Wearable art

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Wearable art, also known as Artwear or "art to wear", refers to art pieces in the shape of clothing or jewellery pieces.[1]: 12  These pieces are usually handmade, and are produced only once or as a very limited series. Pieces of clothing are often made with fibrous materials and traditional techniques such as crochet, knitting, quilting, but may also include plastic sheeting, metals, paper, and more. While the making of any article of clothing or other wearable object typically involves aesthetic considerations, the term wearable art implies that the work is intended to be accepted as an artistic creation or statement. Wearable art is meant to draw attention while it is being displayed, modeled or used in performances. Pieces may be sold and exhibited.

Wearable art sits at the crossroads of craft, fashion and art.[1]: 12  The modern idea of wearable art seems to have surfaced more than once in various forms. Jewellery historians identify a wearable art movement spanning roughly the years 1930 to 1960.[2] Textile and costume historians identify wearable art as a heir to the 1850s Arts and Crafts movement,[1] which burgeoned in the 1960s.[3]

Wearable art by the artist Beo Beyond

It grew in importance in the 1970s, fueled by hippie and mod subcultures, and alongside craftivism, fiber arts and feminist art. Artists identifying with this movement are overwhelmingly women.[1]: 8  In the late 1990s, wearable art becomes difficult to distinguish from fashion,[4]: 142  and in the 2000s-2010s begins integrating new materials such as electronics.[5]



The wearable art movements inherits from the Arts and Crafts movements, which sought to integrate art in everyday life and objects. Carefully handmade clothing was considered as a device for self-articulation and furthermore, a strategy to defy large-scale manufacturing. The optimistic start of the movement that considered pieces of clothing to be a type of self-articulation today has developed into a new and fresh style of garments.

In the United States[edit]

The term wearable art itself emerged around 1975 to distinguish it from body art, and was used alongside Artwear and "Art to Wear," coined by Julie Schafler Dale.[1]: 22  In the United States, the wearable art movement emerges from the renewal of crafts education, notably at Cranbrook Academy of Art and the Pratt Institute, who introduced teaching on weaving.[4]: 2  It was supported by the American Craft Council and the museums of Crafts and Design. The best known galleries were Obiko in San Francisco, and Julie: Artisans' Gallery in New York.[4]

Outside the United States[edit]

Crafts and art education being more separated outside of the United States, it is harder to identify wearable art as a separate movement. However, renewed interest in traditional textile crafts such as shibori dying sparked the interest of artist worldwide.[1]

Contemporary Wearable Art[edit]

Wearable art declines as a separate movement in the late 1990s due to competition from industry, which enabled customization at scale, the migration of artists towards haute couture or the production of small series, and the broader availability of handcrafted garments from around the world in the Global North.[4] An example is the 2015 Fall couture show Viktor and Rolf, which explored how the shapes of traditional artworks such as frames could become garments.[6]

Mediums and Shapes[edit]

Artists creating wearable fiber art may use purchased finished fabrics or other materials, making them into unique garments, or may dye and paint virgin fabric. Countering the belief that art is something expensive, some clothing artists have started local companies to produce quality art work and clothing for a modest price.



Crochet, embroidery, knitting, lace, quilting and felting are all commonly found in wearable art pieces.


Some 20th-century modern artists and architects sought to elevate bodily ornamentation — that is, jewellery — to the level of fine art and original design, rather than mere decoration, craft production of traditional designs, or conventional settings for showing off expensive stones or precious metals. Jewelry was used by surrealists, cubists, abstract expressionists, and other modernist artists working in the middle decades of the 20th century.[2]


As wearable computing technology develops, increasingly miniaturized and stylized equipment is starting to blend with wearable art esthetics. Low-power mobile computing allows light-emitting and color-changing flexible materials and high-tech fabrics to be used in complex and subtle ways. Some practitioners of the Steampunk movement have produced elaborate costumes and accessories which incorporate a pseudo-Victorian style with modern technology and materials.


A recurring shape in the Art to Wear movement was the kimono.[1] It enables to rapidly turn a piece of custom fabric into a garment.

