Daisy Dress Update

So I’ve been to special collections, and I’m having a rough time turning up much about our purportedly 1913 Daisy Chain dress. There just don’t seem to be more than one or two photos of the 1913 Daisy Chain, and those photos are quite unclear. The good news is that I feel that the dress very well could be a Daisy dress, as it seems to fit the general look, even with the sash, which I believe is original. Many of the photos of the daisy chain through the 1910s show girls wearing sashes that appear to be darker than their white dresses (if only a little). The dramatic shattering of the silk sash also lends weight to its original pairing with the dress, even if the whole ensemble isn’t daisy chain.

I have one lead in an old copy of the Misc that I’m going to pursue, but other than that I’m kind of stumped.

In slightly more general news, it appears that there were no uniform dresses in the 1910s…I’m beginning to think the uniform might have come later, especially because it might have been easier to procure a standardized cut in a larger number of garments and a variety of sizes. More on that later.

For those of you still looking around for research, I’ve discovered that the old Vassarions have a lot of useful information. In addition to listing the members of the daisy chain (at least back in the teens) they also have close up photos of sports teams, clubs, and other groups. They have a complete collection of them in the reading room of special collections, and I dont think you need an appointment to look through them?

Hopefully this was helpful. If anyone has any ideas about where else I might look, I’d appreciate it!

The Class of 1935

Hi, everyone! My name is Ceci Cholst and I am researching a 1935 Class Day dress donated to the collection by Mrs. Sarah Sillcocks Graham.
1935 Class Day Dress

Before I get into the dress itself, I want to talk about the class of ’35.


They seem like they were an especially exuberant class. The yearbook theme was “Children’s Books” in an effort to “record not only the actualities of Vassar…but want also to express…the spirit we have felt towards it.” (1935 Vassarion, forward.)  In a poem on their senior page, they proudly boast that they fought for the New Curriculum and the defeat of the Nuna Bill. They also discuss how they chose their Class Day dresses in the winter, anticipating a happy spring where, uncertain about the future but surrounded by loving parents, they would graduate.

According to The Great Experiment: A Chronicle of Vassar, a timeline issued during the college’s centennial celebrations, the New Curriculum abolished what remained of any sort of required courses–Hygiene–and required that freshmen only take four courses, instead of five. According to the 1935 yearbook, Vassar students had a range of subjects to choose from–from Bibliography and Botany to Zoology–so, presumably, the individual student could meet “the intellectual and social needs of young women students in the new world of today.” (Bulletin of Vassar College Vol. 25, No. 1 1934-35, 13.)

The 1935 girls were also active outside of the classroom: on February 19, 1935 80 Vassar girls reportedly went to Albany to protest two separate bills that required students and professors to swear an oath of allegiance to the United States. In addition, the yearbook itself amply attests to the involvement the class of ’35 had in student life: many girls were involved in dramatic productions and singing groups, which probably came in handy for the outdoor ceremony on Class Day.


From what I’ve been able to gather so far, Class Day traditionally consisted of an outdoor show where all of the seniors sang a song or somehow performed while wearing matching dresses. The Daisy Chain–a group of sophomores who wore their own matching white dresses–would come to decorate the set. There was a play. Class Day was usually two days before the actual graduation ceremony. My main questions right now are: Who planned the events? Were the Daisy Chain dresses and the Class Day dresses always so closely related? When did the tradition start of all of the girls wearing the same dress? And what did they do with those dresses after graduation?

Masculine and Feminine Women’s Dress at Vassar

Chloe’s post on Dressing Academically ties in neatly with the research I’ve been doing on the dichotomy between masculinized and hyperfeminized fashions worn by Vassar women at the turn of the century. Looking through graduation portraits from the 1890s, I found that while some women wore delicate white lingerie-style dresses for their photographs, others wore distinctly menswear-inspired suits of skirts, vests, and jackets paired with ties and boaters.

The menswear ensemble in its full manifestation constituted an unequivocal statement of independence and defiance of the traditional place of women in the late nineteenth century (Diana Crane, Fashion and Its Social Agendas). Elements of menswear, including lapels, made their way onto some styles of more mainstream fashionable dress, while others remained uncompromisingly feminine. Perhaps I misspoke, then, when I used the word “dichotomy”—portraits from the 1890s contain a continuum of fashion choice ranging from the hyperfeminine to the uncompromisingly masculine with plenty in between.

The question this raises for me is: to what extent did the choices women at Vassar made regarding their clothes reflect their attitudes about their education? In her letters from 1898-1902, Fanny Simpson (who is concerned primarily with her social life and of whom many photographs exist, all showing her in very fashionable, feminine dress) refers to her more academically-focused peers as “grinds.” A fruitful next step may be to seek out photographs of those women to see whether their fashion choices reflected the masculinized style of dress.

