumption, I am targeting the top 20% of earners in the UK who shop for clothes more than once a month.

As my study is practice-based and qualitative in nature, all data produced will be analysed using reflexive thematic analysis.

Early Insights

A strong sense of ritual and mindfulness is emerging from these tracking and auditing practices that I have now incorporated into my daily life. I am more aware of the extent of my wardrobe and how I use it (or not) and I am much more mindful of acquiring new clothes and how to discard those I no longer want to keep.

Analogue Wear Tracking – Stitched onto separate label. Photo: Wendy Ward

In early experimental workshops with volunteers while developing my method it emerged that experiential/sensory ways of researching clothing can expose gaps in existing knowledge.  One such example is knowing what to do with clothing considered unfit for donation to charity; some of the volunteers I worked with had resorted to putting these clothes into the general waste bin (which in the UK is destined only for either landfill or incineration).

I hope that the results from my PhD can contribute towards improving the communication of the need for behaviour change around fashion consumption and clothing use, and ultimately provide some new tools for citizens to reassess the value of their clothing. 


Coscieme, L., Akenji, L., Latva-Hakuni, E., Vladimirova, K., Niinimäki, K., Henninger, C., Joyner-Martinez, C., Nielsen, K., Iran, S. and D ́Itria, E. (2022). Unfit, Unfair, Unfashionable: Resizing Fashion for a Fair Consumption Space. Hot or Cool Institute, Berlin.

Payne, A. (2019). Fashion Futuring in the Anthropocene: Sustainable Fashion as “Taming” and “Rewilding”. Fashion Theory, 23:1. 5-23.

Richardson, M., Hallam, J. & Lumber, R. (2015). One Thousand Good Things in Nature: Aspects of Nearby Nature Associated with Improved Connection to Nature. Environmental Values, 24(5), 603–619.

Twigger Holroyd, A. (n.d.). About. Retrieved January 10, 2024, from https://fashionfictions.org/about/

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), & United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (2023). The Sustainable Fashion Communication Playbook – Shifting the narrative: A Guide to Aligning Fashion Communication to the 1.5-Degree Climate Target and Wider Sustainability Goals. https://wedocs.unep.org/20.500.11822/42819.

Wardrobe study of clothing and other textiles going out of use from Norwegian households

Author: Anna Schytte Sigaard, PhD Student, Consumption Research Norway (SIFO), Oslo Metropolitan University.

Aims and objectives

The wardrobe studies method has been a central part of my PhD project entitled “Want Not, Waste Not: A wardrobe study approach to minimizing textile waste from Norwegian households”. The aim of the project is to create knowledge about the disposal part of the consumption phase of textiles in Norwegian households by collecting and analyzing textiles going out of use to find out how and why people get rid of clothing and other textiles and what they get rid of. A comprehensive mapping of disposed textiles has been carried out to gain knowledge about the technical composition and history of the individual textile. The topic has been explored through the following research questions:

  • What do discarded textiles from Norwegian households consist of?
  • How and why are textiles disposed of from the households?
  • What value do people attach to their used textiles, and how does this affect disposal?

The theoretical framework is based on practice theory which has been used as a point of departure for carrying out wardrobe studies as a research method, and for understanding and analyzing data from fieldwork.


The issue of textile disposal holds significant environmental implications, as waste creation poses a major challenge within the textile and clothing industry. Existing perspectives commonly attribute waste creation to production inefficiencies or place responsibility solely on the consumer. However, these perspectives fail to acknowledge the interconnectedness of the various processes and practices that constitute everyday life. Disposal should not be regarded as an undesirable byproduct, but rather as a crucial and integral part of the consumption process, encompassing social, ethical, and performative aspects. In the context of textiles, understanding consumers’ disposal behavior becomes essential, as they hold the power to determine how and when textiles are discarded. This directly impacts the lifespan of textiles, the amount of waste generated, as well as the potential for reuse and recycling. In my project, disposal refers to the act of getting rid of something regardless of whether it is discarded as waste, delivered to recycling, donated to clothing collectors, given to friends or family, etc. An important contribution of this project is to deepen the understanding of an important, yet neglected area of consumption research, namely why we get rid of the things we no longer want.


The data material in this project consists of wardrobe interviews, fieldnotes and textile registrations. In total, 82 interviews were carried out with 28 households from three parts of Norway: Oslo (11), Vestfold (9) and Salten (8). A total of 73 people of different ages participated in the project. The households were recruited strategically with the intention of obtaining a diverse group of participants to cover as wide a range of perspectives as possible. Therefore, participants of different ages and genders living in both urban and rural areas have been included as well as different types of dwellings. Residing in a bigger or smaller residence affects how much can be stored which may decrease or increase the number of textiles leaving the household. Data collection was carried out during one year starting from October 2021 and ending in October 2022 and comprised a six month participation period for each participant.

