Designing clothes is hard.
Don’t let the contestants on Project Runway or the all-Lycra offerings of “Instagram designers” fool you. Designing clothes, real clothes that people would want to buy and wear repeatedly is a hard, laborious and time-consuming process. It requires you to consider what your customer loves, forecast what she’s going to want, and create something that is completely new to her but still speaks to her sense of style. It requires you to become equal parts historian, psychic and genie.
Designing clothes is a task at which few people are skilled, and even fewer have mastered. It’s not for those who are impatient, who seek instant gratification or who can’t stomach constant critique.
Designing clothes is hard, this much I know. And yet, here I am, designing a thesis collection of six looks to finish off my masters degree in fashion design.
Somehow, by some ill-advised stretch of imagination, I thought this process would be easier for me. Why? Because I was going to design clothes for me, the plus-sized girl who loves fashion but, like many others, becomes annoyed and nauseous at the prospect of actually shopping for it. (You know, because sizing, bad fabrics, terrible fit, high prices – all of the things we commiserate over here on xoJane.)
So I thought, rather naively, that this collection, being an extension of my passion as a plus girl, would be a piece of cake. Basically, I assumed that just because I am plus, that I’d instinctively know how to design for plus.
I came to this realization early on in the sketching process. There I was, in class, looking at the mounds of sketches I had created, with my head in my hands, starting to feel dizzy. All of my sketches were… things I’d seen before. Amalgamations of silhouettes that are already sold in stores, already photographed on Tumblr. Nothing new. Nothing fun. Nothing that would catch a woman’s eye and make her exclaim, “OOH! That's NEW!”
My dear professor and mentor (and second mom, as I unofficially declared myself her adult adoptee) came over to see why my eyes were bugging out of my head. She flipped through my stack of papers and peered at my sketches. And after a moment, she diagnosed the problem.
“You’re being uptight,” she said. “You’re thinking too hard and being uptight about designing, and it’s coming through in your sketches. You’re not having fun with this. You need to have fun.”
She was right. I had been too pre-occupied with all my internalized “rules” of plus -– “forgiving” fabrics, specific silhouettes, strategically-placed prints, oh god, ALL THE RULES -– that I hadn’t given myself the room to think, to explore, to experiment.
“I know you’re pre-occupied with this being a plus collection,” my professor said. “But you have to remember, even if your customer is a larger woman, she still wants to look fabulous. She wants to look amazing. And because she’s a larger woman, you have an opportunity to do some really wonderful things.”
She started scribbling, sketching a zaftig fashion figure on a scrap piece of paper, dressing her in a floating coat that seemed to come straight out of Mahogany.
“Think about what you can do. You could give her this great, oversized collar, huge buttons, or some kind of big embellishment,” she said as she sketched each idea. “This isn’t a woman who wants to hide and wear some wimpy little buttons or ruffles. Make her bold. This is a woman who wants to be bold.”
This was a revelation.
Usually, fashion is discussed in a manner that assumes that a larger body is a liability – that it should be covered up, concealed, “slimmed down” or “flattered.” But as I watched my professor scribble, I realized designers have been looking at plus women all wrong. The size of a plus woman is an asset – an opportunity!
A big girl can carry an amazing, outsized collar without being swallowed. She can wear large, elaborate buttons without looking like she’s slipped into a costume. A full skirt could show off the intricate handiwork of embroidered or beaded embellishments, and she could carry off a jacket with all-over details and contrasting sleeves.
Basically, a plus woman is a larger canvas on which a designer can show off her boldest work.
I suddenly became SO excited. ALL OF THE EMBROIDERY! ALL OF THE PRINTS! ALL OF THE EMBELLISHMENT! BRING THEM ON!
It wasn’t long until I spiraled into a multi-day sketching binge. I could not. Stop. Drawing. I had all of the ideas, but I couldn’t help but feel like they could be better, more refined. I would sketch the same dress in ten different ways, changing the sleeves, the color combinations, the placements of embellishments and prints, analyzing what I did, and starting over again.
I finally came to a rest at about 3 in the morning on the third night, feeling like I had sketched all I could. My sketches were finally fun! No longer uptight, no longer hindered by arbitrary sartorial rules, I’d allowed myself the space to explore and to imagine the woman who would wear these clothes. She is a pretty fly chick, I thought to myself.
Now, the next hard part:
I have to pick the six of these I’m actually going to MAKE.