Habitus constitutes a ‘feel for the game’ that allows one to participate in various ‘fields’ (Bourdieu 1990). My habitus constitutes an embodied fashion knowledge that enables me, as an academic, to be a recognisable member of the fashion school. The extent to which others read and understand my fashion capital depends upon their fashion knowledge. 

In conducting this project of being fashioned as, and by, Sarah, I am using the fashion school as my performance area. This masquerade, that is limited to my self-fashioning, is designed to test the effect the fashioning of my body has on my position within the ‘field’ of the fashion school. It aims to disrupt very subtly what Goffman describes as the ‘expected consistency amongst appearance and setting…that may provide authority of belief’ (Goffman 1956: 13). I feel nervous about undertaking this temporary change, I know I will not look completely inappropriate, but I will lose an image that is highly considered.

My self-presentation is infused with visual signs that I perceive to confirm my position and knowledge. I am choosing to replace those signs with others, selected by someone without my subject knowledge of priorities and I do not know how this will impact upon the associated discourse; I cannot know the full extent. Will my role in the fashion school and my knowledge be called (perhaps silently) into question?

To further develop my understanding of frock consciousness - the experience of how my self-fashioning was impacting on my experience of being in the world - I produced instructions to be used by someone else, to enable them to fashion themselves as me. 

Both Mabel’s account in the short story The New Dress and my own account made during the time I was fashioned by Sarah and Marie, describe discomfort that is created by feeling ‘not right’ for the social environment, with an appearance that does not align with what one wishes to communicate, or indeed feels one should. Clothing secretes meaning and we cannot control how it is read by others. We might compare this fact to the author who no longer controls a text once it is read, but the author still crafts the text, they imagine control. Clothing makes involuntary utterances that undermine what it was we intended to say, and clothing is interpreted. In relinquishing control of my fashioned body, I embraced the opportunity to feel the experience of being dressed with an envelope of clothing that did not match my self-image, to secrete with the fashioning of another who it is that I ‘really’ am, to allow my clothing to speak a language that wasn’t mine. As a result, I was conscious of both my struggle to connect with others in my usual parlance and I experienced surprise when colleagues responded to the envelope of clothing and not to me with comments such as “I like your earrings” (but they weren’t mine, or ‘me’ and I didn’t feel ‘right’ in them) and “you look sexy” (I didn’t intend to ‘look sexy’ and didn’t read my dressed body in this way). I felt inhibited, restrained and unable to fully function in clothing that was counter to my considered professional identity, I was overly conscious of my frock, it interrupted, distracted and hindered me. 

I intended, for three to five days, to go to work fashioned entirely as Sarah. She selected all my clothes, underwear, accessories (I even borrowed her prescription glasses) and props: lunch bag, drinking bottle, coffee cup. She instructed me on styling my hair (our hair is a similar length, texture and colour) and applying make-up, she provided me with her personal care products: deodorant, perfume, toothpaste.

She instructed me on how to wear the clothes she provided, what to wear together, how it should be fastened or left unfastened as well as how I should style my hair and make-up each day. I was in contact with her as I conducted the experiment, she provided guidance where possible, allowing me to defer decision making about my self-fashioning to her. I engaged in my usual activities of teaching MA Creative Direction for Fashion & Beauty, conducting meetings with other staff in the school (some of whom are also fashion subject academics, others who are not) and working in my office.

I did not initially tell any of my colleagues or students about the experiment. I documented their responses by making notes each day, and I also documented my observations, recording the impact fashioning my body as my sister had on my interactions, behaviour and state of mind each day.


In endeavouring to understand the value, impact, and possibilities of fashioning on bodies and their consciousness, I developed a strand of work that documented the practice and process of fashioning my body in a way that I was unused to, through consciously undertaking acts of fashioning my body using materials and instructions provided by other people: Sarah and Marie. 

9th October 2017 

9.37 am LD sees me walk into the office “oh that looks nice” peers over the desk “I can’t see the bottom of it” I stand up so that she can see the full dress “oh very nice” I smile and say “thanks” never quite sure how to respond when I know I’m in someone else’s clothes. 


10.30 am AG, says “that’s a nice dress”. I think it may be the first time she has commented on what I wear. 


1 pm – with only mascara on I decide I look deathly ill, so put some BB cream, blusher and eyeliner on before an afternoon of meetings as I am concerned that colleagues will think I’m not well. Wearing my leather jacket for big portions of the day over the dress because I’m freezing and Marie didn’t provide anything else, I feel like a Jennifer/Marie hybrid. Putting on my make-up in the loos with the students I feel frumpy and silly in this dress. 


