What is Draping? An Overview and History


Madame Grès inspects her draping work

Madame Grès inspects her draping work

Draping is the process of transforming a clothing design into a three-dimensional form. The art of draping dates back to 3500 BCE, beginning with the Mesopotamians and Ancient Egyptians. Greek fashion followed with the invention of draped silhouettes like the chiton, peplos, chlamys and himation. The Etruscans and Ancient Romans invented the toga, a length of fabric that wraps and drapes around the body.

Throughout the ages, clothing was categorized as either “fitted” or “draped.” A “fitted” garment would be sewn together and worn close to body, in contrast to a “draped” garment, such as a toga that doesn’t require sewing. In today’s fashion world, both fitted and draped garments can be patterned using the draping process.

Dress by Paul Poiret

Draped dress by Paul Poiret

Draping has been the hallmark of several famous designers beginning with Madame Grès, known as the “Queen of the Drape”. Her expertly draped and executed collection of Grecian-inspired silk jersey dresses consumed over 70 yards of silk jersey each. Madame Grès and French-born, American designer Pauline Trigère, were both known for draping their designs directly on live models instead of dress forms.

Madeleine Vionnet, in contrast, chose to initially test her designs on a miniature mannequin instead of on a full size form. Vionnet’s claim to fame is her mastery of the “bias cut,” which resulted in the most sensual designs that are still a source of inspiration to designers to this day.

Why use draping?

Designers love the art of draping because their designs come to life as they manipulate the fabric on the dress form. Even though a designer may start out with a design sketch, during the draping process a new and more interesting design usually takes shape. This is why draping is considered the more creative method of pattern making.

Unlike the 2-dimensional pattern making process, draping allows the designer to get a “feel” for the fabric as the fabric is draped on the form. Draping enables the designer to make better choices when considering the suitability of a particular fabric to its design.

Where to start?

We have some great beginner lessons at the University of Fashion to get you started using a dress form and starting to drape.

How to choose a dress form
How to Choose a Dress Form
Fashion Connections
Drape a bodice sloper
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Francesca Sterlacci is the CEO of University of Fashion (UoF) which she founded in 2008 as the first on-demand online fashion video library bringing the art and craft of fashion design and business to schools, libraries, organizations and the general public. As owner of her eponymous label for ten years, her collection sold in fine stores such as Bergdorf Goodman, Saks, Barneys and Nordstrom. As a professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology for 11 years, she became Chair of the Fashion Design Department where she initiated the complete revision of their AAS and BFA degree programs, as well as wrote three certificate programs: Leather Fashion Design, Outerwear and Haute Couture. Francesca has also taught graduate level fashion design at the Academy of Art University San Francisco for six years, both on site and online. Her publishing accomplishments include: Leather Apparel Design, the Historical Dictionary of the Fashion Industry (First and Second Editions), the A-Z of the Fashion Industry, Leather Fashion Design and a 3-volume beginner series on Draping, Pattern Making and Sewing designed to complement the UoF lessons. She has also made literary contributions to both the Encyclopedia of Clothing & Fashion and You Can Do It! The Merit Badge Handbook for Women. Francesca holds an AAS, BA and an MSEd (master’s degree in higher education).