How do textiles speak?

Can textiles speak? How can fabric and clothing convey messages? Can we understand signs about the wearer and their culture from the clothing they wear?

After visiting the V&A museum, I chose a few examples where I felt the messages given from the garments were clear.


Nicolas Ghesquiere for Balenciaga A/W 2004

This dress speaks through visual languages. It is bold, loud – “in your face” kind of a dress. This dress would have been worn by a strong individual. The colours are very bold and they have forceful connotations; red and black. The dress also features graffiti, an exposed zip and big buckles which are all signs that this dress isn’t shy. It has postmodernism feelings. This dress was designed in the early 2000’s – even though this was “fashionable” 12 years ago it would still be understood in today’s fashion. It would still be considered fashionable 12 years later. These trends may have been new in the early 2000’s but they have now become part of society; possibly making these trends less shocking to today’s consumers. This is a designer dress which means production would be quite low, considering the value and cost of the garment. This also increases the uniqueness of the dress.


Zandra Rhodes 1969

This is a sheer evening dress. This dress is contrasting – as the shape and cut of the dress is quite modest, its long, has full-length draping sleeves and a high neckline however it is made of a sheer (see-through) material. It is also a dull colour, with a prominent yet subtle (colour wise) pattern. This dress is very typical for the time period; colours and patterns are synonymous with the 1960’s. It wouldn’t be understood in the same way today as it was in the 60’s. When I look at the dress it looks more like a kaftan rather than an evening dress. Different styles come and go with the changes in trends over time.


Emma of London 1972-3

These shoes would have been worn by a fashionable, lively, bold individual. They have a geometric pattern and are in the typical style for a sixties shoe. The designer of the shoe Emma of London; this is a written language. Communicating with the consumer that these shoes are designer, therefore something to be desired. Designer items indicate style, wealth and popularity. The inclusion of the city “London” associates the shoes with the fashion-forward city of London.


Andre Courreges Spring 1966

This dress also known as the iconic twiggy dress. It was taken and redesigned and this A-line shape is still being used in current designs. The dress shape was also influenced by Mondrian’s abstraction paintings- using colour blocking and lines to separate shapes on the dress. This shows that styles are constantly being recycled, and redesigned. This dress is simple, understated and fashionable. Using visual languages to portray the popular shape, colour and design. The 60’s were full of wild designs so this modest dress was quite different for the time. These dresses are universally  accepted in the 21st Century, however if someone from the Victorian period were to see this dress they would probably not be able to comprehend it. The dress is universally understood but only within its relevant time period. Dresses like this one becomes a part of our culture and our society. (Du Gay, 1997). It has become integrated into our daily life.

Dresses loose their meaning through reproduction. When an item is mass produced it looses its “aura” or uniqueness (Benjamin, 1970). Often items are simply made  for the reproduction rather than for the fashion. It is a money making business like any other. However, they sometimes the magic of fashion and its design element can be lost in the reproduction of items. This is slightly different for designer labels as they are much pricier which means less are made. Thus they are still able to keep their aura, unlike more affordable shops which make clothing for mass markets.


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