A small but thoughtful student exhibition in New York shows a spectrum of representations of women in photography, art, fashion and advertising, exploring the concept of “plus-size” across fashion history. “Beyond Measure: Fashion and the Plus-Size Woman” has been organized by graduate students in NYU’s costume studies program, revealing cultural attitudes towards beauty, health and gender via the lens of the “full-figured” woman, as she fell in and out of fashion.
While large women were portrayed as grotesque in postcards and ads dating from the late 19th century (see sideshow attraction “Nettie the Fat Girl”), a hundred years later we see the veneration of plus-size models on the runway, via images of Jean Paul Gaultier’s diva-esque muse Stella Ellis.
Other items in the exhibition include vintage sewing patterns from the Simplicity Chubbies range, images of plus-size models “cheating” with extra padding, footage of Project Runway competitor Ashley Nell Tipton, and advertisements from the mid-20th century encouraging skinny women to gain weight and add “sex-appealing curves.”
“There is just as much smoke and mirrors in plus-size fashion as in anything else,” says curatorial director Tracy Jenkins.
The exhibition runs through February 3 at 80WSE Gallery, New York University, with an opening event and panel discussion on January 28.