Eve Fineman

the beauty of utility

by Eve Fineman

To begin this uniform essay, I examined the word utilitarian, and found that it is deliberately offset against the notion of beauty. An either/or situation, utility is aligned with function, whereas beauty is associated with ornamentation. (and so the utilitarian, by nature, is considered unadorned or lacking in ornament).

I have always been drawn to the beauty of the utilitarian object. It is the Platonic ideal: the glass milk bottle. the spun stainless steel cylinder. an extruded aluminum rod. a wood plank. a concrete step. Within the purity of these objects lies infinite variation and detail: subtle evidences of nature and the human hand, inconsistencies inherent in the supposed perfection of the material. This is my ornamentation, and therefore the beauty I see.

Having spent much of my life designing, making, and collaborating with those who build and fix things, I have associated the clothing version of this Platonic form with the navy blue work shirt.  It is a blank canvas, strong, simple and somewhat invisible. It is a signifier of “worker”, and to some degree a visual separator of class, hierarchy and power distinctions.

I have chosen this “object” as my starting point for a work uniform, transforming the unadorned shirt into a dress, applying contrasting stitching as a way of melding utility and ornament. My business logo references the personalization to which these shirts lend themselves. As the logo represents the interstice, or the space between, the navy blue work shirt is the same. It is invisible, and yet it conveys the presence of many things.

Bio Eve Fineman is trained as an architect, with a practice that focuses on interior architecture and custom furniture design. Eve received an MFA in Interior Architecture from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and worked for a variety of boutique architecture firms before starting her own practice in 2004. She is an Associate Professor at the Illinois Institute of Art – Chicago, where she has been teaching full-time for the past 10 years. Eve has also curated and participated in multiple exhibitions over the past 20 years, and occasionally writes about design for various publications, including Design Bureau magazine.


Photo by Alix Lambert, Artwork by Damon Locks

Pattern & Sewing by Chichi Tailors


Sketch by Jamie Hayes


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