Harnessing nostalgia : literature review part 3

This is going to be a long one to wrap up, because I wanted to put all the childrenswear-focused content into one post. While I’ve continued mulling over and working with many aspects of my thesis, I’ve moved away from a focus on childrenswear. I’ll still include it here for completeness and those of you with children may also be interested! Skip to the end to read my concluding remarks before we get on to the next part: how I set about using these principals to begin a design process.

The child as past and future

Nostalgia in relation to childrenswear is a particularly interesting site of meaning-making and negotiation. At the heart of any discussion of childrenswear – and the design process for this target market – is the fact that within the age bracket addressed in this project, (4 to 6 year olds), children are dressed by adults. While children aged 4 to 6 begin to have opinions on their clothing choices (Jaffe & Rosa, 1990), it can safely be assumed that parents are buy- ing their clothes. The idea of the child as a consumer is a fairly recent one, and while this idea is well-explored, the child’s own agency as a consumer has largely been ignored (Cook, 2008; Pilcher, 2013). By identifying children “both as economic actors and as significant objects for consumption,” Cook (2008, p.222) disrupts the assumption of the individual as the prime economic actor by introducing kinship alliances, dependencies, and co-dependencies as key factors of cultural consumption. This necessarily brings in marginalised actors: women, children, mothers, non-workers – agents whose role in the economy and society has traditionally been perceived as secondary. As a result, we are forced to consider the relationships of ownership and acquisition of objects. Introducing children as socio-economic agents also forces “temporal dimensions” into the conceptualisation of consumption. It becomes impossible to “ignore the ways in which consumer culture reproduces and transforms itself through the lifecycle and over generations” (Cook, 2008, p.222, emphasis in original).

This reproduction and transformation is manifest in childrenswear. Le Guennec (2018) identifies clothing as a site of negotiation of the child’s role in society, which “remains poorly defined” (2018, p. 115, translation author’s own). Childrenswear consequently acts as a continual attempt to define that role and the relationship between the child and the adult, and childhood and adulthood. From the first heirloom blanket from the attic that wraps the newborn on the way home from hospital, to the christening dress worn by generations of relatives, to the everyday cost-saving hand-me-downs between siblings and cousins, the transmission of time is reproduced constantly in a child’s wardrobe (Le Guennec, 2012). In wearing these clothes, the child reproduces the previous wearers and invokes memories of intense emotion, and at the same time transforms the garment through the generation of new memories and impressions specific to her own wearing of the garment (Le Guennec, 2012; Le Guennec, 2018).

Cook has elsewhere identified the child as a “semantic space” (2004, p.14) in which the question and role of agency and decision-making are continually renegotiated – a child may be allowed to make her own decisions at times, and at other times and to varying degrees, an adult makes these decisions on her behalf (and in doing so, implicitly makes a judge- ment on the child’s ability to make decisions). Clothing, as a key identity indicator and communicator (Wilson, in Cook, 2004; Cook, 2004) becomes a site of tension and exploration as the adult seeks (however subconsciously) to construct the identity of their child, who simultaneously begins to express her own identity. The child consequently becomes a paradox: a living embodiment of a fictionalised past-as-present projected upon her by the adult (Quentel, 1997), and an individual agent of future potential and memory.

However, this phenomenon is not only witnessed in second-hand and heirloom clothing. The adult’s own choices of new clothes can be influenced by their past, and the clothes for which they feel particular nostalgia. Many clothing brands play on feelings of nostalgia and wistfulness for a “better time” or “happier days” through design and advertising. These influences frequently refer to an era when childrenswear was completely distinct from adult- wear and thus “contributed to the isolation of childhood from the rest of society” (Le Guennec, 2012, p.64, translation author’s own). Meaning is projected onto children daily – they become metaphors of hope, lineage, financial burden, parental joy, political futures, survival of the species, and any number of further tropes (Cook, 2004). In this way, the child is a “blank slate” (Cook, 2004, p.16) which is dressed up – both literally, in outfits chosen and put on by parents, and figuratively, as the parent projects their identity expression onto the child. The child becomes defined by the adult in a way that excludes the child’s own agency in self-definition. Because the child has no past, she is a vessel onto which the parent can project their own future (Quentel, 1997).

