Pam Harris, a junior at Tennessee Tech University from Lafayette, knew that her great uncle served in World War II. She didn’t know that he served for one year, or that he was a corporal responsible for training the men going overseas to fight.
With a little help from the internet, she found his story through details on his military jacket, which is one of hundreds of garments housed in the TTU School of Human Ecology costume collection.
Each student in TTU’s history of dress course selected a garment from the closet for a research project. They will tell those stories and share the garments with the community during a fashion show Monday, April 8.
“Learning about the garments is the best part because you find out so much about them,” said TTU senior Taylor Noblett. “I did the dashiki, which is a traditional African garment. They were a huge symbol of African pride in the 1960s. Whoever wore them, black or white, it signified support for the African culture. It’s all handmade. We don’t know where it came from or how it got here.”
Every semester, various merchandising and design classes use the collection, which contains garments dating back to the Civil War, to study the evolution of fashion and for inspiration for their own designs.
“It’s a teaching collection, so it’s not behind glass,” said Lizbeth Self-Mullens, associate professor of merchandising and design. “Students use it for inspiration and classes are in there all the time. It’s used in apparel construction and design, social and psychological aspects of dress, and several other classes.”
The fashion show will feature more than 50 garments selected and modeled by students. The show and accompanying silent auction are part of a fundraising effort to send a group of students in the TTU Merchandising Association to Milan this spring. There, they will visit museums and designers’ ateliers to get a peek into one of the most fashion-forward cities on Earth.
Most of the pieces in the closet have been donated, while others come from the Fashion Institute of Technology and other institutions. A couple students every semester get academic credit for working in the closet, keeping it organized and trying to find out more about the garments, which the university has been collecting for about 30 years.
“We continue to collect pieces. We are pushing for things before the 1960s because after that we are pretty well stocked,” Self-Mullens said. “We ask anyone, if there are historic garments in your family – that no one else desires – we’d love to have them and record their stories.”
Those stories, including one about a black beaded 1920s-era dress once owned by Self-Mullens’ husband’s grandmother, will be told during the fashion show, along with fun facts about the students modeling them.
But beyond the fun of dressing up and strutting their stuff, the closet teaches them something new about the history of dress and of what fashion means to culture.
“It’s cool to pull (a dress) inside out and look at how it was sewn,” said TTU junior Susannah Warren, of Chattanooga. “These days, our seams are a lot smaller because they are all industrial. Back then, they hand-sewed everything, so you can see how wide these seams were.”
Tickets for the show are $5 in advance and can be purchased by calling (931) 372-3157 or visiting South Hall 102 on the TTU campus. At the door, tickets will be $7.
The silent auction, full of donations from local businesses, opens at 6 p.m. The fashion show starts at 6:30 p.m. Both events are in the second floor Multipurpose room of Roaden University Center at 1000 N. Dixie Ave.