We'll call her Rhonda.
Rhonda is one of many old and faithful dress forms on the floor of my university's fashion department. And because she's a little different from the rest of the dressforms, Rhonda happens to be my very best friend.
See, Rhonda's a size 20, which roughly translates into US dress size 16. Which -- yay! -- is exactly what I am.
So whenever a special occasion calls for me to construct my own dress, or if I'm just feeling bored (read: avoiding actual class assignments) and just want to throw together a casual top, I wheel Rhonda over to my workspace and begin gleefully pinning fabric to her sturdy body. This, for some reason, always confuses people.
"What are you doing?" a faculty member or another student might say.
"You're not the same size as that form. She's too big for you!" (Body-positive as I try to be, I always take this as a compliment.)
Thing is, they're right. But they're also wrong. Rhonda *is* the same size as me -- our bust, waist and hip measurements are all identical. But that's where our similarities end, because everything on our bodies are distributed differently. Rhonda has modest b-cups (like almost every other dress form), while my 34 Gs are barely contained by my Cacique bras.
And even though my shoulders are wide (thanks dad), Rhonda's are considerably broader. My hips are higher, my armhole size is smaller, oh, and most importantly -- Rhonda has no ass at all. NONE. At all. It doesn't serve me much purpose to try to design a skirt for my yam sandwich on her.
So, as much as I adore Rhonda, whenever I create something on her to wear myself, a ton of alterations are inevitably involved. Sweet as she is, Rhonda's nothing but a scaled-up version of the many size 8 (dress size 4, a standard sample size) dress forms that populate the fashion department. And while the size 8 forms are fine for making clothes for fit models, manufacturers seem to have forgotten that the human body just doesn't "scale up" in uniform increments when it gets larger.
Thankfully, a pair of enterprising students in the fashion program at Cornell are seeking to correct this dress form injustice. They've developed a dress form for a size 24 woman that takes into account the many variations of the human body. Their process for doing so was pretty cool: Instead of working from a basic form, they used thousands of 3D body scans (of actual humans!) to develop a body prototype, and then matched that to a size 24 woman in their department.
The result -- a pear-shaped form that will lend itself to more easily developing flattering plus-size garments, so that the curvier among us are aren't stuck with boxy T-shirts or ill-fitting pants.
The students at Cornell used the dress form to design a four-piece collection, and even developed a marketing plan for their line. That's exciting, but I think it would make an even greater impact to figure out how to manufacture and sell the forms instead, or maybe even the technology to create them.
I haven't worked in industry yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if one of the obstacles to developing great plus-clothing was the fact that transferring garments from dress form to fit model (then to customer) involves tons of fitting and altering and adjusting. (And, as my professors like to say around here, "Time is money.") Wouldn't it be great if ALL those companies had access to a form that more accurately represents the average U.S. woman, who is holding A LOT of buying power?
Still, the project doesn't solve all the woes of the would-be plus fashionista.
As much as reading about the Cornell research intrigued me, I was left with one very loud thought: I'm plus, but I'm definitely not pear. Remember those 34Gs I mentioned earlier? Those are the beginning and end of all my fashion decisions.
If I can't close a button-up, or fit into a knit top, or find a neckline that's not-too-low but just-low-enough, I'm not buying. In fact, when I use trusty ol' Rhonda, the bust is where I always make my first alterations. (FBA anyone? Where my fellow seamstresses at?!) So a promising plus industry needs more than just a pear-shaped form. It needs an hourglass, an apple and maybe an inverted triangle too. It definitely needs something for us super-busty gals.
I, in the meantime, will keep finding my own ways to make plus clothes that fit. I don't have Cornell's 3D technology (yet!), but our fashion department did roll in two new size 20 forms last week. They're fleshier, a bit more shapely and more bootylicious than old Rhonda. Plus, they have legs! Visions of swimsuits and pants and lingerie are already dancing in my head.
I just hope Rhonda doesn't mind me making new friends.
Veronica Miller is a freelance illustrator working on her master's degree in fashion design. She is dying to design a plus-size line for you.