#LetsMakeWednesdays – Why do we wear clothes?

Young V&A
November 18, 2020
© Victoria and Albert Museum, written and illustrated by Helen Hancocks

Have you ever wondered why we wear clothes? To keep us warm, to protect ourselves from rain, or just to look fancy?

Why Do We Wear Clothes? was written and illustrated by Helen Hancocks. The book shows us that there are many different reasons why people choose what to wear.  

Some clothes are designed to have a special purpose. A raincoat to protect you from rain, or a spacesuit that keeps an astronaut safe in space. Clothes are not always just about how they make you look!

So, let’s take a fashion design challenge! 

Let’s get inspiration! 

In her book, Helen introduces some of the strangest fashion items she found in the V&A. Let’s take a look at two of these objects and her wonderful illustrations.  

Pair of chopines, about 1600, Venice © Victoria and Albert Museum 

What do you think people did in these? These very high shoes from 17th century Venice are called chopines, and are made of pine wood and leather. It is said they were very popular for women who wanted to keep their dresses clean from dirty streets. Very convenient and clever, but do you think they would be easy to walk in? 

Helen’s illustration of the Chopine shoes, from Why Do We Wear Clothes? © Victoria and Albert Museum, written and illustrated by Helen Hancocks

The image below is a woman’s marriage coat made about 120 years ago in Siberia. Can you guess what it is made of? It is made of salmon skin. Sixty Pacific salmon were used to make it! The skins of fish make effective wind and rain-proof garments. This is very important for people in cold places like Siberia. 

Coat, sewn salmon skin, about 1900, Siberia © Victoria and Albert Museum
Helen’s illustration of the Salmon Smock, from Why Do We Wear Clothes? © Victoria and Albert Museum, written and illustrated by Helen Hancocks

Today, fashion designers are experimenting with shapes and materials that are just as fascinating. 

Let’s look at how designer and engineer Oluwaseyi Sosanya explores the potential of 3D weaving. In this video, he explains a new invention using a new technology. Using a single string he creates a new way to make the sole of a shoe. 

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Have you ever had to throw out or give away your favourite clothes because you outgrew them? Designers from Petit Pli wanted to make children’s clothes that can be worn for a long time. They came up with a special folded design for clothes that means they can change their size. This range is called Clothes that Grow and can be worn from 18 months to 4 years old. This type of folding is called pleating, and it allows clothes to stretch. Even better, they are made from recycled bottles! At the V&A Museum of Childhood, we are exploring ways to work with designers like them to inspire the next generation of problem solvers. Look out for Petit Pli in the new Design Gallery.

© Petit Pli

Let’s make a fashion mood board 

There are different techniques artists and designers use to develop initial ideas into their final design. Below are some drawings, notes and colour palettes from Helen’s studio, showing how she experimented with design and colours.

© Helen Hancocks
© Helen Hancocks

A mood board is a visual way to show your ideas while you work on them. Some fashion designers use them to experiment with colours, materials and themes. A mood board might include drawings, written notes, a collage of materials, or sometimes a colour palette.  

Bill Gibb, Fashion design drawing, 1969, Britain © Victoria and Albert Museum

Let’s design some new clothes, and make a mood board for them! 

Let’s think about the concept first. Have a look at the questions below. They will help you invent a piece of clothing with a specific function. 

  • Who is it for? 
  • What is it made of? 
  • What does it help you to do? 
  • Where do you go wearing this? 
  • How does it make you feel?

To make a mood board, you can use anything you can find at home, combined with some drawing materials. Try to find unusual, or recycled materials for collage. 

Start with rough drawings and writing down ideas on a piece of paper – let your ideas flow freely. Remember, this is a mood board where you experiment with ideas. So there is no right or wrong!  

Then, add colours and samples of materials you find at home to your mood board. 

Mood board ideas

Let’s make a miniature prototype 

Sometimes fashion designers use miniature copies of their clothes. They do this to show other people, such as manufacturers, how exactly they should be made. 

Christian Dior, Quarter scale miniature ensemble, 1950, France © Victoria and Albert Museum

Can you turn your ideas from the mood board into a miniature prototype? Do you have a doll or a mannequin to pin some materials on to? Or, go big if you feel like making a wearable sculpture. Get your friends or family to show off your new fashion invention!

Wearable Architecture workshop at the Museum of Childhood, 2019 © Victoria and Albert Museum

Don’t forget to share your images using #LetsMakeWednesdays 

Helen Hancocks’  Why do we Wear Clothes? is available from the V&A shop in hardback and paperback. 

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