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Performative Fashion Research

by Chet Bugter, Hanka van der Voet and Daniëlle Bruggeman

A bright yellow jumpsuit, studded with black polka dots, was what our special guest and speaker, Adele Varcoe was wearing during the first AIRs meetup on September 13, 2017. This is, however, just one example of Varcoe’s quite extensive wardrobe of jumpsuits, which she has been wearing for the past years as part of her ongoing performative practice of researching fashion.

Varcoe started wearing the jumpsuits in 2011 to investigate the impact of clothing on our identities. In an interview with Megan Wray Schertler, Varcoe points out how wearing jumpsuits after three years no longer feels as a performance (2014), claiming that it has changed her identity. This performative practice has led to reflecting on how certain garments do not only influence the way we feel, but also the ways in which others perceive us. Varcoe does not stop at the ‘simple performance’ of wearing just onesies for almost seven years, but exploits the perceptions of others, and their reactions to her jumpsuit-wardrobe, to further enquire the socio-cultural implications of fashion.

In addition, she translates her findings into participatory performances to explore the behavioral effects of fashion in more depth. These practices, during which Varcoe takes on several roles, are the basis of her performative research on (wearing) fashion and its social impact. Varcoe developed this research-through-performance during her recently finished PhD research at RMIT University's School of Fashion & Textiles.

We can position her research at the intersection of artistic staged theatrical performances and the embodied practice of ‘doing’ identity – constructing specific concepts of the self – in daily life. Moreover, Varcoe’s fashion practices and identity performances can be viewed as a form of embodied research. As argued elsewhere (Bruggeman 2018), an embodied approach to fashion is an important contribution to contemporary academic fashion discourse. As many practitioners who contribute to a new critical fashion discourse point out, it is increasingly urgent to redefine our relationship to fashion. In doing so, an embodied approach needs to be taken into account, which is also at the heart of the ArtEZ Fashion Professorship.

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  • Embodied Research

DATE PUBLISHED March 12, 2018