13.30 pm CL “I like your earrings”. I feel awkward and so on the spot decide to confess that I am dressed entirely (apart from jacket & bag) in clothes sent from Marie for a research project. CL comments that she thought I wouldn’t normally wear something so patterned and also noticed the necklaces. She says “I knew straight away something was different, I thought it was a new look for Jennifer” she comments that I must be wearing the jacket as I’m not entirely at ease, I agreed. 

The second person I fashion myself as is Marie, an Associate Professor in Visual Arts at a University in Eastern Europe. I am interested in working in collaboration with someone who is a genuine stranger, and a request to participate in a group exhibition facilitates this opportunity. Marie responds to a call I send via email through a mutual contact to the academics at her institution to undertake a project with me, whereby we ‘swap’ our corporeal identities. The exhibition is related to cities, and so there is framing around this in the letter I send out, but that is not relevant to explore here. (*Marie is a pseudonym)


The call for collaboration begins with this letter:

Towards the end of the day, I decided to tell my colleagues that I have swapped clothes with Marie. They ask about how I feel, the experience, and comment that they noticed straight away that I looked different and that it wasn’t ‘me’. LD asks if I have been teaching today, I haven’t. I say that I would have found that even more difficult than meetings with colleagues not wearing ‘Jennifer’ she asks why; this is a good question. Within a teaching scenario  I am particularly aware of how my subject knowledge and authority in the field is communicated through my dress, within the classroom I am very much a performer and my costume is a crucial part of that role. When I taught on the day that I was Fashioned As and By Sarah I noted how I found it difficult to feel authentic and convincing when I am not dressed in a way that I have constructed. I teach fashion communication; without explaining why I looked different to my students I would feel like I was jeopardising my authority in that room, as an authority on that field. With this idea of subject authority in mind, it would be interesting to conduct the experiment fashioned as, and by, someone whose style I aspire to. This might allow me to explore what Foucault refers to in his seminar Technologies of the Self as “with the help of others” (Foucault 1988: 17-18). 

Fashioning my body feeds into my confidence as a performer in the field, dressed in a way that I consider to embody an in-depth fashion knowledge makes me feel prepared, I am aware of the spectacle, aware that what I am saying and delivering is received within the context of the image I have presented the students with. In my dress, I now realise, there is a set of rules, ideas, aesthetic ideals that I am able to display that I feel reinforce what I am teaching and enable a multichannel dialogue through the image I convey alongside the content I provide through my delivery and teaching materials. Marie has a family emergency, and the collaboration is not fulfilled by her being Fashioned As and By Jennifer.

Film stills that capture frame by frame the process of learning to style my hair as Sarah styles hers, following her actions and gestures and letting her guide and correct me. The gestures when frozen in each frame begin to look like a dance to me.

At my request Marie provides instruction for me:

Reflecting upon the source of my discomfort in teaching fashion whilst wearing clothes that I haven’t selected, or chosen according to my taste and value judgements, I am reminded of the discomfort described by the character of Mabel in The New Dress. In the short story, Mabel has a new dress made and dreams of herself wearing it feeling “rid of cares and wrinkles[…]a beautiful woman” (Woolf 2015: 3). However, attending the party, her frock consciousness is far from her dream. In the party context, under the gaze of the other guests, in contrast to under her own gaze in her own home, Mabel feels, dowdy, idiotic and provincial. 

No! It was not RIGHT. At once the misery which she always tried to hide, the profound dissatisfaction – the sense she had, ever since she was a child, of being inferior to other people – set upon her, relentlessly, remorselessly, with an intensity which she could not beat off, as she would when she woke at night at home, by reading Barrow or Scott; for oh these men, oh these women, all were thinking – “What’s Mabel wearing? What a fright she looks! What a hideous new dress […] she could not face the whole horror – the pale yellow, idiotically old fashioned silk dress with its long skirt and its high sleeves and its waist and all the things that looked so charming in the fashion book but not on her, not among all these ordinary people. (Woolf 2015: 1-2)

24th April (the first day of term after the Easter Break, I return to work fashioned as, and by, Sarah).

8.15 am - On my way to work for the first day after the Easter holidays. I am wearing Sarah’s grey dress outfit. It was a last-minute change from the red top and brown skirt because I realised, when I put it on, that the red top needs washing. I tried to get my hair into a bun, but it's shorter than Sarah’s and is not staying put so, as instructed by her, I settled for a high ponytail, with my fringe pinned into a ‘small quiff’ her term. The kids were giggling at me, they think I look very different.

As I left the house, a neighbour went past. I immediately felt self-conscious upon realising I had to say hello and couldn’t hide. I’m going to feel like this all day.

