The Girl in the Wood Frock
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A GIRL, forced to marry her father after he sees her playing in his dead wife’s wedding gown, runs away wearing five dresses. Four dresses are of silk and they are beautiful. The last dress is of wood. It is in this dress that the girl escapes, throwing herself into the river to float away. A prince saves the girl but treats her badly, for she wears an ugly wood frock. Her suffering is eased at night when the girl takes off the wood dress and dances in her silk ones. The prince discovers the girl in the silk dresses and falls in love. They live happily ever after. This thesis is based on a fairy tale in which a girl’s life is changed by what she wears. In Fair Maiden Wood clothing is a means to identity. Costume is what identifies this girl as her father’s new bride, and it reveals to the shallow prince who his true love is. It is through clothing that we identify the fairy tale. But more significantly, it is through clothing that the girl experiences the outside world. The girl lives through her wood frock – it is the vessel by which she escapes the threat of incest, it is the prison that disguises her beauty from the prince; it is her armor, her cage, her temporary home. The wood frock becomes the girl’s first architecture, protecting and sheltering the girl in the most intimate manner, controlling her most immediate environment. But its role is not limited to enclosure; the wood dress also changes the girl’s experience of her surroundings, extending her bodily influence while also constraining it. The wood dress dictates how the girl moves, how much space she needs, how others see her, and how they treat her. It is an environment, elusively defined by the dialogue between her moving body and the surface of the wood shell surrounding her, which changes the girl’s quality of existence. In this in-between silhouette is a most potent, and poetic, form of architecture. In my thesis I continue the story of the girl in the wood frock through the design of three of her five gowns. The gowns reference the work of designers such as Cristobal Balenciaga or Issey Miyake whose clothes, by virtue of their construction and materiality, affect wearer and observer in startling and profound fashion. Their garments show a symbiotic relationship between body and shell, where the shell is not simply a passive enclosure but a responsive and independent extension of the body. My dresses are made with this symbiosis in mind, and I use their (painstaking) construction in order to propose that in clothing is the potential to create spatial environments that change fundamental perceptions by filtering and extending the wearer’s experience of the world and her effect on it. These dresses and the spaces they create are unique. They are not costumes of the everyday, used to suppress sensation in order to function; instead they are of the special day, when the girl seeks to be stimulated, enlightened, and also saved. They are dresses of heightened awareness, integrating both sense and action within their shifting boundaries, shaping a dynamic, albeit fleeting, architecture.
Cite this work
Andrea Shin Ling (2007). The Girl in the Wood Frock. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/3032