|Keeping Up Appearances? Clothing, Haircuts, and Material Culture of Mineworkers’ Families in the 1950s|
|Within contemporary historical research, questions about the meaning of consumption have gained more attention during the last years (Betts & Pence 2008; Veenis 2008). Why do people buy certain consumer durables? How do consumers appropriate these goods, and what is the meaning of these objects, particularly in terms of one’s identity? Such questions may shed another light on the wave of consumption that struck Europe from the 1950s onwards, beyond the mere quantitative approach. By starting from the perspective of microhistory (and the impulses of the Alltagsgeschichte, or the history of everyday life) (Bergerson et al., 2008), this paper analyses, through different cases, the experiences of mineworkers on personal appearance in the garden city of Eisden (Campine basin, Belgium) in the 1950s. Different enquiries show indeed an increase of workers’ expenditures on clothing and haircuts, due to, among other things, an increase of real wages. The consumer experience and the forms of appropriation (acceptance, imitation, etc.) are crucial elements in grasping the societal dynamics of the 1950s. Furthermore, the paper also sheds a light on a heterogeneous mining community, where gender and the position of newcomers are two central aspects of analysis (Beyers, 2007; De Certeau 1990). On the one hand, photographs from private collections will be used as source material. They offer insights that traditional written sources can’t give to the historian. On the other hand, interviews of mineworkers who lived in the garden city in the 1950s, will be used.
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