Ralph Day

MA work

Material culture and gay capacity, UK 1970-1990

This research project explores the possibilities for gay material culture by examining the objects sold through gay mail-order businesses, magazines and sex shops in the UK during the 1970s and 1980s, including underwear, T-shirts, sex toys and poppers.

The 1970s saw the development of the gay liberation movement in the UK, where radical activists advocated 'coming out' and sought to rethink what gay cultural life could mean. And sociologists and historians of gay culture and dress have argued that from the 1970s the gay male world experienced a 'masculinisation,' the icons of which included the gay clone and the leatherman. Imbricated with these movements was a proliferation of gay commercial offers. Some shops enthusiastically applied the label 'gay' to their products ('T-shirts go Gay!') and boldly claimed to sell 'the best gay male products' and 'all things GAY.' Others were more discreet, advertising in gay magazines with playful suggestions that their products could provide thrills. 

With archival sources including gay magazines and the records of leather and uniform clubs, and with unique access to the private archive of gay shopping chain and mail-order business, Clone Zone, this project explores how sex and sexuality were modulated by the gay commercial scene and its material offers. An individual man's capacity for gayness could be felt out and articulated through investments in the material world. And these archival sources allow for a discussion of how particular facets of gay experience – of the closet, of auto- and allo-erotic experimentation, of gender transitivity – were facilitated by, and expressed through, material culture.


  • MA Degree


    School of Fine Art


    MA History of Design, 2017

  • Ralph is a History of Design student at the V&A/Royal College of Art, with a background in modern languages, literature and film. The body, sexuality, visual culture and material culture are cardinal points in his research. He has delivered LGBTQ Tours as a volunteer guide for the V&A, and has published blog posts for the V&A and The National Archives on the subjects of queer history and material culture. His MA dissertation explores how gayness registers in design and material culture in the UK during the 1970s and 1980s.

  • Degrees

  • BA (Hons) Modern and Medieval Languages, University of Cambridge, 2013
  • Exhibitions

  • Reimagining Objects: A History of Design Exhibition, Hockney Gallery, RCA, 2016
  • Publications

  • 'Glass becomes him: reflections on Erwin Eisch's “Head of Narcissus,”' V&A Blog, 2017; 'Queerly complicit at Holland Park,' The National Archives Blog, 2017; 'A Crystallization of Evanescence' (with L. Bennet, S. Chatellier and C. Slark), Unmaking Things Blog, 2017; 'Everyday Objects to Ornaments' (with T. Bentley, N. Goldchteine and I. Fallgren), Unmaking Things Blog, 2017