Textile History

Harnessing nostalgia : literature review part 2

Here we are again, back in a pile of research and articles through which I’m trying to tease out how we can generate emotions through design, to better fulfill goals of identity communication and clothing sustainability. Ready?! Let’s go!

Nostalgia : perceptions and applications

The word “nostalgia” means a painful longing to return home (from the Greek nostos, ‘return home’, and algos, ‘pain’, Davis, 1977). In this regard, it is usually associated with memories of childhood – our first notions of home, and a period many wish to return to as a perceived simpler time.

For many centuries, nostalgia was seen as a disease (Davis, 1977; Sedikides et al., 2008) or negative mental state (Sedikides and Wildschut, 2016; Youn & Jin, 2017; Ju et al., 2016), and wider research fields have only recently begun to regard nostalgia as a positive force with healthy consequences for optimism and wellbeing (Cheung et al., 2015; Muehling et al., 2014; Routledge et al., 2012; Sedikides and Wildschut, 2016; Zhou et al., 2008).

Nostalgia is social, it induces empathy and has been found to reduce prejudice and increase openness (Cheung et al., 2017), increase optimism, social connection, and self-esteem (Cheung et al., 2015) and create meaning (Routledge et al., 2012). The growing recognition of nostalgia as both legitimate and healthy supports the argument that nostalgia may be a solid emotive base for a kansei design methodology.

Elsewhere, Sego’s (2010) study into retention habits of mothers found that mothers are likely to retain items that embody a memory. It is a logical continuation to extend this to children’s clothing, in order to explore how nostalgia can be used to en- courage use, care, and retention of garments. Cooper (2005) identified a need for more research into how consumers increase attachment towards their possessions, in order to ensure the lifecycle of garments is increased, leading to benefits for sustainability. How attachment to a garment increases its lifecycle is also explored by Twigger-Holroyd (2017) who identifies emotional attachment as a key factor in how consumers preserve and care for their garments. This can happen not only with handmade items but also with shop-bought items (Twigger-Holroyd, 2017). This benefit for sustainability and reduced consumption is a useful by-product of the more significant conclusion – at least, in the scope of this project’s objectives – that clothes can generate emotional attachment and connectedness, and that this attachment often arises from the lived experiences and memories that the clothes participate in, and the impressions and feelings these clothes consequently trigger throughout their lifecycle.

Batcho and Shikh (2016) define nostalgia as “longing for one’s remembered past,” but this is a limited definition. The power of nostalgia extends far beyond our own lived experiences and our consequent memories, which often – and notoriously – become warped over the years. The power of nostalgia lies in its potential to evoke emotional connection and resonance with pasts we distort for ourselves, simpler times we wish we had experienced, and memories we create out of nebulous and often fictional histories. This distinction between personal and historic nostalgia has been identified by numerous authors, and is generally regarded as positive (Muehling et al., 2014) — even redemptive and “triumphant” (McAdams et al., 2001, in Muehling et al., 2014, p.74).

The fusion of the personal and the imagined could be interpreted as leading to more creative and fulfilling manifestations of nostalgic indulgence, allowing us to reinterpret and relive our past in a way that reinforces and connects us to our present and future. The literature supports this: Cheung et al. argue that nostalgia “has implications for the future” (2015, p.283) as it can improve social connections and self-esteem. Sedikides and Wildschut (2016) champion nostalgia as a motivational, future-thinking force that at once recalls the past and connects it to the future. This is an exciting and powerful interpretation for design methodology, as it opens up potential both for individualised emotional connection with objects, and a method for preserving historical elements within contemporary design.


Batcho, K.I. & Shikh. S. (2016) ‘Anticipatory nostalgia: Missing the present before it’s gone’, Personality and Individual Differences, 98, pp.75–84.

Cheung, W-Y., Sedikides, C., & Wildschut, T. (2015) ‘Induced nostalgia increases optimism (via social-connectedness and self-esteem) among individuals high, but not low, in trait nostalgia’, Personality and Individual Differences, 90, pp.283-288.

Cheung, W-Y., Sedikides, C., & Wildschut, T. (2017) ‘Nostalgia proneness and reduced prejudice’, Personality and Individual Differences, 109, pp.89–97.

Cooper, T. (2005) ‘Slower Consumption Reflections on Product Life Spans and the “Throwaway Society”’, Journal of Industrial Ecology, 9(12), pp.51–67.

Davis, F. (1977) ‘Nostalgia, identity, and the current nostalgia wave’, Journal of Popular Culture, 11(2) pp. 414-424.

Ju, I., Kim, J., Chang, M.J., Bluck, S. (2016) ‘Nostalgia marketing, perceived self-continuity, and consumer decisions’, Management Decision, 54(8), pp.2063-2083.

Muehling, D.D., Sprott, D.E., & Sultan, A.J. (2014) ‘Exploring the Boundaries of Nostalgic Advertising Effects: A Consideration of Childhood Brand Exposure and Attachment on Consumers’ Responses to Nostalgia-Themed Advertisements’, Journal of Advertising, 43(1), pp.73-84.

Sedikides, C. & Wildschut, T. (2016) ‘Past Forward: Nostalgia as a Motivational Force’, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 20(5), pp.319-321.

Routledge, C., Wildschut, T., Sedikides, C., Juhl, J., & Arndt, J. (2012) ‘The power of the past: Nostalgia as a meaning-making resource’, Memory, 20(5), pp.452-460.

Sego, T. (2010) ‘Mothers’ experiences related to the disposal of children’s clothing and gear: keeping Mister Clatters but tossing broken Barbie’, Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 9(1), pp. 57-68.

Twigger-Holroyd, A. (2017) Folk fashion : understanding homemade clothes. London: I.B.

Youn, S. & Jin, S.V. (2017) ‘Reconnecting with the past in social media: The moderating role of social influence in nostalgia marketing on Pinterest’, Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 16(6), pp.565–576.

Zhou, X., Sedikides, C., Wildschut, T., & Ding-Guo, G. (2008) ‘Counteracting loneliness: On the restorative function of nostalgia’, Psychological Science, 19(10), pp.1023-1029.

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