Being Fat in Fashion: The First Plus-Size Dress Form

STORY BY Emily Kirkpatrick

Published: June 13, 2013

A team of innovative Cornell apparel design students have made headlines this week with news of something that really shouldn’t be all that remarkable. Sophomores Brandon Wen and Laura Zwanziger embarked on a class project to design for an almost completely overlooked market, plus-size women. What they discovered is not only are there an incredible lack of clothing options for the more heavy-set amongst us, but there’s not even a realistic set of full-figured dress forms to make them on! Even the plus-size mannequins that do exist are just amplified versions of the thinner models, enhancing their already absurd Barbie-like proportions to new extremes.

So with no pre-existing model, both literally and figuratively, Wen and Zwanziger were left to create a form for themselves, the Cornell Chronicle reported. The duo analyzed thousands of 3-D body scans of women in order to create a prototype body shape, eventually settling on a real, size-24 woman from the FSAD department of Cornell. Next, using a laser cutter they cut out layers of foam which were stacked and glued together to create a half-scale form where patterns can be constructed and then replicated in full. They also developed a marketing plan for their potential product and negotiated a production price with a San Francisco-based manufacturer.

Although the work of these Cornell students is exceptional, it’s hard to believe they’re the first to do it. It seems like it makes so much common sense, it’s shocking no one else has ever even tried. Ashdown articulates the problem with the fashion industry and plus-size women perfectly, saying, “Issues of health aside, we’re all different body shapes and body proportions. Each person deserves to have clothing designed for them as they are, not as they relate to some abstract industry shape.”

Plus-size clothing is a huge market, especially with more and more brands, particularly high end ones, refusing to make clothes above a certain size (I’m also looking at you, Abercrombie). Whether a customer is stick thin or obese, it shouldn’t change the fact that they are a customer willing to spend money on the right product. Fashion needs to get over their fat-phobia and embrace every person who wishes to consume their product regardless of size. Although fashion can certainly be art, it’s a sad fact of today that they’re predominantly a corporation. And doesn’t excluding a significant percentage of the population based purely on an industry’s absurd aesthetic displeasure seem like simply bad business?



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