Of course, not every adult dresses their child in clothing reminiscent of a bygone era. Street wear styles in future-thinking garments and textiles are available at all levels of the market. However , heritage influences have remained strong in various manifestations through many recent seasons (Le Guennec, 2012; Simon, 2012). Nostalgia and archival influences are frequently used by many brands in childrenswear (Le Guennec, 2012) and some define themselves by their retro branding. Simon (2012) notes that the aesthetic of heritage inspiration marks a desire to return to core values, while styles simultaneously remain contemporary by becoming more minimalist and less embellished. References to nostalgia also remain consistent through trends and marketing (Simon, 2012). Heritage influences and nostalgia should not be conflated: the former is visibly informed by archive material and fashions of yesteryear, while the latter is often “intensely personal” (Muehling et al., 2014, p.74) and may not be universally triggered by any one indicator. It may be generally agreed that a Liberty print, a duffel coat, or tweed shorts are heritage garments. Yet, someone may feel immense nostalgia for an old t-shirt that would be seen by another person as worn-out and ready for the bin, because nostalgia hinges on experience and memory generated around the garment’s use.

Contemporary childrenswear : markets and trends

As numerous authors have identified, childrenswear is an almost unique market within the fashion industry as the target consumer is twofold: the purchaser of any garment will not be the eventual wearer of the garment. Rose identifies that this “presents a problem in consumption theory” (2011, p.106) that this collection will in part attempt to resolve by addressing the emotional needs of both purchaser and wearer. As has been explored above, Cook (2004) argues that the child is ignored as a consumer because she does not participate in the economic interactions of consumerism. However, to limit consumer participation to economic interactions is shortsighted. It has been observed that children participate continually and actively in consumerism, Darian (1998) noticed their influence on their parents’ purchase decisions “appears to be growing,” a phenomenon he attributed to changing societal roles of mothers, and to growing peer pressure among children as brand recognition gained increasing importance for this consumer demographic (1998, p.421). Harper et al. (2003) suggest that changing work roles are also affecting this shift, as children contribute more to household tasks when both parents are working, creating a ‘co-shop- ping’ phenomenon.

Further authors have found that this dual consumer of parent and child has implications for
the design process, as the needs of each need to be considered (Harper et al., 2003; Pilcher, 2013). This is particularly relevant when considering the child as a consumer despite her lack of economic participa- tion. At this point, in a return to principles of kansei design, it is argued that successful clothing design for children will acknowledge and fulfill their emotional needs. As the parent is the economic actor, it is the parent who ultimately must identify and recognise that a garment can fulfill the child’s emotional needs, but it may also be assumed that the emotional ful- fillment of the adult also fuels the purchase decision. Consequently, kansei design for childrenswear must respond to emotional needs of both parent and child.

Nostalgia marketing

Nostalgia is frequently used in marketing campaigns for various target audiences to evoke positive emotions and memories in the consumer (Youn & Jin, 2017). It was the field of marketing that first began to shift the general conception of nostalgia from a negative emotion to a positive one, or at least, one that could be monetised (Routledge et al., 2012). Ju (2016) highlights the importance and success of nostalgia within experiential marketing, as a way to stimulate consumers’ senses and enable them to return to a positive past or to a positive version of their past selves, and thereby feel positive emotion and connection.

Despite interesting research into the influence of nostalgia in social media marketing demonstrating that nostalgia can encourage engagement and boost consumer-brand relationships (Youn & Jin, 2017), this research has focused on the adult consumer. Particularly in the childrenswear market, where brands have to target two highly distinct consumers, invocations of nostalgia occur in a manner that primarily targets the adult purchaser (Le Guennec, 2012). Nevertheless, children as young as eight have been found to experience nostalgia regularly (Zhou et al., 2008) and consideration of how to invoke nostalgia in children warrants further exploration.

Heritage and vintage elements of childrenswear are largely targeted towards parents and grand- parents who, by way of clothing, project their own memories and impressions of their own childhood onto the wearer (Bruschi, 2008). By dressing children in the clothes of our own childhood, we see our childhood re-enacted – and with it, we assume, all the happy memories for which we hold so much fondness. This is more than an act of sharing heritage and family histories: it is a way of re-living these that may have very little to do with the child herself. Furthermore, the parent is acknowledged as the main economic actor, and therefore the target of advertising. An example of this can be found in the recent online ad campaign from Caramel. The text below this photo feature reads, “How do you remember your weekends as a child? Foraging in the countryside or hiding until it was too dark to see. Here the photographer Saar Manche explores the nostalgia of childhood. Waxy linen coats (all the better to ward off rain) or retro style pyjama tops, rust shorts and stripe woollen tank tops recall a summer of endless play” (Caramel, 2018). While advertising childrenswear, the copy directly addresses the adult reader, asking them to remember “your weekends as a child,” rather than asking a child, “how do you spend your weekends?”

