Historic costume collection refreshed in honor of Centennial

The Historic Costume Collection display in Stiemke Hall has recently been updated in honor of Mount Mary College’s 100th anniversary. The display features garments that demonstrate the changes in women’s roles, rights and aspirations throughout the past century.

These evening pieces are part of the display in Stiemke Hall. (left) “Tommie” or “Tillie” Balistreri wore this gown to the 1942 Mount Mary junior prom. (center) This 1971 dress was created by Kay Bogust Richter in the Couture class. (right) The black evening gown was designed and created by Yia Xiong in 2010 and won “outstanding dress” in the 2011 Student Designer Fashion Show.

The collection offers a colorful look into the past and is easy to follow with detailed descriptions under each garment and photos of students from the college. Dormitory life, athletics, social life, and classroom and college rituals such as graduation are aspects of student life chronicled in the collection.

One of the first garments featured is a pair of brown wool tweed knickers from 1925, which were the first type of pants acceptable for women to wear. Besides the ability to wear knickers, the 1920s also marked a time in American history when it became more acceptable for women to attend college.

Elizabeth Gaston, curator for the collection, explained this was the first time in history women could vote, which led to the realization of many other rights.

“It’s no accident that we got rid of the corset, we got short skirts, we were able to cut our hair and wear comfortable clothes,” Gaston said. “This was all happening at the same time.”

The display also includes pieces worn during athletic activities, such as the 1960 green cotton gym suit. One-piece gym suits were not acceptable garments until the 20th century. Before this, gym suits consisted of blouses with skirts over bloomers and stockings, all made of black wool. In addition to current athletic programs, the college previously offered sports such as field hockey, archery, ice skating, hiking and skiing.

The last section of the display features a white graduation gown worn in 1903 from St. Mary’s Academy.

“The graduation dresses were always white,” Gaston said. “You would also have a formal photograph taken in your white dress holding your diploma.”

A photograph from the period is on display as an example of the era’s formal graduation portraits.

Gaston said the Historic Costume Collection is a vital part of the fashion program. The college’s collection has about 7,000 pieces, and it depends on its various donors for unique historical pieces.

“I love the costume collection,” said Mary Bartling, a professor from the fashion department. “I think it is really professional, and the diagrams in front of each garment are very helpful.”

Bartling believes the exhibit is a true educational experience for students because these types of high-quality garments are becoming more rare, and most people do not know what to look for when shopping for a well-made garment.

“Students today would not see that quality in a ready-made garment, so I think it is invaluable in terms of seeing how a real couture garment is made,” Bartling said.


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