Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Textiles, Apparel Design, and Merchandising

Document Type



Economic, social, and cultural historians have studied and analyzed consumption behaviors throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century. Decorative household textiles and dress items are two product categories that follow the consumption process. American consumption behaviors during the introduction of mass-produced textiles and dress items throughout the 19th century have not been well documented.

The purpose of this research is to expand the knowledge of Southern planter-class women’s consumer behavior in relation to decorative household textiles and dress items. Arnould and Thompson’s (2005) Consumer Culture Theory and Belk’s (1988) research into possessions and the extended self provide the theoretical framework for this study of two generations of female members of the Edward James Gay family of Louisiana.

A content analysis was performed on data collected from the personal letters, diary entries, purchase receipts, and bequeathal and estate inventory records dated from 1849 to 1899 that were associated with these women. They were chosen as a case study to record and analyze their consumption behaviors and motivations as Louisiana consumers of decorative household textiles and dress items during the latter half of the 19th century before mass-produced items were widely available to the public.

Kunz and Garner’s (2011) clothing consumption process involves a five-stage cycle of acquisition, inventory, use, renovation, and discard that outlines modern-day consumption behaviors. Based on research results, Kunz and Garner’s (2011) consumption process was modified to include “creation” as an additional component in the model. In addition, a reordering of the consumption process places use, renovation, and creation as options at the same stage, depending on the completeness and condition of the product upon acquisition.

Each Gay family woman’s creation and renovation activities varied based on her skill level. Their dress item and household textile purchase intentions were for everyday use and as gifts for others. Dress items’ meanings and memories were only mentioned in letters and diary entries if they were for special events. Despite living in the wartime and post-war South, the women rarely expressed household textile and dress item acquisition problems, which were often solved by relying on their family network.



Committee Chair

Kuttruff, Jenna