Betsy Ross has nothing on the fashion-forward and patriotic exhibit the Historic Costume Gallery boasts. This fall’s theme, named Civic Virtue, features pieces of red, white and blue, closes in December but planning for spring is already underway. Many students are unaware of the hidden treasure that is the Costume Museum and Research Library.
The library was started shortly after the establishment of the school of design and fashion in 1944. The collection began as a place to house examples that could be used as teaching tools.
Since its establishment, purchases, contributions and donations of garments, shoe and accessories have grown the collection to an estimated 13,000 items to date.
“Our oldest garment dates to around 1730 to today’s current trends. That being said, we hesitate to accept too many items from the past decade. Historians and scholars are still determining what items are important and have made the most impact on fashion,” Jennifer Cole, collection manager and curatorial assistant, said in an email.
The library’s purpose is to be a source of research for students in the fashion department as a display of trends still seen today.
In 2007 the library moved to the basement of Lela Raney Wood Hall. The dedicated rooms are temperature and humidity controlled. Racks upon racks of dresses, coats, pants and blouses run wall to wall. The perimeter of the room is shelves of hats and shoes of the past decades. The move allowed more exhibits to be shown and more garments to be had.
Each garment is inspected for damage and given proper care by the volunteers and work-study students of the library.
Chloe Willett, a junior, started volunteering in the gallery her freshman year and has since changed her major to a self-initiated one in fields of fashion and art historical studies.
“Taking care of garments really depends on the type. There is a totally different process for furs. They have to be pre-frozen, vacuumed and then frozen again and hung in the freezer room. We pre-freeze them separately so that if they have any bug infestations they will be frozen out and it will be contained. They also have to be wrapped properly before freezing so that when they thaw no condensation will cause mildew. Other clothing requires cleaning,” Willett said. “We usually use Oxyclean because it is a gentle chemical that attacks protein, so if there is a food or sweat stain it will help in releasing that.”
Willett says planning exhibits and choosing garments is an intensive process, Civic Virtue having been in the works for two years.
“We have been given a dedicated space for exhibits. Exhibitions are the most exciting part of our move to the new space. Prior to our move, exhibits were generally few and far between,” Cole said. “Exhibits are most often inspired by one particular garment and the exhibit builds around that theme.”
This year it was a red, white and blue American flag shoe by Jeffrey Campbell that Monica McMurry, dean of the school of design and fashion, bought last year. Exhibits require hours of preparation, from pulling the appropriate garments, making repairs and installation to writing copy and informing the community. The library relies on student volunteers to make sure everything goes according to plan.
The library received a grant from the Jessie Ball DuPont Fund in 2005 to create an online catalog. With around 300 garments recorded, the library continues to add new pieces daily and can be viewed at http://emuseum.stephens.edu:8081/emuseum/.