The Aesthetics of the Invisible: Foundations for Sonic Fashion

Abstract: Aural experience and sound thinking, in contrast to visual experience and image thinking, change the fundamental manifestation and perception of a dressed body: from looking and being seen to listening and being heard. Looking at and listening to a body that is wearing high heels are fundamentally different experiences. Although sound is an element of dress and identity, the visual sense is predominant in fashion and fashion education, and fashion is essentially understood to be a system of visual components. As an alternative to this dominant focus on the visual, this research investigates the sonic aspects of fashion, approaching them as largely unexplored and potentially interesting ontological alternatives with which to create an understanding of fashion that goes beyond visual stimuli.The primary aim of the research presented in this thesis was to develop an introductory programme for sonic fashion that suggests a shift in focus – from visual perception and appearance to sonic. The programme consists primarily of ontological theory components: methods, tool-shifters, terms, definitions, and categories.The research was conducted through investigations of sonic dress and sonic expressions, which were approached as interactions between the body and dress that occur during the act of wearing. Sonic aspects were explored on a fundamental level – i.e. the natural (physical) sounds of dress – in a manner that is relatively unprecedented in the fashion field, and so the research was experimental and speculative.Knowledge regarding sonic expressions was collected using sound-based thinking in the form of listening/sounding research artefacts, which raised ontological questions; What is a sonic silhouette? How a sonic silhouette is created?The research was conducted by exploring, recording, and systematising sounds arising from body-dress and dress-dress interactions, as well as speculative experimental workshops with students and case study involving people with differing seeing abilities.More generally, the research broadens our conception of fashion aesthetics by presenting a new direction for the fashion design field; a non-visual aesthetic that is based on sonic expression, wherein sound is considered to be a design/design thinking material and an alternative way of defining a silhouette.