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fabric of life

Wiltshire Students Stage Project of LGBT Fashion History

A youth project exploring the history of the LGBT community using fashion has been staged in Wiltshire.

An arts project which explores how history and fashion have been intertwined over the years culminated recently. The Fabric of Life is a Heritage Lottery Funded project involving a group of Wiltshire’s young people who have been looking at the history of fashion as a form of identity with a particular focus on gender and sexuality.

The project, delivered by a partnership of local heritage and arts organisations and Wiltshire Council began in January this year after almost two years of planning and fundraising.

The final performance was held in Trowbridge on 23 November and featured interactive performances, an exhibition, poetry, a cabinet of curiosities as well as found artefacts and fabric.

More than 45 young people have taken part in the project. Eleven young people were involved in the oral history training recording eight interviews on the topic. Young people also visited Chippenham, Trowbridge and Salisbury museums as well as the Fashion Museum in Bath and London’s Victoria & Albert Museum.

They also worked with heritage and oral history experts at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. Additionally, Abbeyfield School in Chippenham, has worked with their young people to explore identity and gender as part of this project.

The project has given young people the chance to have conversations about how they view others and themselves in society as well as providing an opportunity to understand how history and fashion have been so clearly intertwined with identity over the years.

In July 1967 the Sexual Offences Act finally decriminalised gay relationships between men over 21 in England and Wales. It was a momentous, transformative moment for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

The way we dress gives an impression of who we are, from historical figures to fairy tales. Fashion has played a role in defining and redefining our gender roles in society. For the LGBTQ community, there has always been nods, probes and ways to communicate their sexuality through clothing, style and behaviours rather than naming it directly. It became a secret language to speak and connect in a time of oppression and law