Ju et al. (2016) place nostalgia marketing within the category of experiential marketing, exploring how it stimulates a variety of senses to encourage the viewer to travel back in time. “The key to nostalgia marketing is to allow consumers to mentally return to the experience of the favorable past, eliciting positive emotions” (2016, p.2064). The authors draw a strong link between nostalgia and self-continuity, and identify importance of self-continuity and identity as key topics within consumer behaviour research. This has significant implications for nostalgia-driven emotional design, as if nostalgia can improve self-continuity and brand connection, there are encouraging implications for basing a more rigorous and thoughtful kansei design methodology in the emotion of nostalgia.


This literature review has demonstrated that nostalgia has potential for success as the driving emotion within kansei design. As identified, the implications and possibilities of kansei design have not yet been adequately explored for childrenswear. Moreover, the pairing of nostalgia with kansei design principles and tools is a new approach to the discipline. By exploring the effects and invocation of nostalgia, it is hoped that this emotion will be shown to support and deepen the efficacy of emotional design within childrenswear.

By using nostalgia to influence design, it is expected that consumers may connect more deeply with their garments. This connection is not merely surface-level with respect to impressions provoked by marketing, but may also have a lasting impact on a person’s satisfaction and well-being, which nostalgia has been shown to enhance. It is in this respect that a systematic incorporation of kansei design methodology and evocation of a close, personalised, authentic nostalgic aesthetic is proposed, in order to generate genuine connection and emotion in the consumer and the wearer. By generating feelings of nostalgia, clothing may take on a more iconic role in family identity and relationships, bring generations closer together through shared and new experiences, and arouse the benefits of nostalgia cited by many authors for more general well-being . With regards to industry implications, a more intentional and genuine evocation of nostalgia may be expected to intensify the already successful effects of using nostalgia as a marketing technique, by incorporating the emotion and impressions into product design as well as marketing.


Bruschi, M.A. (2008) ‘La mode enfantine cultive la nostalgie’, [online] Le Figaro. Available from: http:// (Accessed 3 December 2017). 

Caramel. (2018) ‘A vintage childhood’. The Journal. Available at: (Accessed 8 August, 2018 – link now defunct). 

Cook, D.T. (2004) The commodification of childhood : the children’s clothing industry and the rise of the child consumer. Duke University Press.

Cook, D.T. (2008) ‘The Missing Child in Consumption Theory’, Journal of Consumer Culture, 8(2), pp.219-243.

Darian, J.C. (1998) ‘Parent-child decision making in children’s clothing stores’, International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, 26(11), pp.421-428.

Harper, S.J.A. et al. (2003) ‘The purchase of children’s clothing – who has the upper hand?’, Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management: An International Journal, 7(2), pp.196-206. 

Jaffe, H. & Rosa, R. (1990) Childrenswear design. Fairchild.

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.

Le Guennec, A. (2012) ‘Enfance vintage: quand le passé inspire.’ Colloque de la mode: Défier le temps, une affaire de mode. Éditions Lyonnaises d’Art et d’Histoire, Université de Lyon, pp. 63-70. 

Le Guennec, A. (2018) ‘Du musée à la thèse : vers un modèle d’étude du vêtement de l’enfant’, Tétralogiques, 23, pp.115-142.

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.

Pilcher, J. (2013) ‘‘Small, but very determined’: a novel theorization of children’s consumption of clothing’, Cultural Sociology, 7(1), pp.86-100.

Quentel, J.C. (1997) L’Enfant: Problèmes de genèse et d’histoire. Paris: De Boeck & Larcier, Département De Boeck Université.

Rose, C. (2011) ‘What was uniform about the fin-de-siècle sailor suit?’, Journal of Design History, 24(2), pp.105-124.

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.

Simon, M. (2012) Carnet de tendances: Kids. Paris: Éditions de La Martinière.

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. 


Harnessing nostalgia : literature review

I’m going to heavily abbreviate this section as it was necessarily exhaustive in its original form. All the references will be given in a bibliography at the end of this post.

Kansei engineering and emotional design


Defining kansei has caused debate in the field of emotional design and engineering for decades, and various dominant definitions have been consulted to aid the interpretation of the discipline for this project. Lévy states that kansei engineering “proposes to measure and to analyze consumers’ implicit needs and to associate them with product design characteristics” (2013, p.84) – a challenging task, as ‘implicit’ suggests the consumer may not know what these needs are.