A start-up interview lasting maximum one hour was carried out with each household at the beginning of the participation period. The following six months, participants collected all textile items that would have otherwise left the households. Textile items included everything made of fabric such as clothing and shoes, household textiles such as linen, towels, cloths, and equipment such as bags, packaging, and toys. Larger furniture and textile installations, such as fixed carpets, were excluded. After three and six months, at-home wardrobe studies interviews were carried out. The duration of these interviews depended on how much had been collected by the participants and lasted anywhere between 20 minutes and up to three hours. Interviews were centered around the textile items collected by the participants and usually took place in the living room, kitchen, or on the porch in the participants home. We would look at, touch, and sometimes smell each item individually and lay them out on a table or the ground in front of us while the participants answered questions about how long they had had the item, how much they had used it, how they had used it, if they had made any repairs or alterations, how they acquired it, and why they were disposing of it.

A total of 3556 pieces were collected. The textile items were tagged with a letter reference to the household it came from and number (for example A1, A2, A3 etc.) during the interviews in the order in which they were brought up by the participant. After the interview, all textile items were brought back for analysis and information about each piece was registered in Excel together with information from the interviews. The following information was registered for each piece individually (when available): type of textile, weight, brand, color, print, fiber content, number of fibers, construction, recommended wash temperature, ecolabelling, general condition, holes, broken seam, color change, shrinkage/shape change, pilling, felting, and repairs/alterations. In addition, each textile item was photographed after registration.

Stories from wardrobe interviews

Wardrobe interviews were based on what the participants had collected and differed therefore in length as well as content. Below are three examples from interviews of how centering the conversation around the physical items provide meaningful and interesting narratives and insights. Quotes have been translated from Norwegian.

Maria, 38
Item: kitchen towel and microfiber cloth (see image)

“I can’t get rid of the smell on them. This is an old kitchen towel from my grandmother. I took it when she passed away 15 years ago but it has become a little worn. I have used it a lot before, but I got some new ones for Christmas. [The cloth] doesn’t work so well anymore. It doesn’t absorb anything. I have had it a long time, probably for many years, so it’s old. I have used it quite a bit. Now I just want to get rid of it. It smells!”

Maria insisted that I did not bring the cloth back with me for registrations since it was so dirty and smelly. Instead, she threw it into the bin in her kitchen before we continued the interview.

The dirty kitchen rag. Photo: Anna Schytte Sigaard

Freda, 65
Item: sweatpants

“And then the cozy pants go. They have been used quite a bit, but I hate them. I think it’s absolutely terrible to walk around in them and I just don’t want them anymore. I broke my back 13 years ago and I had problems moving and putting on clothes so I asked my husband to go buy a pair of sweatpants because I didn’t have any, I’m not a sweatpants person, but I had to have something that I could just pull up, so he bought them for me. It’s nice to wear something like that to relax, so I have used it but not that much. It has been [visibly] washed and used after all. They were bought for medical reasons and I’m getting rid of them for medical reasons. I have to have pants where I can feel if I’m getting fat and you don’t in those kinds.”

Kasper, 33
Item: pants

“They are all worn out. You can almost see through them, so I’m not allowed to use them anymore. They have simply expired. And they have also ripped in the bottom. I have used them a lot, I managed to use them for at least two years, but they have been lying around for a while now. But I used them almost daily. They are very comfortable. I have really worn it to pieces. It was my gaming pants so it has been sat in a lot. I also used it for working out in the beginning. That was okay as well, just a little warm.»


The project is still ongoing, but some preliminary results based on the quantitative data material have already been identified:

  • Most of the collected textiles were clothing and shoes (see graph below).
  • The largest category of collected clothing in percentage of number was children’s clothing followed by sock. When looking at percentage of weight, however, the largest category was bottoms (jeans, shorts, skirts etc.) and thin tops.
  • Almost a third (32%) of the collected were in very good condition (like new or with only minor changes) (see graph).
  • The most common damage was pilling followed by holes, color change, stains and shrinkage. The least common were broken seams and broken parts.

More results are available in the report “Want not, waste not: Preliminary findings” (see link below). Moving forward, the qualitative interview data will be analyzed. I will be looking into why clothing and textiles that are not broken or damages have been disposed of by focusing on the practices were consumption of clothing and textiles form an integral part.