Relationship to Fine Arts, Fiber Arts and Performance[edit]

Performance and conceptual artists have sometimes produced examples which are more provocative than useful. Trashion is another branch of extraordinary wearable art, for example, work by Marina DeBris. The Portland Oregon Trashion Collective, Junk to Funk,[7] has been using creating outrageous art garments out of trash.[8]

A well-known example is the Electric Dress, a ceremonial wedding kimono-like costume consisting mostly of variously colored electrified and painted light bulbs, enmeshed in a tangle of wires, created in 1956 by the Japanese Gutai artist Atsuko Tanaka. This extreme garment was something like a stage costume. Not really wearable in an everyday, practical sense, it functioned rather as part of a daring work of performance art (though the "performance" element consisted merely of the artist's wearing the piece while mingling with spectators in a gallery setting).[9]

In Nam June Paik's 1969 performance piece called TV Bra for Living Sculpture, Charlotte Moorman played a cello while wearing a brassiere made of two small operating television sets.[10]

Canadian artist Andrea Vander Kooij created a group of pieces called Garments for Forced Intimacy (2006). According to an essay at Concordia University's Faculty of Fine Arts gallery website, these hand-knit articles of clothing are designed to be worn by two people simultaneously, and they, "as the name states, compel the wearers into uncharacteristic proximity."[11]

In Belgium, Racso Jugarap, a wire artist creates wearable pieces using the material that he uses for his sculptures. playing with the malleability of metal wires.

Racso Jugarap's Wire Body Jewelry made from Galvanized Iron Wires. Brussels, Belgium
Racso Jugarap's Wire Body Jewelry made from Galvanized Iron Wires. Brussels, Belgium

Some artists, like Isamaya Ffrench and Damselfrau, create experimental masks as wearable art, using materials from Lego bricks (Ffrench); plastic trinkets, antique hear wreaths and old laces (Damselfrau).[12]

Damselfrau's mask «Jule», made from mixed materials

Major exhibitions, events and organizations[edit]




  • Fiberworks Art Center for Textile Arts, founded in 1973, closed 1987 in Berkeley
  • World Shibori Network
  • World Textile Art

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Leventon, Melissa (2005). Artwear : fashion and anti-fashion. London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 978-0-500-28537-4. OCLC 57691706.
  2. ^ a b Schon, Marbeth (2004). Modernist jewelry 1930-1960 : the wearable art movement. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Pub. ISBN 0-7643-2020-3. OCLC 54073364.
  3. ^ Penelope Green (2003-05-04). "BOOKS OF STYLE; Why Knit? The Answers". New York Times. Retrieved 2014-03-04.
  4. ^ a b c d Off the wall : American art to wear. Dilys Blum, Mary Schoeser, Julie Schafler Dale, Philadelphia Museum of Art. Philadelphia, PA. 2019. ISBN 978-0-87633-291-7. OCLC 1107150573.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  5. ^ Ryan, Susan Elizabeth (2009). "Social Fabrics: Wearable + Media + Interconnectivity". Leonardo. 42 (2): 114–116. doi:10.1162/leon.2009.42.2.114. ISSN 0024-094X.
  6. ^ "Viktor & Rolf Fall 2015 Couture Collection". Vogue. 2015-07-08. Retrieved 2022-12-17.
  7. ^ "From Junk to Funk | Environmental Science and Sustainability | Allegheny College". Allegheny.edu. Retrieved 2020-09-29.
  8. ^ "Junk to Funk". Junk to Funk. 2012-09-10. Retrieved 2014-03-04.
  9. ^ Stevens, Mark (2004-10-04). "Electrifying Art: Atsuko Tanaka, 1954-1968 - New York Magazine Art Review". Nymag.com. Retrieved 2014-03-04.
  10. ^ Glenn Collins. "Charlotte Moorman, 58, Is Dead; A Cellist in Avant-Garde Works". New York Times. Retrieved 2014-03-04.
  11. ^ [1] Archived February 4, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Solbakken, Per Kristian (February 10, 2019). "damselfrau: a peek behind the many masks of the london-based artist". designboom | architecture & design magazine. Retrieved 2019-09-13.
  13. ^ Rothwell, Kimberley (2013-07-06). "Suzie Moncrieff has the WoW factor". Stuff.co.nz. Retrieved 2015-12-02.

External links[edit]