Between 1955-1976, nearly thirty of the United States’ top clothing designers created garments to fit disabled bodies under the “Functional Fashions” line. It remains the largest collaborative effort to design clothing by, with, and for disabled persons in American history.
From high-end sportswear to everyday labels, designer Helen Cookman - whose own disability was hearing loss - led the charge. Cookman co-authored Functional Fashions for the Physically Handicapped and developed a sample collection along with the then New York Times Style Editor, Virginia Pope.
"It's really extraordinary... [they're] really calling attention to the fact that, oftentimes, the built environment is what's causing a disability as opposed to the problems being the person's body and their differences," notes Chipstone Foundation curatorial fellow Natalie Wright.
In this edition of Radio Chipstone, Wright tells contributor Gianofer Fields to pay close attention to the language used to talk about disabled bodies and how garments in the exhibit also serve to broaden the definition of "functional":
Functional Fashions is on display at the Milwaukee Art Museum through the spring of 2020.
Material culture contributor Gianofer Fields curates the Radio Chipstone series. The project is funded by the Chipstone Foundation, a decorative arts foundation whose mission is preserving and interpreting their collection, as well as stimulating research and education in the decorative arts.