The more attraction and affinity the user feels towards an object, Gaspar et al. propose, the more efficient and effective the object is. By awakening emotion in the user, imagination is awakened at the same time – the user realises they need the object, and they can imagine how their life may be improved or enhanced by that object (Gaspar et al., 2013).

Fukuda (2013) adds a further nuance by emphasising a focus on satisfaction within design, rather than a focus on function: in this way, he argues, design needs to evolve to keep up with an increasingly open world and society. He argues that in such a world, emotional design and engineering are required in order to properly navigate the shift in priorities from finding the optimum design, to finding the most satisfying design for the user. Since in- creased openness and connectedness means “the role of the user is fundamentally shifted from passive observer to active contributor” (Twigger-Holroyd, 2017, p.11), design must become more communicative, as designers must receive users’ experience
in order to utilise that knowledge for better design outcomes (Gaspar et al., 2013; Lévy, 2013). Kansei design methodology offers the tools to do this, by translating “impressions, feelings, and demands of users” (Gaspar et al., 2013, p. 108).

Impressions and feelings are two factors that stand out among kansei definitions and encourage the link to nostalgia and garment design within this project. Nostalgia arises as a feeling – it is more than factual memory. As anyone who has felt nostalgia may attest, it can arise as a series of impressions (of a time, place, smell, sound, feeling, etc.) rather than a concrete or visual memory. It is the intention of this project to use kansei methodology to harness these impressions and feelings, and design with the intention of provoking them.

“The incorporation of the Kansei method during the design process will also improve human relations with the objects, and will assist the production of products with higher added value, not just technicians [sic.], functional, esthetic, and cultural, but also that satisfy the subjective desires and human aspirations.” (Gaspar et al., 2013)

Kansei in the clothing industry

Little groundwork for kansei design methodology has been laid within the clothing industry, where literature is limited to the implications and applications of kansei design within e-commerce (Anitawati et al., 2006; Lokman & Zolkefley, 2015; Noor, et al., 2008). Lokman and Ibrahim write briefly on the subject relating to children’s clothing design specifically (2010), and their work deserves further exploration. Kansei words, as explored by Lokman and Ibrahim (table 1), emerge as the tool with the greatest potential for clothing design grounded in nostalgia, as words hold the potential for the highly subjective goal of generating impressions within consumers.

Table 1: Kansei words, Lokman & Ibrahim, 2013 p.87

However, within a project grounded in the evocation of the visual in order to generate impressions relating to nostalgia, it is proposed that kansei images may better serve as a design tool. By generating nostalgia impressions through images during the design process, the influence of these images may extend through the design to the consumer – by way of marketing, styling, and storytelling, as well as through physical manifestation of the garment – to provoke an emotional reaction to the garment and the impressions it contains.

I’ll hold off there as -phewf- this is a lot, next time we’ll look at nostalgia specifically, and move more into the clothing and fashion industries.


Anitawati, M.L. Nor Laila, M.N. & Nagamachi, M. (2006) ‘Kansei engineering: a study on perception of online clothing websites’, in Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Quality Management and Operation Development 2008.

Fukuda, S. (2013) Emotional Engineering vol. 2. Springer.

Gaspar, V., El Marghani, R., Claus da Silva, F., Knapik, L., & Verri, M.A. (2013) ‘Kansei engineering: Methodology to the project oriented for the customers’, in Fukuda, S. (ed.) Emotional Engineering vol. 2. Springer. pp. 127-149.

Lévy, P. (2013) ‘Beyond kansei engineering: The emancipation of kansei design’, International Journal of Design, 7(2), 83-94.

Lokman, A.M. & Ibrahim, E.N. (2010) ‘The Kansei semantic space in children’s clothing’ in IEEE International Conference on Information Retrieval and Knowledge Management, 2010, pp. 85-90.

Lokman, A.M. & Zolkefley, M.K.I.K. (2015) ‘Cross-cultural Kansei measurement’, Communications in Computer and Information Science, 545, pp.242–251.

Noor, N. M., Lokman, A.M., & Nagamachi, M. (2008) ‘Applying kansei engineering to determine emotional signature of online clothing websites’, in ICEIS 2008 – Proceedings of the Tenth International Conference on Enterprise Information Systems.

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


Harnessing nostalgia : what is Kansei?

In the next installment of my thesis, I look into what exactly is a Kansei theory of emotional design.

Kansei design methodology grounds itself in the assumption that successful design fulfils the emotional needs of the user, as well as the practical needs, by eliciting and responding to their emotions and impressions. When attempting to integrate kansei methodology into a design project, the logical question becomes, which emotion should the project attempt to invoke in the user?

