A Visit to the Vassar College Costume Collection

“Fashioning an Education: 150 Years of Vassar Students and What They Wore”
May 16-June 12 at the Palmer Gallery, Vassar College (Poughkeepsie, NY)

PHOTO: Vassar College Costume Collection http://blogs.vassar.edu/vccc/

It was my pleasure to return to Vassar last week and spend some time with the students and faculty who are currently working on the exhibition showcasing 150 years of Vassar dress. I really enjoyed the discussion and piecing together what is most important to an exhibition of this nature. It also gave me a few more ideas to consider and hearing so much fascinating research into early Vassar dress is quite inspiring, not least because so many of the same themes and ideas can be traced from the 1860s to my 1950s-era research. I also donated (on behalf of those Vassar women who gifted them to me) a number of garments, some to be featured in this exhibition and others to hopefully find a safe home until it is their turn to be exhibited! It was funny remembering how this project so naturally led me to more structured material culture studies: I remember being somewhat terrified of the ACTUAL garments and being far more comfortable dealing with oral histories, written testimonials, stories and mass media consideration… but as time moved on, the garments themselves definitely became incredibly useful and wonderful to have. They bring alive another perspective on the Vassar experience in the time frame I am talking about.

Thank you to Arden Kirkland at the VCCC for inviting me and to all the students and faculty who shared in the discussion.

Ms. Kirkland actually wrote a blog about my visit on the VCCC website (http://blogs.vassar.edu/vccc/2011/04/a-visit-from-rebecca-tuite/), which I’ve reblogged below:

On Wednesday, April 13, we had a wonderful visit from author Rebecca Tuite, whose book Vassar Style: Fashion, Feminism and 1950s American Media will be published later this year. Ms. Tuite has been a wonderful source of information and enthusiasm on the subject of Vassar dress, and it was a delight to have her here in person!

Speaking to a group of at least a dozen students and faculty members, Ms. Tuite first introduced her research to those who were not already familiar with her work. She described her process at great length, answering questions about her approach to oral history, mass media, and dress. Each of us working on the exhibition for the sesquicentennial had questions for her about how her ladies from the 1950′s relate to the ladies we’re looking at in the earlier years. Certainly there are differences across time, but there are many common threads running through, especially when it comes to the themes we’ve been focusing on lately relating changes in dress to developments in education.

Our discussion certainly gave us all a great deal to think about as our research continues moving forward. We’re very grateful to Ms. Tuite for being so generous with her time and her thoughts!

(I must add that Ms. Tuite was also the bearer of many wonderful gifts – new donations to our collection, from some of the 1950′s alums she’s been in touch with. We’ll post more details about them soon!)

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