My older sister and I were walking down the street in Los Angeles in 2005 when an African-American lady walking past exclaimed “Mmmhhmmm you walking that dress sista!”. This stuck with me as I thought it was possibly the strangest and most wonderful way to compliment a stranger, but also because it had some weird implications on how we wear clothing. If my sister could be “walking a dress” and it was worth complimenting her about it, that means that some people’s clothing might be walking them.
Fast-forward seven years and I’m standing on a grass hill near a car-park exactly one-hundred steps away from the Social Intersections classroom. I’m counting my breaths and suddenly, around breath number one-hundred-and-twenty, I become very aware of my clothing. I can feel how my shirt sits on my chest, flat around my shoulders but loose around my waist, vaguely hugging my paunch. I can feel my belt awkwardly sitting around my waist occasionally digging into my side, keeping my jeans at a height that gravity and tension has decided upon. My jeans themselves were doing their own thing, quite tight in some areas while loose in others, a slight breeze was blowing around my ankles and the cuffs of my jeans were moving very slightly around caressing my skin. I felt my underwear gently supporting me, and my socks and shoes protecting my feet. I tried to imagine every piece of thread that was on my body and what it was doing.
When I began the walk back to the classroom my thoughts about clothing did not leave me but were instead exacerbated, each stride I felt my jeans pulling on me and my feet were reacting to my shoes. The bottom of my shirt was jiggling around and my underpants were making sure everything was in order in their department. I had become completely aware of my clothing while walking, and it was a truly bizarre feeling. I started to brainstorm ideas for my walking experiment, my first idea was a form of strip-walking, where I would start wearing a lot of clothing and then at a certain time or event I would remove an article, eventually going from wearing a coat and suit to wearing nothing at all. At this point I became somewhat realistic about what I was willing to do in public, so I changed my idea.
I wanted to incorporate both experiences, the idea of clothing and human battling for dominion in a “who’s walking who” war, and also the awareness of what each article is doing and how they’re all contributing to a larger feeling. What I came up with was an experiment where I would wear different outfits while repeating the same walk, and record my experiences. Here are the instructions I used:
- Select a route that is familiar to you, preferably outside your house or somewhere where you can get changed easily. You should aim to walk for more than five minutes, and less than ten.
- Brainstorm some ideas for different outfits. You should always do the first walk in your everyday clothing, something that you would wear to university. After that the outfits are up to you, but try to follow a theme each time so that each walk has a distinctly different “personality”. I would suggest that you do one walk while wearing a suit or similarly fancy dress, and one walk while wearing around the house clothes or pajamas. After that it’s up to you, get creative with it, the weirder the personality the more interesting the results, you are only limited by your own imagination and wardrobe.
- If you get stuck try looking in your parents or friends collections for interesting articles, borrowed clothing may bring with it the personality of its owner.
- Walk the outfit (or let it walk you!) around the designated route. Take your time, enjoy the walk, feels how your clothing feels on you physically and notice it’s emotional effects.
- When you arrive home document your experiences, you should take note of what you wore, how fast you walked, how comfortable you were emotionally and how comfortable you were physically. You should also note any anomalies, any ideas, thoughts or movements that you think were unique to your chosen outfit.
- Repeat for each of your chosen outfits, try to develop and use a similar format for each outfit so that it will easy for you to compare results. You may want to assign number values to things like comfort levels, this helps people understand each outfit’s effects at a glance.
So after following my own rules I came up with this template for the results:
I decided to walk around The Crescent, which is the street that I live on. It takes roughly seven minutes to walk and there is a creek running through it that divides the two sides of the street. Here is Google’s photo of the route, and below that is a sped up video of me walking it.
Outfits and Results:
Outfit: Black t-shirt, blue jeans, black underwear, white socks and blue shoes.
Personality: Casual, my everyday style of clothing for attending university.
Physical Comfort: High, I dress for a mixture of comfort and style, my jeans are slightly stretchy and I feel them clinging to my thighs with each stride. My shoes could be better for walking, their flat soles would start to hurt if I walked further. The socks are cushioning each step, and my t-shirt is well fitting and warm.
