A vintage dress form

Plus-size fashion is a seriously underserved market, and not just for the shoppers. The fashion industry overall seems like it really wants to just pretend larger figures don’t exist, and if some bigger people show up, just toss them some T-shirts and call it a day. The issue is so pervasive that even people who want to make larger clothes have trouble getting the tools and support they need to do so.

When Laura Zwanziger and Brandon Wen, apparel design students at Cornell, set out to design a plus-size line, one of the first roadblocks they encountered was a lack of suitable plus-size dress forms. Dress forms are essential to design – they’re what one builds and sculpts the clothes on – but all the plus-size options were crap.

“So few clothes are made exclusively for larger women that there’s a scarcity of full-figured mannequins available, and the few that exist resemble crudely scaled-up versions of thinner women of Barbie-like proportions,” writes Sarah Cutler of The Cornell Chronicle.

Because so many plus-size clothes are just scaled-up versions of things designed for slim sample sizes, they can tend to fit very strangely on an actual body. Zwanziger and Wen didn’t want to just make straight-size clothes bigger, they wanted to design clothes specifically for full-figured women. So they decided to design their own plus-size dress form.

They went over thousands of 3-D body scans to pick out their own sample size prototype, and used the department’s laser cutter to create their new fit model: a pear-shaped size 24 that let them develop garment prototypes and figure out their patterns.

“It’s a wonderful example of using innovative technology to support design work,” said apparel design professor Susan Ashdown. “Instead of just scaling up something designed for a different-sized woman, or even thinking about clothing as something to disguise a body or make a body look different than it is, the students sought to celebrate shape as it really is.”

Ashdown pointed out that designing a fashion line for fuller figures is a very different process than designing one for the industry standard, which is true, and more schools should be teaching aspiring designers how to do it. There are a lot of women out there who want to spend some money on good-looking, plus-size clothes, and a lot of unemployed fashion design majors who would probably love to sell them some things.

Via The Cornell Chronicle/Photo: Shutterstock