Stephens College exhibit gives visitors glimpse into archives

Friday, April 25, 2008 | 4:30 p.m. CDT; updated 2:43 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — A peach crepe silk bonnet from 1886, white leather wedding slippers from the mid-19th century and a dress from the 1920s are just some of the pieces on display at the “Hidden Assets: A Rare Exhibition of the Historic Costume Archives” at Stephens College.

Located on the garden level of Lela Raney Wood Hall, the Stephens College Historic Costume Gallery is giving visitors a chance to witness where about 5,000 of its 12,000 garments are housed.

“This exhibit is more behind the scenes,” said Jenn Young, a junior fashion design major at Stephens. “It shows you where we actually keep stuff. It’s usually up on the mezzanine level where the garments are displayed.”

Although the exhibit is smaller than many of the other displays, with less than a dozen outfits, the garments that are featured have not been in previous exhibits.

“The reason we don’t put out old garments is that the older it gets, the stranger the body that went under the garment is because of corsetry,” said Monica McMurry, curator of the Costume Research Library. “We only had one mannequin that would fit many of the older dresses.”

Because mannequins and dress forms can be expensive to purchase, McMurry and her colleagues decided to make their own out of paper mache for this and future exhibits. They spent about three weeks making them.

In addition to the dresses, there is a glass case featuring various purses, shoes and other accessories. Visitors can also walk up and down aisles to look at other garments on hangers.

“I didn’t know we had this many items or how it was set up,” said Michaela Ragains, a junior fashion design major. “I imagined them in cardboard boxes tucked away, but they have a very professional setup.”

Over the course of the past year, the archives have been moved from Sampson Hall to Lela Raney Wood Hall. In the old location, there was never consistent temperature or humidity, so in order to better preserve the garments, they were moved to the new location, which features environmental controls.

“This exhibit will show off our new archival area and show off the garments that are on display,” McMurry said.

The exhibit is open until May 10. Visiting hours are from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursdays and from noon to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is free. Groups can make special appointments outside the normal visiting times by calling 876-7233.

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