Comfort, identity and fashion in the post-socialist city: Materialities, assemblages and context

Mark Jayne & Slavomíra Ferenčuhová

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Jayne, M. & Ferenčuhová, S. (1). Comfort, identity and fashion in the post-socialist city: Materialities, assemblages and context. Journal of Consumer Culture, 15(3), 329–350.

immigration , Islam , Memory , mosque , space , Spain , symbolic boundaries

This paper works at the intersection of three bodies of writing: theories relating to fashion, identity and the city; debate relating to urban materialities, assemblages and context; and cultural interventions advancing the study of post-socialism. Drawing on empirical research undertaken in Bratislava, Slovakia, we unpack a blurring of public and private space expressed through clothing. In contrast to elsewhere in the city, in Petržalka, a high-rise housing estate from the socialist period, widely depicted as anonymous and hostile since 1989, residents are renowned for wearing ‘comfortable’ clothes in order to ‘feel at home’ in public space. We describe the relationship between fashion, identity and comfort as an everyday ‘political’ response to state socialism and later the emergence of consumer capitalism. We argue, however, that by considering materialities, assemblages and context that studies of fashion and consumer culture can offer more complex political, economic, social, cultural and spatial analysis. To that end, we show how personal and collective consumption bound up with comfort and city life can be understood with reference to changing temporal and spatial imaginaries and experiences of claiming a material ‘right to the city’.

Main finding
The common wearing of 'comfortable' clothing in public space by residents of Petržalka, a high-rise housing estate in Bratislava, Slovakia, functions as a method of claiming ownership over their community. Petržalka's socialist-era mass housing became home to Slovakian 'immigrants' relocated as part of state planning programs. The use of comfortable clothing in public space was a way for new residents to shape the space to fit their needs and preferences. Physically and socially segregated from the rest of Bratislava, Petržalka residents continue to express their collective identity through their fashion in opposition to individualized petit-bourgeois consumption patterns dominant elsewhere in the city. These clothing preferences contribute to a local culture that blurs public and private space.

Description of method used in the article
The researchers used an ethnographic approach to conduct participant observations in public and private spaces and 15 semi-structured interviews with Petržalka residents, and 5 with other Bratislava residents. The interviews were completed and transcribed in Slovak, and respondents were selected through participant observation and existing research networks to mirror the local socio-economic profile.

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Organising categories

Interviews Participant Observation
Physical types
Sidewalks Streets
Geographic locations