Jacqueline Mogey, a math lecturer at the University of Auckland in Waipu, New Zealand, gives a presentation on “fashionmatics” at the 22nd International Conference of Adults Learning Mathematics in Alexandria, Va.
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A common complaint among students who have to take pre-college math to proceed in college is that the they will never use the material they learn in class in real life.
Jacqueline Mogey, a math lecturer at the University of Auckland in Waipu, New Zealand, has an answer to that problem: fashionmatics.
That’s the term she uses to describe the interplay between the world of fashion and the world of mathematics.
She believes that fashionmatics is one of the best ways to make the often dull and abstract concepts of mathematics more meaningful to students, particularly those who are simply trying to master the basic math classes they must pass in order to take college-level courses.
“Engaging them in a way that makes mathematics meaningful has been somewhat of a challenge,” Mogey said Tuesday during a presentation at the 22nd International Conference of Adults Learning Mathematics, or ALM, being held here this week.
“They do view it as a punitive act,” she said of students who are forced to take pre-college math courses. She teaches such a class at the University of Auckland.
“So it’s really important to me as a teacher and someone who likes to empower, to be able to find content in which students have a good grounding to begin with,” Mogey said. “I have a lot of mathematically disaffected young women. So for them, fashion seemed the obvious choice.”
Mathematics in fashion starts with the very construction of garments, Mogey said.
“If we’re constructing garments, we need to know the vocabulary,” she said. “This is given in mathematical terms. ‘You need a 14-inch zipper. A 6-millimeter, 40-inch circular needle. That’s use of a mathematical term because it allows you to knit in a circle.”
Mogey makes use of clothing patterns to get students to appreciate how two-dimensional designs become three-dimensional garments and how they function on a person’s body in action.
“Let’s consider the shape of clothing. How do the different shapes of clothing behave?” Mogey asked. “What does the garment look like in flat pieces?”
“There’s some alchemy that happens in the way you cut something out, sew it, and the way it moves when you walk,” she said. “And ‘Does my butt look big in this?’ has to do with how the garment was cut, constructed, etcetera.
“We can go on all day on the mathematical properties there.”
But for Mogey, fashionmatics is much deeper than measurements and patterns.
Consider, for instance, pricing.
Mogey said during a shopping trip in Georgetown—an upscale area of Washington, D.C., near Georgetown University—that she noticed a $695 dress that she concluded had been dramatically overpriced.
“There was nothing spectacular about it,” Mogey said. “It was the name of a spectacular designer on the label.
“This was a $9 frock carrying a $686 label, which fascinates me.”
Similarly, Mogey said she noticed a 500 percent price difference in the same garments offered sold by a regular ladies underwear outlet and a well-known lingerie store.
“Brand comparison is interesting,” Mogey said. “This is really worth a look if people have time.”
Then there are “less obvious” aspects of fashionmatics, Mogey said.
For instance, she said, in order to achieve Global Organic Textile Standard certification, or GOTS certification, all textiles must be made from at least 70 percent certified organic natural fibers.
Clothing companies may start out wanting to be eco-friendly but later discover that GOTS certification is elusive to achieve because a certain material in a certain color may be too difficult to obtain for the company to be profitable.
At this point, fashionmatics comprises only about 5 percent of the pre-college math class that Mogey teaches in New Zealand. But she believes fashionmatics holds much promise for math instructors who are searching for ways to make their math courses more relevant and vibrant.
“My plan was to give practitioners the confidence to use fashion as a starting point to design project resources for their own classes,” Mogey said. She believes math instructors will have more success if students are able to “take an area of life that they’re frequently engaged in and examine the mathematics about that instead of looking at mathematics in the rarefied environment of the classroom.”
After all, she said, “everyone wears clothes.”
Jamaal Abdul-Alim can be reached at email@example.com. Or you can follow him on Twitter @dcwriter360.