The Thousand Mile Dress
The dress at 735 miles! Photo by Tom Dealtry
The dress at 190 miles
The dress at 735 miles! Photo by Tom Dealtry
The 1000 Mile Dress
The Thousand Mile Dress was a creative project which escalated into a huge charity challenge. Below I talk about my motiviations for creating this dress, and the figurative and literal journeys that it took me on.
The idea of the Thousand Mile Dress was to challenge myself to walk a thousand miles in a dress. Not in one go, but accumulatively over a year or two. The original reason for this was to examine and measure what happens to long trailing clothes that are well travelled. This idea developed whilst working on costume for a Victorian play. I became interested in the ageing of clothes- how many miles to cause real damage, as opposed to the artificial ageing of theatrical garments. Not only that, but also how it feels to wear these type of clothes- how restrictive are they, how does the weight and shape affect the wearer?
I enjoy seeing the unexpected, and this too plays a part in my work, usually whilst out photographing my costumes in outdoor locations as opposed to in a studio. People don't expect to see a brightly costumed person wandering around, but usually it is met with interest, or a slightly embarrassed 'I'll pretend not to have noticed' smile. Rarely is there any negativity or disapproval. The unexpected provides something different to talk about and experience, instead of recounting a day filled with 'just the usual'.
Photographing my work outdoors is important to me for another reason. Nature is my inspiration so often, whether it be it's colours, shapes and textures, that it would be wrong to photograph it inside a sterile studio. It has been commented that it's a shame to damage a carefully crafted item out in the rain and mud. Whilst I agree that it can be sad to loose the freshness of recent completion, I think it would be worse for a pristine garment to be locked away in a wardrobe until the seams rot and it falls apart anyway.
This made me think a bit about my own wardrobe. How many of it's contents do I actually wear? I have some things that I wear until they fall apart, and others that are completely surplus to requirements- but I like them. I'm certainly in a very priviledged position to own a varied and largely impractical wardrobe. Many of these garments didn't cost a lot, and may not be perceived as wealth in my immediate circles- but when compared with people of other countries, and even sometimes our own- or other periods of time- it can begin to look like an extremely decadent collection. But is it always wrong to own things for their aesthetic quality alone? it's a good question to think about it as I walk.
Sometimes the things in our wardrobes are things we'd like to wear, but aren't brave enough to, or don't have the right opportunity. On one level the Thousand Mile Dress is taking a stand against this supression of expression, getting something out of the secret wardrobe of pointless possession and wearing it anyway- whether or not it is practical, or socially acceptable.
But the journeying of the Thousand Mile Dress has put me in mind of other journeys; those made by refugees. People who must travel thousands of miles, and not for pleasure, or art, but for safety. It feels wrong to talk about journeys without acknowledging how fortunate I am to freely choose where and how I travel.
Just before starting this project I travelled to New Zealand, and how strange it was to think that with my passport I could fly right across the world- flying over places where orthers were fleeing from home on foot. My journey was in search of adventure and fun. I was free to complain about the suffering of my long flight, with no sleep, and little opportunity to stretch my legs- but I had food, and films, and whole seat to myself (even if it was smaller than business class), access to toilets and water. Even so, I admit- it was uncomfortable, it was boring. How on earth must it feel to flee from home, when home has become a war zone. To face a perilous journey, because your odds of survival, safety and hope are greater than to stay at home.
And so my Thousand Mile Dress began to open conversations about journeys other than it's own. I didn't abandon the original experiment to age the dress through miles of travel, but whilst thinking of the importance of fun, art and adventure, I also thought of priviledge, safety and home.
One of the most frequently asked questions about the dress was 'what are the scales for?'. Initially they came about because I enjoy making them- they are a bit of a trademark that feature on many of my creations. I like using up leftover materials that are too small to be useful elsewhere. I thought about using the scales as a counter for the number of miles walked in the dress, but eventually I settled upon a different idea- to start an appeal, and for every pound donated, I added a new scale to the dress. This was to show that lots of small contributions can effect a massive change.
I often looked on news broadcasts of fleeing refugees in horror, and yet felt unable to do anything about it. It's hard to know what we can do that will make a difference in the face of such a huge crisis- but for me this was a reason not to act for too long. I chose to support the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) 'we provide emergence assistance for refugees worldwide', to help provide food and shelter for people in need. I hope that if the tables were turned, someone would do the same for me!
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The progress for the dress was documented on