Knitting as ‘Other’: Costume and identity on college campuses

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Knitting is an innovative textile design process, playing a key role in ground-breaking developments in apparel and textile manufacture (McQuaid and Beesley 2005; Smith and Moore 2019). Despite this however, knitting carries with it a certain stigma. Firmly embedded in narratives of femininity, domesticity and nostalgia, knitting often remains understood as a ‘highly gendered relic from yesteryear’ (Turney 2009: 5). Through the analysis of a key piece of knitwear worn by Sean Maguire, a therapist portrayed by Robin Williams in the film Good Will Hunting (1997), this paper will explore the role of costume in upholding these narratives whilst simultaneously perpetuating gender ideals.

Discourse analysis allows for the analysis of ideas, concepts and transactions that exist in-between and around material things. It is therefore concerned with meaning-making processes and how and why meaning is formed (Bergström and Boréus 2017: 214). Michel Foucault, a key figure in the development of discourse analysis, describes discourse as ‘practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak’ (1972: 49), suggesting that objects have no meaning without discourse. In this way discourses construct social reality. The more a particular reading is suggested, the more embedded it becomes in the public psyche and consequently a knitted garment’s location in contemporary culture and society continues to be reinforced. As a methodology made up of a bricolage of methods, this paper considers costume analysis as an informant of broader discourse analysis.

By analysing the role of a knitted garment in the communication of identity on screen, this paper will highlight how a limited and specific narrative about knitting continues to endure. Ultimately, the paper aims to suggest that the effects of such narratives also permeate the study of this creative discipline on design school campuses today, resulting in this creative and innovative discipline remaining understudied and underinvested in.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages17
Publication statusUnpublished - 6 Oct 2023
EventBack to School: A Fashion Symposium - New York University, New York, United States
Duration: 6 Oct 20237 Oct 2023


ConferenceBack to School: A Fashion Symposium
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityNew York
Internet address

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