Clothing and Universal Design

  • Fashion and clothing is something we experience every day. Clothes not only give protection against the physical environment, but provide a way to express ourselves symbolically and to communicate our personal, social and cultural identity. Surprisingly, although clothing is so central to our being, the garments themselves are often seen but not noticed. Most of us take for granted the availability and access to attractive, well-fitted and functional clothing. It is only when an individual has difficulty, such as with closures or fasteners or is unable to dress independently that we are forced to refocus again.

    Unlike products that have been designed using universal design principals, clothes are generally designed for a stylised body shape using mass production techniques, which emphasizes speed and price in manufacture rather than fit and lasting quality. People who are at the outer edges of the ideal body shape, find it near impossible to obtain the clothing they require and what is available is often uncomfortable, unattractive or too expensive and thus unsuitable.

    This approach to clothing design needs to be turned on its head, and consideration of the end user from the beginning, with the application of ergonomic and universal design principles applied at each stage of garment design and manufacture. This approach will be explored and illustrated with practical examples. Effective universal design in clothing garments is a small but important way to improve the quality of life for everyone who doesn’t fit the fictional ideal body type.

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