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Clothing

Another way in which men are able to demonstrate masculinity upon their bodies is through clothing: Frith and Gleeson have found that clothing plays an important part in men’s processes of self-surveillance and self-presentation (2004)—processes that are even more significant in prison where other means of demonstrating masculinity are unavailable and where men are constantly performing for audiences to grant them masculine credentials. Clothing did come up as a subject in participants’ discussions, in addition to being observed during the course of the research. Many prisoners wore elements of the standard prison attire—a grey sweatsuit—yet often they would add an element of their own to their outfits, such as bright shoes, hats, watches, and bracelets. Some of these sent official messages, as they would be worn by people who were on the toe-to-toe scheme—where certain prisoners help others to learn to read—as an indicator that they were able to help in that way. This was the same with some shirts which indicated that individuals were Listeners (trained by the Samaritans) or on a representative committee. Such additions enhanced the visibility of these individuals’ positions of respect and influence over the lives of others.

The grey sweatsuit itself highlights a compelling aspect of the prison experience, in that—certainly in this prison—the colour grey sends out a message of dullness and a lack of excitement and vitality. It is neither one thing nor another. It was noted in one of the research diaries in an observation of one of the prison movements that there were ‘lots of grey tracksuitswhy? A hopeless colour (Research Diary 1, June 2009).

The additions that many participants chose to make to their outfits often acted as signifiers in a similar manner to the outside world: participants made note of the fact that they often had to save up for clothing, and it had a distinct monetary value, therefore wearing expensive items such as branded trainers signifies some manner of wealth. As Crewe recognised, ‘it is notable that white trainers, the footwear of choice in prison, are the goods most capable of displaying newness and therefore indicating income’ (2009: 277). Jewkes also recognised the importance of footwear as ‘one indicator of both lifestyle aspirations and the need to signal to the group something of one’s preprison identity.. .they literally wear their masculine credentials on their feet’ (2005: 57). In addition to being of monetary value, clothing was noted to be consequential in terms of participants owning their personal space—having their own clothes in their cells put their mark and identity on that space (see also Baer 2005). Clothing was seen in some cases to act as an extension of the self and the personality of the individual, such as the wearing of football shirts to signify allegiances, in the same way as it was outside. This did have its drawbacks:

Connor: ... a lot of people don’t like things like that because it’s not the norm, they’re

like rather you walked round like this, you know.. .like a robot, and some of the clothes I wear [.] they don’t, they just don’t like them, what’s not the norm

As such, clothing being an extension of personality has the result that individuals have to police what they wear as well as how they act. In an extension of this, clothing was also used as a way to distinguish one’s self from other prisoners:

Finlay: It’s.. .I just totally, I don’t want to be like them you know, the mental health

nurse, she thinks I’m funny man, she goes listen you’re too individual, all kinds of like bright T-shirts and things like that

How certain signifiers were seen was not always as the wearers would have intended them:

Harvey: .it’s stupid, plastic gangsters (laugh) [...] walking around with their

trousers down to their ankles, arse showing [...] Walking about they’ve got a stone in their shoe and ah [.] Yeah, you go out there on the exercise yard you see them, loads of them, they’re all standing there with their 50 Cent baseball caps, jeans down to there, uh funny, funny (laughs) fifty pence

Participants also spoke of the distinct nature of prison clothing, in that the way they dressed was often linked to their situation and the type of masculine identity they wanted to demonstrate—some spoke of dressing differently when inside prison compared to outside, and others spoke of dressing up for visits:

Freddie: .I mean I always wear prison clothes, and it’s just because I feel, I feel prison’s dirty, I wear my own clothes whenever I have a visit or when I’ve got something to, I should, I should have dressed up today for you

Clearly dress was a central dimension to the performance for particular audiences.

A number spoke similarly of the association they gave to prison through certain clothes (in effect, those clothes being a signifier of their time and identity in prison), speaking of their plans to wear different clothing on the outside (often new and thus ‘untainted’ by the prison identity). As such, clothing was seen to be a signifier of their situated identities, firmly positioned within the discourses of the sites that they inhabited and very much about their sense of being masculine and retaining control over their senses of self (see also Phillips 2012):

Oscar: I suppose I feel like a man outside. Where I can dress like a man. Dunno, that

that, no. Don’t feel like a man in here. No, not really

 
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