Emotional Comfort: Average, I feel the same as I normally do, I’ve worn this outfit so many times that I don’t even think about it anymore, and when I do begin to think about it it feels normal to me. It feels like I’m invisible, just another person walking down the street. At one point I notice my shirt hugs around my belly a little more than it used to, and I become aware of the fact that I’ve put on weight, making me very slightly uncomfortable, but for the most part it’s a fact that I’m at peace with.
Gait: I walk briskly, it’s the first of my walks and I feel enthusiastic and energised.
Overall: A very comfortable walk. I don’t quite reach the level of awareness I was hoping for yet, but I think that’s normal for the first walk in my casual clothing. This feels like the first breath that I’m becoming slowly aware of, making all subsequent breaths change their tempo as I start to become more and more aware of every aspect of my body, clothing and mind.
Outfit: White t-shirt, grey track pants, black slippers, no underwear, no socks.
Personality: This is my ‘around-the-house’ clothing, something that I would wear for a full day of slobbing around in maximum comfort.
Physical Comfort: Immense. The combination of the baggy t-shirt, loose fitting cotton track-pants, and black corduroy slippers provides me with a great mixture of warmth and softness. It barely feels as if I am wearing anything and I stride through the street. At one point I become aware of the feeling of the pants on my leg and I love it, it doesn’t sit tight on anywhere and it doesn’t pull me one way or another as I stride, it simply shields my naked body from the cold and asks nothing more of me. Awesome.
Emotional Comfort: Somewhat limited. As physically comfortable as I am I become aware of how bad I might look. I feel as if the outfit is walking me, as I become taken over by the comfort and become one of those people that wear ugg boots to the movies. I dip in and out between this awareness of myself and my awareness of my physical comfort.
Gait: I definitely slowed down while doing this walk, I felt like I was in no rush and really enjoyed the physical aspect of walking as each step moved my track-pants around which would rub my leg in a soothing way.
Overall: A fantastic walk, I have started becoming more aware of each article of clothing and what it is doing with each stride. I have also began to notice more of my surroundings.
Outfit: White long-sleeve shirt, black suit jacket, suit pants, black socks, black dress shoes, black bow-tie.
Personality: Fancy-dress. This is actually my father’s suit, as for some reason I don’t own one anymore. This is something I might wear to a formal occasion if I ever went to one.
Physical Comfort: Decent, the suit is quite loose fitting and billows around my legs. It is noticeably more hot than the other outfits, and this makes me feel a little stuffy. My shoes make a clicking-clacking noise as I walk and support my feet surprisingly well. I put my hands in my cavernous pockets, the material in there is soft and pleasant to touch. I become aware that with each stride my large trouser cuffs are swinging back and forth, as if I were kicking them with each step and then stopping their flight when I put my foot down.
Emotional Comfort: Strange. At first I am apprehensive of what people might think when they see me all dressed-up to go on a walk, but eventually I start to think “that’s their problem”. The suit gives me a strange feeling of both authority and class, and my walk starts to reflect that. I don’t notice my surroundings as much as I start to notice myself, I think the suit also bestows a kind of vanity to my walk.
Gait: Much faster than the others, wearing these clothes makes me feel as if I’m going somewhere, like someone of importance. I look for the shortest routes and I don’t interrupt my stride for anything. The noise my shoes make as I walk only encourages this fast pace, as the clickity-clack gets faster and louder I feel better and more powerful.
Overall: Definitely starting to see some weird reactions in myself as a result of wearing this suit, I think it was important to try walking in a suit as it is such a unique article of clothing which so much cultural weight. This piece of clothing has changed my walk more than any other, both physically and mentally.
Outfit: Same as above.
Personality: Halfway through the walk I decided to try a more casual, more George Clooney relaxed personality by undoing my bow-tie, my shirt collar and my suit jacket.
Physical Comfort: This was slightly more comfortable as my neck wasn’t being so restricted by the collar anymore.
Emotional Comfort: I started to feel more relaxed, like I was strolling home from something, something good. I felt less fast-paced and powerful, but that was fine because I was more mellowed out and ultimately more comfortable. This had a noticeable impact of my walk.
