Essay: How we care for our clothes

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  • Subject area(s): Photography and arts essays
  • Reading time: 7 minutes
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  • Published on: July 15, 2019
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  • How we care for our clothes
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This research paper will address a dynamic problem within the textiles industry: How we care for our clothes, with a focus on inspecting the way in which we dress and undress our bodies. Through looking at artists and creators who document the process of dressing and undressing, I hope to provide analytical feedback and survey historical, cultural, social and environmental implications of issues that confront the economic textiles industry today and the act of dressing. According to the world of commission on environmental and development, sustainability is defined as I hope to develop my own practice in a way that works in tandem with the world commissions ideologies of sustainable design and expand and progress my methodology in the way I design and create, in conjuction to dressing and undressing the body and its connection to how we treat and care for our clothes. This chapter will explore two historical examples of dressing and undressing and how they may link to how we care for our clothes.
The common and habitual gesture of removing an item of clothing at home or in private is inspired by vastly different motivations to the identical gesture that can be performed on stage and in front of an audience. In seventeenth-century France, this daily ritual would develop into a ceremony named the toilette, an important part of the times cultural fabric. Beginning with the royal elite, the toilette was defined as the act of preparing for the day and was a daily social highlight. Louis XIV was the first royal who ritualized the process of dressing (lever) and undressing (coucher), by doing this he would give nobles and other members of high society an insight into his private world.
Being it’s not surprising that the toilette then spread to other courts in and throughout Europe, this then followed between the classes and genders.
Fashion historian Aileen Ribeiro describes the process for a female member of high society:

Looking back, historically clothes were put on a much higher pedestal, people had more appreciation for the craft of clothes, as well as the time, work and where they came from so much so that the toilette came about. I have developed this idea my own practice of sharing the whole journey of a garment in hopes of creating a stronger bond with your clothes. SEE FIGURE 3.
This idea of dressing being a ritual like a process brings in religious connotation to the experience. Artist François Boucher used the toilette as a subject in many of his works of art dating around the seventeenth century, his portraits were often commissioned of the elites toilette, with angels taking the place of dressers( see FIGURE 1) , it insinuates that these nobles were of such great importance that godly creatures had been sent from the heavens to assist them with mundane daily tasks. Subsequently, this shows the importance that the act of getting dressed had in seventeenth-century Europe, in comparison to the vastly different from the act of getting ready today. I like the idea of dressing being ceremonial and personal experience and have explored how words can be used in an instructional care label. See figure 2

– (The Fashion Historian, 2018)The performance of the toilette was really to show off affluence and status,from the handmade French lace chamise undergarments to the cork padding everything was big, extravagant and lavish, The toilette is an example of documenting dressing through a performance, it is through the act of sharing that it brings a different meaning to an unvaried task.

Similarly, In 1887 along with everyday human and animal locomotives, pioneering photographer Eadweard, due to advances in camera technology the range of subjects grew in parallel. What differed to Muybridge’s work compared to others of the time was his familiar and universal subjects, by using a high speed camera Muybridge was able to capture the sequence of gestures of a woman undressing, by exploring this “boring” subject he revealed the complex stages that the human body goes through daily. Revolutionary for its time Muybridge’s work was not a singular photo but a series of many. Muybridge recognized that the act of undressing was worth capturing, and Ito have addressed the importance of showing stages of dressing in my research, I have done this by creating instructions on how to dress and undress the body, Figure 3

These two historical examples are not of solitary domestic dressing, they do not occur habitually, they are choreographed and considered acts of dressing that are performed for an audience, by looking at historical and cultural examples of dressing and undressing I hope to gain an understanding of the conscious movements rather than the habitual, to put into my own work and see how they can help to gain a better connection with our clothes and help to aid us in taking better care for them.
In the same way, Paris-based Swedish artist and director Linus Ricard piece titled “Undress” showcases dancer Jean Lemersre removing his clothes whilst fluidly moving through the medium of film.
Ricard described the piece: (LINUS RICARD, 2018) Ricard described the piece:(LINUS RICARD, 2018)
This act of undressing has been retracted in replacement for an artistically developed dance, this piece is thought out and rehearsed, unlike the daily task of dressing, however, this doesn’t mean that this performance isn’t a true depiction of undressing, as the act is still carried out.
I interviewed Ricard, to ask him why he chose to make a film with the narrative of dressing, he answered

The active gesture of dressing and undressing is as common as other daily motions such as walking, running or climbing, like these actions the body is taken on a journey, with a beginning and an ending.
I want to address and develop the idea that clothing is a spectrum, from cloth to garment, and it is the act of dressing via an instructional care label could connect the two. this is linked to my research on the historical and cultural examples of how dressing is a spectrum from unclothed to dressing.
The images on this page show how one sheet of fabric can be wrapped around a body to create clothes, this was done without instruction to see how people would naturally want to wrap the fabric.

