On Teaching Fashion: San Francisco Field Trip

This week we had my department’s annual field trip to San Francisco.  As my campus is located approximately 120 miles from the city, the excursion has been a tradition of our Fashion and Interior Design programs for decades.  Every year, we take busload of students, leaving campus at 7:30 in the morning, and returning at 5:00 in the evening. 

DeYoung by pup ajax.

The first stop we make depends upon what sorts of fashion and interior-design related events are on the calendar in San Francisco.  Last year, we went to the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park for the Yves Saint Laurent exhbition (fantastique).  While we were there, we were also able to see the Maya Lin (the artist who designed the National Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC) exhibition (excellent). 

Large Wooden Shabti of Tutankhamun

This year, our first stop was Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs at the de Young Museum.  The exhibition was nicely assembled, consisting primarily of the standard low-level-lighting-with-spot-lit-vitrines-on-podiums style of display.  There were, in total, ten galleries (rooms) to the exhibition, containing artifacts from several individuals, and several rooms devoted to the artifacts found in Tut’s tomb. 

Inlaid Pectoral Spelling out the Name of the King

If you plan to go, I will let you know now that the golden death mask which traveled in the 1970s exibition has stayed behind in Egypt (there is, however, a gilded coffin belonging to someone else), so if you were counting on seeing the mask, now you know. 

As far as content, the exhibition web site (not to mention the $50 exhibit catalog) featured more material for educators to draw from than the actual exhibit itself.  I would recommend that you study some New Kingdom and 18th Dynasty Egyptian history, particularly Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV, and father of Tutankhamun), the aten religion, Nefertiti (primary wife of Akhenaten), and Tutankhamun, and learn who Howard Carter was before you attend the exhibition if you really want to learn something from the experience (of course, if you want to simply take in the beauty of the objects, that is alright, as well).  Knowing the history will put the artifacts into context for you, in terms of their significance in Egyptian history. 

Part of a Balustrade Depicting Akhenaten and Family under the Aten

Whether you go purely for entertainment or also for education (also known as edu-tainment), know that the exhibition is part of a fundraising effort for the construction of a new antiquities museum in Egypt.  The ticket prices are particularly high ($27.50, general admission on a weekday, and higher on a weekend) because a portion of the proceeds goes to finance the new museum.  As I repeatedly emphasized in my classes, if you have a chance to see the King Tut exhibition, do it, otherwise your next opportunity to see those artifacts will be after the construction of the museum in Gizeh, as they will not be traveling the world after this traveling exhibition closes.

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The second stop on our field trip was Union Square, the downtown shopping district in San Francisco, home to Neiman Marcus, Macy’s, Barney’s New York, Bloomingdale’s, Wilkes Bashford, Saks Fifth Avenue, the Levi’s flagship store, Tiffany’s, the six-story Westfield CenterBritex Fabrics, and the usual designer boutiques, Prada, Hermes, Chanel, Dior, et cetera.  The city is now decorated for the winter holiday shopping season.  The Christmas tree is up, in Union Square, along with the annual ice skating rink (yes, in California, you can ice skate in a t-shirt).

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At that point in our field trip, we turned the students loose for an afternoon of lunch and shopping on their own, giving them maps of the area and the bus’s scheduled departure time and location.  If you are questioning  the educational value of this stop on our itinerary, let me tell you that every year I have students for whom this is their first visit to Union Square, and for some, the trip is their first visit to San Francisco.   My college campus is only 120 miles from the city.  Considering that it is California’s second largest apparel center, San Francisco is a must-see for any fashion student on the west coast of the United States, if not elsewhere. 

At the appointed hour, everyone made it back on time and we didn’t leave anyone behind.  We returned to campus promptly at 5:00.  It was a good trip, all in all.  If you are able to coordinate a similar tradition of taking an annual field trip with your students (or employees or co-workers), I highly recommend it.

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