Ella Lang

Fabric and Flesh: A Tactile Exploration of Personhood and Becoming

April 10, 2021   /  

Name: Ella Lang
Major: Anthropology
Minor: Environmental Studies
Advisors: Christa Craven and David McConnell (second reader)

Last year, I became fascinated by the relationships that people have with their clothing that go beyond the superficial or practical, and how these relationships are not necessarily built through a care for clothing or fashion but through the physical act of getting dressed each day. In order to explore bodily relationships with clothing, I interviewed 12 people who sew and/or design clothes. In my analysis, I focus on the ways clothing can bring awareness to a space, provide comfort, or change someone’s actions. I argue that the inevitable orientation towards these materials leads to a becoming of personhood through seen and unseen aspects of the garments from memory or the production process to the texture of the fabric itself. These ideas lead to an understanding of the ways in which the body interacts with other materials and personhood is constantly in flux. You can view the photography portion of my Independent Study on my companion website. Thank you and please ask me any questions that you have about my research.

Ella will be online to field comments on April 16:
10am-noon EDT (Asia: late evening, PST: 6-8am, Africa/Europe: early evening)

82 thoughts on “Fabric and Flesh: A Tactile Exploration of Personhood and Becoming”

  1. A fascinating project, Ella! Congratulations on your I.S. and your upcoming graduation!

  2. It is so exciting to see this project come to fruition! And such an honor to be a part of that process. My totally unacademic question now is: what is the future of the second-hand pink shirt that was such an inspiration for the project? Will it make an appearance in public venues, like Commencement? And/or will it remain more of a private comfort, and hopefully fond memory of all you accomplished during this difficult year?!

    1. Christa, it was such a pleasure and inspiration to work with you! In regards to the pink shirt, I’m sure it will make an appearance at graduation. It seems to follow me wherever I go, so it cannot be contained within the personal sphere πŸ™‚ Thank you again for all your support!

  3. Very cool project, Ella! Congratulations! Have you seen the Netflix show, “Worn Stories?” If so, I’d love your perspective on how it *possibly* relates to your topic. Great job!

    1. Lindsey, thank you!! I have not, but a number of people have recommended it. I will have to watch it soon.

  4. Great video summary of your project! You made me realize I have two garments that are very unique and fond to me. Thank you for the prompt that took me to these memories.

    1. Thank you and I’m so glad! I would love to hear more about these memories next week.

  5. Ella, I find this project very interesting. I not only think of my own go to comfort clothes, but also of the special items of my father’s clothing that I’ve treasured and kept for years after his death. These items still provide a direct connection to him. Thank you for allowing me to think about why and how I feel that connection.

  6. What an interesting and meaningful project, Ella. I love that you included your brother in your research. Most of all, I appreciate the support your thesis provides for my reluctance to clean out my closet and drawers. Here’s to your pink corduroy shirt!

  7. I have loved watching you with this project and I have treasured our conversations prompted by your incredibly creative mind. I am in awe of the way you conjure beauty and softness through your work while simultaneously troubling our pre-conceived conceptions. Your brain is a magical place. You’re a life changer, Professor of Cool,

    1. You are so kind! So much of this project was inspired by our conversations. You always encourage me to think about clothing/materiality differently and delve deeper into my immediate responses. You are a part of this project and inspire me continuously!

  8. I see clothing in a different light because of this project. Also, I can’t wait to watch Moonrise Kingdom with you!

    1. Happy to hear it and thank you for constantly encouraging me throughout the process. I’m looking forward to our MOVIE NIGHT πŸ™‚

  9. Hearing your thoughts on clothing and its connection to the self in FYS was one of the coolest and eye-opening experiences I’ve had. It is so amazing to see those chats and all your hard work come together in such a lovely way. You have changed the way I view my own relationship with clothing and other objects with which I may connect. Your I.S. is brilliant. You are brilliant.

    1. It was a pleasure to have you in class and get excited about clothing and material relationships with you and everyone else in FYS. Thank you for all the support and encouragement! I can’t wait for many more fun chats to come.

  10. Beautiful job, Ella. Your dedication to thinking through materiality and identity via conversations with others is truly impressive and powerful scholarship.

