Fashion and Fashion Plates – Exhibition

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 MagazineThe Delineator and Costumes Parisiens.  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.

Digital Exhibition: For Better and For Worse

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.


wedding outfits from the gallery exhibition "For Better and For Worse: Sixteen Decades of Wedding Wear at Vassar"
Three dresses with similar silhouettes, over a span of 16 decades.

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.

For Better and For Worse – Photos

Now that our latest exhibition is over, and the wedding outfits are all safely tucked away in their acid free boxes, we have a moment to take a breath and share a slideshow of some photos.

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.


Wedding Dresses from the Vassar Community – More than Just Pretty Dresses

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, 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.

French Fashion Show Photos

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.

From French Fashion Show

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.

From French Fashion Show
From French Fashion Show
From French Fashion Show

We also displayed two dresses from our historic collection, in the back gallery at the FLLAC. On the left is our Cream Satin Dress with Blue-Green Beading and Sash (#VC1992024), which was designed by Jeanne Lanvin for the summer of 1921 (see more of this dress on our collection website). On the right is our Light Green Silk Gown with Lace (#VC1992034) from 1910-1914 (designer unknown – see more of this dress on our collection website).

From French Fashion Show
From French Fashion Show

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.

Creative Commons License

All the images shown in this post are from the Vassar College Drama Department Research Collection of Historic Clothing and are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. You can also view these images directly in Picasa; from there you can see a full screen view, or download your own copy of an image.

Announcing: Another Fashion Show at the Art Center

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.

A “Glimpse” of a Digital Exhibition

We’re pleased to announce that you can now view a digital exhibition representing our 2010 exhibition “A Glimpse into Vassar’s Secret Closet.”

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.”

We hope you enjoy the digital exhibition!

Announcement image for A Glimpse into Vassar's Secret Closet: An informal exhibition of final projects from the Historic Costume Preservation Workshop
Announcement image for “A Glimpse into Vassar’s Secret Closet: An informal exhibition of final projects from the Historic Costume Preservation Workshop”


French Connection Photographs

Did you come and visit for the evening of the French Connection event, at Late Night at the Loeb on November 17?

Models and mannequins together after the French Connection Fashion Show at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center

If so, please send us some of YOUR photos – but if not, enjoy these photos of the event. The fashion show included contemporary styles mixed with historic reproductions back to Marie Antoinette, and began with an introduction by Associate Professor of French Susan Hiner, to put French fashion in a historic (and academic) context. We also displayed three dresses from our historic research collection, which stayed up over the weekend.

Three historic dresses from the Vassar College Costume Collection, displayed as a part of the French Connection event at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center

You can see more photos in a slideshow at our Picasa site.

There’s also a video in another post here (or on youtube), and more photos of the models (in front of incredible artworks in the Loeb Art Center) on the Contrast blog.

Video of the French Connection Fashion Show

If you missed our fabulous French Connection event at Late Night at the Loeb on November 17, you can watch this video of the fashion show from YouTube. (If you’re in a hurry, fast forward to about 5:10 to see all the models walk at the end). This video comes to us via Contrast, Vassar’s style magazine, one of the co-sponsors of the event. Check out their blog!

Vassar Costumes at the Loeb

I am pleased to announce an exciting fashion event taking place this week at Vassar:

French Connection Poster

“The French Connection: an evening of art et fashion” brings fashion to Thursday’s Late Night at the Loeb. The galleries of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center are open late on Thursday, until 9pm, with a fashion show at 7pm and historic costume on display through 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, VC Sound Systems, and the French Club.

One of our costume shop student employees (who is involved with all of the above organizations) is organizing a fashion show combining contemporary looks with a few historic reproductions. Professor Susan Hiner will introduce the evening with brief comments on the historical context of French fashion. Also, we have three dresses on display from our historic collection: a couture bustle gown from the late nineteenth century by French designer Emile Pingat, an exquisite black and white day dress with a French influence, and a mid-twentieth century striped dress from the Schiap-sport label (Parisian House of Schiaparelli).

We hope you’ll stop by on Thursday night if you’re in the area, or come by over the weekend to see the dresses on display. In case you can’t make it, we’ll post some pictures next week.