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.
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|
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.”