Academic journal article International Journal of Design

“Can I Wear This?” Blending Clothing and Digital Expression by Wearing Dynamic Fabric

Academic journal article International Journal of Design

“Can I Wear This?” Blending Clothing and Digital Expression by Wearing Dynamic Fabric

Article excerpt


If garments were to possess a computer screen’s ability to dynamically display colours, patterns, and still and moving imagery, what might this experience be in everyday life? The very possibility of integrating “dynamic fabric” into clothing challenges many of the norms of fashion. Key among these is the notion of one garment functioning as multiple garments (Devendorf et al., 2016; Dunne, 2010). In theory, the “ultimate garment” could potentially mitigate the waste and unsustainability of “fast-fashion”, that is, the cyclical change of fashion based on trends and seasonal changes of spring and autumn collections (Dunne, 2010). Dynamic fabric offers new forms of expression that combine fashion with digital cultures and which may alter notions of originality, consumption and identity as currently manifest in “non-dynamic” fashion. For example, dynamic fabric could merge the social interactions performed through garments with social media interactions to create hybrid physical and virtual forms of sociality (Berzowska, 2005; Devendorf et al., 2016; Loschek, 2009). In short, wrapping our bodies in dynamic and sophisticated visual digital content could be disruptive for fashion.

The prevalence of dynamic fabric could be equally disruptive for those designing or researching wearable technologies and smart fabrics and also for the broader disciplines of human-computer interaction (HCI), graphic design, textile design, fashion design and social media. It would bring the digital to a new level of intimate, material and social relations with our bodies. As innovations in smart fabrics continue, it will be increasingly important for designers to consider the convergence of the social functions of technology with the social functions of dress (Buechley, Eisenberg, Catchen, & Crockett, 2008; Devendorf et al., 2016; Dunne et al., 2014). Dynamic fabric has the ability to draw from the digital world while existing as worn material in the everyday physical and social worlds. For researchers and designers, this implies that the digital will be brought squarely into the realms of embodiment, daily life, and social and cultural audiences.

It is well-established within fashion that clothing functions as an important and necessary social tool that acts as an interface between our bodies and society (Barnard, 2014), Umberto Eco (1986) writing that, “in imposing an exterior demeanor, clothes are semiotic devices, machines for communication” (p. 195). In this light, explorations into dynamic fabric and wearable computing will need to anticipate the socio-cultural implications of identity and audience. Further, the dynamics of daily living on such an intimate basis with digital technology will reveal distinct opportunities and challenges as important as the technological developments that enabled them.

We approach these notions through Greenscreen Dress, an autoethnographic study focused on the wearing experience of dynamic fabric in everyday life. To approximate this, over a ten-month period the first author incorporated the colour green into her wardrobe on a daily basis and captured still and moving images of the garments inscribed with changing digital content using a live chroma-keying smartphone application (iDevMobile Tec., 2015) (Figure 1). The central activity of the study is wearing visual digital content to “try it on” and through this to explore the interplay of clothing expression and digital expression as it relates to personal identity and style, combined with daily interactions with garments.

[Image omitted; see PDF]

Findings from the study are examined through the lens of the researcher’s daily acts of wearing dynamic fabric, and interactions with digital expression (expressive capabilities through digital media). The paper offers several insights. We explore the practical and expressive opportunities and challenges in integrating highly functional fabrics into one’s wardrobe, the integral role of an audience in exploring wearable technologies meant for personal fashion, negotiations made between the digital qualities and physical qualities of dynamic fabric, and questions that arise surrounding control and authorship of digital content that is “worn”. …

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