Exhibition Title, continued

We have our title! When we were all together the week before last, we did a very democratic secret ballot vote, choosing from the titles suggested in the previous post and comments. “Dress-quicentennial” came in a close second, but the winner was:

Fashioning an Education

Thanks to everyone who contributed ideas, and who voted!

Exhibition announcement coming up next . . .

Exhibition Title?

Shall we attempt to crowdsource ideas for our exhibition title?

Our theme, so far, is summed up best by a quote from Lucy Maynard Salmon, renowned Vassar history professor of the early 20th century, “A collection of the clothing worn by students at different periods would at least raise, if it did not answer, the question of how far dress has been influenced by education.”

I’ve had a few ideas for titles so far, and I’d love to hear what you think of them. Even better, if you have any ideas for other titles, please share them!

  • What Vassar Wore
  • 150 Years of Vassar Students and What They Wore
  • Fashion / Education
  • Vassar Dress and the Influence of Education
  • Vassar’s Wardrobe

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?

Sesquicentennial Research Begins

After a very hectic (and snowed-in) start, the spring semester is off and running. We have a wonderful team of faculty, staff, students, and alumnae hard at work preparing for our next exhibition.

This year it is Vassar’s 150th Anniversary, or Sesquicentennial. Our exhibition will celebrate 150 years of Vassar students – and what they wore. We are taking as the starting point for our research a quote from Lucy Maynard Salmon, founding professor of the history department at Vassar,

A collection of the clothing worn by students at different periods would at least raise, if it did not answer, the question of how far dress has been influenced by education.

Salmon, Lucy Maynard. “A Museum of Vassar College.” Vassar Miscellany (November 1911): 45.

How far has dress been influenced by education? Or more simply, has dress been influenced by education? How is this particular to women’s education? What other factors have influenced changes in what we wear, and how do they relate to education? To pose some answers to these questions, we are spending a great deal of time not only with the objects, but also in the Vassar Library’s Special Collections, immersing ourselves in resources related to the women who wore these articles of clothing.

In the coming months, we will use this blog as a place to share our research as it evolves, and to bounce around some theories – and some practical plans for the exhibition. As always, your comments will be very appreciated – they will help us to shape this coming exhibition.

Mark your calendars – the exhibition will be in Vassar’s Palmer Gallery (in the College Center) from mid-May (opening date TBA) through June 12 (the last day of Reunion). We hope to see you there! We will announce specific events (opening reception, guided tours) as they are scheduled.

Blog Redirection

FYI: As of February 12, 2011, we will no longer be posting directly to the separate blog for the Historic Costume Preservation Workshop (HCPW). Since the bulk of that specific project is over, from now on we will post here, on the general blog for the Vassar College Costume Collection (VCCC).

There are still some HCPW posts yet to come, to share some final details, but we’ll post them in both places.

As a result, we are moving the RSS feedburner feed for the HCPW blog to now point to the VCCC blog.

If you have already subscribed to posts about the HCPW, you shouldn’t have to do anything – you should continue to receive posts from us here at the VCCC blog.

Be looking for some posts about our latest project with the VCCC in the next day or two! If you are subscribed and you don’t get the new posts, please let me know so I can fix it.

costumeshop <at> vassar <dot> edu

» an update from the Vassar College Costume Collection!

It’s time for an update from the Vassar College Costume Collection!

You last heard from me right around our exhibition, “A Glimpse into Vassar’s (Secret) Closet.” So what has happened since then?

When the objects were mounted for the exhibition last spring, I was able to work with Charlie Pane ‘10 to carefully photograph each full costume. Not only did we get high quality full length views of each piece, but each was placed on a turntable and rotated, with a photo taken of each different view. Charlie then worked with these photos to create a QuickTime Virtual Reality (QTVR) file, which allows the viewer to rotate the object and better understand it as if in 3D. Stay tuned for more news about when and where these will be made available online.

Other than that, we haven’t had too much time to work with the collection this fall. Vassar’s new costume designer, Kenisha Kelly, is doing a wonderful job of helping us to recover from the blow of Holly Hummel’s retirement last spring, but we still are very busy with the productions in the Drama Department, and haven’t had much time for research or conservation projects.

