For Greenwich native Becky Mann, it started out with some wallets.
Eventually, she moved on to larger items, such as a messenger bag. Things culminated with a prom dress that Mann created for an art class at Greenwich Central School during the final months of 2004. All of those objects share one thing in common — Mann built them with duct tape.
“I saw it, it seemed like it would be fun. So I tried it,” said Mann, 21, now a senior majoring in art therapy at Lesley College in Cambridge, Mass. “Basically, it was lying around — so I worked with it. Yeah, you can never find duct tape in my house anymore, just a lot of empty rolls.”
Mann’s interest in duct tape stemmed from a desire to work with reusable, recycled materials.
“I really like working with anything that people would normally throw away,” Mann said during a recent phone interview. “I do some work with old film canisters, things like that.”
Duct tape fashion certainly has a precedent. Mann had heard of the annual contests for garments constructed with duct tape — Stuck at Prom, a competition featuring duct tape prom attire, and Stick or Treat, featuring duct tape Halloween costumes — both run by the Henkel Co., which markets Duck brand duct tape. She knew of a few people who were making wallets out of duct tape.
So during the 2003-2004 school year, she pitched the idea of having a class project dedicated to duct tape fashion to her art teacher, Naomi Meyer. In the winter of 2004, Meyer’s advanced studio art class took the project on.
“Each person made a piece of clothing or object out of duct tape,” said Meyer, 52, who has taught at Greenwich for 22 years. “There were gowns, vests, ponchos, wallets, hats, shirts; they were amazing.”
“One young man, Jake [D’Acchille], made this poncho. He put an Aztec pattern on it, and put the pattern on it that was so precise, and so heavy to put over his head.”
The project culminated in a makeshift fashion show of sorts at a weekend convention at the school.
Abundance of uses
Duct tape has been around in the fashion industry for longer than some might think, but has only recently come to prominence as a true fashion accessory. The tape was developed in 1942 for use by U.S. troops during World War II, where it gained the name “duck tape” because of its waterproofing abilities. After the war, duct tape became a household product, marketed primarily for use on heating ducts (hence the name duct tape).
However, in recent years, duct tape has been gaining attention for myriad other uses, ranging from practical to absurd. Duct tape has inspired a growing subculture appealing to a do-it-yourself work ethic. There are even books on duct tape projects, including a series written by Tim Nyberg and Jim Berg, aka The Duct Tape Guys, who are based in Wisconsin.
“I think duct tape starts out kind of being intrinsically funny,” Nyberg said during a recent phone interview. “You see something repaired with duct tape, and it tells a story about the extent of repair knowledge or amount of time the guy spent trying to fix it.”
Kids share their stories
When the duo wrote their first book, “The Duct Tape Book,” in 1994, they hadn’t encountered much in the way of duct tape fashion, although they did mention the tape could be used for clothing items and accessories. Duck Products first put on the Stuck at Prom contest in 2001, but even earlier than that The Duct Tape Guys had heard from fans who had taken to using duct tape for their fashion needs. Photos of such submissions can be seen at their Web site, www.ducttapeguys.com.
“Before they started [Stuck at Prom], we started getting e-mails and stuff from kids who use it both for fashion and fashion accessories, which is a little bit more common, wallets, purses, stuff like that,” Nyberg said. “It’s been out there for about, 10 years would be a safe bet.”
According to Scott Sommers, director of marketing for Henkel, duct tape fashion first came to the company’s attention during the late 1990s.
“It’s a bit of a secret in the garment and fashion industry, for placing body parts in specific locations, then it came out from underneath the garments as an accessory,” Sommers said. “In the late ’90s, we started to hear about people making things, especially around shoes; people would tape up a favorite pair of shoes, and it became cool. After hearing that, the company decided it wanted to step out and get noticed, and out of that was born the Stuck at Prom contest.”
The Stick or Treat Halloween costume competition arrived in 2003, which helped to broaden the audience for duct tape fashion, according to Sommers. The prizes for winning include scholarships of $3,000, $2,000 and $1,000, respectively, for the top three entries in the Stuck at Prom contest, and cash prizes of $500, $250 and $100, respectively, for the top three in the Stick or Treat competition. Although the deadline has passed for this year’s Stick or Treat contest, next year’s Stuck at Prom contest will begin in the spring. More information on these contests can be found at www.ducttapeclub.com.
In addition, Henkel also sponsors the Avon Heritage Duct Tape Festival in Avon, Ohio, which is attended by 40,000 to 50,000 people every summer, said Sommers. The festival includes, among other duct tape-centric activities, a parade, rides and duct tape fashion and art shows.
From the fashion end of things, duct tape’s appeal as a material is both in its economy and uniqueness. Duck brand duct tape comes in about 20 different colors besides silver, which adds to the creative aspect.
Samuel Roods, 21, a senior majoring in political science at Hartwick College in Oneonta, was one of the students involved in Meyer’s advanced studio art class. He built a vest using a T-shirt, which he covered in red, silver and white duct tape.
“I actually wore it,” Roods said over the phone. “Me and some friends thought it kind of looked like something out of ‘Star Wars.’ So I wore it around the day ‘Episode III’ came out as a joke. I’m really proud of the final project, especially since I had no idea how to do it at first.”
Flexible and accessible
“It’s neat because you can really be creative about it, because of how flexible the material is and how easily accessible it is,” Mann said. “It’s pretty cheap, and it’s fun. I wouldn’t suggest making your entire wardrobe out of duct tape, though.”
Mann should know — her dress was probably the least useful object she made of duct tape — but she still uses her duct tape messenger bag.
“I later found out that it’s very sweaty; it’s not a breathable material at all,” Mann said.
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Categories: Life and Arts