Gait: Much slower than the first half, I slower to a stroll and would occasionally kick a rock on the path, I was in no hurry as I was returning home. My authoritarian power-walk became a more confident stroll, once again it felt quite arrogant to walk like this, but in a way that didn’t worry me.
Overall: An interesting change, took the edge off of wearing the suit and made the actual act of walking more enjoyable for walking’s sake, not just the weird power trip.
Outfit: Brown hat, cowboy shirt, black jeans, borrowed cowboy boots.
Personality: Cowboy, something I might wear for halloween or a party.
Physical Comfort: Not much, cowboy living is hard, cowboy walking is even harder. I borrowed the boots off a friend of mine and they were a bit too big for me, I was constantly aware of how large and ridiculous they were.
Emotional Comfort: Not much here either, I felt out of place and gimmicky.
Gait: Here was the fun part! I started walking like John Wayne and soon I began to take on more cowboy attributes. My legs were super wide as I ambled through the streets, and as a car went passed I dipped my hat to it. This walk took a while.
Overall: I began to take on certain aspects of the outfit, I would definitely say that it was walking me.
Outfit: Dad’s polo shirt, mums brown shorts, pull-up socks, cross trainer shoes.
Personality: If there’s one man that knows about walking it’s Alan Waddell, I figured that he must have tried out a lot of different walking outfits and figured that this was the best one, so I decided to try it.
Physical Comfort: Strange, the high shorts left nothing to the imagination but were strangely comfortable, giving me full mobility while walking. The polo shirt tucked in provided me with warmth and security, but the best was the socks and shoes. The shoes themselves made the walk much easier, being designed for sport they were very cushy and nice, and I was quite conscious of how happy my feet were. The socks were a stroke of genius, there is a part that I walked through that has tall grass which would normally have irritated my legs, but with the high socks protecting me nothing could hinder my stride.
Emotional Comfort: Quite good, these were clothes that weren’t outlandish but weren’t slobbish, they were picked out with a purpose; walking. Everyone that saw me would know that I was serious about strolling, and I felt quite positive. I began to think like I expect Alan would have, I started looking for interesting letterboxes and garden features, and I found myself really enjoy the act of walking for both the experiences and the health benefits.
Gait: Much slower than normal, I slowed down to appreciate the walk, the sights and sounds and the physical aspects of it.
Overall: Very interesting walk, I consider Alan Waddell to be the Patron Saint of Walkers, and I wanted his blessing for all my walking adventures. I like to think that he would have given it to me, and that, combined with wondering how he looked at Sydney’s streets, made for a much more spiritual and appreciative stroll.
This experiment, along with being oodles of fun, taught me a lot about awareness to clothing while walking. There is a war going on between your psyche and your outfits and it really does come down to who’s walking who, but I think both options are lots of fun. It was a learning experience for me to let a suit determine how fast I would walk, or cowboy boots to tell me how far apart my legs should be, and I’m sure if I wasn’t thinking about it and analysing it I would be walking those ways a lot more. Now I feel as if I have to make a conscious decision with each outfit whether or not I let it decide how I am going to walk and act, or whether I reel myself in and walk in a uniform way regardless of attire. I am now aware of my breathing, and sometimes I will choose the ebb and flow of each breath, and others I will let the breathes themselves decide.
This experiment has also left me with two ideas for new walking experiments for the future. After walking the same route over and over I began to notice things I never had, a man had made a garden bed right on the road side with cabbages and all sorts of vegetables growing. It looks so natural that I had never thought about it being interesting before, but after the fourth walk around it became quite evident. I would like to try walking this route, and others, many more times and see what emerges with each walk.
My other idea is based on something my girlfriend Andrea was doing, she was interested in the mundane, and liked the idea that “something doesn’t have to be on fire to exist” which is a loose adaptation of what Perec was saying in the extract we were given in class. She walked around being interested in the “boring” things that we never notice. I think maybe we could merge our ideas, and like my suit walk, dress up to do something very banal. To start treating the mundane as the fantastic would be an interesting thing to do and if we dressed in suits maybe we could alter our moods, as I did, so that we could elevate these tasks to weird and wonderful levels.