Stoutwear and the Discourses of Disorder

Constructing the Fat, Female Body in American Fashion in the Age of Standardization, 1915-1930

Author
Lauren Downing Peters

Supervisors
Hazel Clark, Caroline Evans, Andrea Kollnitz, Klas Nyberg

Publisher
US-AB

Abstract

If dress is that which makes the body acceptable in society, then what does it mean to make the fat, female body acceptable through dress?

Looking at the so-called "stoutwear" industry, or the predecessor to what is today known as "plus-size fashion," this dissertation explores this question in depth. Drawing upon a wide array of media sources, such as fashion magazines, style guides, trade journals and catalogs, it exposes how fashion media discourses created the conditions through which the fat, female body was both known and constructed within the context of the early ready-to-wear industry in the United States.

Focusing on the fifteen-year period between 1915 and 1930, the study is chronologically bookended on one end by Women’s Wear’s proclamation in 1915 that stoutwear would go on to be one of the most robust sectors of the burgeoning ready-to-wear trade, and, on the other, by its resignation in 1930 that, due to new fads in dieting, exercise and fashion, “there are no more stout women.”

Interdisciplinary in scope, this dissertation explores how stoutwear was bolstered by changing attitudes about weight, technologies such as standardized sizing and the aesthetics and ideals of modernism. In doing so, it illuminates a fascinating history that has been almost entirely neglected within the fashion literature.

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About the Author

Lauren Downing Peters

Lauren Downing Peters is a PhD student at the Centre for Fashion Studies. Prior to beginning her studies at the Centre, Lauren graduated summa kum laude from Washington University in St. Louis where she received her BA in art history and anthropol... Read more

Reference

Downing Peters, L. (2018). Stoutwear and the Discourses of Disorder: Constructing the Fat, Female Body in American Fashion in the Age of Standardization, 1915-1930. Diss. Stockholm University. Stockholm: US-AB.