My thesis proposed that using nostalgia to provoke that emotion adds a layer of complexity and authenticity to the relationship between the user and the object. The user is not only imagining how their life may be improved by this object, but also how this object fits in to their own living history and memory, and how they may create new memories with this object.

Starting with an investigation into a family archive through photographs and oral history, this project used visual analysis, reflection, and memory to inform the design process. A large focus of this project became clothing of family members, both handmade and purchased. Handmade clothing can carry far greater significance than shop-bought clothing, because of the direct connection to the maker that can be seen and felt through the clothes. The term ‘handmade clothing’ instantly conveys the impression that the item of clothing was made by one family member for another – consequently, family bonds are reinforced through the creation of clothing, and identity is constructed as family members go out in the world dressed in clothing made, shared, and passed down amongst themselves. The making process can also be a strong generator of connection with clothing, stemming from a desire to disconnect with the online world, and a nostalgia for a time when we worked more with our hands (Twigger-Holroyd, 2017).

At the same time, industry considerations remain primary in the project brief. Using handmade clothing to influence design may still lead to similarly successful connection between consumers and their clothing, even if it is shop-bought. Rather, generating connection with a garment through triggering nostalgia may become even more of a priority in this case, as the garment does not have the inherent connection-encouraging property of being handmade.

As one goal of this project was to create and reinforce intergenerational connection within families through clothing, it follows that the collection would integrate designs for children and adults. This necessitates an exploration of the child as both a social actor and a consumer. The agency of the child and the role that clothing has played in determining this was an important consideration during research.

The aim of this project is to develop a design methodology that incorporates nostalgic influences and encourages the remembrance of nostalgic experiences. Instead of merely following a trend for heritage design and nostalgia marketing, it is instead proposed that such a methodology can elevate the potential of nostalgia to form bonds between people and their clothing, their families, and their personal identity expression.


Harnessing nostalgia: A kansei design methodology for intergenerational knitwear

From September 2017 to August 2018 I pursued a Master’s in Knitwear Design at Heriot Watt University in Galashiels, Scotland. I have wanted to share my Masters’ research for a while now, and I’ve been humming and haaaaaing about how to do it. It is rather long and also long-winded, and throwing up a PDF would be rather dull. So I’ve gone through it and reworked it into a more jolly tone, and kept all the nice pictures, and I hope some of you find it interesting.

My Master’s thesis project explored nostalgia is as an emotional driver within kansei design (a Japanese theory of emotional design, which I’ll get in to later). The project proposed that incorporating personal nostalgia experiences into design can lead to more authentic triggering of nostalgia, leading to more successful outcomes for well-being and connection with garments.

My goal with the project was to elaborate a methodology for incorporating emotional design in knitwear, using principles of kansei design methodology and nostalgic influences from archival and personal material, and create a collection of intergenerational knitwear, in order to test the methodology’s effectiveness.

So why is this interesting outside of an academic context? I have used the methodology I developed, and the ideas it prompted, to inform my own knitting. From pattern choices to yarn selection, using a focused approach has helped me knit more effectively. When I take more care in my selections, I can safely know that my knits will be worn and loved for many years. They will fit into my wardrobe, and I will want to wear them: cocooning myself in memory, nostalgia, and my own identity as a knitter, wrapped up in my heritage and connection with my foremothers.

I know I am not alone in often reaching for the latest hip yarns and casting on the hot patterns without really considering their suitability or meaning to me. When we invest so much time and money into our knits, we want to know that they will last to us. I have knit many things that I have not used, that I have given away to friends or – yes, honestly – donated to clothing drives. Things that I have no connection with, and that just make me feel sad and frustrated to look upon. That is not what I want knitting to mean to me.

My Master’s enabled me to unpack all these feelings – but I didn’t need the degree or program in order to do that. I just needed the motivation and time to properly approach what knitting means to me, what this vast history of women’s labour means to me, what my family means to me.

As an academic research paper, my thesis necessarily featured lots (and lots) of references to articles that are behind paywalls. At the same time, I don’t want to cut all the references out as to do so would clearly be plagiarism. I figured I’ll manage it this way : I’ll keep the references in the literature review and wherever there are quotes, and I’ll publish my Bibliography at the end so you can all see my sources. I’ll provide links where I can to any material accessible online.

Over the next few posts I’ll be releasing sections of my project. I hope that it can help you with your knitting journey too.