Blog Behavioral/Mental Health

More than pretty: Clothing for health and well-being

Written by Swetha Nakshatri, undergraduate student at Washington University in St. Louis and participant in the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program

In my mind, fashion has always been purely an art. Avant-garde, something to explore, but in the realm of designers and critics, people whose goals I thought couldn’t be more different from mine.

In society, we tend to compartmentalize. You either study art or health, fashion or medicine. Finding the convergence of disparate fields may be a one-time collaboration rather than an intentional career choice.

Dr. Mary Ruppert-Stroescu is working to bridge that gap in practice. As an associate professor of fashion design at the Sam Fox School, she studies clothing for health and well-being. In a seminar, entitled “More than Pretty: Clothing for Health and Well-Being“, she detailed her career trajectory and projects. She started by expressing that fashion is more than aesthetic, challenging notions about the functionality of fashion and enriching the audience’s perception of the importance of fashion design. Fashion should be part of health interventions.

She then elaborated on her research, which tackles issues like aging. An interesting prototype she is developing is a shirt to counter the discomfort of diagnosing sleep apnea. This shirt has textile-based electrodes that can conduct EKG testing at comparable levels to traditional devices. Additionally, working with material engineers, Dr. Ruppert-Stroescu is designing hip protectors that can absorb the pressure from falls. We also got the opportunity to brainstorm ideas, including adjustable prosthetics and glucose monitoring socks. Our time engaging with Dr. Ruppert-Stroescu got us thinking about the intersection of clothing and health.

This seminar was important because it reiterated a key message of this summer. While there are numerous ways to pursue public health, all rely on being open to drawing from various disciplines. Different communities bring different perspectives. Clothing has the potential for great impact and acceptance in health interventions, and fashion is certainly more than just pretty.