  11. Wow, I feel famous! I love you so much, Ella! I love contributing to your personhood.

    (Ella, I love this and I love your pink shirt and I love you. As I was listening to you talk, I looked down at the dress I’m wearing and felt that wonderful presence of something alive in the material – something hugging my body and helping me feel a deeper sense of self, because when I’m wearing something I love, I DO feel like a fuller self. I can’t wait to read this whole thing and to learn more about what you discovered! It is such a comfort to think about the materials and objects around me carrying life in them, that I’m in community with EVERYTHING that makes up the fabric of my world. It’s really meditative. I’m so glad you chose to study this! How has working on this project changed the way you chose your outfits? Bye bye, from you-know-who πŸ™‚ )

    1. Who could this be? πŸ˜‰ I appreciate all your kind words and our many inspiring conversations about materials and play and feelings. I don’t know that this project has changed the way that I choose outfits, but it has made me think more deeply about why I am drawn to certain garments over others and what kinds of awareness those material relationships build. I pay more attention to what materials can teach me. I also consider caring for them thoughtfully, so that they will last longer. I have build a stronger understanding of the ways my body and personhood shift through the clothing that I wear and acceptance of this change.

  12. Very cool project, Ella! When you were interviewing people, did you get the sense that people were generally aware or generally unaware of the ways in which their clothing shaped their becoming or their experience of the world?

    1. Thanks, Sierra! I think they were aware of the deep importance and impact of clothing in their lives, but did not necessarily use those words. They spoke about the ways that clothing provided emotional support, shifted their perceptions of themselves, and changed their interactions within space. It was cool to hear about the ways that clothing is ingrained in peoples’ lives in ways I did not previously consider.

  13. Congratulations Ella! It is great to hear about your work and really impressive to see your range of presentation styles in the works you have shared. Do you have a preferred medium for sharing your work and has this project challenged you to think about further means to communicate your scholarship? I have really enjoyed getting to work with you in EL this year.

    1. Thank you, Dr. Sobeck! I have definitely considered the importance of different mediums in order to make my work more accessible. I enjoyed the written and artistic components most. I printed physical copies of all of the photos included online and would love to continue incorporating a physical/artistic elements in future work.

      I have enjoyed working with you as well and hope to stay in touch moving forward!

  14. Amazing, as always! Congratulations on the completion of such a cool project! You did it and with minimal stressing!!!

  15. This was a very interesting look at something I often take for granted. Of the people you interviewed, were there any similarities in the pieces of clothing they picked? Which story that went with the items did you find most compelling?

    1. Hi, yes there were similarities! Almost all the items were purchased secondhand and a majority were sweaters/jackets of some kind. I think this was tied to the ways that soft textures provide comfort. I loved hearing about one participant’s sweater that inspired her to make art in new ways. She spoke about the garment “allowing her to make.” Thank you for your thoughtful questions!

  16. Ella! Wow! This is such an incredible project, and I am so proud of you! I can’t wait to see whats next for you. Maybe a coat shop?

    1. Aw, Lily! I can’t wait to see what comes next for you. The coat shop will always be in the works πŸ™‚ Thank you for all your love and support!

  17. Amazing presentation, Ella! I am so proud of you and all the work that you have put into this. Long live the pink shirt!

    1. Long live the pink shirt! You are such a BIG inspiration for and part of this project. I can’t wait to discuss with you soon. THANK YOU!

  18. Ella,
    This is incredible! I love the inclusion of queer theory in your research, such a creative way to demonstrate the ways we become people through fashion.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words and encouragement after every studio class!!

  19. Ella,
    It is so cool to hear about how your project developed! Congratulations on your accomplishment and thank you for helping me think in new ways!

    1. Thank you! Cool to think you saw the very beginnings of this project with my college essay all the way to now with I.S.

  20. I loved hearing about the invisible past of clothes and it made me think about this pair of jean shirts I have. They’re both super worn work shirts made with indigo that I got second hand. After looking up the logos one is from an auto body repair shop and bears the marks of hard manual labor. the other is actually from a sailing team and it almost feels like its spent its entire life being doused in Lake Michigan water. Maybe that’s just me projecting but, when I wear them and especially if i am doing manual labor or something adventurous I feel as if I am adding to their almost secret history. I love this project and it was so fun to have the opportunity to think about my clothes in this new way.

    On a side note I loved the way you displayed the people you interviewed’s ideas. It felt very raw and in the same vein as the way Melanie Falick displays her interviewees in Making A Life.

    1. I am so flattered that you read my I.S.!! Thank you for sharing these garments that are meaningful to you. It’s been fun to hear stories from so many folks about items that connect them to previous parts of their lives. Our conversations helped motivate me throughout the process, and I am looking forward to many more. THANK YOU!

