the latest news about our research collection of historic costume
Author: Arden Kirkland
Arden Kirkland currently splits her work between Vassar College (Costumer for the Drama Department) and numerous other freelance projects in costume history, design, production, and education. She has taught at Vassar, Bard, Marist, Barnard, and the Powerhouse Theatre summer program at Vassar; she was formerly the Costume Shop Supervisor at Bard College and the Assistant Shop Manager at the Costume Shop for the Juilliard School. Arden received her MFA in Costume Design from Rutgers University, Mason Gross School of the Arts. Ever since her undergraduate work at Vassar, she has continued to work as a Co-Curator of the Vassar College Costume Collection, the Drama Department's research collection of historic clothing. Her ongoing effort to create a database of Vassar’s costume collection has led to an inter-disciplinary and inter-institutional project entitled “Digital Objects in the Classroom,” to research best practice in the use of digital collections as a teaching resource.
In October we were very pleased to participate once again in a fashion show at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center (FLLAC), here at Vassar College: “Intimates and Unmentionables: Constructing the Silhouette.” We collaborated with Contrast magazine, the Department of French and Francophone Studies, and the FLLAC.
Here are some photos from the event, by the photographers from Contrast:
The fashion show was preceded by a wonderful talk by Mary Davis on the subject of ”The Sound of Style: Music in Vogue.” Davis is the dean of the School of Graduate Studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, and specializes in cross-disciplinary studies of music, fashion, and culture.
In addition to the looks styled by the team from Contrast, the Vassar Drama Department Costume Shop provided four historic reproduction looks. These were coordinated by Ruby Pierce, Robin Piatt-Stegman, Kenisha Kelly, and Arden Kirkland. The models were Audrey Aller, Carrie Plover, Christie Honore, and Hadley Seufert. Narration for their looks was written by Ruby Pierce and presented by Olga Voyazides.
For this year’s reunion weekend, we will host a new exhibition:
Fashion and Fashion Plates: An Exhibition of Selected Garments (dating from 1836-1956) Donated to the Vassar College Costume Collection
This will be on view in the Faculty Commons of Main Building, June 12-15 (specific hours are listed below). This show is free and open to the public.
The exhibition will feature a dozen historic garments accompanied by copies of fashion plates from the individual time periods. Images from several nineteenth and early twentieth century fashion periodicals are represented including Lady’s Magazine, The Delineator and CostumesParisiens. The garments displayed will cover a span of more than one hundred years.
Fashion and Fashion Plates will be on view Thursday, June 12, 1-4 pm; Friday, June 13 and Saturday, June 14, 11 am-4 pm; and on Sunday, June 15, 11 am-2 pm.
Vassar’s Office of Communications just included us in a great series of videos they’re doing called “What Are You Doing,” showing behind-the-scenes work at the college. They’ve shared a short video with me talking about the collection, and the link to the video was featured on Vassar’s home page last Thursday and Friday.
You have time to watch it – it’s only 1:44 long – short and sweet. Enjoy!
Our digital version of our 2013 gallery exhibition, “For Better and For Worse: Sixteen Decades of Wedding Wear at Vassar,” is now online.
This digital exhibition includes photographs from the exhibition, three-dimensional rotating views of featured objects, personal photographs and stories shared by Vassar community members, a video slideshow of photographs with highlights from our oral history interviews, and the full length oral history interviews, with transcripts.
In 2007, Vassar received a donation of four wedding dresses from the same Vassar family—three generations of dresses. Inspired by these four dresses, plus a fifth dress on loan to represent the fourth generation, we brought together a variety of other wedding wear and photographs from the Vassar community, and conducted a series of oral history interviews. The stories represented explore changing views of marriage over the last 160 years, including current views on marriage equality.
