Clothes and the Modern Man in 1930s Oxford

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In 1930s Oxford clothing chain stores, clothes were advertised as reflecting the latest styles, but were also cheap and good quality. These claims were to an extent confirmed by contemporary observers, who suggested that, by the inter-war period, changes in clothing production and distribution had ensured that working-class and lower-middle-class people could afford to dress similarly to the upper-middle-class. However, claims of inter-class uniformity should be viewed with caution, as there is evidence that dress remained an important indicator of status. The article aims to explore the meanings attached to men's clothes in 1930s Oxford, using the example of students and car workers. Ugolini considers the role of clothing in establishing and reinforcing male group identities. The article concludes that the main impetus behind men's choice of clothes seems to have been membership of a male group. To some extent consumption was a way of reinforcing collective masculine identities. It is doubtful though that by the 1930s such identities had become “commercialized”. Neither students nor car workers can easily be categorized as manipulated by advertisers; they seem to have co-existed in a relationship of mutual dependence and distrust. It was the students who were the most visible symbols of 1930s Oxford. The prevailing image of Oxford has its origins in representations of the “modern”, fashionable Oxford man of the inter-war years.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: November 1, 2000

More about this publication?
  • Fashion Theory takes as its starting point a definition of “fashion” as the cultural construction of the embodied identity. The importance of studying the body as a site for the deployment of discourses has been well established in a number of disciplines. Until Fashion Theorys launch in 1997 the dressed body had suffered from a lack of critical analysis. Increasingly scholars have recognized the cultural significance of self-fashioning, including not only clothing but also such body alterations as tattooing and piercing.

    Fashion Theory provides an international and interdisciplinary forum for the rigorous analysis of cultural phenomena. Its peer-reviewed articles range from foot-binding to fashion advertising.
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