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Lyn's wardrobe of life

Lyn in her student days

Lyn Thomas in the Venetian coat

When Lyn Thomas studied at Oxford University in the early 1970s, it wasn’t just her Wolverhampton accent and working-class roots that marked her out as different.

She soon realised that the six outfits she had brought with her (including her old school uniform) would not cut the mustard for the posh dinners and sherry parties to which she was invited.

The answer lay in getting her aunt to make her a long skirt, and investing six guineas in a lacy white blouse from a shop called Campus. “I knew it was what I needed for Oxford socialising, and that I could wear it over and over again.”

The tale of ‘The Campus Blouse’ appears in Thomas’s touching and humorous online memoir, Clothes Pegs: A Woman’s Life in 30 Outfits, in which the University of Sussex Professor Emerita of Cultural Studies reflects on episodes of her life, from childhood to retirement, through particular personal garments.

 “As a child and young woman I had very few clothes, so I can remember what I was wearing at significant moments,” she says. “These textile memories have allowed me to explore how social class, gender and sexuality have played out in my own life.”

Her other posts include ‘The Red Tulip Dress’, which recounts a doomed love affair (“Frank said the tulips made him feel heavy, intoxicated. I liked the dress even more”), and ‘The Venetian Coat’, bought to celebrate a return to mobility after a hip operation.

The memoir has also inspired Life Writing Projects – an online collaboration between the University's Centre for Life History and Life Writing and School of Media, Film and Music’s digital platform, Reframe – in which writers and artists have explored innovative ways of telling their stories.

Curated by Thomas, the site includes a walk through litter by a writer who is shocked by the declining state of her childhood city, a poetic telling of a double mastectomy, and a grieving installation artist discovering creative uses for her grandmother’s old wardrobe.

Now Thomas is looking to expand the number of stories. Although the site is currently organised around the themes of ‘body’, ‘books’, ‘clothes’ and ‘place’, she says this is just a loose guide.

“The idea of the project is to work within self-imposed constraints that can help to give your life writing a structure, or a new focus,” she says. “They may allow things to emerge that otherwise wouldn’t have emerged.

“I’m interested in creative approaches rather than the conventional formats of autobiography and memoir. The search for a new form can lead to an exploration of issues and experiences that are not often talked about, but may be shared by many”.

  • Life Writing Projects will be open for new submissions between 21 and 31 January 2019. Maximum word length: 1,000 words. Please submit to lynjthomas@sussex.ac.uk, with ‘LWP submission’ in the subject field of your email, and a 100-word biographical note. For more information go to: Life Writing Projects: http://reframe.sussex.ac.uk/lifewritingprojects/

By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Tuesday, 18 December 2018

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