Dictionary Dressings is an ongoing research project by Femke de Vries that uses the nature of the dictionary definition as a “zero condition” of a piece of clothing to decode clothes and explore an alternative fashion vocabulary.

Dictionary definitions are constructed to be factual and rational and as a consequence the entries for items of clothing show no reference to the ephemeral or immaterial character of fashion. They describe the characteristics of the items, their use and their relation to the body but never mention fashion or style. Take the Dutch definition of a glove for example: “Handschoen: bekleding van de hand” (literally translated to English as Glove: covering of the hand).

In the composition of an image archive, showing newspaper images and text fragments that adhere to the dictionary definitions, the gaps that exist within the definitions play a leading role. By focussing on essential elements that describe clothing rather than fashion, the variety of possible re-readings of the definitions becomes evident and recurring questions of placement, size, material and relation to the body are revealed.

The potential of Dictionary Dressings as an activating and experimental design approach is brought forward in designers and workshop participants engaging with the approach, either by directly exploring a dictionary definition of their choice or by interlinking the Dictionary Dressings approach with their own current work processes and products, showing possible re-readings and translations. The broader implications and potential of this design approach are examined from a theoretical perspective in contributions by fashion researchers.

This new perspective opens up an inclusive playfield in fashion where hybrid, fluid ways of reading, seeing, defining and making are facilitated. Overlapping and interlinking theory with practice, it pushes beyond trends and accepted social and design codes offering an approach that contributes to the broader cultural discourse of fashion.

This research, publication and forms of activation and presentation have been kindly supported by: Creative Industries Fund NL and Kunstraad Groningen. Thank you: Mamamini, NP3, Onomatopee, the LeoXIII Gastatelier, Zijlstra Naaimachines.


Engagement with broader implications and potential in relation to the fashion system as well as the activation of the design approach was made possible and has taken shape through conversations, in depth analysis and explorations with and by a diverse range of people. Through their willingness to explore and share work and thought processes the following people are an essential part of the project: Barbara Brownie, BLESS, Conny Groenewegen, Elisa van Joolen, Joke Robaard, Ruby Hoette, Sanne van den Elzen and participants of the workshops.

Many thanks for your support process and/or contentwise:
Ada Bosman, Akke Kooij, Alie de Vries, Anke de Vries, Antje Reitsma, ArtEZ Fashion Masters, Barbara Brownie, Bas van den Hurk, Ben de Vries, Conny Groenewegen, Corine van der Wal, Daniela Dossi, Delany Boutkan, Elisa van Joolen, Elmer Koole, Freek Lomme, Floriane Misslin, Galerie BlockC, gerlach en koop, Hanka van der Voet, Hans Geluk, Hans Gremmen, HKU (University of the Arts Utrecht), HKU Research group “Maakonderzoek”, Irma Földényi, Joke Robaard, Maaike Feitsma, Maaike Lauwaert, Minerva Art Academy, NP3, Mathijs van Geest (Hordaland Kunstsenter), Nanne op ‘t Ende, Remco Torenbosch, Ruby Hoette, Sanne van den Elzen, Sarah Sixma, Sieger de Vries, University of Hertfordshire, Wenda Torenbosch.






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Femke de Vries works as an artist and researcher in fashion where she explores the interaction between clothing as material objects of use and fashion as a process of value production. She aims to expose the workings of fashion through deconstruction and re-readings from various perspectives. Seeking alternative scenarios for makers and users she considers the role of fashion communication formats, cultural/social/economical references and material culture, questioning hierarchies and emphasising the physical reality of use. Her research led practice is driven by collaboration and results in works that combine visual cultures, approaches to textile and clothing, theory and educational programs.
For more information check: www.femkedevries.com