I’m starting the day by dropping into a 9 am lecture for all final year students in the Media & Fashion Styling department, the course leader for BA Make-Up and Hair Design will be there, she is a good friend and will notice immediately a change in my appearance. I wonder if she will mention it.

I have just remembered that I need to have a visa photo taken today so this look will become recorded as part of that formal document. The Director of the International office where I need to pop into for the visa always notices what I wear. If she is there, I will feel uncomfortable. I’ve been asked to go to visit an institution in India that the University would like to set up a twinning agreement with for our fashion courses, in instances like that in which I am an ambassador for both the University and the subject of fashion, I think my ability to embody my fashion knowledge must matter and even be one reason I am asked to make visits such as this one.

I am particularly uncomfortable in the George by Asda cardigan I am wearing, it is a little pilled and not a shape I would usually wear, in fact, I rarely wear a cardigan for work as I think the connotations are too domestic and informal unless there is something in the design that elevates the garment beyond that.

10.30 am - Students I know well walked into the lecture this morning and didn’t recognise me from the back of the lecture theatre, I heard them saying ‘oh it’s Jennifer, it’s Jennifer.’

SL, my colleague, arriving before the lecture started, says to me before uttering anything else ‘oh you’re wearing a skirt, you never wear a skirt… and the glasses’, she’s thrown, but we have a room full of students, so she says nothing more. I feel self-conscious and stay behind the lectern whilst talking about graduate fashion week and my MA course, embarrassed that, unlike the room of students and my colleague (who is wearing a Comme des Garçons jacket), I don’t embody my fashion knowledge. I don’t feel credible in representing MA Creative Direction for Fashion & Beauty and wonder if the students are thinking that I don’t look like a fashion academic so they won’t bother considering the MA course.

LD enters the office and comments that I look ‘refreshed’ I am wearing little make-up and have my hair tied off my face, unusual for me.

11 am - SL comes into the office, I stand up,

she says ‘I like that dress’

me ‘do you?’

SL ‘yes it’s sexy’

This seems like an odd comment and I think she’s thrown by me looking so different.

12.00 - SM (Colleague) I didn’t recognise you, you look like a student

2 pm - RL (Colleague): did you have a nice break? You look about 12 (I’m sitting at my desk).

3 pm - I meet my line manager, he is always impeccably dressed and stylish. He doesn’t mention my appearance at all, but rarely comments on what I look like, perhaps as appropriate in his position, but I know he will have noticed. I feel uncomfortable, especially about the cardigan. I wait for him to perhaps ask about my glasses or watch, but he doesn’t.

By the end of the day, I have acclimatised slightly to my newly fashioned body and wonder how long it would take for this to become normalised within the eyes of others, for them to recognise it as me, and how assumptions about me may change or remain based on a sartorial shift.

The instructions I sent to Marie, on how to use the clothes, accessories and cosmetic products that will enable her to be Fashioned As and By Jennifer. Click through using arrows. 

I began in my experiment by adopting the bodily presentation of my sister, Sarah. My sister is four years younger than me. We share the same upbringing; we were raised in the same house in a small market town in the East Midlands, England, with the same parents. We attended the same state schools. She has the closest habitus to me, based on upbringing, of anyone in the world. In contrast to me, she has a BSc in Biomedical Science and now works as a primary school teacher in a village on the outskirts of Bradford, Yorkshire. My sister does not have a fashion education, does not read fashion magazines or blogs; she does not have current knowledge of trends, designers or a particular interest in what is ‘in fashion’. Her priorities when choosing clothes are different to mine; they are around the practicalities of working with small children, being a mother of a toddler and, whilst she cares about her appearance, she is not interested in seasonal trends but will buy “what she likes”. Therefore, Sarah provides a perspective that has some parity with mine but differs at the point of fashion capital. I would say that through my education, profession, interests and social circles, I have acquired fashion capital and habitus that is not present for my sister. 


 Jennifer fashioned as and by Marie

Joanne Entwistle (2015) and Agnes Rocamora (2002) in their individual and joint work (2006) have built on theories of Bourdieu, Goffman and Foucault in analysing the body as a site of ‘fashion capital’ (Rocamora 2002). I subscribe to this idea and work in my professional life as Principal Lecturer in Fashion with the belief that my knowledge of fashion is embodied in my self-presentation. I see this as not incidental, but crucial in the discourse I engage in  at the micro-level of my body; being situated within a fashion school, role and authority. I believe that my self-fashioning deeply impacts upon my consciousness and daily life as a ‘fashion academic’. I sought through this project to disrupt that consciousness.

Images documenting Jennifer Fashioned As and By Sarah

Filming myself fashioned as and by Marie, the envelope of my own leather jacket adds a layer of protection from the discomfort of how I feel inside this envelope of Marie.