Percentages for clothing and shoes (81%), household textiles (11%), other (8%)
Condition of items analyzed, from not usable (15%) up to “like new” (8%).


The contribution of wardrobe studies in the effort to minimize textile waste, is to create an understanding of the relationship between the individual textile item and the larger material context. As it includes the technical characteristics of the textiles along with knowledge about the owner’s social life including the practices involved, the method creates an understanding with a specific focus on the material element of social practices. In this way, it deals with the interconnectedness between how something is talked about and the material item itself. The purpose of including the physical element into the interview situation is to tap into the participants’ sensory relationship with the items. The aim of having participants engage physically with the items was to elicit memories about acquisition and use through the sensory elements which is difficult to obtain through the typical conversational interviews.  

Publications from project

Sigaard, A. S. (2023). Want Not, Waste Not: Preliminary findings. Retrieve here.
Sigaard, A. S., & Laitala, K. (2023). Natural and sustainable? Consumers’ textile fiber preferences. Fibers, 11(2). Retrieve here.

Unravelling neurodivergent sensory experiences with clothing

Author: Maureen Selina Laverty, PhD Candidate, NTNU, Trondheim, Norway.


Wardrobe studies have formed an integral part of my PhD research entitled Sensory Nourishment. I collaborate with people who are neurodivergent: people on the autism spectrum, people with ADHD, people who experience the sensations in our environments at amplified, and often unbearable levels. This can have a profound impact on their well-being, disabling their interactions with the world around them. As a fashion designer I am concerned with the sensory inputs from our closest environment, our clothing. My objective with the wardrobe studies has been to identify neurodivergent individuals’ clothing triggers and glimmers.


One participant described her body as “being too porous so too many of the wrong sensations get through. This leads to sensory overwhelm which is exhausting to process and very distressing for my body” (Anna, 36). The author Katherine May, who herself is on the autism spectrum, writes about sensations “that scream so loud that you want to retreat”. And how she “inhabit(s) a body that simply stops responding when it reaches its point of overwhelm.” (May, 2018) On the flipside, another informant explained that “with heightened sensitivities, the reward is high. When the sensory input is right, it is wonderful!” (Eva, 55).


My adoption of a wardrobe methodology was inspired by an encounter I had with Herman, an autistic teenage boy. When visiting his home, I laid out the early prototypes for a knitted textile I was developing. He screwed up his face and pushed them away. He left the room. Sometime later Herman returned with his mother’s cashmere sweater. His eyes lit up as he pressed it against his cheek. He placed the sweater in my hands and said, “I want it to feel like this”. I visited Herman several times and we developed a very fluid dialogue through tangible objects that he would collect for me to feel. This encounter completely shifted my way of working as a designer. Rather than projecting my solutions onto a user, I saw the importance of being guided by their lived experiences and learning through the objects they surround themselves with in order to live well.

Wardrobe study in a home Photographer: Anders Myklebust


Over the last two years I have interviewed a further 70 neurodivergent informants. For some it is simply a quick chat. For others it has been a series of intensive meetings spanning a couple of years; our collaborative dialogue and articulation of sensory experiences sharpening with each rendezvous. The informants range from non-verbal children to active teenagers, to young professionals, to a factory worker and a diplomat in their 60s. They are all in mainstream education or full-time employment. The wardrobes I examine are situated mainly in Northern Europe: physically, culturally, and climatically.

Adaptation of methodology

I use the term wardrobe both literally and metaphorically (Klepp & Bjerck, 2014). My intention was to visit each participant’s physical wardrobe in their home. For most participants that has been the case. However, for some it felt too intimate. So, they packed up the contents of their wardrobes into shopping bags and brought them to nearby cafes. For a few, the loud background sounds of a cafe were too overwhelming, so they let me rummage through their drawers in the privacy of their work offices. I embraced every opportunity for a wardrobe study, even unpacking the contents of someone’s suitcase at a conference. Covid-19 restrictions meant that sometimes there was a computer screen partitioning me from the wardrobe. The adaptability of the wardrobe methodology was key, in particular with participants who are non-verbal or have communication challenges. The red thread through each adaptation was a sensory ethnographic approach that was “not so much to study other people’s sensory values and behaviours, but to collaborate with them to explore and identify these.” (Pink, 2009)

