Fashion Scientist or Engineer? this No Stupid Questions podcast episode, I heard that mathematician Richard Hamming thought “in science, if you know what you are doing, you should not be doing it; in engineering, if you don’t know what you are doing, you should not be doing it”. That is, scientists are explorers, while engineers are executioners. It’s not an absolutely line. Nothing is, and especially in situations like this where neither side doesn’t know anything about what they’re doing. You need to know some things to plan to do it in some way, and you need to do some things you don’t know everything about. So maybe it’s a majority sort of thing. But it let me to consider if I were more of a scientist or engineer when it comes to fashion design, where, in addition to designing, I often alter or create thing for some purpose.

I’ve generally called myself a fashion engineer because of the self-perception that I “hack” things, in addition to construct garments, draft my own patterns and pieces (like the poi covers below), if not redraft what’s given to me for a starting point as I just can’t follow directions “as is”. It’s all very “engineering” sort of stuff since scientists don’t often draft stuff, only sometimes construct stuff, and don’t “hack” a lot of things. However, as I rethink things with Richard Hamming’s perspective, I realize that I may be more of a fashion scientist than engineer for the less tangible steps in the process.


A lot of times, I only have a vague idea of what I want to be doing. I think of something and wonder if I could do that? For example, when I made the coat below of faux snakeskin outer shell, fleece in between, and Bemberg anti-static lining, I designed it like an engineer, but did I have any idea it was going to work? Not for the purpose but if my serger could hack it where seams overlapped and there were multiple layers? Hell, no… and it might have been that serger’s swan song even though it made it through it. It was never the same since. Same question went with the four sword holders I put in.


There was a ton of experimenting with that jacket, with the silver trim, as well as other garments. I had a design like a scientist would design experiments to answer certain questions, so it’s not like they don’t know what they’re doing, but it was a really blind project.

Same thing goes with my one piece pattern tuque and double layered mittens below. Like origami with an inversion for both. Sounds like math and engineering, which there is some of it, but functionality, as well as durability with really thin seam allowances? Pffft! Just do it and see what comes out, although my guess was it would work from my best mental simulations that are more engineering like.


Seeing if ties could be made functionally without having to use silk? Why not?


Do applique with sharp edge curves, to put optical illusions on dress shirts? Who’s gonna stop me?


Making shorts from duplicates of a T-shirt so I can get an outfit to match the T-shirt? What’s the worst that could happen? Me losing $18 and a little time?


Seriously. I often don’t know much of what I’m doing. I get some idea like a scientist. I formulate a hypothesis like them as to how I could do it. Just about every garment I make has some aspect of this. If I were in fashion therapy, they might even find out I might not have motivation to do a garment if it didn’t have a decent dose of experimentation associated with it. And you wonder why I’m not churning out garments like a factory with all the patterns I have!

So with this perspective change, I’m going to move myself over to the fashion scientist camp from fashion engineer. Not only is it more accurate for me, in my opinion, but it also feels more right. Engineering, while noble for its precision, control, and all, doesn’t seem nearly as exploratory as my nature. Also, I’ve been trained as a scientist, after abandoning engineering early in my studies for the program’s inferiority compared to others, and “curiosity” is my #2 Character Strength via the VIA Character Assessment that’s the most useful personality assessment I’ve ever seen. Creativity was #1, in case you were wondering, usually supported by curiosity to make happen, or lead the way.

So meet your new Fashion Scientist! 🙂



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