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Fashion

Is A Hello Kitty T-Shirt Part Of The Singapore Fashion Identity?

That's the question recent Lasalle College of the Arts Fashion Media and Industries graduate Seah Liyi set out to explore in her final-year project, apparently, which catalogued the wardrobes of 60 local women from all walks of life. The results – showcased on her very own website Apparently.cargo.site/ – is unlike any study on style and identity we've seen here in Singapore.

There is a popularly bandied about term in politics: the “silent majority”, which refers to a neutral group that falls somewhere in the middle, oft overlooked by activists on either end of the spectrum. Seah’s project takes a stab at representing this demographic in a fashion setting.

Seah Liyi’s final-year project, titled Apparently, sought to answer the question of what Singapore style is.

Driven by what she felt was a lack of studies into clothing and how they relate to identity in a Singapore context, the 25-year-old documented 360 garments submitted by 60 women. Aged between 16 and 35, they were a mixture of friends and strangers; people who cared about fashion and those who don’t, each asked to submit six garments that best represented their identity.

Seah documented 360 garments submitted by 60 women for her project.

Seah – a former business student who decided to venture into fashion so that she could be “exposed to both sides of the industry” – was not expecting the outcome. One participant submitted ordinary T-shirts because she “lived in them 24/7” while another subconsciously veered towards pieces in suede as a way of standing out from the crowd.

Each woman was asked to submit six garments that best represented their identity.

Many of the participants also admitted to feeling that their clothes were not worthy of being the subject of a fashion project, echoing the sentiments of Seah’s lecturers when she had first proposed it. They thought it mundane and “not fashion” enough, she explains – only strengthening her conviction that it should be done.

“You cannot judge a person by their clothes; one’s real identity is found within.” – Seah Liyi

One of the most interesting submissions Seah received for her final-year project that catalogued the wardrobe of 60 Singapore women was this Hello Kitty-printed T-shirt dress from a housewife.

“How do we invite people who aren’t interested in fashion to the table,” she says. “I think fashion is really for everyone. It’s a matter of how much one is invested in it, which is why I wanted to explore a demographic traditionally excluded from the conversation. And through this project, I realised that regardless of the item, everyone puts great value into how they feel in it.”

While she did also come across more so-called fashionable items such as the fuchsia jacket, she personally gravitated towards more “ordinary” garments because “they’re what women feel most at home in”.

Seah’s project should certainly get us all thinking about clothes as identity signifiers beyond the perimeters of traditional luxury fashion. “I used to feel that one could only dress ‘nice’ if he or she were rich,” she says. “And I thought that there would be commonalities across the wardrobes of different women here, but I was wrong. It’s difficult to generalise Singapore style because we’re all very different.”

Seah’s project highlights the role of clothes as identity signifiers beyond the perimeters of traditional luxury fashion.

While Seah’s charming anthropological study has wrapped, she welcomes others to use the data she’s collected – age, occupation, where the women live and their comments on their submitted garments – all exhibited on her simple yet hyper-slick website “to come up with their own conclusion” about fashion. (She had hoped to compile everything into a printed book, but the 1,000-page extent proved too costly.) Her own takeaway from working on Apparently: “You cannot judge a person by their clothes; one’s real identity is found within.”

Above, a snapshot of some of the garments featured in Apparently.

A version of this article appeared in the Sept 2020 Not-Your-Usual September Issue of FEMALE.