Separated from the seaside pier, amusements and pebbles by a high street of shops is Worthing Museum and it’s vast collection of clothes. For me the appeal of this collection isn’t its high fashion couture, but the array of everyday items from the 17thcentury to present.
Upstairs hidden from public view is a large room full to the ceiling with rows of boxes. Inside these boxes are thousands of lives lived through garments, hats, shoes, stockings, uniforms, underwear, wedding dresses, smocks etc etc.
Unpacking the boxes is exciting. All the objects are carefully preserved, with anonymous memories or stories in the worn fabric, repaired stitching, stains or sweat marks.
What memories do these items of clothing hold, what stories are being passed onto us through these objects when little is known about their owners and previous lives?
A term that keeps recurring in this research is ‘displaced memory’ which I have understood this to mean some kind of greater than normal separation from a memory. This might be through geographical distance, old age or being institutionalized.
But I also come across a slightly different Victorian definition of the term outlined in a Journal by Athena Vrettos, 2007 published by Indiana Press. Displaced memory in Victorian Fiction and Psychology:
In late Victorian literature and psychology, memories were frequently thought to transgress mental boundaries, drifting from one mind to another or assuming a spectral existence. Objects with powerful – and often traumatic – associations acted as an especially potent conduit by which memories could pass between people who were distant in time and space.
“.. But what exactly does it mean for an object to be ‘saturated’ with human memories? What kinds of traces might ‘thoughts and glances’ actually leave on the material world? To what extent do we possess our own memories? And can memories be transferred between, or exist outside of, individual minds? In the late nineteenth century, questions such of these were frequently taken up in representations of displaced memory”
This definition of displaced memory seems particularly appropriate. These boxes, filed and indexed, in Worthing Museum are full of worn items completely saturated with human memories.
18th century smock, Worthing Museum Collection