  21. So fascinating Ella! I am so proud of you for all the work you have done this year. Were there any questions you weren’t able to answer during your I.S. or any strands of research you would like to continue to pursue?

    1. Thank you, Marloes! Yes, I would have loved to explore “time” in my research and the ways that materials can shift perspectives of space and time (digging into my philosophy interests). There are others but too many to include here. The project will continue to grow!!

  22. Wow, such a cool presentation! I never would have thought to introduce queer theory into this research, but it works really well and you make it make a lot of sense.
    Great job!

  23. Congratulations! Well done! This has given me a lot to ponder. I appreciate your research and fresh perspective!

    1. I’m looking forward to chatting about it when I get home – thank you for your love and support!!

  24. Incredible work Ella! I’m so excited to check out the photography portion of your project. Much love!

  25. Ooooh, I’m looking forward to seeing your photos! Really nicely presented. Your study really highlights ow much our clothing impacts us, even if we think it doesn’t. I remember someone who would not part with any piece of clothing that had traveled to places that were meaningful to her.

    1. Hi Cathy,
      Thank you so much! You can view the photos on my companion website linked in the description above. I think it’s so interesting to hear the reasons why people hold on to their clothes. I appreciate you sharing and showing support now and always!

  26. This is so great, Ella! You have brought a very unique and insightful perspective to something that we often do not think about. Wonderful job!

  27. So interesting, Ella – And of course I love that you added an artistic exploration as a part of your work! Congratulations, and I can’t wait to see what is next for you!

    1. Thank you, Dr. Wong! I really appreciate you taking the time to look through my project.

  28. Congratulations, Ella, on such a fascinating video presentation and thought-provoking project. As someone who loves comfortable (and often tattered and unfashionable) clothes, you have definitely made me think more deeply about those attachments and their implications. It was truly a privilege to be involved in this project at the very beginning (junior year) and again at the end and to see how it came to fruition.

    1. Thank you, David! I have appreciated your thoughtful comments and encouragement throughout my project. I’m so glad we could work on it together. Wishing you all the best!

  29. Congrats Ella!! I’m so proud of you! Your hard work paid off and your research is great!

  30. So, if you could do it all over again – would you declare an archaeology major? HAHA
    Kidding aside, I REALLY love your project and its association with memory and materiality (and garments/regalia/personhood) and how these are co-constructed! The questions you pose on your companion website also make me reflect on how my relationship with certain garments have changed as my body has changed. How what I wore as an undergraduate wont fit now (no matter how much I wish it would). I think about how I have an entire trunk full of “field clothes” that lives in our lab house in Guatemala and how, every year when I return to them in the field, I experience a warm nostalgia about how I live in those clothes only in the field and about how when I smell their musty stowed away smell, I feel like I’m greeting old friends. I think about those ephemeral maternity clothes and how so many of them were passed to me from a cadre of SOAN faculty (including Dean Craven and Prof. Matsuzawa) and how they then get passed forward as treasured pieces essential to one of the most glorious times in our lives. This becomes a kind of artifact enchainment where the life histories of these garments intersect with our own. I think about how much I LOVE to gather “new” clothes from second-hand shops but how DIFFICULT it is to part with ones I already have and I wonder why that is. I think it is precisely because of these insights you have tapped into and brought to the fore in your research. I look forward to what lies ahead for you and what you will bring to the rest of the world – thank you for sharing with us!

    1. Dr. Navarro-Farr,

      Your comment warmed my heart! Thank you for sharing your personal experience with clothing. I remember chatting with earlier in the year about shopping and the ways secondhand clothing connects us to past wearers. Your own research inspires me, and I appreciate the advice and support you shared with me this past year and during my entire time at Wooster. You know I would LOVE to talk about this more with you anytime. Warm wishes to you and family!

  31. Ella, this is such a cool project – your creativity is shining through. Congratulations!

  32. This is such interesting research, Ella. It reminded me of the production, circulation, and consumption of high fashion among the Sapeurs whose clothing and performance engage with post-colonial identities and resistance. The questions in your IS could offer so many interesting angles to this. I look forward to learning more about your work in your thesis.

  33. ELLAAAA!! This was so amazing. It was such a fascinating approach to clothing. I have never thought about clothing in such ways. Great job! I am so proud of you and I am so glad we will grow old together!

  34. This is amazing Ella. Michelle and I are really into fashion and your topic really gives us a lot to think about. Really great work. Goodluck and all the best! YES YOU CAN

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