Stories from meetings with wardrobes

Stine, 26, Researcher 
Study Location: Community project & her home

Stine anticipated some knee and hip flexing as we shovelled the ground so some stretch in the trousers was essential. She also anticipated that the ground might be abrasive. Toughness was therefore an equally important characteristic to ease of movement. She had settled on a pair of jeans with a little elastic content. However, she now regretted that decision as the hardware from the waistband was digging into her abdomen as she loaded stones from the ground into a wheelbarrow. Her trousers restricted this bending action by tightening the fabric across her obliques. This particular sensation is a daily obstacle for Stine. It can become so overwhelming that she cannot concentrate on anything else. Over several meet-ups, in Stine’s home, we refined the description of this sensation as akin to that of a stranger slowly sliding their hand around your waist. The sensation approaches from behind. You can’t quite process it until it’s too late. Physically you feel restricted. Emotionally you feel violated. Socially you don’t want to cause a scene.

Left: Stine climbing trees in her jeans
Right: Laila choreographing with her snowsuit
Photographer: Anders Myklebust

Laila, 4, Barnehagebarn (Kindergarten-kid)
Study Location: Her parent’s apartment

As Laila’s mother led me inside, Laila started to scream and cry. She lay down on the floor, clinging on with determination. Growing tired, Laila wandered off. Her mother nudged my gaze towards the porch. Laila pulled the snowsuit up over her legs and let it rest at her waist. She put her right arm inside a padded sleeve, and then her left. She shrugged it up over her shoulders. Ever so slowly and with great attention she pulled up the zipper with her tiny hands. She then pulled the hood over her head and sighed. As she blocked out the room the crying stopped, the incessant movement subsided, the screaming ceased. Then Laila reversed these actions. The snowsuit was around her ankles once again. She repeated the dressing actions. Then the undressing. Again, again and again.

Tom, 38, Innovation Manager
Study Location: Many cafés

Given the snowstorm outside, it was quite peculiar to be greeted by a bottle of sunscreen placed in the middle of our table. Tom explained that he thought it would be helpful to begin with an abstract of sorts, an executive summary of his sensory dislikes. These were embodied in the bottle of sunscreen: perfumed smell, coldness, slimy texture, someone else must touch you to put it on your back. From under the table, Tom pulled out his comfort shirt from a shopping bag. He let me take it home so I could live with it. Its synthetic fibres and overlocked seams contradicted every other participant’s preference so far. The others exclusively wore natural fibres, covered up thick seams and cut out every label.

Some weeks later, Tom and I met so I could return the shirt. He had kept notes on a new tweed blazer he had bought. Standing in front of the mirror in the store, he had concluded that it fitted his body perfectly. Across the back there was an ease of movement, and the cut was flattering. It projected the confidence of the character he wanted to inhabit at Monday’s presentation. However, on Monday morning, the blazer inhabited him. Tom is very animated with his arms as he presents. The blazer was catching on the top of his inner arm. A catching that restricted him physically and distracted him mentally. This catching made a sound. The longer he wore the jacket the smell of the fabric became more potent. “I couldn’t find a way to decode the experience, it was eating me up, it was almost animalistic, like an animal on my back with the sound and the smell and the restriction to my arms.”

Tom’s sunscreen and comfort shirt Photographer: Anders Myklebust

Examples of insights

  • Cheap construction, as a result of fast fashion, is one of the main culprits for sensory overwhelm: synthetic fibres, roughly overlocked seams, careless labelling, restrictive cuts.
  • Natural fibres are overwhelmingly preferred because of tactility, smell, sound, and thermal regulation. However, tactile perception, preferences and vernacular vary between participants. For some cashmere is a “soft” fabric. For others cashmere has small hairy fibres that cling to the skin. Such participants describe a smooth shirting cotton as “soft”.
  • Dominant fashion design practices are traditionally visual and static in their conception of clothing (Skjold, 2018). The wardrobe studies allowed me to see clothing as an act of dressing, a practice of wearing, a series of dynamic actions. This has shifted the moving body to the forefront of my design process.
  • The potential for movement facilitates a physical freedom that is inextricably linked to emotional freedom: freedom of choice, freedom from judgement, freedom to move through the day free from distractions and restrictions.
  • Comfort is more than simply soft materials or a lack of constraint. It is being able to comfort yourself at times of great discomfort. It is being comfortable with how you are socially presented: “the embedded meanings so implied, can be a source of ease and calm – or its reverse.” (Twigg, 2010)
  • Clothing has the potential to activate pleasant sensory stimulation that overrides or dampens problematic sensory inputs from other sources. 


