The genre of special occasionwear is in a state of flux. Traditional occasions with dress categories such as the “ballgown” or “cocktail dress” have been replaced by contemporary settings such as the “red carpet” arrival at an awards ceremony, or sitting “front row” at a fashion parade. Such settings are imbued with their own protocols and traditions and are complex ecosystems in which many actors contribute to the staging of occasion dresses. While special occasionwear has always rendered women as objects to be gazed upon, recent phenomena including the ubiquity of celebrity culture, and the mass media distribution of photographic images mean that the singular occasion dress is now visually consumed and critiqued by a mass audience.
Against the backdrop of this popular culture setting is a making practice concerned with the construction of one dress for one person using techniques of co-design, made-to-measure and craft-based making. This making practice is called “Serial Individualities,” a name coined for the particular assemblage of design approaches employed. Serial Individualities is a poetic practice, in which time involved in hand making is an immersive undertaking. It also has a socio-material dimension, whereby engaging with stakeholders within the staging of each project impacts the materiality of the dress. For a practice also concerned with sustainability, laboriously constructed special occasion dresses to be worn only once is the epitome of environmentally wasteful practice. And so addressing such material questions is one starting point for design intervention. Each dress employs sustainable design strategies such as upcycling, and design for sharing. Concurrently, the occasion dress is a potent artefact at the convergence of mass-media, celebrity and fashion, therefore exploring the activist potential within a socially-grounded scenario, is another tangent for sustainable practice.
Through practice-based inquiry this research explores the junction of special occasion practice and sustainability by making a series of individual dresses. Each project results in the dress as a material outcome, followed by a suite of reflections on the making and staging of each project. Such reflection-in-action has resulted in a transformation of my practice to one capable of expressing a range of moral concerns through making. The staging of dresses has resulted in the incorporation of invitation and performance activities associated with wearing into fashion design activity where they are conducted from the perspective of the designer. Such a framework enables the designer to consider the ways in which socially-based activities are part of material making practice, and to reflect on a range of personal qualities which facilitate a porous practice that encounters situations with conviviality and good humour. This research demonstrates that practicing sustainable fashion within a context of Serial Individualities involves working within a tension space: between the pragmatic priorities of sustainability and the poetic impulses of fashion design, or between the material preoccupations of the designer, and the social nature of the occasion stakeholder network. Teasing out the tensions that arise through each project leads to a practice model through which sustainable design strategies can be selected and adapted in a manner appropriate to the individual scale context of a practice in special occasionwear.