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In Fashion, what is a Drape?

By Katie Kelley
Updated May 21, 2024
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In fashion, a drape is basically the way fabric hangs or falls. Things like skirts and dresses naturally have this sort of element, but designers often finds ways of playing with angles and lengths to make the garment more artistic and interesting. Draping also finds its way into other garments, particularly shirts and coats. Fashion trends often feature angular, billowing, or otherwise distinctive fabric “falls,” either to attract attention or to say something about the wearer’s style and taste. They can be added to clothing for men, women, or children, and can be used in just about any garment. Many designers choose to experiment with the way fabric hangs, but there are also objective ways to measure this feature, both for creation and wearing purposes.

Basic Idea

Making clothing can be a somewhat involved process, and there are a lot of things the designer needs to consider. Draping is one of the most important. Different fabrics have different weights and textures, and as such they fit differently and hang differently from the body. Something like silk that is really smooth and almost slippery necessarily hangs differently than something made of muslin or stiff cotton. Designers and creators usually take these and other factors into account when creating garments; they also usually play a role when it comes to things like sizing determinations so that a certain look can be consistent from size to size.

Creation and Conception

Draping usually begins with a designer taking a basic garment and putting it on a dressmaker's model. The garment is generally already sewn into its core shape — for instance, a bias-cut dress would start out as a bias tube on the model. Next, the designer takes pieces of fabric and pins them to the garment where the draping is desired, which will give the final garment its shape.

Fabric Modeling

Most of the time the pinned fabric is not the same as the fabric that will be used for the final garment, but rather a similar, cheaper fabric. This is because the fabric that's pinned on the dress will often be cut or marked on during the design process, which can be expensive with fine cloths. Practicing on something more or less disposable can be a good way to see how the fabric falls naturally in a proposed garment, and fabrics are often much more reliable and realistic than tissue paper or other patterning elements.

Once the designer has the garment looking the way he or she wants it, he or she will make final marks on the fabric to show where it should be cut or sewn and will then remove all the pieces. The designer will then take the pieces and trace them on paper to make a pattern for the final garment. This will be used when the designer cuts the fabric for and as a guide for constructing the garment, so it's important for the designer to make detailed and accurate marks on the practice fabric.

Measurement Standards

Many designers prefer to experiment with fabrics to see how they hang, particularly for specific garments. There are also a number objective ways to test how fabric falls. Judges in fashion shows and competitions often make these sorts of measurements, and they’re also frequently an element of reviews made of top fashion lines and brands. Designers who are looking to make a statement with the way their fabric hangs might also look for fabrics that are known to measure and perform well.

Measurements can be done either by determining the stiffness of a fabric sample or by using a device called a meter or measuring tape to determine what’s known as a “drape coefficient.” This is written as a number from zero to 100. For instance, twill fabric usually has a much smaller coefficient than fabrics like sateen, which tend to have much larger coefficients. Practically speaking, fabrics with a higher coefficient usually hang in a puffier manner than those with lower coefficients.

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Discussion Comments

By goldenmist — On May 30, 2011

I’m not a professional designer or anything but I still prefer draping to working with patterns. I feel like I can express my creativity a lot more when I’m not bogged down in measurements and pattern making techniques. Unfortunately most clothes are produced and manufactured overseas by sending the designs electronically to factories, so you need to have flat pattern making skills in order to succeed commercially, but I get a lot of enjoyment out of making one off designs anyway I still think it’s a valuable skill.

By Illych — On May 28, 2011

@Engelbert - Working from a basic pattern - sometimes called a block - or altering it to make new patterns is called pattern drafting. This is what you were doing in your course. With draping, although you’re still working with patterns, it’s slightly different.

First you make the design on a dress form or mannequin in a cheap fabric like muslin, then you mark it, fit it, and transfer it to paper as a pattern. Clothing construction is the process of actually making the garment, meaning the sewing and hands on stuff which results in a finished product.

Skilled designers might prefer draping because if they’re experienced enough they can skip using the muslin sample and go straight to using the actual fabric.

By Engelbert — On May 25, 2011

I took an Introduction to Fashion Design course at school and it was mostly learning about how to take measurements and make patterns. Now I understand what a drape is but I’m kind of confused on how it’s done and the difference between draping and clothing construction. Is draping when you you pin the clothes to a mannequin and then sew?

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