The analysis of these wardrobe studies will be published in my PhD monograph (anticipated in 2024). A second component to my PhD is the translation of this analysis into my design practice. Currently I am working with three participants to create a garment each by designing out the depleting sensory inputs and indulging the sensations that nourish. The anticipated result is a series of iterative prototypes whose contribution is less about the final product and more about a way of working. Ethnography is no longer confined to defining design needs. I am now integrating applied ethnography within my design process.

The project has also received innovation funding from NTNU Discovery with the ambition of embedding the wardrobe study insights within the fashion industry by advising companies on more considered approaches to how we craft sensory experiences in terms of design, manufacturing, and shopping.


Klepp, I.G. and Bjerck, M. (2014) A Methodological Approach to the Materiality of Clothing: Wardrobe Studies. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 17(4), pp. 373-386.

May, K. (2018) The Electricity of Every Living Thing. London: Trapeze.

Pink, S. (2009) Doing Sensory Ethnography. 1st edn. London: SAGE Publications Inc.

Skjold, E. (2018) Making sense of dress: On sensory perspectives of wardrobe research. Artifact: Journal of Design Practice, 5(1), pp. 4.1-4.15.

Twigg, J. (2010) Clothing and dementia: A neglected dimension? Journal of Aging Studies, 24(4), pp. 223-230.

Wardrobe Clearance: A Post-Mortem Methodology

Annebella Pollen, Professor of Visual and Material Culture, University of Brighton, UK

In 2019, I shadowed an English house clearance company who clear unwanted goods from homes to observe what happens to clothes at the end of a life, to understand commercial decisions about clothes’ value, and to follow garments’ afterlives. The company followed has a business model typical of the sector. Across a week, clothes are moved out of wardrobes, into the secondhand market, where they move through declining scales of value until they are given away for free. At the end of the process, unwanted garments are incinerated. This practice offers a microcosm of textile turnover; following each stage sheds light on how cultural and financial value is constructed, and how waste is classified and produced.

Bonmarché, dressing gowns 2019. Photo: Annebella Pollen


The study followed a single company on a single job relating to a single person (a recently deceased widowed woman in her eighties). Using a social biography method – considering commodities as persons with social and cultural lives (Kopytoff 1986) – I followed the contents of this woman’s wardrobe, as her garments moved through sequential stages. To interpret the clothes and the process, I utilised a material culture methodology that foregrounds the things with which the social and cultural world is populated and with which it communicates. Objects’ movements, meanings and status shifts are shaped by their materiality; what they are made of and how they are made, by whom, matters.

I considered ‘the wardrobe’ not only as an assemblage of clothing but as a container of meaning and as a mobile site through which clothing flows. Gregson and Beale (2004) demonstrate the utility of social biographical approaches in garments’ existences and afterlives when they reflect on the mobilities of accumulation and divestment. “Clothes circulate”, they argue. “They have lives with their initial possessors and lives which may exceed them.” Woodward (2007) argues that worn clothing not only narrates the lives of its wearers in its use and disposal but, by extension, that individual garments can be read as material archives or indexes; together they form a body of biographical material.

The dressing gown, 2019. Photo: Annebella Pollen

The study was underpinned by empirical observation of disposal and dispersal at three key points—the cleared house, the waste processing site, and the reselling location — and by interviews with those who make choices about what to keep and what to trade, as well as with those who buy it and sell it on. All involved – wearers, sellers, users and destroyers – were anonymised.


The clothes were mostly daily wear designed for comfort, bought new from middle-market British high street locations, particularly Bonmarché. I researched Bonmarché business practices, particularly its connection to the Rana Plaza garment factory that collapsed to devastating effect in 2013 in Bangladesh, killing 1,134 people and injuring 2,500 more. I thus traced garments from their production site – wherever labour is cheapest – to their life in a British woman’s wardrobe, then back into the secondhand market, where they may be bought and used locally, or be picked up by low-paid migrant workers who ship garments back to the Global South.

The central garment case study was a stained polyester dressing gown. This was among the intimate wardrobe items selected by house clearers for waste processing; it did not even enter the secondhand circuit. As the clearer told me, it is more work to pack and unload such material, only to reload and dump it at the end of the market, than to dump in advance. I consequently examined garments whose meanings cannot be revalued in secondhand cultures of vintage shopping, typically bedwear, underwear and clothes associated with illness and death. I also scrutinised the dressing gown’s material, as a plastic polymer fibre garment whose deterioration is not marked by the wasted aesthetic effects of denim or leather, and which is not associated with garment recycling’s fashionable and pleasurable performances. As Stanes and Gibson (2017) observe, of artificial fibres in the recycling economy, “polyester’s materiality—its very plasticity— unleashes an unsettling set of contradictory relations” in its Western users and re-users, including discomfort, disgust, sweatiness and neglect. As such, polyester garments have become the overlooked stuff of fashion waste.


