Family shirt observations

October 15, 2013


In this text by Elisabeth Diller called “Bad Press” Elisabeth starts by talking about the intricate relationship between the body and public/private space in terms of property, propriety and the proper. She notes that while we are shielding our own property i.e our house from the public space we are told/brought up to/ encouraged to shield the public from our “private parts”.

Further on she notes that the enormous interest in efficiency in the 1920s was a reaction to industrialization and it also effected the women’s position. Numerous tests and experiments on how to do house shores more efficiently, was said to help the women to gain time. So that they could get out more and do other work. But with the increased efficiency the level and expectations of the cleanliness augmented. And with the new germ science and understanding a spotless house were to be expected. The modernist movement with its white and clean surfaces could be seen as an expression of the “germ hysteria”.

The text then goes on speaking about shirts and how they are a great example of how we are trying to form and press something, that when it comes out of the washing machine is almost shapeless , into a perfect orthogonal shape so that it efficiently could be stacked and transported. This idea of cleanliness and propriety by wearing a clean and ironed shirt is something that has fixed housewifes to the ironing board for years. Since it is such a tiresome and timeconsuming shore that constantly needs redoing it is no wonder that it has been a token of affection. “I care about you and want you to look proper”, as we say in Swedish “hel och ren”( proper and clean).

Speaking of shirts this has been an observation of mine since a few years back. My grandmother irons almost anything (even the underwear of my grandfather!) My grandfather doesn’t know how to do it and my grandmother was a housewife.  My mother, who was a housewife when we grew up,  irons my father’s shirts, kitchen towels, sheets, cloths and her own things. My father knows a little bit about how to do it. I know how to iron, my mother told me, but I rarely do it and then mostly my own clothes and maybe a cloth if we are having a nice dinner. My brothers and my boyfriend do their own ironing. I know my mother and my grandmother saw their ironing as their work and keeping their families and their home spotless was a token of them being good at their work. To me, since I have work outside my home it doesn’t become that loaded.



Elizabeth Diller, ‘Bad Press’ in Francesca Hughes, ed. The Architect Reconstructing her Practice, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996, pp. 74-95.

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