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Minna Shim

Fashion Studies (MA) / Minna Shim


Coming Home: The Role of Dress for Refugees in Resettlement

By the end of 2010, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that 33.9 million refugees were in existence worldwide—displaced internally and externally. Old conflicts are continuing to escalate, new conflicts are emerging, and help is too slow to alleviate the numbers of these displaced entities. The forced removal from one’s home because of a life-threatening conflict is not a new phenomenon. Our histories and current affairs are plagued with similar accounts of forced migrations.

While it is crucial for refugees to escape life-threatening environments, what happens during their displacement and resettlement also has a powerful impact on their futures. If refugees are granted resettlement, it’s the beginning of a new life. Not only must refugees become accustomed to a new lifestyle and culture, but also preserve and recreate the self as well. This research explores the sartorial navigation through new cultural and social contexts and how individuals of migration consciously and unconsciously redevelop forms of habit through dress. Specifically, it examines the role of dress for refugees in resettlement, the mediation of past, present, and future experiences enabled by renewed dress practices, and the amplification of dress’ value in circumstances of migration.

This thesis argues that during the resettlement process for refugees, dress affects the physical, facilitates one’s belonging and rejection of micro and macro social spheres, and acts as an instrument for reclaiming agency and a mode of self-preservation. Situating itself as a juxtaposition for the field of fashion studies and body of literature regarding refugee resettlement, this thesis attempts to highlight the importance of migrated bodies—forced and otherwise—in the discourse of fashion studies, as well as the need to investigate the effects of cultural and social transitions on the once normative dress practices of individuals experiencing displacement, migration, and resettlement.

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