My study contributes new perspectives on the little-researched house clearance industry. While part of a wider secondhand practices that have been thoroughly documented, house clearances are particular. They can be unregulated operators at the bottom end of the secondhand chain, intersecting the antiques trade, refuse disposal and the death industry. Their operations may be opaque, but they are often the first brokers of goods as they move from first-hand usage to second-hand repurposing or disposal. The decisions clearers make about the value of clothing have fundamental effects on its later direction and meaning. The study also scrutinised garments that are not usually examined. Stained polyester bedwear is not a treasured item with vintage value; it lacks romantic patina. I argue, however, that is important to examine what is culturally unwanted. Together, my microcosmic study pays attention to bigger processes that are overlooked, whether for discretion, trade secrecy, or to hide the unpalatable truths of the global inequalities that sit beneath first world fashion pleasures.

The waste disposal site, 2019. Photo: Annebella Pollen

The research was firstly shared at a 2019 Design History Society conference panel dedicated to understanding fashion practices beyond mainstream systems of financial value. It was adapted for the 2021 conference and 2022 JOMEC journal special issue on Secondhand Cultures in Unsettled Times. It has been used to provide wider context for the artistic practices of Lloyd Corporation, an artist duo who examine the cultural movement of goods outside the mainstream. This has taken the form of a talk accompanying a 2022 exhibition at Centre for Contemporary Art, Brighton, and a commissioned catalogue essay, ‘The Social Life of Unwanted Clothes’, for the exhibition’s reiteration at Carlos/Ishikawa gallery, London (‘Today’s Gift is Tomorrow’s Commodity. Yesterday’s Commodity is Tomorrow’s Found Art Object. Today’s Art Object is Tomorrow’s Junk. And Yesterday’s Junk is Tomorrow’s Heirloom’). Finally, it formed a contribution to the 2022-23 workshops, ‘Overcoming Secondhand Challenges’, organised at University of Cardiff, which brought together academics and secondhand stakeholders to consider ways to reduce waste, strengthen systems of repair, and build community in the sector.


Gregson, N. and Beale, V. 2004. Wardrobe matter: The sorting, displacement and circulation of women’s clothing. Geoforum 35, pp. 689–700.

Kopytoff, I. 1986. The Cultural Biography of Things: Commoditization as Process. In Appadurai, A. ed. The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 64-92.

Pollen, A. 2022. Emptying the wardrobe, clearing the house: A microcosmic view into the creation and destruction of clothing value. JOMEC: Journal of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies 27, pp. 34-54

Stanes, E. and Gibson, C. 2017. Materials that linger: An embodied geography of polyester fabrics. Geoforum, 85, pp. 27-36.

Woodward, S. 2007. Why Women Wear What They Wear. Oxford: Berg.

Irene Maldini – Comparative study of personalized and ready-made wardrobes in the Netherlands

Irene Maldini, at the time (2017/2018) affiliated to the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences as a PhD candidate. Background in industrial design, design for sustainability, design history and theory.

Picture showing the shared wardrobe of respondents 14A (left) and 15A (right), both users of custom-made clothing.
Shared wardrobe of respondents 14A (left) and 15A (right), both users of custom-made clothing.

Aim of the study: scientific knowledge creation

Definition of terms:

  • Personalised garments: garments involving the user in their design, and being produced on demand (resulting from bespoke tailoring, made-to-measure, mass customization, home or self-production and do-it-yourself)
  • Ready-made garments: garments produced without user input
  • Personalised wardrobes: Wardrobes including at least ten personalised garments
  • Ready-made wardrobes: Wardrobes including only ready-made garments


  • Personalised wardrobes are smaller than ready-made wardrobes
  • Personalised wardrobes’ inflow is smaller than ready-made wardrobes’ inflow
  • personalised items are used more often than ready-made garments
  • personalised items are kept for a longer time than ready-made garments

Inspiration: Available wardrobes studies at the time including the methods in the “Opening up the wardrobe” book.

Novelty: comparative and quantitative approach.


 DefinitionDescription and recruitment
Respondent group PSubjects whose wardrobes include at least ten personalised garments (personalised wardrobes)20 subjects recruited from our network. 10 respondents are consumers of custom-made clothing and 10 make clothes for their own use.
Respondent group RSubjects whose wardrobes do not include personalised garments (ready-made wardrobes)Control group. 20 subjects with similar demographic characteristics to (and mostly indicated by) participants in respondent group P.

