Fashion Reader: The Concise Dictionary of Dress

The Fashion Reader is a series where I explore the books that have influenced, inspired and intrigued me. I share stories about writers who have provided that creative spark, those who have shaped my beliefs and those who have simply been a pleasure to read. With some, the link to fashion will be obvious, with others, the relevance to women in fashion might be more subtle. Either way, I hope you enjoy reading…
-The fold fixed
-The line designed by use
-Spread for conservation, sometimes with laughter.
Concise Dictionary of Dress

Image via Artangel

Whenever I am asked which fashion themed book most inspired me, I will always say ‘The Concise Dictionary of Dress’.
Originally an exhibition, The Concise Dictionary of Dress was a collaboration between LCF’s Judith Clark and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips.
Together they created a series of installations in the archives of the V&A at Blythe House. The installations featured clothing or objects Judith curated in response to definitions of words, relating to dress, formed by Adam – almost like installations that defined definitions.
This book complements the exhibition and even though the show itself is over five years old, I am always stimulated when flicking through its pages.
Like looking up a word in the dictionary and finding a picture there instead of more words, it is not clear whether the words and its definition are the caption or vice versa.
Are the words the caption to the clothes or vice versa? Is it more of a cyclical effect with words defining clothes and clothes defining words?
The exhibition raised questions in my mind of what it might be for a dictionary to not be a book, and not be made only of words. How would we define things then?
It also made me think about the similarity of clothes and words. Clothes are another form of language, they keep changing, like words, but faster and like words everybody uses them, and everybody has their own style just as they have their own vocabulary.
“Armoured, Comfortable, Conformist, Creased, Essential, Fashionable, Loose, Measured, Plain, Pretentious, Tight”
The chosen words and their imagined definitions reflect on how clothes function as a cover up for what might lie beneath. The definitions reveal and conceal meanings of words in a similar way in which clothes expose and defend parts of our identity.