Fashion and Mathematics

The Museum at FIT is currently presenting an exhibit titled “Force on Nature”, that features clothing and accessories that refer to the natural world. There are many growth patterns found in nature that can be expressed mathematically, so it is no surprise that I found some interesting math in the show.
This dress created by fashion design collective “ThreeASFOUR” in 2016 features geometric fractal patterns.
MC Escher is probably one of the most famous examples of artists who explored math in his art.
This dress by Alexander McQueen in 2009 is inspired by Escher’s work. The birds become a houndstooth pattern.
All pictures courtesy of the designers and the Museum at FIT.
Susan Happersett
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Mathematics and Fashion: Charles James at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

When you think about evening gowns, mathematics may not be the first think that comes to mind, but Charles James used geometry and engineering to design his stunning sculptural creations. In 1944, Vogue Magazine referred to his “Mathematical tailoring”.
The Metropolitan Museum has devised an exhibition that celebrates the mathematical structures of James’ work using technology to enhance the viewer experience. Robotic arms with cameras and video recorders present close-up details of structural elements of the gowns. X-rays provide an inside glimpse at the architectural support systems. Computer models provide 360 degree topological maps of the twists, spirals, and folds incorporated into the fashion. Unfortunately it was very dark in the gallery and impossible to take photos but the Metropolitan Museum has a great website with videos and images at metmuseum.org. I have included two of my favorite dresses.

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Charles James – Four leaf clover dress

The evening dress “Four Leaf Clover”  features a hyperbolic curve for a sweeping skirt.

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Charles James – Spiral Dress

The green satin Spiral dress incorporates a spiral of fabric that seems to flow directly back into itself creating an Moebius strip that encircles the wearer.

There are many other examples in the exhibition of the complex geometry utilized to design these creations. Throughout his career James was also involved with teaching other designers to use his mathematical techniques. He invented his own schematic dress forms and mannequins that are also on display at the museum.

The engineering nature of Charles James’ approach to fashion combined with the technologically curated presentation of the Metropolitan Museum creates an exhibition that reveals connections between Mathematics and fashion design.

— Susan Happersett