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At Rest - At Work:

A Video Study of Eighteenth-Century Undress

The boundaries between rest and work have become blurred over the last year. For many, work spaces have moved into the home, encroaching onto the living room, the kitchen, the bedroom. At the same time clothing for work and rest has collided too. A nice top and some lipstick might be accompanied by pyjama bottoms and fuzzy socks in a time of the Zoom head and shoulders shot. For some, this has clarified and then broken the boundaries and rules that guide how we dress when at work and at rest. Like lounge wear today, the category of undress in the eighteenth-century was governed by boundaries. But these boundaries were not fixed or consistently respected. They could be garments both for rest and for work, for the privacy of the home and the publicity of the marketplace. Undress, materialised here by a quilted waistcoat, held within it a spectrum of meanings, meanings that shifted depending on the social class of the wearer, the philosophies of the observer, and even the time of day. 


My research as an academic and practitioner explores the materially lived realities of dress in the past. While I use the traditional archival and object-based methods of the historian, I have also found rich veins of knowledge to be found in experimental embodied practices by making and wearing historical clothing. These practices reveal haptic understandings of the dressed body, showing up the wrinkles of historical clothing that get smoothed out in the static perfection of museum displays of original pieces.


This video, available in a timelapsed short version and an edited real time version, illustrates the process of dressing in the eighteenth-century using both stays and a quilted waistcoat as the structural under layer. By placing each side-by-side, it is easy to see the differences in both putting on and wearing these two garments, how they affect the body differently, and the effect it has on the clothes worn above them.

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