On Teaching Fashion: Creating a Teaching Collection

Teaching fashion is certainly easier if you have a collection as a resource.  Some schools with a fashion program have established garment collections.  Instructors can simply request garments to be delivered to their class.  These garments help illustrate history, construction techniques, as well as serve as design inspiration.

Students really respond to working directly with objects.  Viewing tangible objects helps students assimilate theoretical knowledge.  They can review concepts covered in lectures and readings by observing garments in a collection.  Some schools do not have the funding or space for teaching collections.  If you are an adjunct, additional difficulties can arise simply from not knowing the resources available.  These are just some of the reasons why I think instructors need to create their own teaching collections.  I’ve started amassing my own private teaching collection, and here are some recommendations I have for others interesting in making their own.


Image courtesy of the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection. Photo taken by Jeff Mille.

  • Define your scope: Creating a teaching collection requires parameters.  You want the objects to illustrate the key points from your course.  Look over the subject you are teaching.  Is it a survey course?  Does the course focus on a specific time period or topic?  Use the course as a framework to guide your collection.  Try obtaining a garment or accessory to accompany milestone concepts.
  • Stay within your budget: Obtaining samples of certain types of fashion can become expensive.  Vintage couture doesn’t really decrease in value.  Yet you don’t have to go into debt to illustrate the importance of historical fashion.  Try finding magazines or videos from the time period that illustrate luxury fashion that may not fit in your budget.  Periodicals from the day can be a great resource to your teaching collection.  They illustrate how the garments were worn, and include social commentary as to why these garments were so important.
  • Befriend resellers:  The secondhand market is a small world.  It is always smart to find a good merchant.  People that specialize in selling historic garments have relationships with collections.  This means that resellers can help you find objects you may not have access to on your own.  Work closely with a trusted reseller to fill in the gaps to your collection.

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1 Comment

  • Cathy Cerny April 12, 2013 12.22 pm

    Sometimes you can find nice examples at estate sales, even 19th Century items. I found a 1850-60s woman’s silk bodice, skirt and lace collar in excellent condition, and only paid $15. Families may save memorable pieces for several generations until the surviving generation may no longer find meaning in the items.


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