SU Fashion Archives shares its collection in a book from ‘down under’
Serving as a resource for researchers is central to the mission of the Fashion Archives and Museum (FA&M) at Shippensburg University. Often those researchers are faculty or students from south-central Pennsylvania and nearby states. Now with its inclusion in an upcoming book, the archives could gain more national and international attention.
Six dresses from the archives’ collection are featured in “How to Read a Dress: A Guide to Changing Fashion from the 16th to the 20th Century” by Dr. Lydia Edwards, a fashion historian and lecturer at Edith Cowan University in Perth, Western Australia. Being released by Bloomsbury Publishing in March, the book describes how key points in history have influenced style and how dresses have varied according to the age, class and social status of the wearer.
Edwards found the FA&M website while conducting research online and contacted Dr. Karin Bohleke, director of the archives. “Karin really took me under her wing and showed me just how much the archives has to offer,” Edwards said. “I was still in the early stages of deciding what type of garments I wanted to showcase, and she really helped to clarify that for me.”
“Lydia was a pleasure to work with, and very interested in our collection,” Bohleke said. “When her editors delayed the book because they wanted more images added, we ended up with six of our dresses being included.”
The “gorgeous” dresses, Edwards said, were a recently restored, green silk dress from 1845; a summer dress from the first decade of the 1900s; a 1952 green coat dress; and a black satin evening gown, orange and teal print silk dress and yellow crepe dress from the 1960s. “More and more dresses kept turning up that just said ‘yes’ to me,” she said.
“The 1845 silk dress caught my eye straight away, as it is such a perfect example of mid-1840s cut and aesthetic. The shape of the evening dress from 1963–65 is reminiscent of gowns worn by the likes of Audrey Hepburn,” Edwards said. “And the mid- to late-1960s dress just had to be included as a wonderful example of psychedelic style. I have seen photos of my grandmother and mother wearing similar garments. It shows how much youth culture penetrated the whole of fashion across all ages and types of consumer.”
Earlier this year, Bohleke hosted another Australian researcher who was focused on a more specific part of the FA&M collection. Catriona Fisk, a doctoral student in fashion history and material culture at University of Technology Sydney, documented the archives’ 19th-century maternity dresses.
Fisk came to Shippensburg as part of her travels to various American, British and Australian museums. “Our collection houses examples from the 1840s to the 1890s, so she was able to make good progress in studying garments clearly worn during pregnancy and seeing the creative ways in which women adapted the current silhouettes to their changing bodies,” Bohleke said.
“We have a number of pieces that will be included in her dissertation project,” she added. “We are always thrilled to host scholars from other institutions and to support their research endeavors.”
The fact that the archives’ collection is not widely known was an additional draw for both Edwards and Fisk. “One of my main ambitions for the book was to use examples from lesser known collections, not just the big museums — and to know that not all of Shippensburg’s garments had been widely published or discussed was very appealing,” Edwards said. “I’m proud to be able to promote some of the collection in this way.”
The interest from Edwards and Fisk “is a good illustration of our rising profile,” Bohleke said.
Established in 1980, the Fashion Archives and Museum has more than 25,000 pieces. Its primary function is to preserve and exhibit its collection of clothing and accessories and to make those materials available for teaching and research purposes. It operates in association with the university's College of Arts and Sciences and Institute for Public Service.
Its current exhibition, “Walking the Aisle in the Latest Style: Wedding Fashions from the 18th Century to Today,” runs through Dec. 15.
For more information about the archives’ programs, visit its website at fashionarchives.org.
A restored green silk dress from 1845, top, and a mid-1960s black satin evening gown, above, are among the Shippensburg University Fashion Archives and Museum's dresses included in an upcoming book on fashion across five centuries.