The wardrobe studies included 40 subjects living in different provinces of the Netherlands. The group is varied in terms of age (22 to 71 years old), gender (24 females and 16 males, equally distributed in groups P and R), household composition (living alone, in couples, with children, or in shared households) and income (from <20,000 € to > 80,000 € annual gross income per household). Most of respondents live in cities, but ten subjects live in villages and towns; these are equally distributed in groups P and R.


Includes a complete wardrobe audit and registration of all garments coming in and out of the wardrobe in a 6-month period (the latter completed by 25 of the 40 participants). In group P, two garment types including both personalized and ready-made garments are chosen by respondents, for instance all sweaters and cardigans, or all trousers. They are requested to organise such items in 5 categories based on usage (used always, frequently, average, rarely and never) and age (old, relatively old, average, relatively new and new).

Picture showing the storage space in respondent 11B’s bedroom, including bags with clothes, which were integrated in the wardrobe study.
Storage space in respondent 11B’s bedroom, including bags with clothes, which were integrated in the wardrobe study.


The number of items owned by both respondent groups were statistically compared, as were the number of items coming in their wardrobes in a 6-month period.  No statistical differences were found.

For the comparison of age and usage in personalised and ready-made garments (same user and garment type), the number of personalised and ready-made items in each of the five categories listed above were documented, we assigned a value to each category, and divided the total value by the number of items in the garment type (keeping personalised and ready-mades separately). Lastly, we statistically compared the resulting score for personalised and ready-mades items in the same garment type, further using data visualisation to discuss the qualitative findings.

No statistical difference was found for garment usage. For garment age, and contrary to one of the study hypotheses, the age of ready-made garments was bigger than that of the personalised garments, meaning that ready-mades were kept for longer.


None of the hypotheses of the study was confirmed, but we expected that to be the case. The hypotheses were based on the assumptions of other people in the field, and we suspected that these did not meet reality.

Unexpected finding:

The results of the inflow-outflow exercise made me realise that the whole idea of reducing the demand of clothing based on product lifetime extension did not apply in reality, because clothing consumption dynamics do not follow a logic of replacement. Keeping a garment in the wardrobe, even if it is actively used, does not stop people to purchase other items. Inflow and outflow are only sometimes and indirectly connected. This finding, which was not considered in the design of the study, has been central in my work since then.

Picture shows weaters and cardigans owned by respondent 11A (a knitter) organized according to use frequency (from used “never” to “always”).
Sweaters and cardigans owned by respondent 11A (a knitter) organized according to use frequency (from used “never” to “always”).

Development of methods since then:

Wardrobe audits (counting the number of garments owned) have been used by others before and after this study.

Methods partially based on the inflow-outflow registration are being used by Vilde Haugrønning in her PhD (which I co-supervise). Moreover, I am planning a new research project using such an approach for all consumer goods in the household. This method can give insights about clothing consumption dynamics, the relations among garments and the causes and consequences of wardrobe movements (inflow and outflow).

To my knowledge, the quantitative comparison of garments used to assess age and usage has not been further developed or used. This (more complex) method can have a variety of uses. For instance, to compare the use value of garments made of different materials or shapes. This method was developed after testing other ways of understanding garment age and use frequency that did not work. People do not remember how long they have owned things or how often they use them. However, comparing is much easier for them and they are more confident about their responses. That was a main reason to use this method, next to the possibility of analyzing the data quantitatively.

Use of results since then: 

This study has been referenced by others to question the environmental value of product personalization. The limitation of durability (the secondary finding of the study) has had more repercussions, due to the importance given to product longevity in clothing environmental policy. We (OsloMet colleagues and I) have referred to this study in numerous policy briefings, reports, articles, and talks to explain why the focus needs to be placed on production volumes rather than product durability, expecting that volumes will be reduced in an indirect way.


