In high heels on shifting ground: fashioning lives in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake
Clothing serves as a marker of identity, but how do you dress when you have nothing left but the clothes that you were wearing when you had to run? Who are you, when dressed entirely in someone else’s choice of clothes? Does the resourcefulness necessary for self-expression under such circumstances also reinforce our ability to cope and survive on a more than material level? What can losing everything help us to remember? Taking the earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand as its starting point, this article will examine the usefulness of fashion, sometimes dismissed as a “frivolous” concern, during times of crisis. It will consider examples from these and other catastrophic events, considering how individuals and communities have used fashion as an expression of resilience and to defy the devastation wrought by disaster (Howell, 2012; Labrum, McKergow, & Gibson, 2007). The article will be structured to consider the “epicentre” of the effect of the earthquake, as on the individual, the wider social ramifications as the tremors ripple out, and the aftershocks that can continue to disrupt attempts at re-establishing daily patterns.
“Habitus” is defined as a state of mind by the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (Bourdieu & Nice 1977). It is what we practice, what has been “preached” to us, and what we have picked up from our surroundings. However, this mental space, a culmination of personal and cultural memory, requires a habitat, a physical place for its expression and evolution. Analysis of the success of the temporary Re:START mall, created from shipping containers, offers a case study on the role of fashion, as retail and spectacle, in the vigorously debated regeneration of this city. Workplaces, offices, bars and clubs serve as venues for interaction, identification and individuality, but if we dress up to go out, what happens when there is nowhere left to go to? If the street is gone, how could a shop serve “street style”, and act as a site for social interaction as well as retail and revenue? What role can fashion play in reinvigorating public spaces and events in a devastated area? From individual efforts to community initiatives, what is the role of fashion in the recovery of a city, and the cultural life of a region?