Becoming with Clothes: Activating wearer-worn engagements through design

Julia Valle-Noronha

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph


Frequently associated with the superficial and the frivolous, fashion has been treated as a subject of lowly relevance in both practice and research. Not exclusive to fashion, this overvaluation of the superficial and the visual has deemed the relationships between individuals and designed artefacts as weak and unengaged. In order to shift this state of affairs, this research asks about paths towards more active engagements between wearer and worn. More specifically, it is interested in understanding how fashion designers can support this change through practice. In order to answer this question, the experiences between wearer and worn and the ways these two entities interact become a central matter of concern. The realm of experience has been marginalised in the considerations of fashion studies as they have privileged investigations on fashion as a system of signification. Through a literature review, this research confirms that the few considerations on the experience between wearer and worn are articulated at a theoretical level with little applications to practice. This doctoral research is situated between the fields of fashion, design and philosophy, and unfolds as two iterative experiments in fashion design, developed under a research through design approach. Within the experiments, the design process is exposed and its outcomes are investigated through the experiences of the participants. Against the lack of previously developed methods to investigate experience between individuals and their clothes, the research engages in crafting a methodology able to embrace this study subject. Named ‘wardrobe interventions’, this method inspired by Cultural Probes collects data longitudinally on long-term relationships via deployed kits containing a garment and a diary. In the project, the importance of the interaction between wearer and worn is made visible in the theoretical framework, as it prioritises experience and agency over culture and visuality. Here, the data collected is interpreted under the light of a revised phenomenological approach, strongly grounded on theories of material agency. The first experiment, Dress(v.), explores dress in an active form and asks about ways to enhance the wearer’s reflectiveness on wearing practices. The findings from this first experiment suggest care, wardrobe novelty and time as spaces to be explored further towards more engaged relationships. The second experiment, Wear \Wear, builds on these findings. It explores answers to the question of time as a space for design and proposes surprise as a catalyst to active engagements between people and clothes. The results reveal that open-endedness can be used as a tool to motivate stronger engagements and make visible the agency of clothes. The findings expose how knowledge on clothing is constructed through embodied experiences and mutual affects — or in other words, through becomings. Once open to such becomings, wearers are aware of clothing’s ability to act, and more engaged relationships may emerge. This doctoral dissertation expects to share with its readers an urgent need to make visible the agency of clothes. It contributes to previous fashion studies by broadening understanding of the ways humans and clothing interact and presents a methodology to support this endeavour. In the field of practice, the investigation suggests ways of entangling research and practice, highlighting the relevance of wearing as a matter of great concern to designers in the field of fashion.
Translated title of the contributionBecoming with Clothes : Activating wearer-worn engagements through design
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Niinimäki, Kirsi, Supervising Professor
  • Niinimäki, Kirsi, Thesis Advisor
  • Wilde, Danielle, Thesis Advisor
Print ISBNs978-952-60-8664-4
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-8665-1
Publication statusPublished - 2019
MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)


  • research through design
  • fashion design practice
  • material agency
  • becoming with clothes
  • wardrobe interventions


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