What constitutes wearable art?

 Today we see a lot of T-shirts and pants decorated with numerous designs and images, and hear them called clothing art, or wearable art. But what actually constitutes wearable art? Is it just a fancy design on a piece of clothing, or some celebrity’s image pasted on a T-shirt? What is it exactly?

Bethany Meuleners, a fashion designer and clothing artist says it this way; “From my perspective as a fashion designer and someone who has participated in making wearable art in the past, here is a definition of wearable art using the basic principles:

“Wearable art, also commonly referred to as art to wear, is a piece of work that is not only worn but that also has the intention in its creation to be accepted as a serious and unique artistic statement. As an art form it can be seen as the marriage between fashion and the visual arts, taking them both beyond what they are individually and creating a new artistic plane.”

In this she means that the clothing has to make more than just a fashion statement, but an artistic one as well. Art is something that speaks to the viewer, and usually not in the same way for all viewers. It is profound in its very creation. According to Meuleners statement, clothing cannot be called wearable art if the whole thing is not designed as one unit. Besides the clothing issue, one needs to look at the accessories that can also be artistic.

According to the site, Breathable Colors; “Wearable Art might reflect Fair Trade values, cultural heritage, a commitment to sustainability, functionality, personal narratives, a wish to build community and change lives or it may simply be a piece of artful whimsy aimed at bringing some light-hearted fun to the day.” Which again asserts that there needs to be much more than just a nice picture, but must be designed from the basic up with the goal in mind. Being that the trend of wearable art, started in the mid-1900’s, it has been hard to define, except the fact that it is something designed from base to end as an artistic piece.

So the fact is, if you did decide to call an image of your favorite rock star on a shirt, wearable art, it would not be something you pulled off a Wal-Mart hanger, but a shirt designed around that image, complimenting either the image, the rock star, or both, while giving you a single look. So how do we define designer clothing as opposed to wearable art? This question was put to the American Folk Art Museum in New York. This is how they looked at the subject.

“Fashion has always found inspiration in unpredictable sources: art, life, history-there are no boundaries.” Indeed, one can also say that since designers create fashion as well as design it, fashion is art in and of itself – even without other art media as its inspiration.

So this in fact puts us right back at the beginning in which fashion and wearable art intermingle tightly. The difference is that wearable art is often going to be something you see at fashion shows on the runway, and seldom on the streets of your major cities. But even here there is a sort of grey line, because some of these wearable art designs, especially with the jewelry, you could see off the runway being worn by someone with the money to purchase them.

With the advent of the internet markets, like ETSY, even some cheaper artistic forms of wearable art are being sold there every day. CBS in Minnesota, did a piece on this subject: 

“Bold shapes, memorable designs and unique statements define this list of artists producing modern, wearable works of art. With room for a select few, many more can be found in boutiques and gift stores throughout the Twin Cities and online.”Wearable art has moved from the design studios of major fashion designers, to small shops and creative people wanting to make a few extra dollars.

So in conclusion, it is safe to say, wearable art, is anything that is created in such a fashion that it is as an artistic piece designed to be worn. The choice of venue is totally up to the artist creating the piece; whether it be for the runway, or parties, or just something that makes a statement.   Thus leaving it open to both the designer and the wearer.