Any discussion of the masculine/feminine divide regarding academia does of course raise questions of inherent devaluing of women, as I touched on in my comment on Chloe’s post. If the more academically oriented Vassar women did indeed wear more masculine clothing, to what extent does that choice does that choice represent a liberation from the oppressiveness of the tyranny of femininity, and to what extent does it represent a demand that women subsume themselves under the tyranny of masculinity in order to be taken seriously?

Dressing Academically

In our discussions of the potential focus of the VCCC’s upcoming exhibition, we began to talk a little about dressing academically. Our broad focus for the exhibition, at least for now, is to explore the ways in which education influences dress (does it? in what way?). It is of particular interest to me how an academic environment (and not merely the knowledge gained from an education, which is how I’ve been interpreting the word education in our broad focus) influences dress, especially for women. Did (and do) women  feel compelled to adopt menswear detailing in order to align themselves with an institution (that of academia) that has been historically and traditionally so dominated by men? Do uniforms of academia such as graduation gowns and robes help to portray a person as being more closely aligned with their academic institution (and thus of greater seriousness or intellect)? This is the general thread that I am following in exploring a couple daisy chain dresses that we have in our collection.

My thoughts on the daisy chain dresses are still in their early formations, but I’ve begun to think about this issue as it applies to contemporary dress. This issue is still an incredibly relevant one – we have a long way to go before a professor in a pink dress will be perceived as an intellectual equal to her tweed jacket-wearing colleague. I have a lot of questions (and I’d love it if you’d help me explore them in the comments section): should a person seek to represent himself in a more traditionally academic way in order to help himself? Is it, then, necessary to dress in an academically “appropriate” (feel free to interpret this word in whatever way you choose) manner when going to class – as a student or as a professor? What about dressing intellectually, i.e. creating an outfit based on aesthetic principals or conceptual guidelines? Is an intellectual outfit less acceptable than an academic outfit within academia, and should this be the case?

I was browsing around the internet and encountered a string of fashion and/or style blogs written by academics that partially addressed the issues I’ve brought up in the above paragraph. http://fashionableacademics.blogspot.com/ is a blog written by a group of professors and grad students and is one of the more informative and provocative blogs I came across. They have a category of posts that they label with the tag “professartorial” where they post their outfits and discuss, to a certain extent, the thought process behind creating the outfit. It is refreshing for me to read the blog because it is unusual for either fashion or style to be acknowledged as interesting in any capacity by the academic community.

Now, this is just a blog written by a couple of friends about how they dress, and I acknowledge that, but by aligning their blog with academia in general I feel they’ve opened themselves up to the possibility of a little ideological criticism. When crafting their outfits, the most prominent guiding factor seems to be: is this appropriate for teaching in a classroom? The more serious the event (class lecture, department meeting) the more traditionally academic their outfits appear to become. I appreciate the amount of thought that they put into the appropriateness of their outfits, but I can’t help feeling unsatisfied. I know that not everyone feels compelled to intellectualize clothing, nor should they, but as academics and as self-proclaimed feminists I find their apparent lack of questioning to be a little troubling. They aim for appropriateness when it is called for, but do not question that nature of the appropriateness that they’re striving for. Yes, one wants to dress professionally in the workplace, but the standard of the professional appropriateness (especially in academia and corporations) is masculinized and traditionalized. Tweed and corduroy blazers are the epitome of academic appropriateness because they borrow from both traditionally masculine (blazer) and traditionally academic (tweed and corduroy) aesthetics.

This is not meant to be a critique of the way that these women and men dress, but rather a lens through which to view these issues. Why should a traditionally academic outfit command more academic respect than an outfit constructed to some conceptual end?

I’m hoping that these questions will help guide me through my research of the Daisy Chain dresses and other academic garments in our collection.  At what times did Vassar require a Daisy Chain uniform, and when did it allow students to express their personal taste more freely? At what point did Vassar switch from formal attire for graduation to the classic academic graduation gowns? What was going on in the college and in the world at these times that might have prompted the shift? There’s a lot to think about, and I hope to answer some of my own questions above in a part II to this post at the end of the semester.

P.S. Some other academic (or otherwise) style blogs that are relevant to this post: http://www.academichic.com, http://www.scholarstyleguide.com/, http://www.alreadypretty.com/2010/09/how-can-we-reclaim-traditionally.html, http://whatwouldanerdwear.blogspot.com/ and this post in particular http://whatwouldanerdwear.blogspot.com/2009/12/what-would-fashionable-academic-wear-to.html

Early Vassar catalogues and the question of a dress code

While researching the discussion over a dress code at early Vassar, I began by reading the earliest College Catalogues. In the catalogues from the first 15 years of the College, I have found that the original language on dress was written in a section entitled, “The College Family” with subsections on “Moral and Religious Education” and “Society and Dress.” In particular, the ladies and their families were instructed thus:

“It is especially desired that the dress of the students shall be simple and inexpensive. Simplicity saves time and thought and money, which to a scholar are precious for higher uses. As exercise will mostly be taken in the College grounds, city walking-dresses are not required, but rather such clothing as will not be injured by active sports and vigorous education….Each student should be provided with an umbrella, thick boots, india-rubber over-shoes, and water-proof cloak; and a warm dressing-gown is indispensable in case of sickness. Students much bring their own towels, napkins, and napkin-rings. Every article belonging to a student should be distinctly marked with her full name.”

