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Pictured from left to right, Kelly Cobb, associate professor of
fashion and apparel studies; Jenna Tomasch, a sophomore fashion design
and product innovation major; Belinda Orzada, professor of fashion and
apparel studies; and Jie Diao, visiting scholar, examine Tomasch’s high
school volleyball uniform. As part of the Summer Scholars research
program, Tomasch is utilizing direct observation, visual analysis and
focus groups to understand performance wear needs for collegiate
Jenna Tomasch, a
sophomore fashion design and product innovation major at the University
of Delaware, recalls trying on her high school volleyball uniform and
not being happy with the way it fit. The size small was too tight in the
chest and offered limited mobility in the shoulders — necessary for
serving, blocking and diving in a volleyball match. The size medium fit
better in the chest but was then too loose in the waist, and Tomasch
found the extra fabric to be distracting.
Now as a Summer Scholar working with Professor Kelly Cobb, Professor
Belinda Orzada and international scholar Jie Diao, Tomasch is hoping to
address some of the frustrations she faced as a student-athlete by
utilizing direct observation, visual analysis and focus groups to
understand performance wear needs for collegiate athletes. Though
Tomasch does not play volleyball at UD, she hopes that by combining her
research with her experience playing the sport at the high school level,
she will be able to help improve performance for athletes at UD and
“To make athletes more comfortable and confident — that's really what
we're focused on, because that's what's really going to improve
performance,” said Tomasch, who has been dubbed by Cobb as a
fash-a-lete. “We want to make sure that garments are comfortable to wear
so that way they're not restricting movement. But also let's be honest,
if you're not confident and comfortable in your uniform, you're not
going to play well, so we really want to make sure that things fit the
way athletes want them to so that they can play to the best of their
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Jenna Tomasch, a sophomore fashion design and product innovation major, analyzes University of Delaware women’s sports uniforms.
Athletic sports apparel is more than a
uniform or means of identification — it is designed to improve
performance during workouts. Athletic apparel companies tend to focus on
ergonomics, or how clothes fit on the body, to promote maximum athletic
performance and reduce the chances of injury when creating sports
apparel. Tomasch hopes to bring athletes’ feedback to the forefront.
“This research is unique as it combines the expertise of the athletes
with the fashion student, a combination of skills we see as superpowers
for innovative design research,” Cobb said.
Tomasch started the project by polling female student-athletes at
various colleges and universities about their uniforms, asking questions
about fit, comfort, durability and “hacks” — or modifications — they
make to their uniforms to make them more functional, such as rolling up
sleeves. She also did a visual analysis of all of UD’s women’s uniforms,
comparing the fit and lengths of tops, bottoms, sleeves and socks
across many different sports. After compiling results from the survey,
Tomasch decided to focus her research on volleyball uniforms since she
has experience playing the sport.
Tomasch spoke with UD’s women’s volleyball coaches and equipment
manager and sent a survey to the players; she plans to use the survey
responses to get a better sense of ways to improve volleyball uniforms.
Her goal by the end of the summer is to create drawings of different
concepts. After that, if she continues her research beyond the 10-week
Summer Scholars Program, the next steps would be creating a few
different prototypes that athletes could test and Tomasch could
“That's the wonderful thing about preliminary research — that it can
lead you in so many different directions if you keep your mind open,”
said Orzada, one of the professors with whom Tomasch is working this
Jenna Tomasch (right), a sophomore fashion design and product
innovation major, and visiting scholar Jie Diao examine the sleeve of a
volleyball uniform. “We want to make sure that garments are comfortable
to wear so that way they're not restricting movement,” Tomasch said. “If
you're not confident and comfortable in your uniform, you're not going
to play well, so we really want to make sure that things fit the way
athletes want them to so that they can play to the best of their
Tomasch’s research focus is on collegiate athletes since they don’t
receive the same attention as professional or Olympic athletes. Her
findings, she said, could then trickle down to the high school level or
even youth sports. She also decided to focus her research on women’s
volleyball uniforms specifically not only because she has experience as a
female athlete in the sport, but also because, when women first started
playing sports, women’s athletic gear didn’t yet exist. So what did
women do? They threw on the men’s jersey and played.
“The issue is that sports gear and sports apparel is made
traditionally based on men’s sizing,” Cobb said. “There have been
wonderful innovations in sizing, but many of the more traditional
companies still use the traditional sizing charts, which are based on
men's bodies. And when women's bodies are in movement, there's a whole
different criteria that we need to design for.”
While many sports apparel manufacturers focus on creating
“athleisure” apparel — athletic and leisurewear, combined — that appeals
to the masses and not just athletes, Tomasch and Cobb have decided to
focus on the athlete. In essence, Cobb said this work is about making
clothes that meet function and fit requirements by including the wearer
into the design.
“Ideally, we would all have clothing fit to our shape, our movements
and our expression,” Cobb said. “The overproduction of clothing that
does not meet consumer needs is unsustainable. We foresee a future where
co-creation and customization of clothing will be the norm.”
Tomasch isn’t positive she wants to work in the sportswear industry
after graduation — she’s only a sophomore, after all, and she said she
loves evening gowns as much as she loves athletic apparel — but it’s
undeniable that the research experience will offer her a competitive
edge in the job market.
“There's no formal program right now that pairs fashion and sport in
this way,” Cobb said. “We do have a wearables class, and there's summer
research, but we really see this as a valuable opportunity. I think that
the sports brands are looking for this expertise, so we want to nurture
Article by Amy Wolf, photos by Kathy F. Atkinson
Originally published August 26, 2022