The Art of Functionality in Fashion
Prompt: Select three pieces of art from national or 2 international museums. Create a theme for an exhibition in which you will highlight the three pieces chosen. Explain your pieces' place and meaning for being included. Provide an illustration describing or detailing any part of your exhibition plan.
I was motivated to choose my topic of “The Art of Functionality in Fashion” and to further conduct research on it because I had a keen interest in understanding and finding out how fashion could relate to societal communication. I wanted to find out the meaning of the functionality of different garments. A few questions I wanted to answer were: How can fashion incorporate functionality? What is fashion’s purpose? How do we get fashion to speak to us and how to we speak to it? How have we redesigned fashion?
Through my research, I have found a recurring cycle that I believe inhibits fashion at its core. In fashion, nature yields functionality which yields narrative which then circles back to nature. More specifically, the functionality of dress is influenced and determined by the nature of society as well as the designer, which in turn creates a narrative of what the wearer may be labeled as until a new nature arises. Understanding this cycle and our relation to it—our relation to the items that we cover or reveal our bodies with each day—is of crucial importance. Fashion, its influence on ourselves and others—publicly and privately—is a powerful source of expression, protection, and awareness. This is why I propose an exhibition that focuses on the art of functionality in fashion.
Characterized by the extravagant and intensely dynamic nature of the Baroque period and the rampant changes of the French political, societal, and religious systems, the Clock-Watch (1600-1610; French) is an extraordinary piece of technology that was made into fashion. Clock- Watch has clear influence from its time, with ornate, symmetrical, perfected details of foliage in yellow brass, while it is also marked by its impressive range of functionality. Not only does it keep the time by the hour, but it also acts as a calendar and as an aspectarium. Though this mobile time-keeper endeavored to be at the top of its market, new technology arose quickly after its creation and the clock-watch soon became an object of display rather than of the practical use that it was really intended for (Seventeenth-Century European Watches).
Birthed from the ideas of seventeenth and early eighteenth century puritanism, “men… seized…with avidity to keep the woman ‘in her place’” (de Bruyn 21). These men wanted to construct an “ideal woman.” We can see this directly reflected in the functionality of woman’s dress from the seventeenth to the mid-eighteenth century—the time in which Court Dress (1750 CE; British) dates back to. This type of extreme dress molded, fitted, and illustrated exactly the rigid puritanism beliefs held true by men, specifically but not exclusively, during this time. And in doing so, a narrative of the definition of a woman was created and pushed forward. Court Dress, which follows robe à la française style, is composed of heavily layered fabrics and thread of brilliant metallic and blue colors. Its sharp shapes and impressive detailed features create quite an experience for the viewer—and for the wearer as one may imagine. As exemplified in Court Dress, women’s garb during this time was extremely repressing. The waistline is sutured into the smallest of proportions, “driving the bosom upward to bob about as a barely contained base for the spherical head” (Glasscock, Jessica), while enlarged rectangular panniers of willow or whalebone hung from the waist that often kept women from entering doorways normally, being required to pass through sideways instead (Eighteenth-Century Silhouette and Support). The functionality of this dress—one that is restrictive and burdensome—reflects the nature and view held by men of women: an objective, forceful, power-driven nature. It was not until after 1750 that we begin to see the shift in the state and view of the women’s role, and hence the functionality of their clothing, due to a change in the nature of society in which “new developments in recreation, commercialization, and industrialization…” rose (Social and Family Life in the Late 17th and Early 18th Centuries).