Stephens cleans out the closet for exhibit

The clothes and accessories from the '30s, '50s and '70s are a sight to behold.
Stephens College's “The Back-to-School Issue -- A Collegiate Wardrobe” spans from the 1930s to the 1970s and gives an idea of what women wore in college during each time period. The gallery opens at noon on weekends until Dec. 19.

When walking into the Stephens College Historic Costume Gallery, you are immediately thrown into another century. The sight of black velvet coats, plaid jumpers and skirts with funkadelic patchwork is a little overwhelming at first but oddly captivating.

"This is way cooler than how we dress," Stephens student Megan Wedgewood said with a laugh, acknowledging her sweatpants and hoodie.

Stephens College is known for its impressive fashion program and is hosting "The Back-to-School Issue — A Collegiate Wardrobe" exhibit until December at its Historic Costume Gallery. Featuring casual and formal wear from the decades of the 1930s, 1950s and 1970s, Stephens' stylish display is a well-organized conundrum of interesting fabrics, textures and accessories.

A 1970s outfit complete with a white polyester blouse and a skirt with dizzying patchwork greets visitors entering the gallery. To the left of the outfit, a rust-colored suede knit vest and skirt ensemble uses the colors of autumn, offering a nostalgic look at college days past.

Pendants, long necklaces and green beads were some of the accessories in the collection many would think of as traditional '70s wear, and pieces such as crochet vests and quilted prints were lovely surprises.

Long coats with fur featured in the collection continue to be outfit staples for the upper-class college student and would almost be deemed awkward if they weren't featured in the collection.

"All the pieces are part of the Costume Museum and Research Library Collection, which include 12,000 items," Stephens student Anastasia Nienaltowski said. "(Curators) think of a theme and what people would like to see from the collection. A lot of the clothes come from a lot of donations from alumni and friends of alumni."

Coincidentally, one of the pieces that stood out most was a bright green plaid jacket and pants set complete with a crème turtleneck that belonged to one of the guest curator's sister.

"The woman donated the green plaid outfit and wore it in the 1970s herself," Nienaltowski said. "She said she usually wore turtlenecks with it."

The piece was reminiscent of the '70s and trends in the early '90s, even inspiring a quick, if clueless, thought of Cher and Dionne.

Even though the gallery highlights decades in non-chronological order, looks and outfits of the 1930s seem to be in proper juxtaposition to the 1970s trends. The conservative era of the Great Depression featured fits that were more tailored than the laid-back fit that would come around four decades later.

Relating to the autumn season theme, the 1930s collection included wool suits, crepe dresses and blue velvet suits for young women. A touch of whimsy was added to the traditional outfits with the use of accessories such as green grape pins and sparkly flower pin attachments.

In contrast to the more sophisticated tone of the 1930s, the '50s collection featured flirty poodle skirts and tightly tied neck scarves, communicating the more youthful and vibrant mood of the young women during the era.

Interestingly enough, the '50s was also a time when women were politically and socially aware. Beret hats allude to French culture and the Republican elephant and Democratic donkey stitched on poodle skirts as patches also hint at this.

When all of these extra details and the typical busy schedule of a college student today are considered, it's hard to believe women had time to dress like this on a daily basis.

"It was more common to wear outlandish things," Wedgewood said. "And I wish it was still like that."

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