Know Now: Jumping In

An artist and a design professor propose a new way forward for fashion with rational dress society.

(Photo: Courtesy Rational Dress Society.)

In this column, we ask our special projects editor, Bettina Korek, founder of the Los Angeles–based independent arts organiza-tion For Your Art, to select something in the world that she believes you should be aware of at this particular moment.

Imagine a reality in which running into a friend at a party—wearing the exact same outfit— is exciting instead of a fashion faux pas.

The Los Angeles–based collective Rational Dress Society (RDS) has created Jumpsuit, an experiment in “counter-fashion” that revo-lutionizes our way of thinking about clothes. Available as a pre-made garment for purchase, as well as a free downloadable open-source pattern, Jumpsuit is a sturdy but attractive “monogarment” made entirely in the United States, including the zipper and fabric. Color choices are white or black, which contributes to its “ungendered” quality. The RDS differ-entiates this from unisex: “It’s not one-size-fits-all. It’s one garment that can fit everyone.” Jumpsuit’s utopian aim: to become the only item in people’s closets.

The designers—Abigail Glaum-Lathbury, a professor who teaches patternmaking and design at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and video artist Maura Brewer—have developed more than 200 sizes using anthro-pometric data from NASA. “Large govern-ment organizations actually have to clothe a range of people, whereas fashion brands don’t,” Brewer says. “So in some ways, choices are very narrow. That’s why some people only buy Prada or Proenza Schouler, or whatever actu-ally fits them. That becomes their go-to.” In an era when fashion is driven by endless personal choice, the RDS motto—“Free yourself from the tyranny of choice!”—stems from stud-ies showing that too many options can lead paradoxically to feelings of demotivation and dissatisfaction.

Brewer and Glaum-Lathbury, who wear their garment every day, founded RDS two years ago, taking the name from a Victorian reform movement that led to the abolition of the corset. Through Jumpsuit, how-to videos, and organizing workshops and activist parades, they hope to instigate a larger conversation about gender and class issues in the fashion industry. “Art has had institutional critique mechanisms for a long time,” Brewer says. “There is a tendency towards critiquing the distribution and economics of art that doesn’t exist in fashion.”

RDS reaches back to 20th-century examples of avant-garde experiments in dress—largely overlooked—from the Tuta of the Italian Futurists to the collectivist garments of the early kibbutz movement. Its uniform-oriented efforts also align with those of contemporary artists such as Andrea Zittel (featured in this column in the Feb. 2016 issue), and even figures including Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs, the latter who famously adhered to one daily outfit. Brewer observes: “I think it has some-thing to do with people wanting simplicity, maybe unconsciously, on a broader cultural level.” With jumpsuits gracing many recent runways, RDS may be on to something.

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