Designer Lois Hennes with her five models who represent the five body shapes of her new fashion design system.
Designer Lois Hennes with her five models who represent the five body shapes of her new fashion design system.

Clothing design for 21st century

Women’s clothing is undergoing a revolution. The days of standing in a change room wondering why new season garments look terrible on your body may soon be over, thanks to a redesign of clothing standards.

Based on shape, rather than size, the new system is the result of a scientific study by fashion industry engineer Lois Hennes. Over the last decade, she has conducted an anthropometric (the absolute and relative variability in size and shape of the human body) measure of the population, taking over 10,000 measurements of Australian women and has devised a new pattern engineering system based on five body shapes. While size will still play a part in finding a perfect fit, the research will help fashion engineers and designers to reconceptualise their designs and may result in a new labelling of garments for a steadily growing population.

Along with co-author Kath Berry, Lois has published her findings in a book The Fashion Design System - Pattern Engineering for the 21st Century and will be bringing her innovative ideas and a fashion demonstration to Lismore next Wednesday, May 26 at the Left Bank Café from 5.30-7pm.

With 40 years of pattern engineering experience behind her, Lois said she was alerted to the inadequacy of current standards when she taught fashion design at Wollongbar TAFE and students wanted to know what to use as a reference. The Australian Standards Chart was outdated and based on measurements taken on the eastern seaboard in 1928 by Fred Berlei, who needed a measure so he could better manufacture corsetry.

“He was the first to make an anthropometric measure of the population,” Lois said. “The rest of the world adopted his standard measurements and it has been tweaked a few times since, but is now so inadequate it has been withdrawn by the Australian Standards Association.”

Over the last century, the average size of the Australian population has grown, with the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics figures showing that 68% of adult men and 55% of adult women are overweight or obese. The Fashion Design System’s research backs the theory that we are getting bigger. The body type H – large frame, large waist and abdomen – is the most common shape amongst Australian women. The I shape is similar, but narrower.

The five body shapes are androgenously represented by the letters of the alphabet which most resemble the shapes: H, X, I, A and XH.

At present Australian designers are free to make up their own size specifications, which accounts for such wide variations in the fit of new fashion ranges.

“I want to make people aware there is not a problem with being the wrong shape, we just haven’t been measuring the population as time goes on,” Lois said. “If you find a brand that works for you – stick to it. Designers do trial and error and guess because there is no standard or make for body shape.”

Lois said she is interested in providing the industry with a tool to increase opportunity in marketplace. At her fashion demonstration next week, Lois hopes to inspire not only designers, but retailers.

“I hope people will think about brands on the rack and feedback to designers,” Lois said. “There is a solution to give shoppers better comfort and fit in fashion.

“Designers will have to be selective and label their brands. With good marketing from smart retailers, people will start to understand what’s behind the scene in fashion pattern making.”

Lois’s work is certainly about redefining the female form to affirm positive body image, demystifying design and celebrating women’s diverse shapes and sizes.

The system has already been endorsed by the fashion industry, including the Whitehouse Institute of Design and is being marketed as the essential reference for pattern engineers, technicians and makers, designers, clothing technologists and manufacturers, dressmakers and fashion students.

If you would like to attend Lois’s demonstration of her new system, the event costs $25 per person. To book, phone 6622 1903.

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