New York University's Visual Culture: Costume Studies Program has launched its annual exhibition, this time addressing an extremely current topic in fashion by exploring plus size women's representation in it throughout history. The exhibit is titled Beyond Measure: Fashion And The Plus-Size* Woman, and runs from Jan. 13 to Feb. 3. According to the exhibit's website, it "explores 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."
The exhibition uses a diverse — albeit small, with only eight items in the project — range of media and objects to explore the history of the plus size woman in fashion. By using both contemporary and historical items, attendees get some insight into how the plus size body's relationship with mainstream fashion has changed and developed over time.
As well as making a conscious effort to represent plus size women fairly, Beyond Measure has also been incredibly careful about the wording and presentation of the collection — even down to its title. "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 on the exhibit's website.
The Gloss explored why "plus size" was such an important issue in fashion that an entire exhibit should be dedicated to it. Lauren Wilson, one of the student curators behind Beyond Measure, told the publication, "We really wanted to also tackle a topic that was relevant to the dialogue of fashion today, but also something that has not received a lot of academic attention, and therefore, given curatorial attention. The topic of plus-size fashion has been 'trending' on blogs and social media, but also had never been given the proper space to be explored through the lens of fashion academia. We knew it was going to be a tough topic — it is a charged subject, but we felt it was a conversation that deserved to be started in fashion academia," she said.
As well as being able to view the exhibition at the 80WSE Gallery, those of us not from New York get to partake in a virtual tour that actually gives one extra information to accompany the images from the exhibit. This includes supplemental multimedia material like videos, photographs, and discussions with the curators.
As proven by the exhibit, the plus size body has almost always had an air of controversy around it. While we're arguably entering a new era that celebrates fat bodies instead of making a spectacle of them, it's still fascinating to look at the ever-changing image of the plus size body throughout the centuries. Hopefully we can learn from the negative and find beauty in the positive: A message that should be spread beyond Beyond Measure and into the public consciousness.
Images: Courtesy New York Universty/Beyond Measure: Fashion And The Plus-Size* Woman