Fashion in the Museum: Behind the Scenes at the Study Collection Columbia College Chicago

I only recently learned about the wonderful dress collection at Columbia College Chicago. During the recent CSA Midwest Symposium in Chicago, Jacqueline WayneGuite, the Collection Manager, welcomed a large group of us into the Study Collection for a tour. After I returned home, I thought that it would be the perfect way to end my series as Fashion Columnist for Worn Through by featuring this very beautiful and thoughtfully curated collection of garments.


Jacqueline WayneGuite giving a tour of the Fashion Study Collection at Columbia College Chicago in September 2013.


Ingrid: What are the origins of the collection?

Jacqueline: The Fashion Study Collection started when Columbia College Chicago Art + Design faculty, who taught in the fashion program, began to bring in extant garments to teach from. The collection was officially created in 1989 by Dennis Brozynski. In 1997, the collection was reassessed and formalized with an increase in funding, storage, and management. It has grown since then through donations from faculty, private collectors, other institutions, and a small acquisitions budget. It is now housed in the Fashion Studies Department, but open to students from any discipline.


Ingrid: How many garments, accessories and other artifacts do you have in the collection?

Jacqueline: We have about 6,000 garments, accessories, and artifacts in the Fashion Study Collection Vault. Those are supplemented by non-circulating materials such as rare books, designer lookbooks, academic journals, historic patterns, and historic magazines in the Fashion Study Collection Research Center.


Ingrid: What is the oldest piece in the collection?

Jacqueline: The oldest piece in the collection is a pair of split drawers of white cotton batiste from the 1870s. The oldest magazine in the Research Center is a Godey’s Lady’s Book from 1844.


Ingrid: How are the garments stored? By course, by accession number, by designer, thematically or other?

Jacqueline: Most of the garments are hung for space and accessibility reasons. The racks are covered with muslin slipcovers. Pieces that are delicate, extremely special, in poor condition, or cannot be hung for other reasons are boxed. Garments are first arranged by Fashion Designer — European designers are arranged alphabetically, then American designers, and then Asian designers. Garments in the Fashion History section are arranged chronologically by decade. Pieces in our Ethnic and Cultural collection are hung alphabetically by country. We also have some subsections — leather, fur, and uniforms each have their own racks and menswear garments are hung together by type of garment. Accessories, such as shoes, hats, purses, and jewelry, are boxed.


Ingrid: What are the last five pieces that you have acquired?

Jacqueline: In reverse order, we recently acquired a mid 1910s day dress, a 1920s white embroidered day dress, a 1920s metal link bag with an Art Deco design, a 1910s pink corset, and a 1870s paisley shawl.


Dress by Alexander McQueen “The Girl Who Lived in a Tree”
Photo by Jacob Boll for Columbia College Chicago


Ingrid: Tell me a little more about the dress “The Girl Who Lived in a Tree”  by McQueen that you recently fundraised to acquire.

Jacqueline: The Alexander McQueen gown is from the Fall/Winter 2008 collection titled “The Girl Who Lived in a Tree.” It is entirely black with a scoop neckline, empire waist, and draped asymmetrical skirt made of crinkled silk chiffon. It is sleeveless. The bodice is adorned with dangling beaded acorns and leaf appliqués.We specifically sought out an Alexander McQueen piece, because he was the most asked for designer that we did not own. We raised money for it at the Fashion Studies’ annual benefit, Fashion Columbia, in June 2013.


Ingrid: What piece would you grab first if there is a fire or flood?

Jacqueline: If the Fashion Study Collection was in danger, I would first grab our Madame Grès gown. Its bodice is sculpted with intertwining fabric in cream, green, and orange. It has an empire waist, and the skirt of cream is delicately gathered at the waist to create a column of fabric. It is exceptionally well made and couture quality.


Issey Miyake Folding Shirt
Photo by Jacob Boll for Columbia College Chicago

Ingrid: What do students ask to see the most often?

Jacqueline: The most asked for pieces are the Alexander McQueen gown from 2008 and a 132 5. Issey Miyake geometric folding sleeveless shirt of recycled-PET polyester in gradations of coral and white from 2012. Garments from the 1920s are also very popular.


Issey Miyake Folding Shirt
Photo by Jacob Boll for Columbia College Chicago

Ingrid: How many students do you have come to visit? Do you allow designers or other researchers to make appointments to visit your collection?

Jacqueline: Each semester, there are about 800 student visits. Students use the Fashion Study Collection either in class, on tours, or by making individual appointments. Some classes use the collection multiple times throughout the semester. The Fashion Study Collection is open to the public by appointment. Academics or museum professionals conducting nonprofit research do not require a fee, although we do suggest that designers or other for-profit researchers give a financial donation of their choice.


Ingrid:  Do you try to record details of the social history of the garments? Do any of them have an interesting story that you can share?

Jacqueline: The majority of our collection comes from donations, and we do record the social history of the garments if it is known. Students enjoy learning that kind of information. However, our collection’s mission does not require provenance and a good portion of the collection came from faculty who had connections in the fashion industry, so some of our pieces were never worn before they were donated.There is one lingerie dress from about 1910 that I rather like, partially because it was worn by a faculty member’s grandmother when she was a young teenager.


Ingrid: Do you have a grouping of items that came from one donor?

Jacqueline: Yes, we have multiple donations that contain a large number of items. These large donations are all from faculty members, whom our collection is indebted to.


For more information or to make an appointment at the Study Collection Columbia College Chicago, please contact:

Jacqueline WayneGuite
Fashion Study Collection Manager
Columbia College Chicago

P.S.This is my last post as the Fashion in the Museum Columnist since I’ve been spreading myself a little too thin with my many writing commitments. Thanks to all that followed along. I hope we will meet again. I invite you to stay in touch at Ingrid Mida.

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