How do you really describe fashion? How do you sufficiently explain the meaning of clothes? This has been a conundrum for hundreds of years to scholars, philosophers, writers and critics. Thomas Carlyle‘s experimental novel Sartor Resartus (1834), about an intellectual trying to write the “philosophy of clothes,” was the first attempt, followed by the likes of Baudelaire, Mallarmé, and Walter Benjamin. In the 60s, it was the French intellectual Roland Barthes who most satisfyingly made the attempt with his The Fashion System – a title that remains a bible today. But the perplexing difference between fashion, garment, and material object is still a perplexing mystery, a question unanswered. And writing isn’t always the only way to approach it. A recent book by the Dutch fashion researcher Femke de Vries makes a bold attempt, by looking at garment’s most basic definition: the dictionary.
Dictionary definitions are constructed to be factual and rational, and as a consequence the entries for items of clothing show no reference to the ephemeral or immaterial character of fashion. They describe the characteristics of the items, their use and their relation to the body but never mention fashion or style – is it black or white, is it python or fur, and why the difference matters! Approaching the dictionary definition as a kind of “zero condition” of fashion, “Dictionary Dressings” is an ongoing research project by Femke – an artist/researcher focusing on fashion – aiming to decode clothes and explore an alternative fashion vocabulary. The beautiful coffee table book takes shape as an expansive image archive, showing newspaper images and text fragments that adhere to the dictionary definitions, thus exploring the gaps and spaces to imagine new meanings and potentials between them. This new perspective – and approach – to fashion philosophy encourages a fluid way of reading, seeing, defining and making are facilitated. So before you put on your Gucci gloves or H&M socks next time, why don’t you consult Dictionary Dressings about its hyperthetical meaning? You might just learn something!
“Dictionary Dressings” by Femke de Vries – £25 via Tender Books