Ward Off Subway Gropers With This Expanding Dress

Finding a little breathing room in a crowded city can be tough. Artist Kathleen McDermott’s “Personal Space Dress” is an article of clothing that physically expands the wearer’s personal space.

The dress is the second in a series of projects called Urban Armor, which, McDermott writes, consists of “playful pieces that help women assert control over their personal/public space.” In the case of the Personal Space Dress, proximity sensors identify when someone gets too close, and plastic scaffolding within the garment causes the hemline to expand outward. The dress came out of the artist’s experiences living in Hong Kong, where she’s currently finishing her MFA.

McDermott wanted to explore a broader audience for wearables than wealthy nerds. “Taking a photo of your sky diving experience while wearing Google Glass is awesome, but it’s really a small minority of the population that will have this experience,” McDermott tells Co.Design in an email. “I wanted to explore how wearable technology could impact your physical world, and help the wearers, specifically women, exercise more control over their surroundings.”

The project nods to the harassment of women in public life–especially women who ride mass transit. Sexual harassment is an all-too-common occurrence on most public transportation networks, including those in L.A., London, and Tokyo. Unwanted touching became such a problem in Tokyo that the city adopted “women-only” subway cars.

A sharp plastic dress frame that impedes a stranger’s ability to come closer may not be the perfect answer to solving the way women are treated in public, but it does make a point.

McDermott plans on making instructions and code for the Arduino-based Personal Space Dress available for download. So if you’re a DIY type and you’d like to carve out a little more elbow room for yourself, girl, you’ve got options.

[H/T: Fashioning Technology]