Help with How to “Make It Work”

Project Runway is back for its Sweet Sixteen, leading the charge on a new era of celebrating fashion design for all. This year, they are using models of different sizes who work with a new designer-contestant each week. The long-running reality competition show still brings the drama to our collective doorstep, as well as the latest fashion trends, celebrities, popular culture history, and even old-fashioned sewing techniques.

Each season, we hear references to fashion icons, like Yves Saint Laurent, alongside fashion tropes, like the perennial “Becky-Home-Ecky”* and “mother of the bride” looks. There will undoubtedly be praise for a contestant who takes the time to complete a proper hem or a disastrous mishap over badly sewn French seams. So what do all these terms mean, and how can we use the library’s resources to understand their importance in the fashion industry?

The Reference Services Department at Denver Public Library has print versions of fashion encyclopedias that are as interesting as they are informative. The St. James Fashion Encyclopedia and Who’s Who in Fashion each have articles about Saint Laurent and his influential designs, including specific mentions of his le smoking jacket, another term you might hear bandied about on Project Runway.

A Dictionary of Costume and Fashion: Historic and Modern explains what French seams actually are, if you’re curious, and offers illustrations of five different hemming techniques using hand stitches. A couple aisles over, we have The Dressmaker’s Dictionary explaining everything from cheongsams to sweetheart necklines, with sweet, hand-drawn illustrations.

Furthermore, the social meaning of the clothes we wear and the fashion industry as a whole can be researched in our databases, most of which you can access anywhere with your library card! I found the article, “Transient Structures. Layers of Social Meaning in Conceptual Clothing” in Postmodern Openings, by searching for scholarly articles about fashion in Academic Search Premier. Many biographies, like this one for Tim Gunn, and topic overviews, like this one for the fashion industry, are easy to find in the Gale Virtual Reference Library.

  • Pro tip: when the article you want isn’t available in full text, try copying and pasting its “DOI” (digital object indicator) into your browser and searching for it. The DOI is normally listed in the article’s citation in a database. If nothing comes up, please contact us to help you locate a copy. We’re happy to help!

We do understand that you might be caught up in the moment and need a quick answer while you’re watching an episode, though. Do you need to know about coverstitching, silk jersey, ITY, or overlockers? Librarians are available to chat 24/7 by clicking on “Ask Us” from anywhere on our website.

However, the fashion gems of Reference Services are really the historic magazines. Bound volumes of fashion magazines go back decades, and they present a stunning showcase of design trends and fashion illustration. For example, we have issues of Vogue dating from 1908 all the way to this year’s September issue! A personal favorite magazine of mine is Delineator, mostly because the name is so cool, but also because of the color illustrations and witty captions detailing the seasonal must-haves.

Delineator was produced by Butterick Publishing Company, a name well recognized as a major sewing pattern company and now part of the Butterick, McCall’s, and Vogue conglomerate. In Reference Services, we have a thirty-year run of Delineator from 1907-1937, and we are happy to pull volumes for you upon request. You can compare it to its former competitor, and current partner, McCall’s magazine, of which we have issues from the 1920s to 2001.

Now as to the question of just how far the prize of $100,000 can go to help the Project Runway winner start their own fashion design business, well, that’s a topic for a future post. And one that can be answered using our fabulous business databases!

*No relation to the author of this post.

Written by Becky on August 31, 2017


FrankW on August 31, 2017


Great post Becky! I look forward to each and every episode of Project Runway! I checked one of those "fabulous business databases", (ABI/Inform with First Research reports), and the "[g]lobal revenue from apparel manufacturing is about $520 billion, according to the Global Industry Almanac." That's a lot of revenue!


Thanks, Frank! A while back, I listened to an interview with former designer-contestant Gretchen Jones (Season 8), during which she talked about financial side of participating in the show and the actual cost of starting a design house. She's a controversial contestant, for sure, but she had some very interesting insight!

C. Root on August 31, 2017


When you say "No relation to..." do you secretly mean "Named for..."?

FrankW on September 2, 2017


Mondo should do come do a program here at DPL!

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