Always run a pilot of your study and analyze the results before designing the final study

This study has been key in the following publications:

Maldini, Irene, Pieter J. Stappers, Javier C. Gimeno-Martinez, and Hein A. M. Daanen. 2019. “Assessing the Impact of Design Strategies on Clothing Lifetimes, Usage and Volumes: The Case of Product Personalisation.” Journal of Cleaner Production 210:1414–24. (sciencedirect.com)

Maldini, Irene. 2019. “From Speed to Volume: Reframing Clothing Production and Consumption for an Environmentally Sound Apparel Sector.” Pp. 519–24 in 3rd Product Lifetimes and the Environment conference, edited by N. F. Nissen and M. Jaeger-Erben. Berlin: TU Berlin. (researchgate.net)

Maldini, Irene and Pieter J. Stappers. 2019. “The Wardrobe as a System: Exploring Clothing Consumption through Design Fiction.” Journal of Design Research 17(1):3–25. (researchgate.net)

Maldini, Irene, Vilde Haugrønning, and Lucrecia De León. 2023. “Studying Clothing Consumption Volumes through Wardrobe Studies: A Methodological Reflection.” Pp. 610–16 in Proceedings of the 5th PLATE conference, edited by K. Niinimäki and K. Cura. Espoo: Aalto University. (kth.diva-portal.org)

Wardrobe inventories combined with inflow and outflow of garments in 15 Norwegian households

Vilde Haugrønning, PhD Candidate, Consumption Research Norway, Oslo Metropolitan University

My story of using wardrobe studies is based on the study I conduct as part of my PhD project, which is based in the CHANGE project. The aim of my PhD is to study how women’s and men’s clothing consumption in everyday life impact the material flow of garments in wardrobes and clothing volumes. The study is anchored in consumption studies and combines various methods that builds on the methodological approach of wardrobe studies. My project builds specifically on the hypothesis of the CHANGE project, which is that the specialisation of clothing for occasions and the expectations of variety are two aspects that are likely to have a big impact on the volume. To explore this hypothesis, the main objective is to study the constitutive elements of practice that influence clothing consumption and how this is influenced by gender.

Photo: Lea Gleisberg

The fieldwork is conducted in Norway and involves home visits to 15 Norwegian households with a man and a woman. Participants were recruited through various channels on social media and through personal networks. Potential participants were asked to fill out an online form and from this a sample of 15 households were selected. Since the overall perspective in this study is clothing consumption in everyday life, the participants were not recruited based on an interest in clothing or fashion, even though some had a stronger interest than others. The most important recruitment criteria were that the household consisted of a man and a woman, as the study aims to compare social constructs of gender. In addition, it was aimed to have a variety of informants in terms of age, occupation, location, and interests. The final sample consists of a variety of households from four different counties on Norway, from both urban and rural areas. Ages varies from late 20s to early 70s, some of the participants are retired, some live in houses and some in apartments, and some have children living at home.

The data collection has two phases and two visits in total to each household. The first phase involves a wardrobe inventory combined with a semi-structured interview. In this visit, two researchers, myself and my colleague Ingrid Haugsrud, are present. The participants are asked to count all the clothing they have access to, including underwear, socks and accessories but excluding shoes. The counting takes place with one participant at a time in front of their wardrobes, storage spaces or other places in the home where they store clothing. We use a template form to count the clothing based on garment categories and for each garment we ask what it is used for or what occasion it belongs to. After this, the counting form is transcribed and gives an overview of each participant’s wardrobes and its content. For example, the number of dresses for summer or number of trousers for the everyday.

Photo: Lea Gleisberg

The second phase starts at the end of the counting exercise, and the participants are asked to download an app that they will use to document inflow and outflow of garments for the next 6 months. This includes all the garments they acquire, make themselves or are gifted and garments that are donated or disposed of. The participants take photographs of the garments and upload them in the app, which also has a reminder function to keep them engaged. After 6 months, I conduct a final interview with the participants to talk about the garments they have documented.

The analysis and presentation of findings is yet to be done in my project, but the preliminary findings from phase 1 show that female participants have more clothing than male. By comparing the wardrobes and the different occasions attached to the garments, it is possible to see tendencies for why the women had more clothing. For example, several of the female informants have more clothing for everyday occasions and for party and formal occasions. Therefore, one of the reasons for the difference in the amount of clothing is likely to be related to the different expectations and conventions of gender roles in dressing for occasions and in varying between clothing for the same occasion.

From phase 2, I hope that the results can give insights into the dynamics of wardrobes from a volume perspective to better understand clothing quantities and the turnover rate of garments going in and out of wardrobes. For future research, I believe that doing a wardrobe study that involves a quantitative aspect, such as counting the whole or parts of the wardrobe, can give important insight to the content of wardrobes from a volume perspective. This could also be combined with a use frequency aspect, to investigate the connections between clothing quantities and the daily use of clothing.

As a final note, I would emphasise the data richness that wardrobe studies provide and the peculiarity of this way of doing field research, as people open up their wardrobes to complete strangers. There is something unique in being able to access people’s most intimate spaces through their clothing and hearing stories about good, bad and ordinary clothes.