Beyond Measure: Fashion and the Plus-Size* Woman, a new exhibition that deconstructs the concept of “plus-size” over the course of fashion history, will open January 13 at the 80WSE Gallery at NYU.
Organized by graduate students in the Costume Studies Program at NYU’s Steinhardt School, the exhibition explores the shifting discourse surrounding the plus-size woman in relation to fashion and the body, encompassing admiration, admonishment, and fetishization. Through a series of objects including photographs, garments and advertisements, the show examines the “plus-size” woman’s place within fashion from the perspectives of designers, manufacturers, the general public, and the individual women themselves.
Items on view will include an early twentieth century photograph of “A Ticket to Nettie the Fat Girl,” representing one of the earliest views of greater weight being equated with greater immorality. In a series of advertisements from the mid-twentieth 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 Stella Ellis 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 her photographer, who championed Ellis’ look. The exhibition also addresses the plus-size woman’s relationship with fashion in recent years, including 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.
There will be a public reception for Beyond Measure on January 28, 2016 at 5 pm in 80WSE Gallery, located at 80 Washington Square East between West 4th Street and Washington Place, followed by a panel discussion at NYU’s Pless Hall, located at 32 Washington Place, between Washington Square and Green Street. For more information please visit the Costume Studies Events page or beyond measure.
Image: Madame de Saint-Maurice [detail], Joseph Siffred Duplessis, 1776. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of James A. Aborn, 1968. (www.metmuseum.org.)