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Comfort in clothing: a Baumanian critique of how clothing contributes to the well-being of women in the United Kingdom.

Cross, Karen Ann




This Comfort in Clothing study explores how fashion, clothing and dress practices contribute to the psychosocial well-being of women in the UK. Fashion is a global industry, fuelled in recent times by the growth of the athleisurewear sector, reflecting the postmodern preoccupation with comfort, leisure and well-being in Western societies. Well-being is identified as important to the individual and on a wider societal level, with rising mental health issues identified as a global health concern and well-being statistics reported by numerous developed economies. Bauman, a prominent sociologist, acknowledged the anxieties of the postmodern actor in his concept of Liquid Modernity, attributing them to the fast pace of change and overwhelming freedom of choice, factors inherent in today's fashion industry. Thus, this study makes an original contribution to theoretical knowledge by applying Bauman's concept of Liquid Modernity to the phenomenon of well-being in relation to clothing artefacts, fashion and dress practice. Literature related to comfort in clothing, well-being, positive psychology and identity was reviewed. Research exists in terms of physical and physiological comfort in clothing, however a gap was identified in terms of the psychological comfort gained from the everyday use of non-elite fashion and clothing. The key elements of well-being were identified as community, work, time, the body, place, individuality, emancipation, income, colour and confidence, with these being mapped to the research focus of fashion, clothing and dress practice. The concepts of hedonic and eudaimonic well-being and positive psychology were also explored. Examination of existing fashion research revealed the applicability of an interpretive world-view and multi-modal qualitative methodology. Qualitative data was gathered in the form of innovative, participant-produced image/narrative elicitations from a key informant sample. In addition, focus groups were conducted with an expanded sample. All participants were females currently living in the UK, who were mostly interested or very interested in fashion. Triangulation of the resultant multiple data types was employed during the analysis stage. The value of this Comfort in Clothing study lies in the contribution to knowledge of everyday dress practices in the postmodern era, and how those lived experiences and autobiographical memories of dress impact the psychosocial well-being of the participants. The key findings confirm that female appearance management remains firmly focused on the body and controlled by the fear of judgement, both self-judgement and the judgement of others. Hedonic well-being, gained from presenting oneself properly in public and feeling good through looking good was prevalent. Bauman's definition of the individualistic person was found to dress as a community-minded citizen, seeking the solidity of normative, ritualised dress practices and rejecting fashion's fast-paced and perpetual change. This suggests a disconnect between the fashion industry as a driver of creative destruction and constant consumption, and the clothing consumer's need for the safety and solidity of routine and the known. A hierarchy of attachment emerged, which found clothing to be under-valued, suggesting an opportunity for increased eudaimonic well-being through adoption of clothing with longevity, enabling meaning and memory to accrue and ultimately, to provide comfort in Liquid Modernity.


CROSS, K.A. 2021. Comfort in clothing: a Baumanian critique of how clothing contributes to the well-being of women in the United Kingdom. Robert Gordon University, PhD thesis. Hosted on OpenAIR [online]. Available from:

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Sep 6, 2021
Publicly Available Date Sep 6, 2021
Keywords Appearance; Appearance management; Well-being; Mental health; Comfort; Fashion; Clothing; Liquid modernity; Identity; Society
Public URL
Publisher URL
Award Date Jun 30, 2021


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