Submission note: "A thesis submitted in total fulfilment of the requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy [to the] Gender, Sexuality and Diversity Studies, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, La Trobe University, Bundoora"
Sewing as women’s work has long been associated with femininity and domesticity. This thesis explores the experiences of Australian women who sewed within their homes for paying clients in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. I argue that the traditional conceptualisation of separate public and private spheres is inadequate for understanding the reality of their lives and the social significance of their work. In consulting, fitting and sewing clothes, mostly for women and often for special occasions, these dressmakers were situated at the interface of the home and market. Connected by the three strong narrative threads of what they did, how they did it and where they did it, the in-depth examination of these women’s stories reveals how the dressmakers managed their work within their homes. The temporal and spatial boundaries of family life intersected with the formalities of the public world; emotion work crossed from the intimate sphere of family life to the maintenance of client relationships; creativity and skill transcended women’s domestic work; and the clothing they made within their homes assisted the presentation of ‘self’ within the public sphere. Drawing on the findings from oral history interviews with thirteen dressmakers, notebooks, photographs, contemporary magazines and other primary sources, the physical and ideological conditions shaping the dressmakers’ work are examined. The complexity of sewing as women’s work is explored using theory pertaining to both women’s paid and unpaid work, drawing in particular on Glucksmann’s (1995) Total Social Organisation of Labour framework. My analysis shows that by locating their paid work within the home the dressmakers were able to move in and between both spheres, exercising personal agency in the pursuit of their individual desires and family needs, whilst at the same time contributing through their work to the construction of gendered identity, class and culture in post World War Two Australian society.
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