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Columbia Missourian

FROM READERS: Stephens College costume gallery displays fashion evolution

By Janese Silvey/Missourian Reader
April 1, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT
Jennifer Cole and Bradley Meinke rearrange exhibits at the Historic Costume Gallery.

Janese Silvey is a story specialist/strategist at Stephens College.

The Historic Costume Gallery at Lela Raney Wood Hall on the Stephens College campus has been transformed into the closet of an imaginary socialite this semester — and last week, our muse got tired of waiting for Mother Nature to catch up and swapped out her winter pieces to make room for spring garments.


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The second phase of “Emergence” — a two-part exhibit showcasing fashions as they evolved from 1947 through 1990 — opens Thursday and continues through May 5. The initial exhibit, featuring all winter wear, opened Feb. 22, and some of the featured garments will remain in the second collection.

The concept for this year’s Costume Gallery revolves around a fictional upper-class metropolitan woman — and what she would have worn as she evolved over the decades from college student to wife to volunteer and socialite.

Museum curators were so in tune with what the woman might have been like, they unknowingly pulled many of the garments donated to Stephens’ Costume Museum & Research Library by the same several women, said Monica McMurry, dean of the School of Fashion and Design.

More than a coincidence since the library has more than 13,000 garments, many of the exhibit pieces belonged to Virginia Burns Oppenheimer and Frances Kelly. The collection also includes items from designers Yves Saint Laurent, Pauline Trigère and Adele Simpson.

Winter selections included the heavy suits our muse would have worn while doing volunteer and charity work during the daytime, and the embellished cream-colored dresses she would have worn to operas, dinner parties and other evening events.

Her spring wardrobe brings lighter garments in emerald greens, rich yellows and soft pinks. Also emerging in the second collection is her wedding dress, circa 1955.

Although she took some fashion risks — including a Cristóbal Balenciaga-inspired dress featuring back draping — our socialite was no Carrie Bradshaw. She wore the same fitted, high-quality pieces year after year — which meant, like many women of her generation, she kept her slim figure throughout the years so she could continue to wear them.

The Historic Costume Gallery is open from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Thursdays and noon to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through May 5. This year, it’s also a stop on Columbia’s Artrageous art crawl from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on April 19.

The Stephens Costume Museum & Research Library has more than 13,000 garments donated by designers, alumnae and friends.

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.