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A Tale of Two Houses: Tracing Transitory Changes to Two Jamaican Social Classes through their Micro-cultures of Sewing in the Independence Period (1960–1970)

by Davinia Gregory

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This paper asks how changes to the way that dressmaking was practiced in two separate communities exemplified post-independence changes to Jamaican national identity. It was first written in 2013, from research conducted in and around two Jamaican residences: one in the beach-front, tourist hot spot of Montego Bay and the other in rural Elgin in Clarendon, at the island’s mountainous heart. At the time of Jamaican independence, these geographically and socio-economically different locations were nuclei for dressmaking practice, although for different purposes. Through them, the paper identifies two separate, classed and racialized worlds on a relatively small island, examining a social, political, architectural and creative landscape formed by the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade and European colonialism. It considers how, and how effectively these landscapes were changing in the post-independence period of decolonial struggle, in which a new Jamaicanness was being formed. To do so, it focuses on three individuals who engaged in sewing within these houses at the time: Sewing school leader Dee Davis, fashion designer Trevor C. Owen, and peripatetic seamstress Miss Aslyn. Research methods combined Oral History interviews with surviving individuals connected to the two houses, analysis of the houses themselves, and archival research conducted in Jamaica.

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