Even if you did get to visit the gallery exhibition in person, you may find that the digital exhibition gives you the opportunity to delve deeper into the stories represented in the exhibition. While we did have a brief video running on a loop in the exhibition, with highlights from our oral history interviews and a slideshow of candid photos, the digital exhibition also includes the full length oral history recordings, with transcripts. These stories, from the people who wore the outfits on display, speak to more than just what they wore, but also to the culture of the time in which they were married, and their reflections on changes over time, as some marriages endured and others did not.
Each object that was on display has its own page, with photographs, description, an audio player for the oral history interview, a link to the full transcript of the interview, and a mini viewer of the objectVR (a view of the object that you can rotate 360 degrees and zoom in upon). Under the mini viewer is a link to a full size viewer. If you have any trouble viewing any of the pages, or parts of pages, there is a page about “How to View this Exhibition” that may help, or please contact us so we can help troubleshoot.
We look forward to your feedback about the digital version of this exhibition! Please use the contact link on the menu above to share your comments with us.
From the picture list you can click on a thumbnail to view a larger image and use the arrows to go through the images.
This fall we’ll share a digital version of the exhibition, once we have our students back to help finish processing the rest of the photos. The online exhibition will include photos of the gallery and detailed photos of each object, along with stories threaded throughout, both as text and as audio from our oral history project.
As Vassar begins Spring Break, I’m finally able to carve out a moment to catch you all up with our plans for our next exhibition. We’re not sure of our opening date yet (we’re hoping to open during Senior Week as we did in 2010 and 2011, to be open for Commencement, by May 26) but we know we’ll be open for Reunion, which is from June 7-9 this year.
When considering what to exhibit, I realized that this would be the reunion year for several of our recent donors – and it will also be my own 20th reunion! In 2007, we received a donation of 4 wedding dresses from the same Vassar family – 3 generations of dresses from 4 alums. This grouping alone is fascinating, allowing us to compare the stylistic changes over 52 years in the culture of one family. The middle two dresses of the four were worn by Mary Lee Hartzell ’53 and Ellen McPhillips Baumann ’63. As this will be their reunion year, it seems like the perfect time to display their dresses, along with other interesting wedding dresses we’ve collected over the years.
I have to admit I’ve been hesitant to do a wedding dress exhibition. In my work with our collection, I try very hard to get students past the stage of “Oh! Look at the pretty dresses!” and into the stage of examining such objects as evidence of cultural history, evidence of women’s lives. With wedding dresses, it’s particularly hard to get past the “it’s so pretty” stage, and as hard as it is to get the students working on the exhibit past that, it will be even harder to get the exhibition’s fleeting audience past that.
So, can we find a way to use these “pretty dresses” to examine the changes in weddings and marriage over the last 159 years (the earliest dress we plan to show is from 1854)? Can we appreciate the beauty of these dresses, yet not let that blind us to the complications of the cultural ideals they represent?
As we develop this exhibition, we’d love to hear your feedback. We’re just starting to reach out to the donors of the dresses, and some students are hoping to conduct oral history interviews with the women who wore the dresses, or their relatives. The stories that they provide will determine how this exhibition unfolds. We’re also working on identifying the “missing pieces” – objects that are not in our collection, but that we’d like to seek as loans or donations, to diversify the exhibition. We’ve realized one of the easiest ways to do this is to collect photographs from members of the Vassar community, from a variety of weddings, to showcase diverse traditions and innovations.
So . . .
What did you wear to your wedding?
The Vassar College Costume Collection is seeking photographs and narratives from Vassar community members to showcase a variety of clothing worn for weddings. We are interested in images of both traditional and non-traditional weddings, from diverse ethnic and religious traditions, and we’re particularly hoping to include examples from same-sex weddings.
With your permission, we may display some of the photographs and stories as a part of our upcoming exhibition of wedding outfits, for this year’s Reunion. Email your photos to firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail copies of your photos to the Vassar College Costume Collection, Box 734, 124 Raymond Avenue, Poughkeepsie, NY 12604. Please include a brief narrative about your wedding and what you wore. Please note that we may not be able to display all the photos received, depending on the number of submissions, and we will not be able to return photos that are mailed to us, but all photographs and stories will inform our research and will be greatly appreciated!