But we’ll be sure to make time in the spring! “Glimpse” was such a success that we’re moving forward with another exhibition, from mid-May to mid-June in 2011 (probably 5/13 – 6/15), in the Palmer Gallery in the College Center (same as last year). This will be a part of Vassar’s Sesquicentennial Celebration (150th anniversary), and we will feature clothes that relate to Vassar’s history and to the history of women’s education. We’ll be working on this throughout the spring, so we’ll keep you posted as more details arise.

This is a cross-post from http://pages.vassar.edu/hcpw/

A Glimpse into Vassar’s (Secret) Closet

A selection of historic costumes from the collection will be on view in the James W. Palmer III Gallery from May 21 to June 6, 2010. Free and open to the public, the exhibition will open on Friday, May 21, with a reception from 2:00 to 4:00pm. Throughout the exhibition, the Palmer Gallery will be open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 1:00 to 4:00pm; Sunday from 11:00am to 2:00pm; as well as by appointment by calling 437-5250.

Organized by costumer Holly Hummel, Arden Kirkland ‘93, and Candace Schuster of the Drama Department, the exhibition will offer the public a chance to see the results of an NEH funded  semester-long process of costume preservation. This exhibition will honor Holly Hummel, senior drama lecturer and costume designer, who is retiring this year. She began organizing the collection shortly after she started working at Vassar in 1981.

Historic Costume Preservation Workshop

An NEH grant allowed Vassar to bring three professionals from the field of costume history to lead workshops for 13 undergraduate students and Drama Department faculty members and administrators. The students, many interested in museum work, received independent study credit for the workshops. Documentation of the continuing work on the collection is available at the website: http://pages.vassar.edu/hcpw/.

Workshop 1 – February 3: Featured textile consultants Jonathan Scheer and Rebecca Chartier of J. Scheer and Co. of Rhinebeck and New York, who introduced participants to the proper handling, storage, and record keeping of textiles and historic costumes.

Workshop 2 – February 12: Featured costume historian Jessa Krick, who taught participants best practices for cataloging historic costumes. She discussed her cataloging work with the Costume Documentation Project for the Brooklyn Museum. Then, working with an object from Vassar’s collection, she modeled how to write a detailed catalogue entry.

Workshop 3 – April 9 – 13: Led by Colleen Callahan, currently of Costume and Textile Specialists in VA and curator emeritus of costumes and textiles at the Valentine Richmond History Center in Richmond, Virginia, was based on successful workshops led by Callahan at Mt. Holyoke in 2006 and Smith in 2008. Participants worked in teams with several objects from the VCCC and performed the necessary sewing to stabilize each object and properly mount it on a mannequin.

Students also had the opportunity to work with Stuart Belli and Edie Stout of the Chemistry department, to learn how to use several instruments that can help with the analysis of textile fibers.

Recent Events

This was another busy semester for the VCCC! Here are some highlights:

• Trying on History – On May 12, we hosted the Project Aware group (6th and 7th grade girls from Beacon), to try on reproductions of historic costumes and to get a sneak peek at some of the costumes in our exhibition “A Glimpse into Vassar’s Secret Closet.” You can see more about similar visits at http://tryingonhistory.blogspot.com/ .

• On April 6, Arden Kirkland ’93, Holly Hummel, and student Chloe Boxer ’12 presented our digital costumes at Vassar’s 8th Annual Teaching and Technology Forum. Links to showcased projects can be seen at http://delicious.com/arkirkland/TTFF10

• In January, curator Arden Kirkland ’93 worked with student Charlie Pane ’10 and Academic Computing Consultant Matthew Slaats to experiment with photography of the costumes using Quick Time Virtual Reality (QTVR) technology. An example can be seen at http://ardenkirkland.com/QTVR/VR/1992-124-q3.html (best viewed in Safari).

• Now it’s time to start planning our next exhibition, to celebrate Vassar’s 150th Anniversary next year!

The Holly Hummel Fund for Historic Costume

Established by students and friends of Holly Hummel on the occasion of her retirement from Vassar College, the Holly Hummel Fund has been created as an expendable fund for resources needed to maintain and exhibit objects from the Vassar College Costume Collection, a research collection of historic garments dating from the mid-nineteenth century. The Fund may be used for supplies, consultant’s fees, or professional development for staff or students. The Fund will have oversight by the Department of Drama with the approval of the Dean of Faculty. The duration and extent of the program will be dependent on funds raised.

Please contact us for more information about making a donation!

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