Fort Worth has a large museum district, but another unique collection of items happens to exist on TCU’s campus– the fashion merchandising department’s historic costume collection.
Comprised of about 2,500 pieces, the collection features clothing items that date back to the late 1800s.
Stephanie Bailey, collection curator and fashion merchandising instructor, said Professor Margaret McWhorter started the collection at TCU in 1984 for teaching purposes.
“She wanted to use some examples in class and started collecting hats specifically, and then it just grew from there as she was collecting and teaching the history of costume class,” Bailey said.
The collection’s pieces—ranging from sequin burets to purple petticoats—come from all different places and eras, each telling their own story.
“There is a silk dress from the ‘50s that has very intricate pleating on it and then releases to the big full skirt,” she said. “We have a lot of 1970s which is kind of funny to look at—some that are just outlandish—then some that are kind of mod, too, that are kind of cool, and you would probably wear today.”
Some pieces from the collection have even had a minute of fame.
“We have the outfit from, his character was Icky Twerp on a kids show I believe, it ran from the ‘60s through the ‘70s or the ‘50s through the ‘60s, something like that,” Bailey said. “So we have his whole costume, the hat and the suit and the tie and everything.”
The collection occupies a small space in the current fashion and interior design building, but that will change with the upcoming addition of a new fine arts building, set to open in the fall of 2019.
While each piece currently hangs on a padded hanger or is tucked into a box with tissue paper, the new building will allow for a more modern storage system.
“It will have the proper storage climate temperature control and it will also provide us with facility when we receive in goods, to properly treat them before we put them into the collection,” Bailey said. “Because we need to not let anything that’s contaminated—either by mold or bugs or something like that—to get into the rest of the clothes. It’ll allow us to process the goods as well, much better.”
The new building will also feature a larger, more permanent display case to replace the small one currently exhibiting pieces of the collection to design students.
Bailey says the collection has proved to be a useful teaching aid.
“I use it in a multitude of different classes, depending on what I’m teaching,” Bailey said. “Obviously in the history of costume class, I use it for examples of what they actually wore in the history, you know in that time period. And I teach apparel construction and in there then I use the construction details on the garments to show the students what they look like on actual garments, to test them on that so they’re used to identify it on actual garments.”
Fashion merchandising major Helen Prebys studied the collection as part of the historical fashion class. Prebys emphasized the value of the collection on her learning experience.
“I just remember looking at old Chanel pieces from like the ‘40s and it was so cool to just kind of look at the transition from then to now,” Prebys said. “And it’s amazing, the collection we have for such a small school.”
Prebys said her class studied every trend from the 1920s flapper dress to the 1950s flared skirt.
“I think it’s important to look at how fashion has evolved in order to get a good sense of what we’re at today,” Prebys said.
Bailey hopes that the collection’s upcoming new home on the costume will make it more available to everyone on campus. Her plans for the future of the collection include an online database that could be utilized across campus by other schools and majors.
“I think it’s a really underutilized and kind of secret resource,” she said. “It’s going to take a lot of time and effort to get it to where it could be something that we can use campus-wide and then maybe further than that. But I think it has the potential to really be a neat resource for everyone to study from, just kind of a hidden asset.”