New wedding dress visually reveals bride’s emotions

By Leah Bjornson
Photo by Leah Bjornson

SFU SIAT students Emily Ip and Wynnie Chung are pushing the limits of wearable technology with their innovative wedding dress design, which uses LED lights and pulsating fabric flowers to reveal a bride’s emotions.
The project is called Wo.Defy, and was originally an honours research project developed between Jan. and Aug. 2012, although the dress took just one month to create. Ip and Chung, who are both interested in combining wearables with technology, wanted to create a piece that portrayed the wearer’s emotional presence through poetic visuals.
“There is no way to hide anything,” Chung said. “While you can attempt to manipulate your breath for a time, in the end you have no control. What is displayed on the dress must be natural.”
The garment works in two ways. First, when a bride inhales deeply, her ribcage expands against a sensor on the inside of the dress. This sensor is connected to numerous LED lights, which are placed throughout the gown. The lights flicker and light up progressively, depending on the amplitude of the inhalation. This pattern represents the respiratory and cardiovascular systems in the body. The second way the dress works is through a series of silk flowers that contract and dilate depending on the intensity of motion through the dress as the bride moves.
The name Wo.Defy is derived from “wo,” the Chinese word for “I,” to be expressed as I Defy. This name represents the inspiration for the gown, which comes from a group of 20th century Chinese women known as the Self-Combing Sisters. In a culture where women had little independence, the Self-Combing Sisters were a suffragette movement that rejected the traditional practice of arranged marriages. Instead, these women became self-sufficient by working in silk factories.
As an alternative to marriage, the sisters would go through a self-combing ceremony, which can be likened to becoming a nun. During the ceremony, the women would comb their hair into a long braid, wear a silk gown, and effectively wed themselves. Because silk was both expensive and rare, such a ceremony proved that these women were self-sufficient.
This inspiration is represented in the Wo.Defy design by the interwoven braids as well as the choice of the colour white. In Chinese culture, brides are supposed to wear red on their wedding day. “Emily and I are both Chinese-Canadians, and we are challenged to find a balance between those cultures,” said Chung. “By creating the dress in white, we are defying certain traditional standards ourselves.”
The technology also challenges others to question how we can take traditional garments and artifacts and look at them in new perspective. Ip and Chung hope that their technology, in addition to promoting ideas of sustainability, might be used in the future to facilitate communication. This project has the potential to help children with autism and other communication problems, who often struggle to connect with others.
“We hope that this technology might be used to allow them to display their emotional state,” says Ip. “Spoken communication does not need to be the only option. There are things you can’t really experience through words, but with this technology you can convey ‘that feeling’ to other people.”
When asked their plans for the future, Chung replied, “We are both very passionate about wearables, and are going to work towards graduate degrees in that sector. By working together, we have become more sophisticated in our work, and I definitely see us collaborating again.”
Ip and Chung recently returned from the TEI’13, the Tangible, Embedded and Embodied Interaction Conference in Barcelona, Spain, where they presented as one of several selected projects. The two will continue to share the Wo.Defy project and hope to further explore the relationship between human emotion, historical customs, gender and storytelling through the use of technology.