Clothing, Embodied Identity, and Dementia

Maintaining the Self through Dress


  • Christina Buse University of York
  • Julia Twigg University of Kent





Clothes are central to how we perform our identities. In this article, we show how these processes continue to operate in the lives of people with dementia, exploring the ways in which dress offers a means of maintaining continuity of self at a material, embodied level. The article thus contributes to the wider cultural turn in aging studies, showing how material objects are signifcant in meaning-making, even for this mentally frail group. The article draws on the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)-funded study “Dementia and Dress,” which examined the implications of clothing for people with dementia, carers, and care workers, using ethnographic and qualitative methods. It showed, despite assumptions to
the contrary, that dress remained signifcant for people with dementia, continuing to underwrite identity at both the individual level of a personal aesthetic and the social level of structural categories, such as class, gender, and generation. The article explores how identity is performed through dress in social interaction, and the tensions that can arise between narrative and embodied enactment and around the “curation” of identity. Dress provides a lens for understanding the lives of people with dementia, while at the same time, focusing on dementia expands discussions of fashion, consumption, and cultural meanings of aging.

Author Biographies

Christina Buse, University of York

is a Research Fellow in the Department of Sociology, University of York, UK, working on the ESRC funded “Buildings in the Making” project with Sarah Nettleton and colleagues. She completed her Ph.D. in
Sociology at the University of York, examining older people’s usage of new infomation and communication technologies (ICTs). She has since worked as a researcher at the Universities of Leeds and Kent, working on the embodied health and social care needs of older people and family carers. Her recent
research includes a study of dementia and dress with Julia Twigg. Readers may write to Cristina Buse at

Julia Twigg, University of Kent

is Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at the University of Kent, UK. She has written widely on age and embodiment, recently focusing on the role of the dress in the cultural constituion of age. She published
Fashion and Age: Dress, the Body and Later Life and The Body in Health and Social Care. With Christina Buse she has written on dementia and dress. She is coeditor with Wendy Martin of the Routledge Handbook of Cultural Gerontology. Her website related to dress and age is Readers
may write to Julia Twigg at


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How to Cite

Buse, C., and J. Twigg. “Clothing, Embodied Identity, and Dementia: Maintaining the Self through Dress”. Age, Culture, Humanities: An Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. 2, Jan. 2015, pp. 71-96, doi:10.7146/ageculturehumanities.v2i.130611.