A Twist on Victor/Victoria: WSU Student’s Unisex Style Collection Offers Unique Approach to Sustainability

PULLMAN, Wash.—For Women’s History Month in March, one Washington State University student is exploring how unisex apparel lends itself to sustainability through her master’s thesis design collection. Chiayun Corrine Tsai will present a video of her collection and research during a reception from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26, that opens WSU’s March “Reinterpreting Reality” art exhibit in the Compton Union Building Gallery.

“This design project illustrates how fashion can be part of a sustainable solution,” Tsai wrote in her thesis. “When wearers choose to wear garments individually or as recombined ensembles more often and for a longer period of time, resources are better used.”

Unisex style collection of master's student Chiayun Corrine Tsai. Photos by Bob Hubner/WSU Photo Services. Click image for a high-resolution version.
Unisex style collection of master’s student Chiayun Corrine Tsai. Photos by Bob Hubner/WSU Photo Services. Click image for a high-resolution version.

“The focus…is connecting style with the attitude that extensive use of apparel is sustainable behavior,” said Tsai’s major professor Carol Salusso, a faculty member in WSU’s Department of Apparel, Merchandising, Design and Textiles. “Corrine had the instinct that sharing clothing was a way to extend use.”

Disposable fashion

Previous research has shown that retailers produce garments for consumers who potentially wear them only a few times before throwing them away. Yet this practice creates enormous costs in human labor and natural resources, Tsai said.

“Some synthetic textiles become threats to landfills since they do not decompose, and methane generated by garments that contain wool might worsen global warming,” she said. “(One researcher) concluded that fashion infers a rather short product life span and lack of durability, which leads to planned obsolescence and hinders sustainability.”

Unisex, yet individual

Tsai created her designs to show that a garment’s life span can be extended and still appeal to women and men alike. Her collection makes use of pants, shirts, sweaters and jackets in varying shades of gray, black and brown, mixed and matched in numerous combinations.

A shift in fashion styles over the last 160 years has blurred the lines between the sexes so that masculine and feminine elements in clothing are almost interchangeable, a phenomenon that Tsai also explored in her thesis. From bloomers for women in 1851—a needed departure from constricting corsets, garters and hoop skirts—to jeans for both sexes today, unisex style represents resistance to the constraints set by gender, society and fashion at various stages in history, Tsai said.

“One goal in this thesis project was to create unisex designs that can be used by both genders, yet retain gender identity,” she said.

To see Tsai’s video presentation, visit the Facebook page at http://on.fb.me/ZEsIbS.

The ninth annual art exhibit features WSU women artists, students, faculty, staff and alumni. For details about the exhibit, contact Sarah Horn, 509-335-5232, sarah.horn@wsu.edu.