Materials that linger: An embodied geography of polyester clothes
Narratives of clothing reuse and repurpose have centred on second-hand economies, recycling, upcycling and DIY, fashioning a particular kind of 'wasted' aesthetic where stitching, darning and patching become visible. But what of clothes that don't show signs of wear, because they are made from human-made fabrics that degrade much more slowly than organic materials? Drawing on ethnographic 'fashion journeys' with young adults from Sydney, Australia, this paper follows polyester clothes, geographically and temporally, beyond of spaces of production, to their everyday use, storage, divestment, reuse and recirculation. Clothing is theorised as always in-process - materially, temporally and spatially - and understood haptically through relations between agentic component materials and human touch. Reconfiguring concepts of fashion waste questions how clothes become redundant: their material memories instead lingering in wardrobes, in stockpiles of divested objects and hand-me-downs, entering cycles of second-hand trade and ultimately, landfill. Polyester manifests a particular variant of material culture: both mundane and malignant, its feel and slow decay result in clothing that seldom slips from the category of surplus to excess in clear ways. An embodied approach, focused on materials and haptic properties of touch and 'feel', reveals the contours of an otherwise opaque everyday geography of clothing waste.
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