It’s been years since Marjo Price wore her late mother-in-law’s blue evening gown — the one with the plunging neckline and blue and silver rhinestone buttons, the one she wore with a feather boa and a feather-topped rhinestone tiara.
But Price, who last put that dress on for a New Year’s Eve party, couldn’t stand the idea that no one would see it again. So she gave it, along with 100 or so other pieces from her mother-in-law’s collection, to Stephens College’s Historic Fashion Collection.
“It was a knockout,” Price said of the gown. “Everybody loved it (at the party). They just thought it was great, and I felt very elegant.”
Price, a 1947 graduate of Stephens College, inherited the clothes from Matilda Magnus Price after her death and began donating them to the college in the 1980s. Last month, she and her husband, Al Price, a retired Boone County National Bank president, gave an undisclosed sum of money to the school and were able to rename the entire collection the Matilda Magnus Price Historic Fashion Collection.
Marjo Price said she had always dreamed of naming the collection for her mother-in-law. “She was always dressed so well,” she said. “She was a lady of the late Victorian age but with modern ideas. She kept up to date with her clothes and her thinking.”
Marjo Price sees renaming the fashion collection as a way to honor her mother-in-law. “I think (renaming the collection) would please her greatly,” she said. “She was a good role model for me. The way she lived, the way she thought, and the things that she taught me — I’m very grateful for that.”
The items donated were worn mostly during the 1920s through the 1950s and include evening gowns, afternoon dresses, monogrammed lingerie, a silver mesh evening handbag, a black handbag with coral trim and travel cases monogrammed with “MMP.”
“There are just so many little, precious items that you don’t always get because people see them as throwaways,” said Monica McMurry, curator of the Stephens Costume Research Library. “I had always seen that ‘MMP’ when I was working with the collections, and I always knew they were probably from the same person. It’s pretty neat these items ended up in the collection.”
The Matilda Magnus Price Historic Fashion Collection is part of the college’s Costume Research Library, one of Missouri’s largest collections of historical dress. The research library began in 1958 with one article of clothing and now contains more than 12,000 pieces, some dating to the 1700s.
The Historic Costume Gallery, the library’s gallery that typically hosts four exhibits each year, moved to the newly renovated Lela Rainey Wood Hall in April 2006. Part of the funding for the move was provided by the Boone County Community Trust established by R.B. Price, the uncle of Al Price.
McMurry said she is working on moving all of the pieces in the collection to Lela Raney Wood Hall from their current location, which is across campus from the fashion department; she hopes the process will be done by August.
She and other library employees are also creating an online archive of the items. Currently, the archives are not open to the public, but McMurry said she allows people to go on private tours of the collection.
McMurry said without donations such as the one from Marjo Price, efforts to move the collection to a more accessible location would not be possible.
“What is especially nice about this gift is that it is a gift from Columbia,” McMurry said. “Marjo and Al are well known in Columbia, and so I see that as support locally, which I thought was extra nice. Having the Price name here does raise awareness to the collection and to Stephens College.”
Although Marjo Price, a music major, was not involved with the fashion department while studying at Stephens College, she said it was both the style of her mother-in-law and her time at Stephens College that influenced her love of fashion.
She said she hopes current students will benefit from the pieces she donated.
“They are there to see what fashion was like in previous decades,” she said. “This should be a very good display for them to study the styles.”