The Metamorphosis line from Younghui Kim is a clothing line that detects alcohol levels in its wearers. A female dress responds to the wearer’s level of alcohol consumption through the use of colorful lights and expanding sleeves, while a male’s blazer responds by an expanding collar that slides out to cover the wearer’s face.
Video 1: ‘취중진담 Metamorphosis’ Wearable that responses when you drink alcohol
The project is meant to express the impact alcohol has on a person’s self-esteem, and was specifically focused on the role of drinking in Korean society. The interesting point of the project is the grounds for its creation. When first exposed to an article on Bustle, the title “A Dress that Detects when You’re Drunk? Younghuo Kim’s Wearable Tech will Draw Attention to the Fact that you’re Sloshed” I was left with the initial impression that the project was intended to act as a deterrent to over indulgence. After further reading, I have come to the realization that it is not technology meant to support sobriety, but rather as commentary on the way in which drinkers interact, and are perceived in social situations.
Apparently, social drinking in Korea is viewed as an outlet for honesty, and Kim’s website absurdee.com notes that “with formality deeply set in society, people are often shy to express what they really think soberly” (Kim, 2014). I find this interesting because it raises the question as to how a person should interpret the opinion of another. It almost seems that Kim is suggesting that the views of a person who has been drinking should carry more weight than those of someone who has not. While it is often said in vino veritas, people in western society are often heard explaining their actions by blaming alcohol. I have heard “I had been drinking” when responding to questions about a late-night conversation from the night before. It is not to say that there is not truth in wine, but it is interesting to note the social differences surrounding the conversation of honesty and alcohol. Would a project such as Kim’s have any impact on the perception of a person’s words, or even more importantly, should it?
It seems that in fashion, it is not uncommon to see someone wearing a particular item because of the statement it is making. One could wonder what the statement an item from the Metamorphosis project is making. In western culture, would it be viewed as an excuse? In Korea, would it be seen as a reason to pay extra attention to the wearer’s words and actions, because they are in fact being honest? It is also interesting to note that the female’s version of this project draws attention to the wearer, but the male’s blazer is designed to hide the wearer’s face. It is almost as if Kim is saying that when drinking a female is empowered, yet when a man drinks the best course of action is to keep his mouth shut and hide from the public. While this may not be the actual intent of the project, it is reminiscent of the points made by Joanne Entwistle in “Fashion and Gender.” Entwistle notes that in fashion “clothing does more than simply draw attention to the body and emphasize bodily signs of difference. It works to imbue the body with significance, adding layers of cultural meanings” (Entwistle, 2000). In the case of the Metamorphosis project, this seems to be taken to an entirely new level. It is not just the appearance of the articles of clothing, but it is the way in which these articles interact with the wearer. Would a woman who identifies as male require the same response from the item, or would she be exempted from “hiding” because she is a woman? Would a man who identifies as female be empowered by the influence of alcohol on his self-esteem?
One cannot argue that the project is interesting, but does seem to be ambiguous as to its intent. At first glance Kim seems to be making a statement in regards to the relationship between social interaction and alcohol consumption, but after a closer look there seems to be a not so subtle commentary on gender roles in social situations. The social implications of the project could be immense, but it also seems likely that the message from the item could easily be unclear. The technology seems far more likely to be relevant if gender is taken out of the equation, and the same response is generated no matter the sex of the wearer. Metamorphosis should simply provide the visual signal, and leave the interpretation of the situation up to the observer.
- Entwistle, J. (2000). Fashion and Gender. In The fashioned body: Fashion, dress, and modern social theory. Cambridge: Polity Press.