Isabella St.Onge, Yarwood Grant winner 2022

By Isabella St.Onge, MA Historical Costume at Arts University Bournemouth

Big, Bold, and Beautiful: Fashion, Fatness, and Feminism 1965-1975.

I applied for the Yarwood Grant to help with the costs of the practical research for my MA Thesis at Arts University Bournemouth – ‘Big, Bold, and Beautiful: Fashion, Fatness, and Feminism 1965-1975.’ As a costume maker, it was of paramount importance to me that my historical research on second-wave feminism and 1960s-70s fashion have an interpretive making outcome. My research began with a focus on the ways the second-wave feminist movement utilized fashion to create collective identity and to alternatively conform to and rebel against the status quo. In my reading, I became intimately acquainted with the ways in which the main body of the second-wave pushed fat and queer people to the fringes of the movement, similar to the way that mainstream fashion pushed aside these bodies as undesirable and unfashionable.

In order to better understand the anti-fat tendencies of 1960s-70s fashion, I also researched the history of dieting and fat phobia in the 20th century west. It became abundantly clear that if I wanted my thesis to push against the exclusive and skinny-biased beauty standards of the era I was researching, I would need to make a more radical choice than simply re-creating the extant garments I was studying in archives. Because of this, I chose to create youthful, fashionable looks from the period but custom patterned for modern plus-sized bodies.

The resulting five looks for five models spanning the years 1965-1975 were colorful, exuberant, and smile-inducing. My models had never worn custom-made garments before, and in my fitting and making process, I did my best to emphasize their comfort and aesthetic tastes as well as strive to make garments that created sartorial joy when worn. This focus on a collaborative creative vision that stemmed from meticulous historical research, but was not limited to exact reproduction, was supported by my costume design background. I believe that this allowed me to create a more radical lens through which to re-assess the historical period, in a way that is very much in the spirit of feminist thinkers of the latter half of the 20th century. The mission of centering marginalized bodies as the main characters of the narrative culminated in individual photoshoots to be used in a zine alongside poetry reacting to the research of the period I carried out earlier in my thesis process.

Without the Yarwood Grant, I would not have been able to create the garments in fashion fabric. While my calico toiles were enlightening with regard to plus-size patterning and fit research, my message of colorful fat fashionability would have been incommunicable without fashion fabric. I would not have been able to create the visual portion of my zine. The grant allowed me to take the research on extant garments from the Arts University Bournemouth Costume Archive, the Blandford Fashion Museum Archives, period mail order catalogues, and the literature of second-wave and post-second-wave-response and turn the academic concepts and images into an accessible and tangible body of work. Because of the Yarwood, I was able to expand the fruits of my research to touch other people’s perceptions of beauty and fashion – to promote and normalize plus-size sartorial joy.

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