This exposition sought to use Woolf’s concept of frock consciousness as a lens through which to understand how my practice - which works with the experience, visual spectacle and perception of the dressed or fashioned body - makes a contribution to knowledge. Through following the thread of frock consciousness to analyse the work, I have evidenced how fashioning my own body has affected my behaviour, self-efficacy and comfort in a range of situations. The exposition also evidences how encounters with others affect my consciousness in relation to my fashioned body. It is suggested that the state of frock consciousness is temporary and impacted upon by a range of external and internal factors and that fragments of a particular state of consciousness affected by fashioning one’s body in a particular way, with certain garments, can provide a feeling that can be recollected many years later.  

Through this exposition, that uses the lens of frock consciousness, I have analysed three projects in which I evidence different ways that both self-fashioning and our response to the fashioned bodies of others can impact upon consciousness, perception and experience. 

Eroding the Otherness documents moments that might otherwise be almost instantaneously forgotten; the double-take response we might have, without consciously deciding to look again, when we are startled by someone who, to our eyes, is beautiful, unexpected or out of context: I attempted to linger and document these moments to better understand them. This work also evidences how we re-evaluate our own self-fashioning, momentarily. For example ‘I need to get my roots done and stop wearing this cardigan’ (Anyan, 2007): my reaction to encountering a woman on the Underground – a momentary re-evaluation of my self presentation in comparison to hers. 

Fashioning As and By Another sought to understand the notion of frock consciousness through, to put it succinctly, wearing someone else’s frock. With a very high level of collaboration and support from Sarah I was able to re-fashion my body to the extent that having treated my hair as she does, the texture completely changed, as did my face when I adopted her skincare and make-up routine. 

Embodied Memories explores how frock consciousness can endure beyond the moment of being dressed in a particular way. I recorded a range of participants who had shopped at the department store Tyrell and Green describing clothes that had been important and cherished by them, these descriptions of treasured pieces demonstrated an emphasis upon emotion and a tendency for emotion to lead to elaborate, even fantastical descriptions of dress. In reality, the original items, such as Eva’s Telemark raincoat, could not have been nearly so ornate. However, in seeking to embody the feeling, rather than the original garment or accessory, I prioritised the descriptive flights of fancy within the making of pieces that used these descriptions as their source material. What the participants seem to recall most strongly was the affect of that piece they describe, not the material qualities or details of the piece.

In Cilla’s description of her blue cape coat, it is difficult to distinguish when she is describing the garment and when she is describing her dyed long red hair. In the telling, the hair seems to be a part of the coat, synonymous with it and so in creating the object, the red hair was sewn into the hood of the coat, and the model becomes a redhead when she wears the coat. Cilla demonstrates, in her descriptive entanglement of cape and hair, how clothing and the body are sometimes inseparable in shaping our experience. This recollection from the participants in Embodied Memories gives voice to the ways in which clothing structures and shapes experience; Jeness (2015) reasons that ‘objects take on a constitutive role in the formation of our engagement with memory’, Prudence Black and Rosie Findlay used the term ‘memory keepers’ (Black & Findlay 2016: 7), Embodied Memories sought to give form to that memory.


This momentary frock (self) consciousness is evident in Virginia Woolf‘s diary of 1925 when she writes about Vita Sackville West who she describes as glamorous, glowing, pearl hung and ‘(what I have never been) a real woman’. It is implied by Woolf that Sackville West had made a comment implying that she lacked an interest in her personal appearance and was ‘dowdy, yet so beautiful.’ Woolf is beguiled by this interest as well as evidently self-conscious ‘I shall ask her whether she minds my dressing so badly? I think she does.’ (Woolf 1987: Vol. III 52). 

Eroding the Otherness highlighted through the process of undertaking a practice that sits between (selective) autoethnography and performance that self-image can significantly contribute to the behaviours we perform. As I became more visibly pregnant, I perceived myself to be increasingly untouchable in the act of taking photographs and making drawings of strangers in the non-place. I revelled in my belief (and increasing experience) that as a pregnant woman I was less likely to be challenged or criticised and I was simultaneously fuelled to continue by the knowledge that this was a temporary state.

This, in combination with wearing her clothes had an intense affect upon my consciousness, I felt undermined in my profession, unable to adequately perform in my field. This uncomfortable ‘frock consciousness’ manifested itself constantly in my behaviour: pushing up the sleeves of Sarah’s cardigan, to try to reshape it, wearing my leather jacket over Marie’s dress to cover it up, giving in and putting blusher on because I was fed up with being asked: ‘are you ok?’ This was a short study - a few days fashioned as Sarah and a day as Marie. Due to the brevity of the study, it has raised more questions around how one’s consciousness might shift more substantially, given a more prolonged time period of dressing ‘as and by another’.