This language remained for a considerable period of time. In 1872-73, the name of the subsection changed to “Social and Domestic Regulations” with paragraphs on “Moral and Religious Education” and “Health and Physical Training” following. The entire section was also retitled “The College Home.”

The language on dress and the specifics of what to bring were removed in the 1875-76 catalogue—perhaps the College realized it was a losing battle.

This is a pretty interesting start, and reminds me of something that Dean Emeritus Colton Johnson once told me. This experiment of a college for women was really one of the first things that asked families to let their unmarried daughters live away from home, and because of that the College felt a responsibility to make families feel that they could safely make that choice (because the last thing anyone wants is to send America’s daughters right off the cliffs of moral turpitude). In order to do this, Vassar had to become one of the very first residential colleges as it could not expect ladies to live in boarding houses like the men of universities did. The language of the “College Family” reflects this need as the College really was striving to recreate the safe, family environment away from home.

The commitment to simple dress may have been both to avoid distraction and any vices that come with fancier dress, but it may also have been an attempt to create a level appearance for students coming from a variety of backgrounds.

VCCC Gets NEH Grant for Preservation

Right before Thanksgiving we found out that our NEH proposal for a Preservation Assistance Grant for Smaller Institutions was accepted! This grant will allow us to bring three professionals from the field of costume history to lead workshops for Vassar staff and students. Selected students will be able to get credit for participating in this Historic Costume Preservation Workshop (HCPW), by registering for an independent study in Drama, History, or Victorian Studies.

For students who are interested in museum work, this project will provide wonderful hands-on experience with our museum quality objects. Early in the semester, participants will work with textile conservator Jonathan Scheer to learn best practices for proper handling of costume objects and assessment and documentation of their condition. Then costume historian Jessa Krick will lead a workshop in museum cataloging procedures. Throughout the semester, participants will use the skills they have learned to build documentation for the collection. Later in the semester, costume historian and conservator Colleen Callahan will lead a five day intensive workshop for stabilization and mounting techniques to conserve and safely display the objects. She has recently done similar workshops at Mt. Holyoke and Smith.

The work accomplished through these workshops will greatly benefit our digitization and exhibition plans, and will provide us with documentation that is necessary for future grant applications. At the end of the semester, while the objects are all mounted, we hope to photograph them and host a small exhibition to the public. The photographs and other information about the objects will eventually be available to the public online, as part of our digital collection.

Sesquicentennial Preparations Begin

Did you know that 2011 will be the 150th anniversary of Vassar’s founding? Sounds to us like a perfect opportunity to host an exhibition and let our costumes help tell the story of Vassar’s history, and the history of women’s education.
The work from the NEH grant in 2010 will help us greatly to prepare for such an exhibition. Since our resources are very limited, any exhibition will depend greatly on the work of students and the support of the Vassar community.
Stay tuned for more news about upcoming exhibitions!

Thanks to our Recent Donors

We were very lucky to receive several donations of costumes in 2009. Some objects will be accessioned into  the VCCC, due to their historic research value. Other objects are also very valuable to us for our theatrical costume collection, used for Drama Department productions.
Unfortunately, our space is very limited! We will have to consider future donations very carefully. We will only be able to accept objects that are not similar to objects already in our collections. Not only is space an issue, but all objects donated to the VCCC require special archival boxes and tissue paper, and our funding for these supplies is very limited.

Looking Back on 2009

This was a very busy year for the VCCC, and it looks like 2010 will be just as busy! Here are some highlights from this past year:
•    Digital Objects in the Classroom (DOC)– Our team at Vassar College received a grant from NITLE to host a workshop, on March 16-17, 2009, to explore the subject of digitizing material culture collections for classroom use. Teams of faculty, librarians, instructional technologists, and media specialists came from institutions across the country to participate. For more information, see http://grou.ps/digitalobjects
•    NERCOMP workshop – On May 19, our DOC team traveled to MA to make presentations for a workshop for the NorthEast Regional Computing Program,  also about digitizing material culture for classroom use.
•    Care of Textiles class – in May, Co-Curator Arden Kirkland took an online course offered by the Northern States Conservation Center, to learn more about taking care of textile collections.  As a result, we’ve identified some important changes we need to make in our storage  area, for the preservation of the objects. Our NEH grant will cover some of these improvements, but it is likely that we’ll need to seek more support for the continued maintenance of the collection
•    Trying on History –In May, we hosted the Project Aware group (11-18 year old girls from Beacon), to look at historic objects and try on reproductions. Then in October, two Vassar classes came to do this activity. Throughout the year, we continued our reproduction project, generously funded by the Carolyn Grant ’36 Endowment Fund.

Hello world!

Welcome to our new blog for updates about the Vassar College Costume Collection (VCCC). Whenever there’s news about the collection, you’ll find it here!

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