This project explores the significance of clothing and dress in the lives and experiences of people with dementia and their carers. Funded by ESRC (ES/I032517/1) the work was undertaken jointly by Professor Julia Twigg and Dr Christian Buse. Articles from the project are available below.

Clothing and dementia are not obviously linked. Clothes are associated with fashion, consumption, agency, display: dementia is assumed to erode these. The study, however, argues that clothing and dress are potentially relevant to the well being and lives of people with dementia. They touch on important issues in relation to the body, identity and self. As such, they offer routes into being and selfhood that are potentially significant for rethinking the ways in which we relate to and support this group.

Changing thinking in relation to people with dementia is important. With an ageing population, more people will be living with the condition. Until recently, however, popular discourse has been dominated by pessimism and fear. People with dementia have been objectified and Othered. There is a need for thinking that can shift the agenda towards more productive, less stigmatising accounts. This has begun to emerge in the personhood – and related citizenship – agendas and in the new emphasis on ‘living with’ dementia.

The project contributes to these developments by emphasizing the subjectivity of the person with dementia and their relationships with family carers and care workers. It focuses on their day-to-day lives at a practical, experiential and embodied level of dress.

Through the use of the concrete materiality of clothes, it addresses questions of identity and subjectivity.

The study looked at two groups: those living in care homes and those in domestic settings. In both cases, the aim was to understand the role of dress in their day to day lives and to identify issues and problems that may arise. It explored how clothing was managed in care homes, examining problems presented and solutions found.

The study will contribute to our understanding of day-to-day domestic nature of care through interviews with informal or family carers. Clothes have an intimate bodily quality that means that they can be sites of struggle and resistance. People with dementia can behave in ways that distress or embarrass others: over and underdressing, adopting bizarre modes, disrobing in public. The study explored the nature of these conflicts, attempting to understand them from the perspectives of both the carer and the person with dementia. In doing so it contributes to our understanding of the day-day nature of care in familial and domestic settings.

In June 2014 a dissemination event, Supporting Personhood in Dementia Care: Dress, Grooming and Everyday Practice, was held at the British Library, bringing together people working in the field of dementia to explore questions of good practice. See below for the programme.

A scoping study for this work was funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

Dementia and dress also raise questions in relation to hospital dress, see the paper below.