Monday, February 18, 2013

Dressing Up

Lately, I've spent more time on Pinterest than is likely to be healthy; it's difficult to drag myself away from so much fascinating art of every kind and description.  As I wade through this veritable sea of art, I've noticed a surprising number of artists using the dress as a format for their work.  This is intriguing to me, partly because it seems like such an obviously good idea that I can't believe I didn't think of it. As one who made paper dolls as a child, and clothed stick-people in dresses of flowers, it would seem to be a natural progression.  Though I did embroider designs on my jeans and other items of clothing back in the day (yes, I'm that old), I never made that leap, even after the advent of paper dresses in the '60's. I do remember them- sort of.

Dress made of paper. Print of red, black and white Campbell's Soup can labels, inspired by the art of Andy Warhol. The Campbell's company used their paper dresses as a marketing technique. With the exchange of $ 1.00 and two soup labels, a woman would receive a dress by mail. c. 1967

I think my mom bought one of these when I was a little kid; I'm sure it must have been strictly out of curiosity, because I know she never wore it.  I wonder if it came in a can?

"The Wisconsin-based Scott Paper Company decided to sell paper dresses to promote their new, more colorful paper products.... other companies knew a good fad when they saw it and for the next 2 years many companies started to sell paper dresses, mostly as an advertising gimmick, some political campaigns even gave away dresses with slogans and images of their candidates....  Wippette Sportswear started selling Le Canned Dress late in 1966 and sold 100,000 in November and December."

If you want to learn more, the above pictures and information come from the article "1960's clothing fads paper dresses and dress in a can".

The dresses I'm talking about here, though, don't come in a can, but they may be made of paper.  They are works of art, and with one exception, are not meant to be worn. They are beautiful, mysterious, and layered with depth and meaning; I thought I'd share a few here.

                   Self-Portrait, 2008 wire, paper and photographic images
                  W: 46cm H: 54cm L: 46cm                            by Lynn Dennison

Her profile on the Gallery K website says, in part, that Lynn's works "...fuse personal reminiscence, emotion and memories. Her work, whether it is painting or paper sculpture, explores the connected themes of gender, inheritance and above all the meaning of being female."

I think that's a good summation of the appeal of art in the form of a dress- there is an emotional pull that is undeniable, and undeniably female.  The dress itself symbolizes the female body in both shape and connotation (think of how we designate the gender difference of restrooms, for example.)

 By Susan Stockwell: Money Dress, 2010  Made from paper money from all over the world, stitched together. Based on the style of dress worn in the 1870's by British Female Explorers, honouring their place and role in history. Material: paper money notes, cotton thread, frame Provenance: London, UK

"Susan Stockwell's Highland Dress (2009) is an empty life-sized female dress composed of ordinance survey maps of the Scottish Highlands glued together. Stockwell delivers a visual blow to English colonization and occupation of Scotland over 300 years. Using military maps to create a woman's dress sends a double message of war and politics being dominated by men in Western history...."  From review of "Mapping: Memory and Motion in Contemporary Art" at Katonah Museum of Art Journal of Multicultural Education- Vol. 12 no. 2.

Acquaintance of Kelp Forests  Kelp, Driftwood, Vintage Silk & Lace 56 x 41 x 41 by Christina Chalmers

 A Magical Life, steel mesh, plaster, oil and mixed media, 56x30x30  by Christina Chalmers

Christina Chalmers states, “In archetypal symbolism, clothing represents persona, a kind of camouflage which lets others know only what we wish them to know about us and nothing more. We are often "clothed" in our own private illusions of ourselves…power, money, success, pleasure, but there is really no substance to this "clothing"; it only cloaks what is deep inside and invisible...
the creative, unique and mysterious inner self. This work is about that with which we clothe ourselves and the "human divinity" or true self which lies hidden beneath." from Artist Statement, Selby Fleetwood Gallery

Christine Elfman   Storydress I   series of 12 images of dress made of torn story books

"Storydress II" is a series of photographs of a life-size paper mache and plaster sculpture. The dress is made of paper mache stories that I recorded of my great-grandmother’s autobiographical
reminiscences." ~Christine Elfman 

Lesley Dill's work is about giving "physical presence to the written word. She draws upon a unique vocabulary of visual metaphors, enhancing our interpretation of verbal communication. With intuition she informs and expands our understanding of ourselves, as she amplifies the deeper meaning of the spoken language through her exquisite works of art."  -

