80 Washington Square East, NYU

Costume Studies

Beyond Measure: Fashion and the Plus-Size* Woman

January 13 – February 3, 2016

Project Space

Every year 80WSE collaborates with graduate students in NYU’s Costume Studies department who, under the direction of Mellissa Huber, Assistant Curator at The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, create an exhibition that examines the dress and textiles and their relationship to the current cultural context. 

Beyond Measure: Fashion and the Plus-Size* Woman will explore the shifting discourse surrounding the plus-size woman in relation to fashion and the body. Through a series of objects, the exhibit will examine the plus-size woman’s place within fashion and its defining entity, the fashion industry, from the perspectives of designers, manufacturers, the general public, and the individual women themselves.

As a complicated cultural construct itself, the very term “plus-size” evokes a myriad of reactions, thus, “After careful consideration from the curators of the exhibit, the term “plus-size” is used here for its association with fashion, the primary focus of this exhibition,” said curatorial director of the exhibit, Tracy Jenkins. The fashion industry has played an undeniable role in enabling the stigmatization of larger women’s bodies. Despite consumer needs, plus-size fashion has traditionally been given little sartorial energy. Yet women of all physiques have had to clothe themselves, and thus have stood somewhere in relation to the fashion system. The plus-size woman’s place within the history of the body and her space within the fashion industry is presented here through a diverse set of objects emphasizing her relationship to gender and body politics as well as cultural attitudes toward beauty and health.
These objects, among others, will include an early 20th century photograph of “A Ticket to Nettie the Fat Girl,” representing one of the earliest views of greater weight being equated with greater immorality, and the fetishization of the supposedly deviant body. In a series of advertisements from the mid-century, women considered undesirably skinny were encouraged to consume dietary supplements to add “sex-appealing curves.” Their younger counterparts from the same era who weighed “more than average” were deemed “Chubbies” by pattern companies, presented through the Simplicity Chubbie Pattern in this exhibit. It is not until the 1990s that the plus-size woman in fashion takes center stage when model and muse Stella Ellis took the fashion world into bold new territory as she strode the high fashion runways alongside straight size models. Presented in the exhibit is a 1992 photograph of Ellis in bespoke Jean Paul Gaultier, representing her collaboration with the designer, and here photographer, who championed Ellis’ look. Attention will also be paid to the plus-size woman’s relationship with fashion in recent years. These objects will include images of plus-sized models using padding during photo shoots, which has drawn comparisons to the use of Photoshop to create unattainable ideals of beauty.

Throughout this presentation of objects and media, ranging from historical to contemporary, this exhibition aims to present the plus-size woman taking her place as a woman of and in fashion.

Installation view of the exhibition featuring several costumes.
Installation view of the exhibition featuring one pink women's suit.