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Viewing single post of blog Memory of Clothes

Professor Catherine Loveday (University of Westminster) has researched how the ‘reminiscence bump’ occurs in memories of clothing. The reminiscence bump refers to the high frequency of significant memories people recall from a particular period of their life. Usually this is from teenage to early adulthood, when independence is gained and identities are forming. In her research, that involved asking people to choose 10 items of clothing with a significant or important memory, Catherine found a significant memory bump for clothing in this period.

This reminiscence bump for the elderly group we are working with in Worthing begins with WW2 when they were late teens or young adults. So we began by focusing on this period.

At a local care home we met Brenda, Marian, Jean and Jackie all in their 90s who were in the Womens Auxiliary Air Force, the Auxiliary Territorial Services and the Womens Land Army. They have extensive, detailed memories of that time.

We took handling items from the museum, including clothing and objects from WW2 to show them. It was amazing to hear the stories provoked by handling a gas mask, ration book or uniform.

Marion was in the WAAF. With a few exceptions women weren’t allowed to pilot planes. But Marion drove ambulances to aircraft that had come down, navigating through the dark. She wasn’t allowed near the crash site as she might see something too upsetting for a woman. Marion went on to bring up 7 children and at age of 97 still writes poetry.

Brenda and Jean both turn 97 this year and were both bought up in the Brighton area. Brenda signed up to the WAAF and was based in barracks in Oxfordshire during the war. She met her husband there who was also in the RAF and remained in the RAF after the war. Jean was in the ATS and was in London working in Grovesnor Square. Brenda and Jean didn’t know each other till they met recently at the residential care home they now live in.

Undeveloped cyanotypes on postcards using photocopied WW2 aeroplanes from Flypast magazine donated by Brenda.

Postcard series II – Planes


On being handed a gasmask from the museum collection both Brenda and Jean recall how they used them as handbags to carry their lipstick. When in uniform you weren’t allowed to carry a bag, so they had to make do. Meeting up with soldiers, nights out dancing seems to feature for all the ladies. They all speak of a new found independence that they war gave them. As Jean told me, if it wasn’t for the war she doesn’t think she would have ever left home.

WAAF uniform, Worthing Museum collection