Making A Wearable Statement

When Jessica Clark, who serves as Dean of the College of Education and Health Sciences, stepped out at the 125th Anniversary Gala April 22, she was dressed in a custom-made frock created by seniors Clara Lawson and Taylor Shead. The apparel production and merchandising majors were hand-selected by associate professor Carmen Keist, who served as the faculty advisor for the project.

Clark wanted to be a “walking and breathing billboard” for the Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) department to promote student work.

“It is one thing to talk about what our students are doing on a daily basis in the classroom, but another to actually showcase our students’ work to those outside of the classroom,” she said.

Keist applied for a Student Engagement Award (SEA) grant through the Office of Sponsored Programs to fund the materials (patterns, fabric, etc.) in addition to paying the students an hourly wage to design and construct the dress.

“It's nice for students to get hands-on experience and get paid too,” Keist said.

Clark worked with the director of advancement to solidify a donor (FCS graduate, Kim Mitchell ’82) to cover the cost of a plus-size dress form. “The department only had dress forms that did not represent my body type. This was very important to me and the department to support body inclusivity and for students to work with a variety of body types.” 

Lawson and Shead met with Clark and presented a mood board with different styles and colors. To commemorate the landmark occasion, Clark wanted to show off her Bradley pride in a red dress.

After selecting the pattern, the biggest challenge for the students was scheduling time to work together and coordinating tasks when they worked separately. In addition to busy class schedules, both have internships and jobs.

“Our schedules are very different, so we bounced back and forth on who leads each week,” said Shead, who also interns at David’s Bridal. She and Lawson said they learned a lot during the process, and they were grateful for the guidance Keist provided.

Some challenges turned into great learning opportunities. “We constructed the dress and lined everything twice to ensure it wasn’t see-through, but we had some bulky seams and darts on the inside,” said Lawson, noting that Keist advised them to hide the seams on the inside and line them together for the best comfort and durability.

In other words, they had to take the dress apart and reconstruct it.

But, in the end it was worth it — they had a beautiful garment that was comfortable and ready to wear.

“This was the ultimate experiential learning experience for Clara and Taylor,” said Clark. “I will proudly wear the dress to other internal and external events to represent the college and the FCS department.”

“One great thing about majoring in apparel production and merchandising is that most of the courses have real-world applications and hands-on experience,” added Keist. “Clara and Taylor learned about apparel product development, working with a client, design, sourcing of materials and they saw their hard work come alive on a real person!”

Emily Potts

Plus-sized dress form used during the dress-making process.