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Historic Costume Gallery spring exhibit to explore the language of clothing

February 22, 2016

The Stephens College Historic Costume Museum has announced its Spring 2016 gallery show, “Playing Dress Up: How Kids See Clothing.”

“When we get dressed and put items on, how do children perceive that clothing? How do kids make sense of who people are, based on what they see, without words? That’s what this show is about—the language of clothing,” said Dr. Monica McMurry, dean of the School of Design and curator of the Costume Research Library.

“We explore the signs and symbols of dress by creating vingettes of clothing—the nuclear family, the cowboy and cow girl, fairy tale-inspired clothing,” explained McMurry. The show also explores the world of work and includes the uniforms of service men and women, male and female nurses, police officers and fire fighters. Representing the children are girls’ and boys’ scouting uniforms.


To fully explore how children see clothing, the gallery invited students form the Children’s School at Stephens College to explore the exhibit and write and draw about what the clothing said to them. Their stories and drawings will be an essential component of the exhibit.

“Our fashion program has always enjoyed working with the Children’s School,” McMurry said. “It was one of those days, years ago, when I got the first spark of what this kind of coming together could be.”

As for the students’ perspective, one fifth-grader said, “It was a great experience for us as a class because most schools don't get to work with a fashion department." 

Her teacher, Hannah Vonder Haar, agreed: “Having opportunities to collaborate with the different departments on campus is one of the many reasons why our program is different. We have access to an amazing variety of ideas and resources. The students loved being able to illustrate the garments and use their imaginations to develop stories.”

Furthering the theme, the show will include a dress up and photo area for children who tour the show.

Companion displays will include dress from the 1920s, the decade that saw the founding of the Children’s School, now celebrating 90 years; and a tribute to the ’30s style of the Kit Kittridge figure from the popular American Girl book series.

The free gallery show will open on Feb. 25 and run through May 8. Hours for the gallery are Saturdays and Sundays, noon-3 p.m.; Wednesdays, noon-1 p.m.; and Thursdays, 5:30-8:30 p.m. An opening reception will be held on Feb. 27 from noon-3 p.m. 

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