The clothes people wear have a specific character and they say something about roles and purposes. They tell us about age, class, culture, profession and history. They also inform creative ideas and influence artistic choices. Here are three contrasting representations of clothes, and the roles that are attached with them.

‘Doll Clothes’, Cindy Sherman (1975) 

Short black and white animated silent film by American artist Cindy Sherman.

Doll Clothes presents a photograph of the artist – Cindy Sherman – as a paper doll that has come to life, trying on multiple outfits before a mirror. After each costume change a hand intrudes from the corner of the screen, putting the doll and her dress back in their plastic album sleeves. The repetition of posing followed by powerlessness reflects Sherman’s ongoing fascination with the politics of identity and representation, particularly in relation to women.’

(Tate Gallery label, 2011)


Roman Signer, performance works

Performance related work using hats and sheets by Swiss artist Roman Signer.


A black hat and a pink sheet are fired into the air using small rockets and explosives. Taken out of their original context and used within a performance context, they are seen as abstract objects rather than items of clothing and bedding.


Stanford Prison Experiment

A simulation of prison life conducted in 1971 at Stanford University. The experiment was terminated after only two weeks because of what the situation was doing to the college students who participated.

“In only a few days, our guards became sadistic and our prisoners became depressed and showed signs of extreme stress.” (Professor Philio G. Zimbardo,

“I began to feel I was losing my identity […] I was 416. I was really my number.” (Prisoner 416,


In her short film ‘Doll Clothes’, Cindy Sherman uses paper cut-outs of various blouses, jeans, jumpers and dresses, organised in several plastic album sleeves. Through a repeating animated sequence, a paper doll (a photographic representation of the artist) comes to life, dresses in the cut-out clothes and poses in front of a mirror on a dressing table, before being stripped of her clothes by a disembodied pair of hands and replaced along with her clothes back into the plastic album sleeves.

In Roman Signer’s performance works, hats and sheets are used as objects to be propelled into the sky. In one work, rows of yellow hard hats are fired simultaneously into the sky, creating a random scattering of colour before falling back to the ground. In another work, a man standing wears a black woollen hat covering his head and eyes. The hat, attached to a small rocket by a length of string, is fired into the sky. The man looks up, following its upward trajectory. In a third work, one end of a pink sheet is fired into the sky, its full length spreading out, before falling back to the ground in a crumpled heap. In each example, it is less about the original functional purpose of the clothing than about the action of the artist firing them into the sky and an audience watching the random movement created by their trajectory.

By far the most extreme of the three representations of clothing, the Stanford Prison Experiment shows two groups of student volunteers participating in the simulation of prison life. One group of students were given uniforms and took on the role of prison guards. The second group of students, systematically searched and stripped off their clothes, complied with the role of prisoners. Each prisoner was given a prison uniform with their respective ID number printed on the front and back to make them feel anonymous, and an ankle chain. The consequence of which was the rapid erosion of personal individuality and a passive compliance with institutional rules.

The representation of clothes and gender in Cindy Sherman’s Doll Clothes, the abstract representation of clothes in Roman Signer’s performance work and the role of clothes in defining behaviour in the Stanford Prison Experiment offer three very distinct notions of identity and the use to which clothes are given within the artistic representation of these notions of identity.



Doll Clothes (1975) Cindy Sherman. At: (Accessed on: 10 March 2017) Revised: (Accessed on: 7 November 2023)

Installations by Roman Signer (s.d.) At: (Accessed on: 10 March 2017)

Stanford Prison Experiment, (Accessed on: 10 March 2017)