"Hinged Poem Dress" by Lesley Dill

She seeks to "explore the symbolic and visual potential of language. She often layers fragments of poetry over the human form, as in Faith (2010), a bronze figure emblazoned with a line from Kafka's Metamorphosis, emphasizing her belief in the transformative, visceral power of language. As Dill explains,'Language is the touchstone, the pivot point of all my work.'" Artspace artist bio

"Poem Hair Dress" by Lesley Dill

 Bea Szenfeld - Miss Garland. A kind of “partycamuflageuniform” where the silhouette of the cocktail dress reminds you of a Mexican piñata. The tissue paper chains that the dress is draped with have got patterns cut with laser beams. Material: 42 m paper chains and 138 pins.

 Icelandic singer, Bjork, wearing a Bea Szenfield dress to an award presentation.


"Storytelling and humanity form the basis of Louise Richardson’s work. Garments and sculptures made from a diverse selection of materials give a glimpse of untold tales. ‘Butterfly Dress’ is brimming with an intense sense of animation, conveying the magical attraction of butterflies." from April 2009 press release

 "Butterfly Dress"

"Charm"  mixed media and shed snakeskin
“I am currently looking at the idea of memory and identity, bringing universal messages to the viewer through the portrayal of objects in my own memory.” Louise Richardson

 Melinda Le Guay's dresses aren't made of paper, but I just couldn't leave them out.  They're knitted out of wire.

"Covert" by Melinda Le Guay
"Her intricately detailed wire dresses displayed tensions between their materials and the final object, creating an alluring beauty, which juxtaposed the dresses prickly surface. They also conveyed minutiae, through the repetitious act of knitting used to create the pieces." - Brenda May Gallery


Artist Melinda Le Guay says, "My work currently hinges on the physical and psychological susceptibility of the young female - when issues to do with identity sometimes culminate in self-harm, or body image disorders. A time when self-protection and retreat dominate thinking and negotiation in the world."

"Ravaged"-enamelled copper wire, thread, dyed gauze, thorn, dyed synthetic flowers, pin, paper

But wait - there's more!  Stay tuned for part 2.


  1. magnifique! la robe avec les billets..éviter la foule, on risque de se trouver nu..:)))

    1. Tres amusant, Elfi! But wearing credit cards would be very uncomfortable!

  2. spectacular post, Sharmon and the wire dresses are simply incredible... I used wire for a skirt on a figurative doll that I made a couple of years ago and it is very difficult to work with, well done... xx

    1. I can only imagine how long it must have taken her to knit those! Glad you enjoyed the post, Cat.

  3. Sharmon these are fabulous... remind me of a paper kimono series one of my professors created when I was a textile student... I'd forgotten about that. These are just wonderful!

    1. Yes, it's amazing the variety of ways you can make dresses as works of art, versus actual clothing. They say so much about our identity as women, and have such an emotional connection; I really admire the work of all these artists.

  4. Beautiful examples of 'art' dresses. I am taken with the one titled "Take.From.Away". Thank you for this wonderful journey into this art form!

    1. Mary Ann, I really had no idea of the number of artists that use the dress as an art form, but I'm very impressed with what they've done with such a deceptively 'simple' idea...

  5. Wow, wow and wow! One of my favorite blog posts anywhere. Thank you for sharing all this, Sharmond :)

    1. Deborah, I'm glad you enjoyed it so much. I hope you'll return for part 2!

  6. Wonderful post Sharmon, Melinda Le Guay's work is even more ethereal & edgey in real life than in the images & I would so love to see Louise Richardson's work in real life ah one day!

    1. Mo, I'm envious that you seen Le Guay's work in person; it must be quite an experience! I'd love to have the chance to see it, as you said- ah, one day!

    2. uuh... should be "have seen" of course...

  7. Ooo there are some gorgeous "dresses" here. Melinda Le Guay's pieces and the kelp dress in particular. I love the "softness" of Melinda's dresses. I will be back for part 2!

  8. Sharmon, these are spectacular... Every time I picked a favourite, another one popped up. I simply Love them all. Yummm.

    1. They are great, aren't they? Those paper dresses in a can- gotta find one on ebay or somewhere...


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