Fashion Meets STEM at Iowa State University

A new exhibit showcases how science, technology, engineering and math contribute to fashion.

by Julie Erickson, Ames Tribune, Iowa / January 25, 2016 0
Iowa State University mixes fashion with STEM in a new exhibit. Henry Jose/Flickr CC 2.0

(TNS) — A new exhibit on display at Iowa State University is giving viewers a closer look at how fashion design relies on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

"The Fashionable Side of STEM" is on display through Friday, March 11, in the Textiles and Clothing Museum in ISU's Morrill Hall.

Curated by Janet Fitzpatrick and Sara Marcketti, the display shows how STEM has influenced fashion as technology has advanced. It features examples from both the museum's collection as well as garments contributed by faculty and graduate students in the apparel, merchandising and design program.

The idea for the exhibit came after Marcketti, also an associate director in the Department of Apparel, Events and Hospitality Management, earned the 2014 Rossmann Manatt faculty development award. Over the course of the year, Marcketti said she was busy looking at and "exploring the intersections of fashion and STEM."

"We decided this would be an incredible exhibit, particularly if we brought it up to the 21st century," she said. "By doing that, what we were able to do was ask the faculty and graduate students of our program if they would be willing and interested in contributing their textiles and garments that showed how they used STEM in their fashion."

The exhibit features garments hand-knit by faculty members, who used mathematical concepts in their patterning, as well as garments that used new technology like laser-cutters and digital printers. Marcketti said the display also includes examples that used "experimental materials," or materials that had not existed before.

In one portion of the exhibit, an 1890s bodice is on display, but turned inside-out to see how engineering played a part in creating the shape of the garment.

Fitzpatrick, also the collection manager at the Textiles and Clothing Museum, said the exhibit also represents the merchandising and retailing side of the program, with buying spreadsheets and business plans on display.

"It's a little harder to represent something like that when we have all these three-dimensional garments, but we've created a poster that shows some samples," she said. "That's a big part of our department, so we really wanted to represent that."

Marcketti said the exhibit seemed like a natural fit, as science and technology is "really drilled into us" at ISU. But while STEM topics are often associated with other colleges and departments across campus, Marcketti said she hopes the display can show viewers that STEM can also contribute to fashion over the years.

"So much of what we do is related to science and technology," she said. "Being in the apparel program, a lot of attention sometimes will get on the fashionable side or the aesthetics side of it, without realizing that there's some really deep and serious concepts related to math, science, technology and engineering go into it." 

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