Tag Archives: Clarks Originals

‘It’s where the shoe gets you to I suppose’: Materializing Identity with Footwear

Following the fourth international ‘on the Image’ conference in Chicago last year I developed my paper on the relationship between popular culture images and embodied experiences of fashion into an academic journal article in Critical Studies in Fashion & Beautypublished by Intellect. The article uses Clarks Originals shoes and data gathered from a small group of Sheffield-based male wearers to understand how identity is embodied though fashion. It has been published as the lead article of the current special issue on fashion and materiality edited by Tom Fisher and Sophie Woodward. Here’s what they had to say about the article in their introduction:

[Sherlock’s] article effectively manages to combine an understanding of the meanings and associations of the shoes with the material possibilities of the fashionable object. Through the object, wearers are fashioning an identity, which is both anchored in a particular fashion moment and period, yet simultaneously highlights the endurance of a style over time.

The meanings of a fashion object are therefore in part afforded by the materiality of, in Sherlock’s example, the shoe. Her analysis provides an important corrective to semiotic accounts which do not pay attention to the materiality of the fashionable object. (Fisher and Woodward, 2014: 14)

To access the article please click here

Abstract:

Through their narrative incorporation in fairytales, song lyrics, in movies and on television shoes have become a ‘loaded device’ (Pine, 2006: 353) recycled as metonymy for the wearer or as metaphor for experience. Due to such extensive representation this article argues that they have become, in a sense, invisible. In existing academic literature we have tended to see the message rather than the shoe and we become blind to what Miller describes as the ‘humility’ of the shoe as a ‘thing’ (Miller 2005: 5). This neglect of the materiality of the shoe itself obscures the highly nuanced and subjective experiences of the wearer. As consumers/wearers, we might fully understand – even aspire to – the cultural connotations of a particular pair of shoes, yet this does not mean we will feel socially comfortable wearing them. Using empirical data gathered from wearers of the culturally significant Clarks Originals brand, this article reveals the co-constitutive relationship between the social identity of the wearer and that of the shoe. By focusing on the materiality of objects, bodies and environments we can overcome subject-object dualisms and really ‘see’ shoes in terms of the role they and their meanings play in a process of identification, transformation and cultural embodiment.

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Here’s Looking at Shoes: Conference Paper for the 4th International Conference on the Image

In October I presented my research on Clarks Originals shoes to other academics and practitioners with an interest in the ‘image’ at the Fourth International Conference on the Image in Chicago.

The paper is based on data gathered during recent focus groups with male and female Clarks Originals wearers in Sheffield along with interviews with the Clarks Originals team at their headquarters in Somerset. It reflects the relationship between popular representations and embodied experiences of wearing the classic styles.

‘Here’s Looking at Shoes’ conference paper

‘Here’s Looking at Shoes’ Exploring the relationship between popular representations and embodied experiences of shoes.

According to Benstock and Ferris (2001: 67) “Shoes are hot”: from calendars, magazines, coffee-table books, postcards, fridge magnets and book covers to visual references in film, television and the popular press, shoes are everywhere. But how do these representations affect everyday embodied experiences of wearing shoes, and to what extent are these representations informed by these experiences? This paper takes a sociological and anthropological approach that departs from traditional semiotic interpretations of images to give an empirically grounded insight into the co-constitutive relationship between representations and embodied experiences of this ubiquitous item of material culture. Following several months of interviews and observations at Clarks UK headquarters, the Originals Desert Boot, steeped in a rich history within visual culture, has emerged as a case study through which to understand this relationship. The Desert Boot – despite its perhaps distinctly un-remarkable appearance – carries an extremely rich set of meanings and associations for both men and women across a broad range of age groups and cultures. This paper shows how these meanings are carefully negotiated and facilitated through the process of representation in a subtle and complex dialogue between consumer and producer. Ultimately, this research provides a new bridge between structure and agency by showing how these representations are embodied by the Clarks Originals team themselves, affecting not only their perceptions of the footwear they produce but also their own shoe-wearing experiences.