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Consuming Underwear: Fashioning Female Identity

By Christiana Tsaousi


In academic literature underwear is a largely neglected part of women’s clothing which, this thesis argues, is nonetheless as important as ‘outward’ dress itself. Indeed in some ways underwear is more interesting in the sense that it is hidden from view but still appears to have considerable social/discursive importance. The thesis suggests that underwear functions as a source for (re)constructing female identity and that women ‘learn’ through their embodied experience of choosing the ‘right’ underwear for the right occasion to fashion elements of their identity accordingly. Using a conceptual combination of work by Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu and selected feminists, alongside theories of consumption, the thesis argues that underwear can be seen as a technology of the self and as embodied cultural capital. It functions both as a support for outerwear and the body, and as a tool for self-fashioning and self-improvement due to the intense sensations it can produce for the wearer. \ud Using a series of focus groups and interviews, based on the concept of identity opseis which reflects the different sides of identity a woman arguably plays out in her everyday life, the thesis aims to contribute to the field of the sociology of consumption by exploring the role of socio-cultural imperatives and of taste in the consumption of women’s underwear. The empirical data indicate that underwear is used for the construction and reconstruction of various feminine identities, including worker, mother, sports player and sexual partner. It analyses the importance respondents attribute to underwear according to whether it is hidden or visible; the physical/psychological sensations it induces for the respondents; the varying mobilisations of underwear to support aspects of the female identity project; the role of taste when choosing underwear; and the experiences the respondents report regarding shopping for underwear. Thus this thesis contributes to the limited scholarly literature on underwear and establishes an understanding of how such mundane forms of body work can be elements of constructing women’s ongoing and complex identity projects

Publisher: University of Leicester
Year: 2011
OAI identifier:

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