Zhou plays with expectations through fashion

For her senior thesis in visual arts, Jessica Zhou created a fashion collection that explores representations of identity. 

Who are you? Where are you from?

Clothing can create a first impression that starts to answer these questions. For her senior thesis toward a certificate in visual arts, Jessica Zhou designed and produced a fashion show that puts a witty twist on those questions as they relate to her many identities — as a woman, as a Texan, as Chinese American, as a busy Princeton student.

“The focus of Jessica’s thesis is how we, and she in particular, change and adapt to cultural codes. … She has examined that through how we as a culture do that through our clothing, through fashion, through our dress. She’s a psychology major. That is intrinsically woven into her work,” said Jeff Whetstone, professor of visual arts in the Lewis Center for the Arts and Zhou’s adviser.

Zhou created 13 looks for her thesis. To improve her sewing skills, she took a class at Parsons School of Design during summer 2018. She sketched the outfits, created some textiles from scratch, cut and sewed the clothing, and selected and fitted student models. Reflecting her roots, some of the items Zhou incorporated included silky black wigs and cowboy-style clothing. The process culminated with a fashion show titled “Questionable Clothes” in the Princeton University Library’s East Asian Library and an exhibition at the Arts Tower’s Hurley Gallery.

“Like all art, clothing is about presentation and projection at the same time,” Zhou said. “I’ve always thought of sewing and creating garments from a very technical point of view, and I think in doing this thesis I was able to think of it in terms of more and more levels of abstraction.”

As an advisee of Professor of Psychology Alexander Todorov, Zhou also produced a thesis for her psychology major. By recording and engaging subjects in real and scripted conversations, Zhou created a video database of emotional expressions and found that people can perceive the difference between real and fake emotions.

For the final look in her show (shown above), she combined her interests in psychology and art by color-coding some of the images from the database by emotion and turning them into fabric for a dress. After graduating, Zhou will teach in Los Angeles through Teach for America, and she plans to eventually pursue graduate studies in psychology.