Rat Race: Using Historic Garments for Fashion Illustration

Students in TC 278 Fashion Illustration at ISU examine and draw historic garments from the 1940’s.

Students in my Fashion Illustration course at Iowa State University are getting a real treat this week as they learn concepts of technical drawing.  With the support of the Textiles and Clothing Museum here at ISU, I am able to use historic garments from the 1940’s as a tool when teaching technical flat drawing.  Suzanne LeSar, Research Associate for the museum, worked with me to pull garments from this decade that encompass interesting construction details, silhouette and provenance.

Detail of women’s suit jacket from 1940’s

We begin with a historic overview of the decade, trends in women’s fashion from the time and the major social/political world climate of the period.  Then students are taught how to measure the garments and how to use a scale ruler to complete tech drawings in 1.5″ scale.  The project has multiple outcomes:

1.  Students become more acutely aware of garment construction details and the engineering involved. 

2.  Technical drawing skills are developed and students begin to consider the process of manufacturing and how a designer would communicate construction details.  

3.  The students are introduced to a wealth of resources housed in our historic collection and are also taught very basic handling/museum practices (how to handle a fragile garment etc.)

4.  Using the past as inspiration students then design collections of their own in flat/technical drawing format.  This enhances their creative process and improves the quality of their design work.  

Students in TC 278 Fashion Illustration sketching historic garments

In the “rat-race” of graduate school it often becomes challenging to balance work, classes and teaching assignments; however, finding the time to be innovative in the classroom, to partner with colleagues, and to use resources available, makes us better professionals of the future and provides our students with a great education.

For those of you that teach design and have access to a historic costume collection I would highly recommend looking for opportunities to use the collection as a tool in the studio.  Students love the experience!

1940’s blouse with lace trim.


All photos courtesy of the author.

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