I want to see if these traditional methods of wrapping can be used in dressing today.An example of this is traditional Japanese dress. Japan wrapping culture has a very rich textile history, a major focus of interest of artistic expression being the kimono. When translated, the word kimono means; “thing to wear”; ki “wear” and mono “thing”, this was first adopted in the mid 19th century,
Prior to the end of the nineteenth-century kimonos were worn by everyone until westernized ideas of dressing and ideologies on lifestyle became popularised and made the norm.
Now the kimono is worn for important festivals or formal occasions. This formal attire enforces the wearer’s behavior to exude politeness and good manners. They are constructed of simple straight seamed pattern pieces sewn together to create the garment. A sash called an obi is used to secure the garment together with the left side wrapping over the right.
In the case of the kimono, the dressing is personal to the wearer, they are in control of how it looks via the way in which they wrap the garment around their bodies and how they secure it. The shape and size of the kimono allow for ease of movement, this is curated for a culture where many activities are performed seated on the floor, while also being well suited to the Japanese climate the outer layers often made from silk and lined with cotton or linen, all chosen for their breathable qualities. the kimono has been a key part of connecting wrapping to dressing and undressing the body.
By taking the time to wrap an object it adds value to it, in the book “How To Wrap Five Eggs” It showcases the process of wrapping everyday objects through the medium of photography. Author Hideyuki Oka explains how to handle even the humblest of objects with care. The book was written as a response to societies changing culture, Oka is dedicated to documenting traditional Japanese packaging, a craft he saw disappearing everywhere in favor of mass-production.

This research affected my practice direction, I explored the idea of using the traditional methods used to wrap food and other everyday things and transferred that to wrapping the body, in hopes of conveying the sophistication of Japanese packaging I have used a white unbleached linen, a natural material as used by the Japanese when wrapping, by adopting this historic technique into to wearable pieces I hope to show the need for process, juxtaposing to today’s throwaway culture in order to reinforce my ideas for dressing and undressing the body
The ideas of slow design mentioned in how to wrap five eggs on appreciating old and meaningful histroical techiniques are shared and mirrorred by art duo Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec’s in their “Dear Data” project, which documents the act of getting dressed, (all done by hand) this year-long analog data drawing expedition by two award-winning information designers showcases how they use the idea of documentation to depict the unknown, whilst living on different sides of the Atlantic, the themes are the similar to Hideyuki Oka

Week 35 of their year-long data collecting quest addresses the act of dressing.
This idea of slow transmission is parallel to the characteristics of slow fashion, both taking time, their projects both develop with time.
This case study not only dissects the act of documenting how we get dressed but the act of sharing that information too.
each postcard being hard to digest the artist’s information, its personal to the individual, each having their own unique thumbprint. It is in the same way that getting dressed is now a personal experience.

These two modern day examples of documentation art hold parallels and underlining common themes of that of a modern-day toilette, they showcase to large numbers of people the ritual of undressing as a form of entertainment, we are witness to this toilette at any time of the day.
Ann hollander (1988.p157) acknowledges the relationship between clothes and the nude, suggesting that the nude figure often exhibits evidence of having recently been dressed, for example, Jenny Savilles nude self-portrait. (Trace- 1993-1994) in which her skin is inscribed with marks from her underwear.
The act of undressing creates two separate forms, two entities, the naked body, and the empty garment, research Dr. Joanne Enthwistle states that

Similarly, artist and sculptor Jude Tallichets series of abandoned clothes cast in metal leaves the imagining up to the viewers, the deserted wearable everyday objects placed onto the floor without the presence of the human body to fulfil each garments one and only purpose, to be worn;
“Dropped clothes” 2011 Tallicets interest in clothes derives from the idea that clothes are and have always been “ the body’s fluid margins” he is exploring the idea that clothes are an extension of the body, and that we are incomplete when the clothes have been removed or left behind. Tallichets showcasing of abandoned clothes in an artistic context holds different meaning to that of a naked body in a similar setting of a gallery in comparison, this is because the naked body has been a constant source of inspiration in the art world.

I want to develop the idea of garments not being clothes when they aren’t around a body, and that they need the act of dressing to reach their full potential of becoming a garment.

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