World 3

During World 3’s second wave of feminism, housework was a key concern. British activists set up one of the movement’s most enduring practical initiatives: a network of community laundries.

Forgoing the convenience of frequent small washes at home, laundry members dropped off wash-loads every week (freshening items in the interim) and shared duties on a rota system. Washdays became vibrant social events; other benefits included the sharing of clothes-care knowledge, informal loans and the passing on of unwanted items.

While some laundries closed when washing machines became cheaper, others survived and are thriving today, with long waiting lists for membership. 

What if …

we washed our clothes much less often and talked about clothes-care a lot more, sharing our knowledge freely?

Issue targeted:

high levels of energy and water used in washing clothes; lack of clothes-care knowledge limiting garment lifetimes


contemporary social mending sessions; vague ideas of societies in which communal washing is/was the norm

This World was contributed by Amy Twigger Holroyd (located in Nottingham, UK) using a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International licence which allows others to share and adapt the work in any medium and for any purpose, providing that they credit the author and share their material using the same Creative Commons licence.

Response to World 3

World 3 reminded me of my time working in theatre wardrobe – there would usually be two or three of us permanent wardrobe staff, plus the dressers who came in to look after the actors during the shows, and to do laundry calls. Once a production was up and running, we could get the show laundry down to a fine art; washing, drying and ironing in a certain order to make the best use of our time.

We’d be in earlier than the cast, replacing press studs or hooks and eyes, mending rips in dress hems or trouser seats. The building would fill up around us and cast or crew members would filter in to the wardrobe room, in search of a chat, or gossip, or a favour. Every show would have a cast member or two who wore their shoes out quicker than most, or seemed to get a hole in every pair of tights. When they hovered in the doorway, looking sheepish, we’d know that they had come to ask for! If there was a big night out on the horizon, the ensemble girls might ask one of us to alter a dress for them, and the guys would ask to use the iron to press their shirts. We’d always say yes, then wait to see if they’d go off to do the ironing themselves, or look vaguely disappointed as they hoped we would volunteer to do it for them! I’d ask for payment for complicated or lengthy alterations, but if it was something simple I’d just ask for a bottle of wine – I didn’t have to buy myself a bottle for years!

Being in the centre of London meant that a theatre wardrobe was quite a social spot for anyone who worked in the industry – part-time staff would pop in to drop off belongings if they were on their way to another job, or friends from other shows would drop in on their way to or from the cobblers or a haberdashery shop. If new costumes were being made, a costume maker or wardrobe supervisor who had travelled in from out of town would take advantage of whatever comfy chair was available to have a rest and a cup of tea after their fitting, before starting their journey home.

Having a fridge and a kettle was essential – I’d eat at least one meal in wardrobe every day – and we’d try to smuggle in as many kitchen gadgets as possible – our toaster was promptly confiscated but our coffee machine was allowed to remain.

A theatre company is like a large, dysfunctional, extended family, and along with washing the cast’s underwear we’d also have to accommodate other intimate aspects of their lives. Encountering performers who were struggling with body image issues or ongoing injuries was quite common, so we had to be tactful and empathetic, as well as being strict about the costumes being worn in the correct way.

– Elly Platt, July 2020

Does this World remind you of something?

I am keen to hear about any historical or contemporary real-world examples – whether individual practices, subcultures or mainstream activities – that this fiction brings to mind.

Please share any such examples using this form. Thank you!

Published by Amy Twigger Holroyd

explorer of Fashion Fictions