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Texas Fashion Collection: hosting treasures that are appreciated


You know those times when you anticipate something really exciting that you are about to do? Last week, I had one of those experiences as I walked into the Texas Fashion Collection in Scoular Hall at The University of North Texas; my expectations were exceeded past my wildest dreams. I can’t believe here in Denton, Texas (the city in which I was born and raised) were so many hidden treasures just waiting to be discovered.
Walking into to UNT’s 4,500 square foot space I was astonished of the amount of clothing that looks like it goes on for miles. The 15,000 plus collection is so nicely organized from the earliest pieces (including garments and hats from the late 1700s) to today’s contemporary fashions.  
UNT began housing the collection in 1972 but it actually began in 1938 when Stanley and Edward Marcus began preserving works of fashion that belonged to their Aunt, Carrie Marcus Neiman.  Once the collection got too vast, it moved to UNT and has been overseen by Professor Myra Walker, director and curator since 1987.
In the beginning, designers would send pieces to Stanley Marcus to build his collection. He tried to get very high end couture and eventually ran out of space. His collection was about 1000 pieces before coming to UNT.
The earliest garment, a small blue dress from 1795, looks like it would fit a twelve year old. People were smaller then due to what was typically a more meager diet than we enjoy. In the designer section, most works are represented in alphabetical order. It is fun to see how the changes in silhouette and size reveal what was going on in history.
I felt like a kid in a candy store and my candy was fashion. It felt like I was in Milan, Italy in an important fashion warehouse and every moment BIG names were jumping out at me. I thought of Patricia Field and how she must feel all the time going to work and being surrounded by beautiful things from fashion history.

My favorite piece was an Adele Simpson daytime dress from the 50’s (I would wear it today). Simpson, like Chanel, was part of the post war fashion movement and into more comfortable sportswear. She took French couture and gave it an American lady-like feel.
The Texas Fashion Collection hosts a list of designers that will make you want to stand-up and applaud! Designers like: Chanel, Dior, Scaasi, Cashin, Pucci, Trigere, Balenciaga, Oscar de la Renta, Galanos…it’s enough to make your head spin!  Some stars of the collection include: Chinese bound foot slippers, intricately beaded handbags, 1890s Texas prairie dresses, silk wedding dresses from 1840s-1900s, Japanese kimonos, a blue pregnancy outfit that Jackie Kennedy wore during the campaign…
Clothing carries memories. Think about when you put on something you haven’t worn in a while, you’re clothing and accessories tell a story and they hold the feelings you had the last time you wore it.
Fashion is THE best tool to study the past. When styles change it’s because the times have changed. Sometimes it happens so quickly we don’t even realize that fashion is slowly evolving.
Walking down the aisles of the TFC and observing the racks and racks of changing styles, I was able to see a clearer picture of what was happening during those times and how fashion was influenced.

I specifically think of the 1920’s (one of my favorite time periods) and also the 1960’s (because it was so drastically different from the former periods).
The 1920’s brought along an avant-garde change in fashion. Women were seen wearing bustless, waistless silhouettes. It was the beginning of the flapper style and the popular cloche hat. Coco Chanel popularized the sporty athletic look with the use of jersey knit, clean lines, and outdoor living. One of the TFC highlights includes a gorgeous 1920’s beaded flapper dresses from Paris. I was lucky enough to hold it and can tell you it was extremely heavy AND extremely fabulous!
Walking down the 1950’s rack you suddenly get hit with the drastic change from the 1960’s and can’t help but say, Whoa! Dawn Figueroa (assistant curator of the Texas Fashion Collection) explained that textiles and products from other countries played a key role in fashion. There were restrictions of the dies and fabrics designers used in the 1950’s. During this time the economy was good and TV was culturally influencing designers because people got to view the world through television. When the 1960’s came around there was a radical change; Dawn Figueroa says this about the 60’s, “It’s like you’ve only had a ten-pack of crayons then you get a four-hundred-pack of crayons and the colors go all over the place.”

Carrie Marcus Neiman's squirrel coat

One of the many wonderful things about the TFC is that it is a place to learn. Some of the pieces in the collection are designated for study and can be taken apart and turned inside out, but most of the pieces are museum garments with minimal handling. This is a unique educational fashion museum that enhances our understanding of society through the study of clothing. The archived items serve as teaching and researching tools for students, faculty, and anyone interested in fashion history. The goal of the TFC is to preserve and exhibit its ever expanding collection of clothing and accessories and make materials available for all who want to learn.
The TFC staff has the fun job this summer of opening up boxes that haven’t been opened in years to photograph and catalog the treasures that they find. Can you imagine the excitement every time they open a box?
The Texas Fashion Collection is lucky to have such generous Dallas donors like oil heiress Claudia de Osborne, Mercedes Bass, and Texan turned Parisian ballerina Nita-Carol Miskovitch.
Claudia de Osborne donated 371 pieces to the TFC (many of those were works by Spanish designer Balenciaga). It was her sense of style that put Dallas on the map for fashion in the 1950’s. She once said, “Mr. Marcus can tell you how I love clothes. It is sort of a religion with me. I am terribly happy that these things are in the hands of people who appreciate them.”




The Texas Fashion Collection is VERY special; there’s nothing like it in the entire world! Clothing from every vocation, class, and occupation from socialite, housewife, leisure, nine-to-five…you can sing Chaka Khan’s I’m every woman when you see every woman represented in the Texas Fashion Collection.
As a lover of fashion, I can relate to what Claudia de Osborne said and I wish I could tell her and Carrie Marcus Neiman just how much their clothes and all the 15,000 plus items are being appreciated at UNT’s Texas Fashion Collection.



4 comments:

  1. That looks fabulous - and educational. And I love that 50s dress too. I wonder if this trend of recycling earlier clothing is a new thing, or if that's something that happened throughout history? And I kind of hate it when furs have a revival, as I think enough animals died for nothing more than our vanity. I like clothing and fashion, but far far less than many.

    What I do wish was availabe is a reproduction section in museums where you could actually wear clothing through the ages, move in it, and see how it actually felt to wear a ceremonial deerskin robe or a corseted concoction from the court of some king, or that flapper dress. I think that would make it much more 'real' than just looking at it. Mind you, I have a deep desire to time travel, so perhaps a need to experience history directly is something I'd love to indulge.

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  2. Tatiana,
    I love your idea of being allowed to wear the fashions from the past. During my wonderful tour of the TFC, Dawn (our guide) wore white gloves and carefully showed us pieces. I think we'd have better luck wearing our grandmother's garments. I sure wish my grandmother's kept more of their fashions from the past. My daughter already loves playing in her grandmother's (my mother's) closet. I think that does make it much more real. I would hope more universities would do what UNT is doing with fashion because it helps not only the students but anyone who is interested, we can all learn about the past. You're right, it's totally educational (but also totally fun)!

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  3. And it would NOT be hard to reproduce garments - I betcha most fashion design students would voluntarily do it, for the experience. Heck, I would if I had any desire to learn how to sew.

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  4. Tatiana,
    Yes, wouldn't be cool if you could just whip out a dress on a sewing machine? I always think that when watching my favorite show, Project Runway. I think sewing takes a lot of patience and time, it's just so easy to go shopping!! For now, I'm sticking with vintage stores! ;)

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