In the weeks to come, we’ll be sharing some of our research, along with some of our process for developing the exhibition. We’ll also be reaching out to you for more feedback – whether you’re an alum/current student/married/unmarried/etc., we’d love to know what you think about the traditions/innovations in weddings and marriage that these dresses represent.
Our Second Annual French Fashion Show event at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center was a great success! The folks at Contrast magazine, who co-sponsored the event with us (along with the FLLAC Student Advisory Committee, the Department of French and Francophone Studies, and VC Soundsystems) have posted about the event on their blog, with some great photos and a very cute highlights video.
Meanwhile, here are some of our own photos from the event. We had 6 models wearing historic reproduction fashions from the Drama Department Costume Shop, as styled by Emily Selter. They were joined on the runway by contemporary models wearing related looks. Commentary for the historic looks was written by Sarah Cooley, Rebecca Endicott, Alexandra Figler, Ruby Pierce, and Emily Selter and narrated on the runway by Alycia Anderson and Ali Dillilio.
Many thanks to Francine Brown and Joann Potter from the FLLAC, and Susan Hiner from the Department of French and Francophone Studies, for making this possible! Thanks also to all the models who participated: Akaina Ghosh, Margot Mayer, Nicole Alter, Emma Bird, Rebecca Chodorkoff, Sara Cooley, Brendan Counihan, Matt Dowling, Kevin Gish, Emma Goodwin, Julia Kawai, Simone Levine, Taylor Pratt, Jay Resit, Grace Sparapani.
It’s hard to believe it has already been a year since last year’s fashion show at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar. Well, it was such a success that we’re doing it all again!
Once again, we’ll bring fashion to Thursday’s Late Night at the Loeb, on November 15. The galleries of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center are open late on Thursday, until 9pm, with a fashion show at 7pm and historic clothing on display through the following Sunday. This event is a collaboration between the Frances Lehman Loeb Student Advisory Committee, the Drama Department Costume Shop, the Department of French and Francophone Studies, Contrast magazine, and VC Sound Systems.
Emily Selter ’14 has been leading a group of students to organize this fashion show and display, combining contemporary looks with historic reproductions, and a pair of actual historic dresses on display. Students will narrate the fashion show, providing information about the historical context of French fashion.
We hope you’ll stop by next Thursday night (Nov. 15) if you’re in the area, or come over between Wednesday and Sunday to see the dresses on display. The Loeb is open from 10-5 Tuesday through Saturday, from 1-5 on Sunday, and open late on Thursday, until 9pm. In case you can’t make it, we’ll post some pictures the following week.
This exhibition was the culmination of the NEH-funded Historic Costume Preservation Workshop in the spring of 2010. During the 2011-12 academic year, student research assistant Julie Fields ’12 compiled photographs from the exhibition and turned them into a digital exhibition. Julie was one of the students who participated in the 2010 workshop, and then we were able to hire her to help build our digital collection, thanks to grant funding from the Mellon foundation for an inter-institutional workshop grant entitled “Digital Archives That Count.”
Students from Kenisha Kelly’s Drama class “History of Fashion for the Stage” had a wonderful opportunity to visit the Drama Department’s collection of historic clothing. To begin, historic collection Co-Curators Holly Hummel (Faculty Emeritus) and Arden Kirkland (Costumer for the Drama Department) introduced the class to the collection. Then the class was broken into four smaller groups, and each group focused on studying one object from the collection. Then the class was re-grouped, mixing from the previous groups, so that each student could view all of the objects on display and learn from the other students who had studied each garment in greater depth.
For this exercise, the objects were flat on the table, so that students could examine them inside and out. After asking them to try to imagine what the garments would look like on a body, Arden provided photographs of the garments on mannequins, so that the students could see the silhouette on a body.